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DanBraga

How essential is a degree?

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Hey guys,

 

I'm currently one year into my bachelor degree in digital media design. So far it has been really basic. I basically do personal projects where I meet up with the lecturer once a week to get some quick feedback. I dont really participate in class, as we just went through what a keyframe is..

 

My question is, how valuable is that degree if my work can speak for me? Is it really worth years of debth? I had a chat with my program manager about this, and he said that to really reach the top, you need a degree. Is that true? I aim to become an AD one day.

 

Would appreciate some insight on this! Thanks

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I had a chat with my program manager about this, and he said that to really reach the top, you need a degree.

 

Not really. There's enough high-profile artists out there that easily disprove this hypothesis. In the end, even "AD" is just a job title, not an education certificate...

 

Mylenium

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"to really reach the top, you need a degree. Is that true?" No but it's a nice thing to do if you can afford it! :)

 

I have a degree and learnt a lot, maybe more than I realised at the time.

But it does depend on the quality of the degree.

Also a lot about the degree is not the teachers but the students. I probably learnt more from the other students than the teaching. If there's a good student community and you push each other then that's a big plus. And it's a great way to make connections and friendships for later in life.

University is great because you can explore things with a time and depth that would be impossible in a commercial environment.

 

I guess you need to balance all that with how much debt you'd be in. When I did my degree it was a lot lot cheaper than now. I'm not sure which way I'd go now.

When looking at employing someone or a freelancer or whatever I would never really care about their education. I don't know many people who would. It's all about your work. If your work is good and you're not a jerk then really that's all that matters.

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If you're competing for the same job with a pool of other talented artists/animators, all with great work, then what sets you apart?

There are other parts of having a degree other than learning a trade. If you're a natural at it and don't think the courses are worth the time and money then consider switching to a complementary major such as marketing!

 

Finishing with a degree program shows work ethic, perseverance, commitment, most likely superior communication skills, resourcefulness (ability to find answers to problems using techniques you learned in a course on anthropology or biology lab), etc.

 

If I were comparing two people who's portfolios were almost identical in quality, detail and style...the one with the degree (assuming that person also as a great demeanor) would be the first choice.

Edited by sbtread

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I'm currently one year into my bachelor degree in digital media design. So far it has been really basic. I basically do personal projects where I meet up with the lecturer once a week to get some quick feedback. I dont really participate in class, as we just went through what a keyframe is..

So you're saying you're not getting anything out of it, partly because it's beneath you, partly because you choose not to get anything out of it. Why are you in that program in the first place? Bad gamble? What were you looking for, and can you actually find it there or are you set against it? Don't waste your time if you're unwilling or unable to benefit from the expense and effort.

 

As for the degree, you'll find a few differing opinions regarding the value of having one in this industry. I've never found the piece of paper to be in any way useful, but would be nowhere without having had the education. But that's because the proof of my value is in my portfolio. It serves as my resumé, CV, and business card, but I wouldn't have my current portfolio without the education. I'd probably have a shit portfolio. But "motion graphics" is a broad set of disciplines, and there are lots of professions under its umbrella, some of which may be harder to prove your worth in via a portfolio solely. But honestly, I don't know what those professions are. Any position that involves making stuff is essentially a position where you're making evidence of your skillset and your value. Present that evidence, and who cares where you went to school?

 

My perspective is that you don't ever want to be (as sbtread put it) "competing for the same job with a pool of other talented artists/animators" and NOT have anything that sets you apart. In the case where it literally comes down to who has what degree because there's no clear way to distinguish between you, you've already missed the boat. Because if a client or employer can't tell you apart from someone else, it means either 1) that employer has low visual acuity and you want to avoid them at all cost because you won't grow or prosper under their untutored direction or 2) you have no unique artistic voice to differentiate you. And if that's the case, then you're doing the same thing everyone else is doing, which makes you a tradesman, not an artist. And presumably you got into this because you like making art, not because you wanted a trade. That's just not typically why people get into this particular industry in any serious way. There are plenty of closely related professions that are more attractive as trades, like being a Flame compositor, that are satisfying and pay well, but someone like yourself who does personal projects in your chosen field is likely not going to be interested in engaging in that field as a tradesman.

 

Bottom line: If there are cases where the actual degree has some value to you, that value is slight and probably orders of magnitude less than whatever you're paying for school. The reason you pay for school is for the guidance, the collaboration with similarly interested minds, and the resources, so that you can eventually do good work that subsequently evidences your value in the profession. If you're not getting all of that, then make a change. Either a change in how you use the resources you're paying for, or a change in the resources themselves. Either change your attitude, or change your education. Maybe both.

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My general observations in the creative industry is no, a degree not required to have a good chance at success or to be the best at what you do. That goes for motion graphics, photography, whatever. Possible exceptions: music or painting, as there is quite a bit of theory and fundamentals you have to expose yourself to in order to have a really good shot at making the most of your innate talents.

 

The only way a degree is truly worthwhile in this type of field is if:

 

a ) you know the professors at your school are world-class and can teach you things that you might not be able to learn anywhere else and in a lower pressure environment where goofing something up doesn't mean you get canned / never hired again;

 

b ) you can do it without going into debt for the next 15 years of your life.

 

Otherwise I'd say it's better to get another job while you're learning and teach yourself how to work with the tools via Digital Tutors, Hello Luxx and others. (Because the people who are going to hire you are going to weight things like this: about 80% is the quality of your reel,15% is the first impression you give on a personal level / your attitude, the other 5% is left for things like certificates, degrees, who-you-know crap -- but as far as the portfolio they couldn't care less how you attained those skills. All they want to know is if they hire you, will you make them look great or like a fool, and will you be easy to work with? If you can do that without your degree... do it.)

Edited by Zmotive

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Thanks for the input guys.

 

So you're saying you're not getting anything out of it, partly because it's beneath you, partly because you choose not to get anything out of it. Why are you in that program in the first place? Bad gamble? What were you looking for, and can you actually find it there or are you set against it? Don't waste your time if you're unwilling or unable to benefit from the expense and effort.

 

Well, I am given a lot of creative freedom to make interesting projects where I can really go in-depth, all within set deadlines, which really makes me push myself. That's what I see as most valuable with the course right now. But then again, its mostly self teaching.

 

What was I expecting? A pool of passionate, highly motivated people who strive to improve with each project. A community with talented people who can inspire me and motivate me to go even further. Along with lecturers who are passionate enough to get us there. But it wasn't what I expected. There are passionate students around, but its the minority. To be specific, one other guy in my class. The rest are a mix of people who figured design might be cool and people who unfortunately doesn't have the visual eye. I have to admit, it is really frustrating when 90% of the class has never opened After Effects before one year into the course. The in-class hours are eaten up by repeating the complete basics. Thats what I meant with "not participating". I basically keep working on my own projects, and my program manager is fine with that.

 

It is a big dilemma. I know I will be much better at what I do in two years if I continue my degree. The school sets the stage, makes it "official" in a way, that makes me put in the extra effort. I will be able to build up a huge, refined portfolio, and I'll have that degree in my pocket. But as mentioned, it will be mostly self teaching. On the other hand, I can learn on the job, while earning money instead of spending them.

 

Man, I gotta put some thought into this.. I got a 4 month internship coming up, so that will hopefully push me in one direction or the other.

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Whilst an art-school education is a good basis for a career, I think once you're working in the industry you'll find things are very different.

 

I would suggest making the most of your degree by opening yourself to as many influences as possible. Experiment. Draw. Delve deep into the subjects the 90% will not bother with: art and design history, colour theory (get the Gnomon tutorials) and explore other artistic and design disciplines such as architecture and film (not the Hollywood tripe, but directors like Kurosawa, Lynch, the German expressionists, abstract film, documentary, concentrate on foreign cinema and other less explored genres - there are wonderful, strange and inspiring filmmakers beyond the establishment). Wallow in the richness of our shared global culture! Read "Ways of Seeing" by John Berger. Go to museums and art galleries. Study walls of flyers. Find out who Neville Brody, Massimo Vignelli, Herb Lubalin and April Greiman is/were (for starters - there are many more).

 

This will help you find develop an artistic vocabulary and enable your own development as an artist. Keep a physical sketchbook as well as Pinterest of a folder of images on your hard drive. Become a magpie.

 

Don't get hung up on the technical details of working the software, you will learn that by necessity once you're in the commercial environment; you only need the basics.

 

Most of all, enjoy it.

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A degree helps you with structure, connections, and also could give you debt. It really depends on the individual, but on another line of thought, a degree’s importance also depends on where you live.

 

For example, I've met a couple people from Latin America that landed pretty good job offers in European countries, and their visa petitions were refused because they didn't have a degree. Their employees never asked for it, the only factor in the hiring process was portfolio/reel. But the last word in issuing a work permit comes from immigration, which has a system based on points that vary from country to country. I've heard that a degree is considered equal to 5 or even 10 years of experience in those scenarios, and also makes you an immigrant with a safer profile, which is completely understandable.

 

If you have 5 years of experience in your field being self-taught, any person fresh out of school with a 3 month internship could be ahead of you in a visa petition process in immigration eyes. That’s something to keep in mind depending on your personal circumstances.

Edited by EdoAlf

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you sound like an american, you live in the land of opportunity, you don't need nothing to succeed there, just do cool stuff and put it where people can see it. If you don't feel you're getting your moneys worth just ditch it.

 

the visa issue is real. Many countries require you to have a degree to get a visa. If you're trying to get EU visa though, go through germany, they got a pretty decent self employment visa, and apparantly forecasts show that Germany is going to need more and more immigrants, so they are probably going to make it even easier to get a visa soon.

 

Regarding degree issuing institutions. I reckon we should start a black list of institutions which give people degrees when they have GSG/VCP stuff in their reels. So people looking to study this officially, can check which schools actually are any good. There is no excuce for letting someone graduate when their reel is full tutorial material. The amount of those reels i get is staggering.

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It's really a trade-off. College gives you connections and some kind of credibility, but it also gives you a shit-ton of debt.

 

I'm entirely self taught (spent 4-5 years locked in my room in front of my computer), and I'm finding it very difficult to get a full-time job. I've interned, and gotten random freelance gigs, but I still need a part-time job to make ends meet. I feel like at least a little bit of that problem is that I don't have a degree.

 

I also feel like people who are self-taught tend to understand things way more than those who are formally educated. Maybe because it requires a lot of passion and discipline to do it entirely on your own. I'm definitely not any kind of mograph genius, but I interned at a studio, and the intern next to me was getting his masters, and I could tell I knew waaay more than he did.

 

In retrospect, instead of getting a useless degree, I would've at least gotten a degree in graphic design. A lot of jobs (at least entry-level) require you have a degree.

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What was I expecting? A pool of passionate, highly motivated people who strive to improve with each project. A community with talented people who can inspire me and motivate me to go even further. Along with lecturers who are passionate enough to get us there. But it wasn't what I expected. There are passionate students around, but its the minority. To be specific, one other guy in my class. The rest are a mix of people who figured design might be cool and people who unfortunately doesn't have the visual eye. I have to admit, it is really frustrating when 90% of the class has never opened After Effects before one year into the course. The in-class hours are eaten up by repeating the complete basics. Thats what I meant with "not participating". I basically keep working on my own projects, and my program manager is fine with that.

Before i started studying design, i had to apply with an artistic portfolio and take a two days qualifying examination to get a place at university. Guess that's a good way to seed out the “design might be cool” guys.

Maybe you should look for a university class that sets higher standards for beginners (i'm not talking software knowledge - that's definitely something you can teach yourself)?

Disclaimer: Sorry i this sounds a little snotty, but i do think that your fellow students are as influential as your tutors.

Edited by levante

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If things are that basic, see if you can test out of those classes. I don't know what college you're at, but the one I went to allowed that.

 

Overall, I don't think a degree in this field is worth $50k or more of debt. The salaries just don't support it on average. Less than $50k, maybe...if you make the most of it (connections, etc, like mentioned above). Even then, I feel 4 years of school is only slightly less time than if you started at the bottom at a good design place and worked your way up (learning along the way). It also depends on your location and exactly what you want to do.

 

With all the tutorials out there online that you can do on the side, and if you can get some good internships at some design places, you may be better served by getting a business/project management/management degree. This assumes you are disciplined enough to put the time in on the mograph/design stuff while doing the rest. A lot of artists need the structure of just a design degree to get through all they need to learn.

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