More and more I hear influential people talking about graduating college as a waste of time. There are even “scholarships” for not attending college. I think this is the wrong direction to go and here are my five reasons why a designer should graduate a college or university.
1 – Open your mind
The new “don’t waste time on college” crowd often refers to Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates as examples of successful entrepreneurs, which dropped out of college. But these are just exemptions from the rule. Most of the people are not “early birds” and they don’t know yet what is the right direction in a certain business field. As for designers – the examples of designers who attended colleges and became successful are far greater then the self taught ones. Most designers who graduated college will say that the college was a waste of time and not so helpful, but this is a distorted impression. While technique can be easily self-taught, the mindset a design course in college can give you is not. It opens your mind when you are immersed for the first time with a big group of people interested in the same topics, as you are – an effect with long lasting effects.
2 – Learn something different (e.g. business)
You can study something non related to design if you think you can learn the craft by yourself in a better way or if you cannot find an appropriate design course close to you. Maybe you get your inspirational talks in meet ups or at conferences. A successful designer is also a business man. If you want to become a freelancer or own a creative studio you may consider study business. If you are interested into sociological problems and want to design for that area you can study sociology. Can you see the pattern? Get a degree.
3 – You need it to work outside your country (visa)
This is one of the most important reasons to get a degree. The world today requires people to move around the world. You may work your whole life in the EU or in the US, but maybe not. The visa and labor laws are not as flexible as you might think and having a degree is a huge advantage – really it often makes up 50% of your changes to get a work permit in other countries. The type of specialization is not so important – actually a normal business degree is the most widely accepted.
4 – You have achieved something
It might seem silly that a successful designer goes back to college in his mid 30s just to finish the college. But I know more than one designer who actually did that. They all told me that they missed something. They had the feeling to have failed by not completing their studies. I myself can relate to this because I didn’t start my college education right away. I worked five years before I started and every time one of my friends finished university in the meantime I felt a little sting. I was working and was advancing in my position, felt successful, but something was missing, especially when I talked to other designers / developers at the time. It may be a European thing, but self-taught is never canonical.
5 – You can work for Google
Many companies have strict rules about what education a person must have to be part of their “ecosystem”. You think that this is discriminating, because you cannot rate a value of an employee based on education levels. You might be right, but these rules are part of the culture of a company and often part of guidelines to avoid discrimination and favoritism. So if you can foresee for the rest of your life that you will never want or have to become part of an organization where they have this kind of rules go ahead and don’t get a degree.
The time invested in education is never wasted. You can lay the ground for a career in multiple ways, getting a degree is one of the better ways and opens more possibilities.