Some time ago, I’ve written about “5 reasons why I would probably quit my UX career”: that article got very well received and many people wrote to me on socials, discussing the topic and sharing many of their experiences I also had in these years.
In particular, everyone confirmed that there is a problem with college education and how it relates to the world of work, so today I am going to write and discuss a list of 10 things you MUST know before pursuing a design degree.
This article is going to tell you both upsides and downsides of college, hoping to help you understand if pursuing a design degree is the right path for you.
This sounds stupid, and it is. But probably you’re undervaluing how much time even a bachelor’s degree is going to cost you: while you’re studying, others are making experience you’re not.
College, at least here in Italy, is about 8 hours a day 5 days a week. Most design degrees do not require you to attend to all classes, but supposing you’re diligent, you’re going to cut 1/3 of your day in class.
Suppose you have to work full-time to pay your rent etc, and there goes another third.
The remaining third is sleeping. When to study? Saturday and Sunday.
Believe me, that’s not enough and let’s see why.
This is one of the saddest truths. College classes are in most cases extremely theoric, and in the design world, you need to master many hard skills.
In the design industry, a plethora of software is required: Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, 3D workbenches, prototyping apps like Figma or XD…etc.
If you’re lucky your professor teaches them to you, but it’s often extremely limited and you have to integrate all these skills by yourself.
So, your daytime is now composed of:
- the time you have to study for your exams
- the time you have to integrate hard skills (around 5–8 hours)
- the time you attend classes
- work, sleep, and other daily routines.
Believe me, learning hard skills requires a lot more time than learning Gestalt’s principles or Ulm’s School of Design.
All of this happens because the present purpose of college is to create an extremely adapting professional figure, but they forget to tell you you’re need to study another 8 hours a day on your own.
So, if you decide to attend college, keep in mind that you have to daily find out and study what you need on your own, since they’re not going to tell you about that.
They’re prohibitive for a reason. Sometimes their teachers are more qualified, but the real reason why private colleges are better is that they have strict links and bonds with the design industry.
Many private colleges force you to do multiple weekly workshops with agencies, companies, and famous labels: this helps you understand how to work and the company itself teaches you the hard skills you need.
Public colleges on the other hand have weaker links, and you’re going to miss a lot.
The downside of these kinds of colleges is that they have attendance obligation: if you haven’t enough time and money stay away from them, but if you have the chance go to a private college immediately.
It’s hard to keep up at two completely different jobs. And this is why a lot of college design teachers left the design career many years ago.
This has both an upside and a MAJOR downside:
the upside is that they have a lot of experience in teaching (hopefully) and should know how to explain and empathize.
the major downside is since they’re not designers anymore: they’re often obsolete and haven’t strong hard skills to teach you. (see point n.9)
Also, some professors never worked in a company.
Sounds bad or strange? it’s not. You should know that there are three main types of professors.
- Ordinary professors
- Associate professors
- Contract professors
The first two types are the most common in college, and to become one of them you have to get a Ph.D.: 90% of the time, they’ve never worked outside the university since they’re researchers.
Again, this has both an upside and downside:
1. they know the field extremely well.
2. they miss company-working skills
If you’re interested in teaching or researching, college and university are mandatory.
If you hope that college specializes you, I am sorry. It’s not like that. I am currently ending my master’s degree in Interaction Design and they taught me about:
- UX design
- Urban design
- Creative coding
- 3D modeling
- Social media management
- Virtual Reality
- Mobile app coding
As you can see, I have knowledge in many fields, but it’s extremely average in each one.
Becoming a jack of all trades is useful because you find out new careers and you’re malleable, but at the same time, it’s hard to land a job.
If you don’t already know what to do in your life, pursuing a degree could help you giving you a vast panoramic on every design field.
One common mistake people, me included, do is looking for low-qualified jobs while holding a Master’s Degree (or a Bachelor’s in some cases).
Both you and companies do not want to place someone holding a “Master’s” (which has to be paid more) in a low-payed position.
If you have higher education, you should look for job places that forcibly require your degree: often you’ll find them in larger companies.
The upside and downside are
- lesser competition
- lesser offer.
Do not compete with people not holding a degree but 5 more years of experience: you’re going to lose.
If I can write on Medium both giving you every kind of advice I can while earning some money, it’s because I studied for 5 years, giving over 40 exams on different topics. Getting a degree strongly enhances your culture in every way, and if you’re smart enough you can re-utilize all this knowledge.
You can try to write in a blog or on Medium, propose to journals or hold courses for high school students: I have friends who earn good money just by giving private lessons.
Many college students have to travel far from home and feel extremely alone in a new city. Some of them are going to isolate themselves, but many are approachable and willing to form new relationships.
It’s the right time to create bonds with skilled colleagues, since they’re going to be your competitors soon. If the team is solid, you’ll probably participate in projects outside college or even start a startup together.
This “teamwork facilitation” indirectly granted by attending class is a benefit most non-college attendants dream of. You have basically access to a daily workshop if you succeed in the “social part” of college.
NOTE: This could be a bit harder during a Bachelor’s Degree, but it becomes a lot easier during a Master’s Degree.
Do not isolate yourself.
Someone will tell you that every degree has its value and meaning. It’s not. Some degrees are obsolete and being abandoned by the institution itself.
Be very careful when choosing, because you could find yourself in a tricky situation: for example when I started my bachelor’s degree, two years later it got canceled because it became completely useless.
This is pretty common in the Design or IT fields, since technologies evolve quickly and professors can’t keep up with them.
While this could be sometimes true for classes with hundreds of students, it’s false for classes with less than 30–40 attendants.
Professors will remember you and this is a double-edged sword: they do make preferences and you’d want to be part of them.
On the other side, if you’re a shy one, it’s easy that your skills get overshadowed by some extroverted unskilled colleague who just becomes the teacher’s best friend. Believe me, it’s going to be extremely frustrating.
Try to impose yourself and show you’re always there listening.
The college has a lot of downsides, but it gives you the opportunity to enter a unique and privileged environment.
Currently, there are a lot of issues on the educational side, but by knowing what is expecting you I am sure you can get both a degree and become professional, at the cost of sacrificing thousands of hours.