Degree or No Degree, that is the Question?

This topic relates to something that has been widely discussed for the last couple of years I presume. The question is, Degree or No Degree? Myself being a self taught Artist has led me do ditch any form of studying to obtain a degree or diploma, personally I think of it as being a waste of time. Time that you can push into teaching yourself and understanding things much better. Yes this is my opinion, but I’m sure there are hundreds if not thousands of people out there that agree with me.

Think of it like this. On average, someone that goes about a study/degree route, ends up starting to work at around the age of 25. They have a 40 year retirement plan ahead of them, which means they want to retire comfortably at the age of 65, Let me lay it out for you this way though.

I bet you they never told you that when you were studying or in school. That is the reality though. I know I want to end up as part of the 1% and that is why I took the conventional route, start young and retire early. I rather started working whilst I was in high school and then went straight into the business side of things after high school. I can tell you that it has been working out phenomenally for me so far.

Now Creativeoverflow readers, what is your opinion?

Degree or No Degree?

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Jacques is an Entrepreneur and Founder of the An1ken Group. He recently launched a daily vlog on Youtube — JacquesvhTV. He started Creativeoverflow in 2009 as a hub for creatives. Connect with him: - @Jacquesvh - Facebook - Instagram - Pinterest

  1. Reply John May 27, 2010 at 9:27 AM

    I whole-heartedly agree. I was in a 4-year Fine Arts program and 2 years in, I thought it was a big waste of time. I read the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki that gave me a different look at the way we thought making money would work. I highly recommend it.

    So I stopped going to school, opted for the self-learning route and started a web design business. 8 months in, I applied to work as a front-end developer arguing that I’ve learnt more in the 8 months than I did in the last 5 years combined and can learn anything they dish out at me. Needless to say, I was hired right away.

    As for my friends? Well, most of them either graduated last year or they’re graduating this year. With degree in hand and no experiences, chances are, it’ll be hard for them to stand out. Those that graduated last year are still unemployed .

    Thanks for the great post :) I appreciate it.

    • Reply Jacques van Heerden May 27, 2010 at 9:36 AM

      That’s the thing, if you don’t study you build up work experience which is much more valuable in my opinion than studying.

      • cari November 4, 2010 at 3:48 PM

        Mmmm…what must I say at the age of 43 who everytime I apply for a job I can do and they see I have a degree they throw me out? What must I do when I go and sit for interviews in my field must be faced by the quote system in SA full of racists? I already studied so many other courses in other fields…must I leave for Taiwan again after being there for 3 years?
        Who will take care of a simple single old lady? No, I think my degree is now a curse in this country and I guess my skincolour too.

      • Daniel Tynan March 11, 2012 at 11:46 PM

        It’s really hard to believe you if you say that people are not hiring you BECAUSE you have a degree.   Degrees are usually given preferential treatment WHEN the person also has working experience.   A degree + experience usually wins over no degree + experience.

  2. Reply Jede May 27, 2010 at 9:33 AM

    After spending four years in university to gain my degree, I feel that I’m a bit late in starting my career. I should have started working earlier. So I think having a degree isn’t a key to success. Star working as early as you can while you got the opportunity sounds better.

    • Reply Jacques van Heerden May 27, 2010 at 10:10 AM

      Thanks for putting that out on the table for the people. A lot of high school grads want to obtain a degree to get work, why not just get work straight out of school?

      • Gabriella Louise May 27, 2010 at 10:22 PM

        You have a really good point. I often get into disputes with my tutors because I am being critiqued and asked to change my work to their preference. Then I realize it is my work and I just do what I want to do, because they aren’t always right, far from it actually.

  3. Reply Gabriella Louise May 27, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    I’m a Graphic Design student, 2nd year from September. And this makes me regret going to university D: The views expressed probably relate to so many people right now and in the future. But I think some students learn quite a bit whilst in HE also.

    Meh, that’s just my opinion though.

    • Reply Jacques van Heerden May 27, 2010 at 10:12 AM

      The thing is with University is that you learn design principles yes, but to who’s taste are you designing? The tutor’s? If he doesn’t like the style then he throws it out. That is the thing that really breaks down some people. 1000 other people love the design, but the tutor doesn’t so he degrades the student.

      • Gabriella Louise May 27, 2010 at 10:23 PM

        Posted it on the wrong comment. My bad :)

        As I said before:

        You have a really good point. I often get into disputes with my tutors because I am being critiqued and asked to change my work to their preference. Then I realize it is my work and I just do what I want to do, because they aren’t always right, far from it actually.

      • Daniel Tynan March 11, 2012 at 11:43 PM

        You need to learn how to change your work to satisfy your tutors. . because in real life you will have to change your to satisfy personal preferences of your clients or supervisors all the time!

  4. Reply Michal Plazinski May 27, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    Although I know where you’re coming from, I’m in the 5th and final year of a degree at the moment. I get your points, and I agree with what you’re saying, but many people don’t. I’ve hated my degree ever since I enrolled, but I feel I need to finish it otherwise I’ll be wasting epic amounts of money already spent on it. Many employers take somebody with a degree AND experience over someone who has no degrees but 2-3 years more experience (time taken to otherwise complete a degree). And that is why I’m sticking with the study and learning the stuff they don’t teach me in my own spare time.
    .-= Michal Plazinski´s last blog ..24 Insanely Beautiful Aurora Photographs =-.

    • Reply Jacques van Heerden May 27, 2010 at 12:23 PM

      You are right on track there my friend, don’t waste money, Studying teaches you principles of design which otherwise I had to sit down and learn myself.
      I tend to disagree with your last point though, companies don’t really take people with fresh degrees over people that have quality work experience. It all boils down to the portfolio if you have a awesome portfolio accompanied by a degree your in, but if you have work experience and your portfolio drops the students, your in.

  5. Reply Joris May 27, 2010 at 11:22 AM

    I’m a webdesign teacher in Belgium and I think it’s difficult to put out a black and white vision about this issue. Some people learn easy and quick by themselves, some need a little push to get them started.

    I studied 4 years of graphic design and although I learned more on my own I needed the degree to start teaching after working for 8 years in the business. I think a good teacher is willing to follow what’s going on in webdesign. He has to guide students where needed and even let them decide what future topics might be – then students might actually learn something. A tutor who pushes ‘his style’ onto his student is a crappy teacher.

    If you think you don’t need Uni to start working, just start working. If you are not yet confident enough, maybe Uni is a possibility.

    • Reply Jacques van Heerden May 27, 2010 at 12:20 PM

      You put it out there in a very nice way, some people have built up the skill themselves and like to pursue things on there own terms. We had a case here in South Africa where one of my friends failed her 4th year due to the tutor pushing his style down on her work. I can say her final was amazing though, but he was deliberate.

      I agree with you though on the confidence levels and situations. Some are ready, some need to be schooled. Thanks for your input.

  6. Reply Somni May 27, 2010 at 12:35 PM

    I think it depends on what college you would attend and what major. I currently attend Ringling College of Art and Design, and I major in illustration. I know that I can enter in the business of concept art/videogame art without a degree, but from what I’ve experienced just in my 1st year at Ringling, I must say, it’s worth it. My art knowledge has opened a hundredfold and I’ve been able to forge connections, study things I otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and expand my media and style.

    Honestly, I know I am not ready to work in the field. I believe my art is great and I am proud of my work, but I have much to learn, much to study from other artists, and I know that just these 4 years, I will be able to grow and become a thousand times better than I was before my first year.

    Btw, where did you get your statistical facts? I’ve heard different and more optimistic stats for artists.

    • Reply Jacques van Heerden May 27, 2010 at 2:07 PM

      That is true, like I said you learn art history and discipline. Some like College and others hate it. Your part of the people that like it. As for the statistics, those stats are regarding the entire worlds population, not just artists.

  7. Reply Jill C. May 27, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    I have to agree with most of the thoughts here – in that college is less of a factor anymore in success. I did not have the opportunity to go to college, although if I could have I would have – I think education is a WONDERFUL thing, but I have also been pretty successful without it. I will never be rich, but that is not my goal so it’s all good.

    I make a good living doing web design – can work from home to be with my family and never stepped a foot inside a college. But ask how many web programming books I own and how many magazines I subscribe to?!? I am an avid learner – and am a do it yourself kind of gal and thankfully that has helped me get to the place I want to be…

    For those of you in college – enjoy this time….but definitely start trying to get some work experience….get an internship while going to school…this will give you the edge up over others who have only a degree or ONLY experience….

    Great topic!

  8. Reply MrFenix May 27, 2010 at 3:32 PM

    Short and straight to the point Jacques! Nicely done. I was studying for a diploma in Media Design and Technology. In my second year I started working at an ad agency. So basically, it was a half day of college then half day of work. The time came when we had nearly 2 months off from college and I started working full time at the ad agency. All in all, the principles, theory and practical that I learned through the agency made nearly 2 years of college a waste of time. I dropped out of college and worked full time.

    Come to think of it, nearly everyone (80%) that finished their diploma have not found a job in the design industry. Even for those that have put there foot in the door in the design industry, they’ve started off at entry level. Still living with mom and dad. Meanwhile, I’ve moved across the country, bought a car and progressed in leaps and bounds because of the pace of living in a bigger city.

  9. Reply Ben Wong May 27, 2010 at 4:38 PM

    Half way through my 4 year university degree, I came to the same conclusion… The degree was taking far too long for too little benefit. I was gaining more practical experience in my freelance work during the summers than I was in class. Still, I stuck it out cause I like to finish what I start, but if I had to do it all over again I think I would have opted for a shorter 2-3 year college program with more hands on classes so that I could get out into the workforce quicker.

    Our industry is a unique one in that degrees and honors do not carry nearly as much weight as an excellent portfolio. Whether that is achieved through school or personal work outside of education will be different for everyone.

  10. Reply Matthew Heidenreich May 27, 2010 at 5:08 PM

    I’m in the situation where I taught myself a lot of what I know. I am currently going to college, and while i feel some of the stuff is a waste of time, I am still learning a lot of things that I normally wouldn’t have known doing it on my own. While college doesn’t necessarily mean success, it will always benefit you more than if you don’t have it.
    .-= Matthew Heidenreich´s last blog ..PSD to XHTML: Create a Chalkboard Style WordPress Layout =-.

  11. Reply Josh May 27, 2010 at 5:19 PM

    I’ve got to disagree. Your argument is basically that by going to school you put off experience and that experience is more important than formal education. I agree with you that experience is more important than formal education, but you don’t have to put off working because you go to school full-time.

    I earned a 4 year Bachelor’s and am now a web designer. During my time in college I freelanced, worked part-time doing design, and participated in internships. All the while getting personal design attention from professors and the benefit of learning and working alongside 15 of my peers.

    The way the job market is right now, I would find it hard to believe many design firms and agencies would hire an out of high school designer full-time as opposed to one with a 4 year degree. If you’ve looked at any job boards recently for design positions you will see nearly all require a 4 year degree.

    The short-term benefit of the income of full-time work for those 4 years instead of getting a university education would not be the difference between retiring broke or retiring wealthy either. I think just like any serious profession, formal education has an important role to play. I unfortunately run into way too many “designers” who have a copy of photoshop and think they’re ready to go. This, IMO, devalues the skill of professional design in the eye of the average client.

    Basically my argument is in today’s world it is going to get increasingly harder to compete for jobs without a college education. But you make a great point that experience is more important than any piece of paper. I had a lot of friends that didn’t do any professional work during college like I did and they are still looking for jobs.

  12. Reply illastr8 May 27, 2010 at 6:52 PM

    Great writeup! I managed to get into the field with graphic design knowledge before I even considered school. I have managed to make it to school now to get a degree in web development. It is true though, I have learned more on my own and working in the industry than in school. I have friends that just graduated with their 4 year degrees and have not found a job due to lack of experience.

    .-= illastr8´s last blog animation =-.

  13. Reply Jason Kilp May 27, 2010 at 7:28 PM

    I would like to know where you got those statistics from. That would be interesting to read up on that research.

  14. Reply Nico May 27, 2010 at 10:43 PM

    I would also like to know the source for the statistics.

    My anecdotal experience is that, at least in web-related jobs, getting a degree is probably a waste of time and money versus just learning by yourself and working. Although this is not for everyone and probably a lot of people need to go to school.

  15. Reply No Name May 27, 2010 at 11:21 PM

    First of all, the people who said this is a great writeup obviously don’t know very much about an informative article. There isn’t anything of use in this article. The author states his opinion and throws out some random stats, that he doesn’t even cite, and says that a degree is a waste of time.

    Secondly, I believe that the best answer is to get a degree and do freelance work to build a portfolio while you are in school. I see two issues here. 1. society making everyone think that you have to have a degree to be successful and 2. Employers wanting to see a degree and a great portfolio before they will even think about hiring you. Freelancing while getting your degree hits both of these areas.

    The issue of getting started early, lets say 18, as opposed to 25 ( or whenever you get your college degree) leading to a more lucrative retirement makes sense but that won’t work for everyone. The real truth is that it all depends on how frugal a person is with their money as to how well they will retire. Starting saving/investing sooner can possibly help a person make more money and retire at an earlier age, but that can also be accomplished after a degree is obtained as well.

    Another issue is the lack of a quality web design degree program. I feel that once Universities start to address this issue and start to implement better web design curriculum, then a degree will be a must.

    This is very debatable, but a good opening article would have helped!

  16. Reply Patrick Branigan May 28, 2010 at 5:12 AM

    As ironic as this may sound, I solved this problem. I recently graduated with a BFA Communication Design from the University at Buffalo. In my four years, the program taught me the necessary principles to get me going in design and then stopped teaching me anything to do with the actual creation of design. They began to teach us how to look outside the societal normalcy that is “good” design, outside the broken and manipulative system that is the academic grading system, etc., and really focus on adventuring into experimentation. Most importantly, my journey to receiving a degree didn’t teach me the creation of design but the theories surrounding the design industry. I left college with more questions than answers, and because of this, I have completely revolutionized my outlook on the design world and am more ambitious than ever to try and solve the bank of questions I have walked away with.

    So degree or not? I say. If after your first year or so you feel your outlook on the industry or parallel areas (aka what you thought you wanted to do) hasn’t been drastically pushed into a new light, get out of the degree system. If it has, ride it out and take what you absorb to help you better the story you’re just beginning to narrate.

  17. Reply Bogdan Sandu May 28, 2010 at 7:06 AM

    I don’t know about you Jacques but I’m planning to live up to 85.
    .-= Bogdan Sandu´s last blog ..60 Absolut Vodka Print Advertisements =-.

  18. Reply Trevor Zimmerman May 28, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    This is a tough question and also has so many opinuated answers. But Like it has been mentioned above it comes down to the persons personal personna and attitude towards design and the industry. I had graduated last year with 2 degrees one was a foundation and the other was a BA Hons and I am happy I chose to go down the degree route, it made me into the designer I am today and also opened my eyes to a different world looking at the design principles and also exploring into your own indivuality and style ..

    before i started uni i knew photoshop and abit of illustrator through self taught but i never knew the skills i had with out uni and what i could do with these skills. So I think if you can ride it out and you can take hard crit’ and enjoy education a degree is defantly the way. But it does not stop you from getting a job after and also does not stop you geting experience while I was at uni for the 3 years I had worked in 4- 5 different design agencies within different sectors from packaging / branding / small agencies to very large successful ones I also did freelancing on the side and had the opportunity to re-brand a hair salon through a project within my course.

    So if you choose to take the degree dont sit back and ride it through your going to have to push for it because you will come out of uni and wont find a job where as if you do what I had done you will get a job within 6 months ..

    I hope this is helpful. :D

  19. Reply bokula May 28, 2010 at 11:31 PM

    It’s really a matter of a situation…I never had a chance to go to any school,so I learned everything myself…Not going to any school has it’s bad sides,like not having a degree,but to me,more important is that,when u go to school,u start doing things their way,losing u own style…

    • Reply kellysgraphics May 1, 2011 at 4:53 AM

      bokula, I disagree with the last part, and I understand that in some colleges/Univ’s it depends. I go to Westwood College Online, I’m in AL, and I love it. I have two weeks left and I’ll be a graduate with a Bachelor’s in Web Design. I already have an AAS in Graphic Design. I feel that if I were to do it on my own, I wouldn’t have pushed myself like I did in my classes. My teachers, in just about every class, allowed me to use my own talent in the design I wanted. Yes, sometimes they disagreed but most of the time they done it for a good reason, not because they were pushing their idea into my design. I admit, having a portfolio that not only looks good but also having a variety of works, is a huge plus. The last interview I went to, I had all the requirements except a certain program they used specifically. Unfortunately I had never used it, but I intend on learning about it as soon as I get done with my schooling. No, I don’t have time to work outside of school, mainly because I can’t afford daycare for two, but, I also could apply myself more, work further into my skills, and possibly get myself into the door somewhere. I think it depends on the person, if student or not, and their persistence in the career they want. For me, that last interview, if I really wanted to, I could have called them and asked what program it was they used, so I could apply it to my skills down the road, learn more about it, so if them or someone similar requires it, I’ll have in my knowledge base. But, all-in-all, I love going to school, had great instructors (not all by no means), and their representatives are always standing by for questions. However, I wouldn’t advise quitting a degree, that could cost a lot of money to pay back.Good luck to everyone in this discussion thread. I know how hard it is to get a job with and without a degree, so, just hang in there.

  20. Reply Chris M June 1, 2010 at 2:52 PM

    Nice one Jacques. Interesting stats. I didn’t think finishing my degree was worth it. Have you had a chance to check out this article I wrote on kind of the same thing?

    • Reply Jacques van Heerden June 1, 2010 at 10:20 PM

      Thanks for the comment Chris,

      I will have a look and then let you know :)

  21. Reply buy fire pit June 3, 2010 at 8:45 PM

    Thanks for sharing your opinion. But I’m no economist so I often wonder how this all happened and why I’m having to struggle through this downed economy.

  22. Reply bunnyrut June 4, 2010 at 6:27 PM

    It all depends on what you are going to do with your life.
    I agree that an artist does not need a degree. You should not have to go to school to learn how to be creative. You can learn how to do a lot of things without paying the thousands of dollars a semester.

    But other fields do require you to get a degree. Science for example. There is a lot you need to know and you will not get a job without a degree.

    I chose to go to school for management. My choice for that was that no one would hire me to gain the experience I needed to move up. but once I obtained that diploma, it happened instantly.
    It’s sad really how people view a piece of paper.

    • Reply Blissrockstheweb October 27, 2011 at 3:33 AM

      It’s not just a piece of paper it’s the education.

      • guest March 6, 2012 at 11:19 AM

        you can get education without going to college, i hope people know that

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