Top 5 Reasons Not to Enroll in Art School

"Should I go to art school?" you may be thinking. 

No.  Please don't.  I've worked in the design field for the past 10 years and I promise no one gives a shit about where you went to college nor do they care about your MFA.  What matters is having a kickass portfolio, good work experience, and nailing the interview.  

Please see the 5 reasons below on why you should NOT go to art school.

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1.)  Student Debt

Guys, in case you haven't heard, student debt is a national crisis in the United States.  Americans owe over $1.45 trillion in student loan debt - and yes, that's trillion with a T.  That's more debt than the total amount of credit card debt in the U.S.  

In 2017, SCAD's tuition alone is $36,630 per year.  That's $146,520 in 4 years and what do you get?  A boring, dime-a-dozen Bachelor's degree.  Trust me, no one is going to look at your resume and say, "Oh wow, you have a Bachelor's degree.  I'm impressed!"  In the 21st century, having a Bachelor's degree is nothing special.

I know the romantic narrative of doing what you love sounds like the debt won't really bother you, because you'll be so happy in your career choice.  This is a myth.  Student debt is absolutely crippling.  It can prevent you from pursuing major feats later in life such as buying a home, starting a business, or traveling.  It might not seem super important right now, but wouldn't you rather have the flexibility of making those choices rather than being cornered by your student debt?  Being a designer is awesome, but it doesn't pay that well.  Be smart.

I am all about pursuing your dreams, but you don't need to pay $146,520 (+ interest) to do it.

(Data via studentloanhero,  federalreserve.govWSJ, herehere and here and here)


2.) The Internet is Free, boo

Don't tell me nobody told you.  ;) 

But seriously, the world is changing and there are more resources than ever that are either free or extremely affordable compared to the stuffy art school tuition you're raising eyebrows over.

If you want to be a designer the first thing I suggest is to sign up for Adobe Creative Cloud plan at $19.99 per month.  This will give you access to the latest version of Photoshop.  The next step is to watch as many videos as you can on YouTube for FREE.  

Then offer to do free design work for people.  Believe me, I learned 90% of my design knowledge on-the-job, NOT in school.  You'll probably feel a little bit like a fake-it-till-you-make-it person, but that's totally okay, because you're not charging so how could a client be unhappy?  The learning process will be organic.  My advice is to trust it and keep going.  The more actual work you do, the better you'll get and once you feel like you know what you're doing, you can start charging an entry-level fee.  You'll also start building a library of design work to create your kickass portfolio.

If you need more structure to learn the software, I'd suggest signing up for Skillshare for $15 per month or $8.25 per month (charged annually).  


3.)  Learn By Doing

I can remember absolutely hating my first Graphic Design class.  I was on the road to earning my B.F.A. in Studio Art with a concentration in Painting from a liberal arts college.  I completely loved getting lost in the process of making art by hand:  deciding on a unique viewpoint, experimenting with color, mixing paints, applying texture, painting over an area, and presenting my work to a class full of smart, creative people.  The rewarding feeling of self-expression is unlike anything else.  The idea of sitting at a cold computer working on a corporate logo in a program I didn't understand made me want to gag.  

The problem is that my perspective was so limited.  I had no idea what I could do with design and school was never going to get me to where I was eventually going.  You have to try things.  Take jobs.  When you're first starting out, you are willing to take any work a client gives you.  And that's great, because you can quickly determine what type of work you enjoy.  Sometimes you think you know what you want, but the reality of your day-to-day could be totally different.  I know a male designer who wanted to design cars.  To him, that sounded like the coolest thing in the world.  But after taking a few assignments, he realized it wasn't as glamorous as it sounded.  He ended up working in drinkware and absolutely loves it!  I started out as a T-shirt designer.  It was a great first job and I learned a lot, but was not what I saw myself doing forever.  I discovered artists like Leah Duncan and realized how profoundly different my path could be.  

I realized that design could be something I actually loved as much as painting and started researching more artists, designers, and illustrators who inspired me.  What were they doing?  How were they making money?  I worked on my portfolio day and night drawing and designing in a way that motivated me.  'I could get into this,' I thought.  Eventually, I built a body of work I was proud to present and began applying to companies to which my portfolio would appeal.  I applied for anything and everything in the SouthEast that needed an illustrator or a textile designer.  I applied on LinkedIn for a position as a print and pattern designer at Surya, a rug wholesaler.  I nailed the interview and received an offer.  The company was based in Calhoun, GA about an hour outside of Atlanta.  I knew in my bones that I wanted this position and was willing to do whatever it took.  I took the job, and for 5 years, I commuted from Atlanta to Calhoun to design rugs for Surya.  I recently changed jobs, no longer have a commute, and now work for a manufacturer who designs rugs for private label brands such as West Elm, Pottery Barn, and Target.  

I had ONE Graphic Design class in college.   I did not get to this point in my career by taking out crippling student debt and attending college.  I did it by trying things, by working on my portfolio at night, and by accepting the challenge.  I have never taken a textile design class, yet when I left Surya, I had offers from multiple companies, because I now have relevant work experience.  I gained my work experience by taking action.  The majority of my design knowledge I learned by doing.

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4.)  Real Job Skills

When I landed my first job I felt like a phony.  Sure, I knew the core basics of Graphic Design.  I could make some shapes in Illustrator and I could use a few selection tools in Photoshop, but I couldn't shake this feeling that I had bamboozled my boss into hiring me because I felt so completely lost and unprepared for real work.  Even though I had been through 4 long years earning a B.F.A. at a liberal arts college and had taken a year of Graphic Design courses on top of that, I was at my very first big-girl-job feeling like I had no real relevant skills. 

Believe me, folks.  In design, you learn real job skills from working.  The problem with school is that you learn how to do something in Illustrator/Photoshop/InDesign one time, but because you aren't constantly applying this new skill at work day-in and day-out it's easy to forget.  While I enjoyed the majority of my classes and found the subject matter interesting, it didn't really help me when I needed to turn out 10 T-shirt proofs within a guaranteed 24 hour turn-around time.  

The great thing about a liberal arts education is that it teaches you how to think.  I am grateful for that in life and have the attitude that I can always figure it out.  If I became a rug designer without ever taking one textile design class, then like me, anyone can acquire their real job skills while working.


5.) Time.

So while there are some things I appreciate about my formal education, it makes me cringe to think about how much time was wasted on pretty useless shit.  There were plenty of enjoyable classes I took in school that had no application in the real world.  For example, I took Sculpture and Ceramics.  While those classes were fun, I have never once applied anything I learned since I left college.  Those classes surely didn't help me land a job and the skills I learned in those classes didn't help me once I was working.  Thinking about the timeline of life, those types of classes should have been reserved for my retirement.  

So don't waste time.

Start working now.  If I had started learning Photoshop and Illustrator in high school, I would be light-years ahead.  If I had started working with clients while I was in college I would have found my path much sooner.  

Life is extremely short and the time to start pursuing your dreams is now.   My advice is to go to the school you can afford and start your side hustle immediately.  

For more, check out the video below where I rant about this topic for about 20 minutes. :)   It's entertaining.