After weeks, months or even years of deliberation, you’ve finally decided to follow your dream of becoming a graphic designer. Many people spend their whole lives working an ordinary job, so the fact that you’ve chosen to pursue your dream job is an accomplishment in and of itself.
The next logical step is to plan out your path to success. During this planning process, nearly every graphic design hopeful has asked the same question: Is a graphic design degree worth it?
For many professions, acquiring a formal education is non-negotiable. For example, a pilot or an orthopedic surgeon doesn’t have the option to bypass the formal instructions or teach themselves the tricks of the trade.
But as an aspiring graphic designer, you need to decide if you want to earn a degree or be a self-taught designer. It’s a difficult choice to make because there is no clear-cut answer. Both types of designers have found success in the industry.
Is a graphic design degree necessary? No. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials and step-by-step articles that can help introduce you to the industry and walk you through basic skills training. But is a graphic design degree worth it? If you aspire to make a splash in the industry, the answer is yes!
The benefits of earning a graphic design degree
While it may seem quick and easy to jump right in and learn as you go, there are clear benefits that come with taking the time to earn a graphic design degree. From the knowledge and instruction you receive while in school to the opportunities available to you after graduation, the advantages are abundant.
We spoke with a few experts and conducted a little research of our own to provide you with a list of benefits to earning a graphic design degree. These four factors are the most compelling reasons why the answer is unequivocally ‘yes!’
You will likely have more job opportunities after graduation
No matter what the profession, one of the biggest concerns anyone has when pursuing a new career is whether or not they’ll be able to find a job. As you leave behind one job, you want to be confident there will be one waiting for you on the other side.
One of the most important things you can do to increase your employment potential is earn a graphic design degree. Often this is the first thing a hiring manager looks for when considering a design candidate.
While anyone can learn the basics of design software, a degree shows an employer that you’re serious enough to invest in your personal development. Without even seeing your portfolio, having a degree listed on your resume demonstrates your self-worth and commitment to evolve as a graphic designer.
In fact, many hiring managers won’t even consider hiring a designer unless he or she has earned a degree. An analysis of more than 15,000 graphic design jobs posted throughout the past year showed that 82 percent preferred candidates to have a bachelor’s degree.*
The chart illustrates the number of job opportunities for graphic designers with a bachelor’s degree versus those without a degree. You’ll see that earning a bachelor’s degree would qualify you for more than 13,000 more graphic design jobs than an individual with no degree.
This means graphic design degree holders are eligible for nine times more jobs than those without a degree. Who doesn’t like those odds?
You can earn more money
We’ve all heard the saying: Money can’t buy happiness. But there are plenty of things that money can buy, such as your son’s braces, your monthly gym membership and your never-ending grocery list.
Let’s face it, you’d be lying if you said you couldn’t use a higher salary. You’ll be happy to hear that not only does a degree qualify you for more jobs, it can also help you earn more money!
Across most industries, it’s a generally accepted fact that the more education you obtain, the more money you’ll earn. A study conducted by Georgetown University found that bachelor’s degree recipients earn nearly $1 million more in their lifetime than those with a high school diploma. Several other reports have yielded similar results.
But have you ever seen a study focused exclusively on the graphic design industry? The chart below compares the median annual salary for graphic designers with a bachelor’s degree versus those with no degree.*
The annual salary range for all graphic design specialists is roughly $38,000 to $61,000 according to Salary.com, but as the chart illustrates, your education level plays a significant role in where you lie in that range. By acquiring a graphic design degree, you can make nearly $10,000 more per year than if you had no college experience. Just imagine what you could do with that extra money in your pocket!
Understanding the theory of graphic design will make you more marketable
Amy Asmus is a senior graphic designer at Revelation, a communications agency focused on PR, advertising and social media. She says she would never be where she is today if she hadn’t decided to earn a graphic design degree.
“Graphic design is so much more than just slapping some pictures and words together,” Asmus says. She says her formal education provided her with all of the tools she needed to become a well-rounded professional and succeed in the industry.
It’s relatively common these days for inexperienced users to call themselves “graphic designers” after picking up a few tricks in Photoshop. But in reality, graphic design is more than just mastering the software. You should be trained not only in the technical skills, but also in the theory, history and traditions of the industry.
For instance, did you know that different colors trigger emotional reactions in people? Blue is seen as reliable and trustworthy, while yellow symbolizes happiness and positive energy. The study of color theory helps designers pinpoint the precise messages they wish to convey to their audience.
This is just one example of the invaluable knowledge you’d gain in school that cannot be learned in a Photoshop tutorial. A true designer can explain not only how they did something, but why they did it.
You can develop your skills and portfolio under expert direction
Another perk of earning a graphic design degree is that you have the unique opportunity to sharpen your skills alongside industry experts. Most graphic design programs employ faculty members who have years of experience under their belt.
Watching YouTube videos at home can’t compare to the priceless, hands-on instruction you could receive from an expert mentor. Their coaching goes so much deeper than just the content of the courses.
Jennifer Ayotte, dean of the Rasmussen College School of Design, explains that many of the instructors in her program are still very active in the design world. This experience helps them to apply the coursework directly to the real world.
“Some of the best lessons to share with students are the ones that just happened a few hours ago at work,” Ayotte says.
As a graphic design student, you’d also have the opportunity to build your portfolio alongside a seasoned professional. After receiving constant advice and feedback on your work, you can be confident that you’ll graduate with a professional portfolio.
“Who better to provide you with design guidance and a project critique than someone who is already successful in the very industry you wish to join?” Ayotte asks.
The answer is clear…
While it is possible to launch your design career with no formal education, a graphic design degree will give you a head start towards becoming a true professional in the industry. Although pursuing a degree may delay your design career a bit, it could end up taking your career to a whole new level.
If you’re like Amy Asmus, you may think that by going back to school you’re taking a few steps backward. But she’ll be the first to tell you that taking the time to build a base of knowledge and hone her skills in school put her leaps and bounds ahead of where she would have been.
After learning the facts and hearing the benefits firsthand from other designers, you can be confident that going back to school can help you set the stage for a long, successful career.
So is a graphic design degree worth it? You decide!
If you’re serious about building a successful design career, spend some time exploring your graphic design degree options!
* BurningGlass.com (Analysis of graphic design job postings, 10/22/2012 - 10/21/2013)