Nearly every graphic design hopeful will inevitably ask the same question sooner or later: Is a graphic design degree really worth it?
For many professions, acquiring a formal education is non-negotiable. For example, pilots or surgeons don’t have the option to bypass formal instruction 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.
Is a graphic design degree necessary? The honest answer is no. There are plenty of video tutorials and step-by-step articles that can help introduce you to the industry and demonstrate basic software skills.
But is a graphic design degree worth it? If you aspire to make a splash in the industry, the answer is ‘Yes!’ We combined government data, real-time market intelligence and expert insight to identify four benefits that come with earning a graphic design degree.
4 Reasons a graphic design degree is worth it
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 undergo a formal graphic design education. From the knowledge and instruction you receive while in school to the opportunities available to you after graduation, the advantages are abundant.
1. You’ll be eligible for more jobs
No matter what the profession, one of the biggest concerns anyone has when pursuing a new career path 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.
Our panel of pros agrees that one of the most important things you can do to increase your employment potential is earn a graphic design degree. In fact, many employers require candidates to have a degree.
FACT: 91% of employers prefer candidates to have a degree.
It’s true that graphic design is a “show me” profession, meaning employers are going to insist on seeing tangible examples of your work. This is why design portfolios carry so much weight in the hiring process. But many employers won’t even lay eyes on your portfolio without seeing a degree listed on your resume.
Don’t believe us? We used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 32,000 graphic design job postings from the past year.1 The data revealed that 91 percent of employers prefer candidates to have a degree.
So whether you earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in design, having this formal education under your belt qualifies you for more than 10 times as many jobs as an individual with no degree. Who doesn’t like those odds?
2. You can increase your earning potential
We’ve all heard that money can’t buy happiness. But there are plenty of things that money can buy, such as your monthly rent, your cable bill or night out on the town with friends. Let’s face it, you’d be lying if you said you wouldn’t appreciate a larger salary.
"I will pay more for a well-trained designer, if necessary."
Earning a degree not only qualifies you for more jobs; it can also help you earn more money! We analyzed the real-time average annual earnings of nearly 11,000 graphic design job postings that listed salary data.2 The average salary of those requiring a degree was $65,011, compared to the $54,749 average offered for those with no degree needed.
This means by acquiring a graphic design degree, you have the opportunity to boost your income by more than $10,000 per year. The professional training that comes with earning a degree proves you are dedicated and reliable, and employers are willing to pay more for that.
You get what you pay for, according to Kathy Riemer, who has hired several graphic designers as the president of Full Circle Communication. Formally educated designers can demand a higher salary because they have the skills, experience and training to back it up.
“I will pay more for a well-trained designer, if necessary,” Riemer says.
3. You’ll stand out among your competition
Enough with the data. This one came straight from the mouths of our experts, who say if they were making a hiring decision between two skilled designers, they would choose the degree holder over the self-taught designer.
“Obtaining a degree in graphic design validates your dedication and brings credibility to your occupation,” says Lisa Chu, CEO of Black N Bianco. In her opinion, a graphic designer with a degree will be hired over one without nine out of 10 times.
"Obtaining a degree in graphic design validates your dedication and brings credibility to your occupation."
Steven Annese frequently hires graphic designers for EliteFixtures.com, an eCommerce retailer. He also favors formally educated designers because they require less training and explanation and are more efficient overall.
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 professional.
"Given a choice, I will only hire formally trained graphic designers," Riemer says.
4. You can develop your skills & 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 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.
"Some of the best lessons to share with students are the ones that just happened a few hours ago at work."
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 safe confines of a college classroom, whether on campus or online, provide a unique environment to mature and learn from your mistakes with the only real consequence being a poor grade. As a self-taught designer, the errors that may come with ‘learning as you go’ could cost your client thousands of dollars.
The answer is clear…
“Even though you don’t need to be formally educated to become a hairstylist, people still go to them for a haircut because they have been properly trained and qualified,” Annese explains. “You don’t just get a haircut from anyone who has ‘practiced’ on their own.” He believes the same principle applies for graphic design.
So although pursuing a design degree may delay your design career a bit, it could end up elevating your career to a whole new level. After learning the facts and hearing the benefits firsthand from professionals, 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 or worthless? The decision is ultimately yours!
If you’re serious about building a successful design career, learn how the Rasmussen College graphic design program can help you achieve your dream!
1 BurningGlass.com (analysis of 32,211 graphic design job postings, Dec. 1, 2014 – Nov. 30, 2015)
2 BurningGlass.com (analysis of 10,977 graphic design job salaries, Dec. 1, 2014 – Nov. 30, 2015) Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in Nov. 2013. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2016.
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