Is a Graphic Design Degree Worth It or Worthless?
Nearly every graphic design hopeful will inevitably ask the same question sooner or later: Is a graphic design degree worth it, really?
For many professions, acquiring a formal education is nonnegotiable. 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 whether 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.
You’re likely to 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 professionals agrees that one of the most important things you can do to increase your employment potential is to earn a graphic design degree. In fact, many employers require candidates to have a degree.1
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 43,306 graphic design job postings from the past year. The data revealed that 88 percent of employers prefer candidates to have a graphic design associate’s degree or higher.1
So whether you earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in design, having this formal education under your belt qualifies you to apply for nearly 10 times as many jobs as an individual with no degree. Who doesn’t like those odds?
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 a 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.
So how does the salary of a graphic designer stack up? The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2017, the nationwide median annual salary for graphic designers was $48,700. 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 Communications. 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.
It can help you 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 has a much stronger chance of being hired than a designer without one.
“Obtaining a degree in graphic design validates your dedication and brings credibility to your occupation.”
Steven Annese frequently hires graphic designers for Elite Fixtures. 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.
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.
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 value of design education
“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? The determination is up to you.
If you’re serious about building a successful graphic design career, learn how the Rasmussen College Graphic Design program can help you achieve your dream!
1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 43,306 graphic design job postings, Dec. 1, 2017 – Nov. 30, 2018).
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed March, 2019] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and include workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2019.