Creative Degrees: Is going to college worth it?

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Growing up, I was always told that in order to make something of myself I needed a college education. I’m sure many of you have heard the same lectures. It leads to a good job with a high paying salary, and acceptance into society, etc. But what if your field of interest is as an artist or a writer? Creative jobs are riskier, and the term ‘starving artist’ can be very real. If you are considering having a career in the arts here are some points to think about before you commit to going to college.


  • High Tuition Costs and Debt


Let’s face it, college is expensive. No one is questioning that. So, unless you have very well-off parents who are willing to pay your way through school, or have gotten scholarships, going to college is a huge decision that could leave you in crippling debt if you aren’t careful. Artists generally don’t make as much money as doctors, lawyers, or engineers so you could be facing the very real possibility of graduating with your shiny new degree, and thousands of dollars of debt in your pocket with no way of paying that back.


  • It Doesn’t Equal a Good Job


Let’s say you have gone to college, and put in the hard work to graduate. Now what? The market for artist jobs is so competitive. Like no, really. You’re competing with people who have 10, 15, 20 years of experience under their belts for the same job. And let’s face it. In this world of supply and demand, there just isn’t a demand for artists in the same way that there are for teachers, police officers, and nurses. Speaking from personal experience, you will find yourself taking anything you can in order to climb the ladder of experience even if the job sucks, and there is no pay. I ended up having to commute two hours to an unpaid internship for a non-profit organization to try and build experience in the field I wanted. Oh, and since it was a non-profit group there was no chance of me getting hired on after the internship was over.


  • Subjective Teachers with Their Own Opinions


Art teachers have the unique challenge of teaching students’ classes where there are no ‘wrong’ answers. It’s not like Calculus where you must solve for x, and that’s the answer. It’s more interpretive. I had a teacher once who assigned a project where we all had to dance with the wind and be among nature. We would then create a drawing based off of that experience. Well, I followed the parameters, and I ended up getting a ‘C’ on this assignment because my teacher felt that my drawings were too ‘cartoony’. That’s just her preference. I still draw in a stylized, ‘cartoony’ way, and I didn’t end up gaining anything from her class other than lowering my gpa from all the C’s she gave me.


  • Structure & Learning


College isn’t all bad though. It does provide a structured environment for people to learn the basics of art, and important life skills. You have to get to class on time, be productive, do the work consistently on time, create portfolios, and communicate professionally with other artists about your art. All of these qualities are necessary in the ‘real world’, and I will admit I am better off for having learned them. If I jumped into ‘being an artist’ straight out of high school without properly learning how to put together a portfolio first, I’m sure I would have just gotten laughed at by every future employer.


  • Credentials


As an artist, your art should speak for itself. In a perfect world. However, we live in a world where more often than not, it’s who you know that gets you anywhere in life rather than your actual talent. So, while your degree may not guarantee that you get a job, if you have a degree from a fancy art school it may get other employers to take a second look at your resume instead of the kid who practiced his skills in his mom’s basement. That kid’s work might be outstanding, but without a college degree there are some places that won’t hire him at all despite the fact that he is fully capable.

I can’t guarantee what is the right path for you. Every person is different. As someone who attended a formal art education I can say that there are good aspects about college, and bad. I think if I would re-do the whole experience I would research different universities more because choosing the right one is crucial. I attended Northern Illinois University, which is known as a business school. Not an art school. But it was close to where I lived, and it was cheaper than Cal Arts. I didn’t know what field of art I was even interested in at the time. I just knew that I wanted to create art. However, everything you can learn in a classroom you can learn on your own. The internet is a powerful tool with free tutorials, and discussions from other artists around the world comparing their own experiences. You just have to be motivated, and diligent. I will list some of the helpful resources I have found below that cost less than a college tuition: is a website with hundreds of tutorials. You can get a free trial to see what it’s like first. A subscription costs $19.99 a month. This is good when you need a refresher in drawing quickly. They have pre-set poses with dynamic lighting for you to sketch with a timer. This is a color scheme generator if you need a little help figuring out what colors look good together. This is a great art blog if you’re looking to get motivated, and inspired. Here is a resource if you need something to prompt your creativity. Another prompt generator for those pesky art blocks. This is an amazing DIY website if you’re looking for a creative new project to sink your teeth into.


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