There are pros and cons to getting a graphic design degree. One of the biggest cons is that design degrees are expensive. Also, the courses can be intense. But, getting a graphic design degree does have its benefits. Most importantly, the degree gives a graphic designer credibility in the design world. If a student wants to work for a top design firm, they will find that having a degree or advanced degree in graphic design is important, if not necessary.
There are a lot of opinions about a degree in the arts. A college degree has gotten so expensive you have to weigh the tuition costs with salary return in the future. Personally, I decided to go to a 4-year school so if I couldn't earn a living as a designer I would have a degree from a decent, accredited 4-year institution. I went to UC Davis in the mid-80's just before computers took over the arts. At the time I think the tuition was roughly $5000 a year. I went through the design program with an emphasis on business graphics. I thought it would be crazy getting a fine arts degree. I would probably be selling silkscreened t-shirts on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley if I had got that degree. At Davis I learned drafting, painting, pen and ink, collage and much more. I felt the most valuable thing I got out of the program was the critique sessions. This involved 30 design students who would collect in a room and put up their own projects on a wall. We would pick apart each student's piece. It was rough at times but it taught me to have a tough skin. It also gave me the ability to speak, "design". I could put my thoughts into constructive feedback to the other students. I do wish there was a class on the business of graphic design. I think many designers have no sense how to run a design business or what it takes to run a successful freelance business.
I learned the computer while working at Chevron as an in-house designer. I am grateful I did learn to actually draw and draft at school instead of the computer. I think many design students only work on the computer these days. Knowing the Adobe Creative Suite is one thing but using pen and ink is another. I also think you either have it or you don't. Just like if you can sing or you can't. You are born with "it" or not. I don't think any program in the world can teach you creative talent.
It's a tough profession. I continually have had to pay my dues every time I start a new job. The college degree will get you an interview but it's about your experience every employer is looking at. No one teaches production design but I am constantly looking for designers who have been in a fast-paced, team oriented environment to get the job done. 80% of the time as a designer is spent doing mechanicals, presentations or production art. You have to enjoy or this gig is not for you. I digress, a graphic design degree not only increases your chances of getting a design job, it also increases your level of income and some top agencies won't even consider a designer without a design degree.
Ian Ransley DESIGN
Ian Ransley is a Bay Area Graphic Designer and Illustrator who has designed some of the most popular large-scale sporting and corporate events in the world.