Ten years ago, going to college seemed to me like the only way into a successful career. Fast forward to now, and my opinion is much different. I will explain why I believe the college route isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t be pushed as the best way to get somewhere in life.
Here’s A Little Backstory…
My passion is graphic design and photography. When I was about to graduate high school, I was introduced to a school for creatives called Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida. The Digital Art and Design degree looked very enticing and right up my alley. We planned a visit to get a better understanding before making any decisions.
We toured around the state-of-the-art campus and talked with various administrators. They informed us that after graduating from your chosen program, the career team would guide you to get a job in the industry. They said that previous students easily made six figures, and so on and so on. It all sounded like a dream and we dove right in.
Through-out my journey at this college, I learned a lot and was introduced to new programs and creative tools. I graduated with a 99.5% attendance rate, a GPA of 3.5, and a little paper with the words “Bachelors of Science in Digital Art and Design”. It was a good experience overall and I was excited to jump into the real world to start my new career.
The career department helped me set up a resume as well as search for jobs. I sent my resume to dozens of places but wasn’t having much luck. The market around Full Sail was so saturated with designers that it was incredibly tough to even get an interview with a company – so I moved back to my home town. While there, I was sending out dozens of resumes as well. The problem I was running into now was not having any “experience”.
I ended up settling for a $13/hour job at a local vehicle wrap graphic shop to gain this all important experience. From there I worked my way up to $15/hour, and by that time the student loan companies were starting to knock on my door. And what I mean by that is, they needed about $900 a month. This was a struggle with making only $15/hour. It forced me to continue living with my parents until a better paying job came around.
A couple of years went by and a few changes, but I was still struggling to find a job that would pay more than $15/hour even WITH a few years of experience under my belt. I also observed most of the classmates who I stayed in contact with were in the same situation. Not being able to find suitable jobs, not able to move out of their parent’s house, and some ended up working completely unrelated jobs – All due to an overpriced and under promised education.
Throughout this whole experience, I have learned a lot of things – and many that I wish I could go back and change. Education is imperative, and it will guide you to grow and build yourself. But I’ve realized you don’t need a university degree to be successful.
Alternatives To College
In an industry like mine (and many others), there are thousands of tutorials and training videos on the web (free and paid), along with affordable online courses. If you are passionate about something, put your focus to it and research the hell out of it – learn as much as you can online. You will advance yourself and slowly start building up a portfolio or plan.
There are also many online communities to push yourself and connect with like-minded people. Networking sites such as Linkedin, Facebook groups, Meetup and many others are all great options. Network with people and make friends who share the same interests and motivation – this is how you start getting noticed and opportunities arise. All this can be done with dedication and without a full-blown university education. That little piece of paper that I have on my wall (actually, it’s gathering dust in a box), has not once made a difference in my career, which is sad considering that it costs about the same as a house payment for the next 15-20 years (yikes).
To Wrap Things Up:
I’m not saying that a degree isn’t worth it for everyone. If you plan to become a doctor, lawyer, scientist, etc. you don’t really have a choice but to take the traditional route, and that is perfectly fine. But for some of us, specifically in a creative field, the future is at our fingertips right on the web and if you want something bad enough, you don’t have to sign your life away with a mountain of loans.
Learn online, join groups, network, get the experience. In the 2-4 years time it would take to get a degree, you could already have a network of connections and years of experience under your belt. Best of all, no heavy student loans weighing you down.
I wrote this article in hopes that I can open the minds and bring awareness to anyone who’s in need of guidance on their life choices after High School.
You are not a failure or a bum if you don’t go to college – you can make something of yourself. You can follow your true ambitions in your own way. Get pumped and get to learning! (By the way, read THIS article for more inspiration on a similar topic). Best of luck!