Is College Right for You?


Whether or not you believe post-secondary would be the right fit for you, I am an avid believer in further your education after high school. College has helped me recognize my strengths and weaknesses, taught me how to better manage my time to meet deadlines, collaborate with others and juggle multiple projects at once; all which are extremely useful job skills. Although a degree or diploma can get your foot in the door, it doesn’t guarantee you employment after graduation.

Creates a Foundation for Learning

If you are starting out fresh in the industry, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to begin. College provides a structured regime that accommodates students with the necessary building blocks and experience to be successful. This would be a good fit for students who need assistance learning the basics of fundamental web design and coding.

Better Opportunities for Internships and Employment

Most student designers coming straight from high school can’t own their skills or create their personal style within such a short timeframe. Using college as a means to brand yourself will give you an edge later on when applying for internships and jobs. There are very few designers, at such a young age, that have the perfect combination of skills to have a flourishing career without some formal design education. You would be taking a large risk to not attend post-secondary.

Establishes Connections

College provides you with a number of options to connect not only with classmates, but teachers and mentors that can become an invaluable source of information in the future. Establishing connections with like-minded people will serve you well when looking for employment. College also gives you a buffer of time to network with other designers, as well as send out your resume and portfolio to as many agencies as possible. Establishing connections at a young age will help you solidify work in the future.

Self-improvement is your full time job (they don’t tell you- but that tuition pays for your social life as well) – Zach Dunn


Lack of Up To Date Information

The way the design industry moves at dizzying speeds is the main reason why standard school curriculum’s can’t keep pace with the current industry. Being taught old techniques is not only detrimental to your education, it can instill bad habits. Keeping up to date with the design industry online and seeking knowledge outside the classroom will benefit you throughout your studies.

Degrees Don’t Really Matter

Having a killer portfolio will win over employers. Exemplifying that you possess massive potential is what will make you stand out, rather than what formal design education you hold. Placing emphasis on your portfolio will get the attention of clients and potential employers, but make sure you understand what you are getting yourself into. You need to be extremely adaptable to change to be succesfull as a freelancer without a college education.


Know Your Personality and Skill Set

Understand what program you are applying for. Many web design degrees can be masked as “Multimedia” and “Computer Arts” and include topics that aren’t relevant towards your career. Being passionate about your program is crucial. If freelancing opportunities arise, assignments that don’t hold much importance will get pushed to the wayside.

College provides an excellent way for you to make mistakes within an isolated environment that encourages personal development. College gave me the opportunity to develop many skills that have proved useful in the workplace. Knowing your skill set, as well as your strengths and weaknesses, will help you become more confident in your work and yourself as a designer. Having a wide array of skills is ideal, but many employers will appreciate honesty.

How Do I Know if College is for Me?

The hard part about knowing if college is right for you, is that you have to experience it for yourself. College can either be easy or hard – depending on much you are willing to put in. The more work you put in now, the easier it becomes later on in your career.


Written by Janna Hagan

Janna Hagan is a web designer from Canada that likes to blog, tweet and Dribbble. She's the founder and editor of Student's Guide to Web Design.


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  1. Collin Henderson on March 20, 2012

    I definitely agree that post-secondary education is an important thing to do. Some schools will always be better than others for keeping fairly up-to-date to make sure you always do your research first. The key is to put yourself out there and improve yourself through both your academics and your spare time. If you want to be a great programmer, you'll have to practice it outside the class. As I now am almost finished school, I do grow tiresome of it, but I have had a few weird semesters with some odd courses. College will still teach you dedication, discipline, and give you a chance for a great social life.

  2. Adam on March 20, 2012

    Great read! ...but unfortunately in Hungary most companies want diploma coming out of our ears regardless your portfolio. I guess that's why most of Hungary's design looks terrible. :)

  3. Thomas J Bradley on March 20, 2012

    As Collin mentioned, some schools are more up-to-date than others and you do have to do the research. I change the material in my web dev classes every term and try really hard to help the students get into the web community so they can understand you can't rest on your laurels with web dev.

  4. Kirill Z. on March 20, 2012

    Good read - a lot of good points. I'd have to agree with Thomas - It all depends on the school and their teachers. I had a prof who thought us Frontpage... while another would push HTML5, CSS3 and jQuery. The main problem is that most "good" web developers are in the field, working. Schools hire teachers based on their degrees rather their knowledge. Last year my school was making a decision between hiring a guy who worked as a developer for Twitter and this girl who had PHDs “coming out of her ears”. Guess who got hired. Don’t fully depend on your degree. Be passionate about what you do and go beyond what they teach you in class and if you do – you’re already ahead of the game.

  5. An Yu on March 22, 2012

    (oops, let me repost! Fixed a bit of logic in one of my sentences & added a bit) Great site! As someone who's nearing the end of college, I highly recommend the college path as well. I definitely see the allure of self learning esp. with anything web/design/business related, and probably would have gotten much farther skill-wise had I focused on projects/work w/o attending college (admittedly I wasn't in a web design program). But college really sparks a lot of other interests, and you discover things you would never have even known about. For example, I started college also just wanting to learn web/graphic design, but discovered Cognitive Science/Human Computer Interaction/User Experience. Might've learned about UX sooner or later on my own , but CogSci is fascinating, and I wouldn't have known about these other fields. College forces you to meet/interact with ppl in completely different subjects too, whereas it's easy to just find/talk to mostly tech/design ppl on your own.In summary - give yourself a chance to explore. There may be more to life than web design :) Agree w/ everyone else about being diligent with keeping up with industry though. Contact local designers just to meet up and chat, read blogs, keep practicing, etc. Or you'll be slowed down by school.

    • Janna Hagan on May 11, 2012

      Thanks for the wonderful comment An!

  6. Courtney Fantinato on March 23, 2012

    I definitely agree that going to college/university has many benefits. I started off with completing a two-year diploma and deciding half-way through the 2nd year that I wanted the full degree (which didn't exist when I started the diploma). I felt I wasn't ready to be done university, and there was more I wanted to learn - and I sure have!! I only have a few more weeks or so left of my university career, and I am already looking for work. It's definitely important to make sure the program you go into is staying as up-to-date as possible. They may not be teaching HTML5/CSS3/etc just yet, but they shouldn't be teaching using tables for layout and Frontpage. My department (Media Studies at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, BC) stays up to date quite well, and allows opportunities to take more advanced development courses (unfortunately not always taught every year due to lack of funding) or to do directed studies (self-teaching with a professor as your "mentor") to further your skills past the basics of HTML and CSS. And of course there are other benefits of just going to university - including studying abroad! :)

  7. Eric Benjamin on March 23, 2012

    You forgot to mention the perks of being a student! Typeface discounts! Adobe / AIGA discounts! And typeface discounts (again)!!

  8. Joel Glovier on April 3, 2012

    One of the biggest accidental blessings in my life was that I didn't go to school for design or web development. I studied communications (public relations). I ended up in the web design/development career field because it most closely aligns with what I love to do, but it's also built around a "what" skill set. What I actually studied was a "how" or "why" skill set, however, and for that I'm very grateful for my time in school. Learning the "what" (technical skills) are often easier to aquire on your own than learning the "why" or "how" (for me, marketing). Also, having an ad/pr education has helped me sell myself to clients with more than just a production designer's qualifications. I've been able to market myself as a consultant with marketing insights and insights on user behavior that go deeper than just visual or technical skills. So the moral of the story: if you can, study something in school that goes deeper than just a technical skill if you can easily pick up the technical skills on your own later.

    • Janna Hagan on April 3, 2012

      Awesome comment, Joel. I wholeheartedly agree. I am currently studying business and majoring in marketing and some of the things I am learning now, I would of never learnt in a web design or development program. Everything you learn can somehow be applied to your career as a web designer - you just have to be able to make the connections.

  9. BMR777 on May 5, 2012

    I think that when it comes to web design you can either go to college to learn, or if you have the drive you can teach yourself. I went to college and have a degree in Website Development but I would say that most of what I know now I did not learn in college, but instead taught myself because I had the drive to learn how to create websites. Plus, if you get a job, you will learn more from your job than from college. I learned more in my first six months on the job than I did from my entire college career. There's many different ways to learn and college isn't the best for everyone. More info:

  10. Lyle Argabright on June 24, 2012

    I'm a brand new person that the web bug has taken ahold of. I've been learning html, css, jquery, all adobe products and just anything else I can get my hands on. The problem for me is that I can't afford to go to college. I'm 30 y/o and unfortunately college was never possible and I don't see it ever being possible. I find this post and many on here very informative but this post has certainly depressed me. Do you think I'm wasting my time trying to learn all this on my own? I agree most companies do want diplomas. Usually doesn't matter what it is though but they just want 'college' somewhere on that resume. I eat, sleep and live to make art with photoshop or illustrator and learning web language has become a passion I didn't really know I had. By no means am I really good, but I thought with the huge amount of information on the web I thought I could learn enough to WoW them with my work eventually. Am I wasting my time of dreaming of a design company one day in the future? I wish there were still apprenticeships, I live in a very rural town, but with todays technology I think it might could work.

    • Dave on August 7, 2012

      Hi Lyle, Just wanted to pick up on your comment as I was in the exact same position 2 years ago. I ended up going to college on a part time basis (1 evening per week) and spread the cost over monthly payments (£70 per month). However I found tuts+ to be the best place to learn, the premium account is well worth the $19 per month and they have tons of online courses and tutorials for beginners. I am just at the point where I hope to be setting my own freelancing business up albeit part time but its a start I suppose. My advice would be not to try take too much on at once. Take one subject at a time and offer your services free to friends and family to build your experience. And most importantly don't give up on yourself!

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