Was Studying An Art Degree Worth It? What I've Realised Since Graduating


It's an odd one to think I'm writing this. I remember being completely set on university, specifically Middlesex University, to study Graphic Design - it was my first choice but... I lasted no longer than 4 weeks there. Turns out at 18 I couldn't handle the commute to London five days a week, afford the £100 weekly travel and the 5.30am alarm each day was not okay. I realised I wasn't ready to study a Bachelor's degree straight after college. I can only describe it as feeling like there was a gap that I had missed out on from college to university. So, I decided to study two years at Hertford Regional College for a HND (Higher National Diploma) in Graphic Design and did my final top-up year at University of Hertfordshire in Illustration. I don't regret going down this path, it really did feel right for me to do my courses this way. I've always loved art and design so I had my heart set on nothing else but a degree in art to study. At GCSE I chose Art Graphics, college was again Graphic Design then the progression to my HND and final year at university. One year on from graduating I'm considering whether it was really worth it and I know others on my course are too.


Very few from my course have continued with the art industry (I can only count a handful.) Others have gone down completely different paths from real estate to customer service (oh, me!) I realised probably 3/4 of my way into my final year that I had no interest in pursuing a career within the creative industry. Why? It's very competitive. Don't get me wrong, I'm very driven and ambitious but I knew if I went down this path I'd be up against thousands of other graduates in the same situation as me and most likely would start out unpaid or on perhaps 15k, if that. I wasn't in a position to take on a job that paid this low straight out of education. Some people are and that's great, if you have the at home and perhaps you're living rent free. This means you can go for far more opportunities out there.

When I left university it felt like a huge weight off my shoulders. I couldn't wait to have time back to myself. I'm not even exaggerating when I say every waking minute I had, I thought about my coursework or I was doing my coursework. I took my art books to work with me and I even dreamt about my final piece - it was madness and so stressful when I think back. 

If you're going into an art degree what I would say is make sure you're confident in your style. The way you draw, the way you craft, how you research and study for your briefs, how you present and most importantly how you create your final outcomes. Your portfolio will need to be consistent but also show you're not just a one-trick pony. This is what I struggled with. I didn't have a specific style as I often jumped into different directions during my brief, sometimes further than half way through I'd completely change my mind. During third year I was told that my work wasn't good enough to pass, in the early stages at least. I still believe this was solely down to my tutors personal choices as I received praise and compliments from other students and tutors on site. Prepare yourself for criticism - it will happen either way. Even the top students in the class were sometimes told their work needed to improve. Remember that art is very subjective and unfortunately your tutors are the ones grading your work at the end of the day. If they don't like your work, they'll mark you down, even if you have reasoning behind everything you've done. 

To be perfectly honest I wasn't taught to be industry ready at university, I don't even think you can be in three years. Maybe those of you who have studied other degrees will disagree. If I were to go into a Graphic Design agency now, I would feel like a fish out of water. How odd that that's the first thing that came to mind. I know I'm not industry ready, there's far too much to still learn. If I were to read a job description for Junior Graphic Designer they would require half of what I didn't even learn. For example, web coding, animation, UX Design, full knowledge of the Adobe Suite...what. I know the very basics of web coding due to my sites I've owned over the years but not even the basics to animation and forget knowing the entire Adobe Suite in and out! 

If I had to think about whether the money I've spent during university (40k+ Student Finance, art books, art materials, printing etc.) No, it wasn't worth it. I would dread to think how much everything adds up to to be perfectly honest. If I wasn't so determined to go to university and study art, what other route would I have taken? 

Perhaps I even would've studied something else at university. Whilst like I said I love art and design, I've done next to no illustration work since leaving and I'm going to try and pursue a career within editorial. If I could go back now, I would've studied journalism or creative writing - even marketing (since it's very broad and covers a lot of areas which is perfect for industry work.) The thing is, with an art degree it solely comes down to your portfolio, not what grade you got. During my final tutors some of my tutors stressed how important getting a 2:1 or above was. Others mentioned how during their entire time within the industry they were never once asked what grade they graduated with. I was in two minds. For me I wanted to gain a 2:1 at least for it to feel like a personal achievement, I knew if I got a 2:2 or lower I would be kicking myself. 

Well, for starters there's the Open University. You can study online, for a foundation degree, HND or Undergraduate degree. I believe the fee's are lower too. With the Open University you can study part-time which means you can work alongside gaining a degree too - which is really flexible and works for a lot of people. 

Going back to mentioning journalism earlier, I've looked into short courses alternatives to studying a degree again. I don't quite fancy spending another 27k on course fees. I'm not even too sure how I found out about the British College of Journalism, perhaps over Twitter I think. Getting in touch with previous students is the best thing to do if you're looking at studying somewhere. I've spoken to at lest five or six ex-students who have nothing but positive comments to say about this course. What I personally love is that it's based completely online, is no more than 24 weeks and only costs £410 (which can be paid instalments.) So hopefully in 2019 I'll be completing this course and aim to get into publishing. 

In short, I don't think studying a degree was a waste of time, but I don't feel like studying Graphic Design/Illustration was worth the money or time after all. I enjoyed part of my course (mostly the HND rather than final year.) Of course this is partly due to me no longer wanting to go into this industry but then again, not all graduates continue the route they studied for. I always thought that was daft until I became that person, now it all makes sense. 

Stock photo - Kaboompics

What's your opinion?

@rochellelyle_