Young creative trying to break into advertising, wondering how to get by in Chicago!
December 7, 2008 7:25 AM   Subscribe

How can a young creative break into the world of advertising? What does it take to live in Chicago and go to Chicago Portfolio School?

I am a 24 year old with a BA in graphic design (minor in marketing) and have had a long time interest in advertising. I have had 2 years of professional graphic design experience, but no advertising experience per se. I've been in contact with some reputable ad agencies and the consensus seems to be - improve the portfolio! Chicago Portfolio School has been offered as a suggestion by these reputable ad agencies, but its $15,000 for the one year program! I'm on my own (no rich daddy, damn!) and trying to piece all of this together before I make a huge leap... Any advice?

1. Does anyone have personal experience with Chicago Portfolio School?
2. How much do I have to make to just live in Chicago for a year while I'm at school? (I don't want to take out a loan for living expenses, just tuition)
3. Any other ideas?!

posted by designbyme to Work & Money (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
2. It can be as cheap or expensive as you want (mostly). Some of the less trendy neighborhoods can have decent sized studio and 1 bedroom apartments for ~$500 a month. Depending on how frugal you can be with everything else will depend on your own personal expected levels of comfort. Chicago can be a very cheap place if you so chose.
posted by nitsuj at 7:37 AM on December 7, 2008

Response by poster: I just want to be safe! Otherwise, I'm not picky.... I'm willing to eat mac n cheese for every meal! I have someone that would room with me, that might help with rent?!
posted by designbyme at 7:45 AM on December 7, 2008

You don't have to go to portfolio school.

I'm an advertising creative and I didn't. Instead, I got a job in the studio of an agency. Before I became a copywriter, I was a proofreader. There were always little crap jobs no creatives wanted to do and I would volunteer to tackle them in my free time. As a result, people got to know me and saw my talents, so I was able to get into the creative department without a portfolio. And in the three years I've been a creative, I've built a pretty respectable one: check it out.

As a graphic designer, you can start out in the studio as a mechanical artist or something like that. You spend a lot of time doing other people's work, but it gets you in the door.

I spent 10 months proofreading versus two years in portfolio school and I didn't have to spend the money to go to school.

More importantly, I feel like my "blue collar" background gives me a different perspective and a different way of approaching problems than all of my colleagues. And I've found, for me at least, my CDs appreciate that.
posted by missjenny at 7:54 AM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wow, I'd never heard of the Chicago Portfolio School -- just a glance at the site brings only one word to mind: "ripoff".

CPS is going to give you a portfolio, sure: but it's a portfolio of fake work. You need real experience. You have professional experience which is great. You should seek out and sign up with any number of creative staffing firms in the city (Artisan, H2 Agency, Creative Circle, Aquent) who will find entry level work for you at agencies in the city. Once you're at an agency, you'll get a feel for how it all works, you'll meet people, you'll network.

So go sign up with the staffing agencies and good luck.
posted by gsh at 8:16 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Miss Jenny.

There's not a high intersection between the best graphic designers I know and those who went to the best art schools, or art school at all. And I know a LOT of graphic designers.

I've also interviewed and participated in hiring dozens of designers of various type. I don't care about the degree. Ever. I just want to see the work, and most of all, hear you talk about the work. It's a communications profession, not an academic one.

Also, the gentle advice part: advertising? Are you sure? It's a soul-sucking business.
posted by rokusan at 8:24 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

art director here, ex chicago ad agency, too.

you should always work on your portfolio. every single day.

I haven't heard anything good or bad about the chicago portfolio schools and am not sure they are known at all. a quick check among my peers got six confused looks. I'd advise you to look around to other institutions as well and get a solid feel for what's on offer. I'm an art center college of design alumn but other good schools worth considering include vcu brandcenter, miami ad school, parsons, risd and the yale school of design.

one and two-year programs are generally not enough to shape your thinking anyway.

also, I'm not a fan of straight-up portfolio schools. an art&design degree is about learning what you weren't looking for, it's about broadening horizons. you should also tailor your education to the job you will take. being an advertising major makes sense if you want to eventually become an art director or copywriter, a dedicated graphic design program if you want to be a graphic designer. in the latter case I'd always recommend you also look beyond ad agencies as the work you'd do for us there would eventually become repetitive.

It's a soul-sucking business.
I disagree with that. I'm having loads of fun.
posted by krautland at 8:49 AM on December 7, 2008

Response by poster: "other good schools worth considering include vcu brandcenter, miami ad school, parsons, risd and the yale school of design"

I've looked at those schools! Anyone care to make a generous donation to a poor 24 year old? *grin* Reminder: no rich daddy here!

I would LOVE to attend one of those schools, anyone know how to afford them without putting yourself in severe debt? CPS seemed like a reasonable middle ground....
posted by designbyme at 9:03 AM on December 7, 2008

Anyone care to make a generous donation to a poor 24 year old? *grin* Reminder: no rich daddy here!

I was in the same situation and graduated with 130k in debt. I'm six years out and it's gone.

nobody can take an education from you. it changes you. make sure you get the right one. it's the one chance you get to stack the deck in your favor. go to these schools and do the tour. ask yourself with each one if they are the people who can really make a massive difference for you. you want to know what you get out of them and what it is gonna do for you. don't do half-ass.
posted by krautland at 11:09 AM on December 7, 2008

My husband and I pay about $950/month for an apartment on the Lincoln Park/Lakeview border. It's one bedroom, but big-ish and has a washer and dryer. It's feasible, especially with a roommate, to get cheapish housing.
posted by santojulieta at 1:04 PM on December 7, 2008

It's a soul-sucking business.
I disagree with that. I'm having loads of fun.

Sorry, krautland. I should have YMMV'd that comment. I've bought so many drinks for jaded burned-out designers who "wasted" 10 years in advertising agencies that I'm probably not a reliable witness. I have heard many versions of the same story: "I poured my heart into that work for years and what have I done? Sold more soda? Increased teenage diabetes?"

Sarah, do what you love, and try to hang onto your values too. :)
posted by rokusan at 8:09 PM on December 7, 2008

rokusan: I know a few cases like that as well but I could also come up with examples for graphic designers who loved it and have gone on to rise to excellent positions. a graphic designer job in an ad agency depends a lot on the type and quality of said agency and the potential of the creative teams and clients they will be working with. there is a huge difference in the kind of work a graphic designer does at wieden+kennedy to the work they'll do at draft fcb or your local online banner shop.

my point here is that life is what you make of it. most often, the ones who haven't turned it into anything meaningful have at least a little reason to fault themselves.
posted by krautland at 9:18 AM on December 8, 2008

Graphic designer in Chicago here, I've never heard of the place.

I think the best way to live cheaply in Chicago is to have roommates, as many as possible. But I think you can improve your portfolio without shelling out to a "portfolio school" and moving. Look for projects that you can do to improve. Volunteer design services to a local charity, design a poster for a band you like and silkscreen it yourself... hang out with other designers and get feedback from them.
posted by Bunglegirl at 6:23 PM on December 8, 2008

« Older these new eyes of mine   |   Grandiose Self Promotion? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.