Would a second Bachelor's Degree be worth anything to a graphic designer?
October 23, 2009 11:11 AM   Subscribe

After getting laid off recently, I decided to enroll in a BFA program for graphic design, even though I am a grown up with a BA from a liberal arts university. Should I actually earn the degree or just use the classes to build a portfolio?

My first degree was in Cinema Studies, and I took several visual arts classes, but my school had no design program. Consequently, I have virtually no portfolio and only a small idea of what I am doing. I read a few books on design and realized that I had a lot to learn and could use a more structured learning environment, so I thought I would use my unscheduled time off to enroll in a design school.

Most of my classes from my first degree count as transfer credits, so I mainly just have graphic design classes left to get the degree. But there are also a handful of classes like "Public Speaking" that I feel are not worth my time or money. It would only be an extra semester at the most, but do I really need another undergrad degree to get a job?

I might also be able to transfer into the MFA program; would that be useful in getting a job, or just a future teaching position?

Basically I just want good design skills and a good job as quickly or as efficiently as possible, so if you have any other suggestions for how to supplement my education while in school feel free to share them.
posted by AtomicBee to Education (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
try freelancing. if you're just starting out and have no experience you'll have to start small, like going through friends and friends of friends. i had a BFA from a school that dealt heavily in intellectual theory rather than, well, any sort of technical skills. i had to pick up all the computer stuff myself and it's what i do to earn my daily bread now (though i switched over from being a graphic designer to being a graphic artist). you can teach yourself the computer stuff. also just make a bunch of dummy designs in your free time. once before an interview for a design job for a magazine i stayed up half the night making fake magazine spreads to bring with me to the interview.
posted by raw sugar at 11:40 AM on October 23, 2009

Here in San Francisco, lots of places ask that you have a BFA from an accredited design school before they'll look at your stuff. I do have a BFA, but have never had anyone ask to see it, whereas everyone has asked to see my portfolio. I'd say that the degree is far less necessary than your skills/portfolio and networking/interpersonal abilities. Maybe you'll have to lie to get your foot in the door, but your portfolio is really what people want to see anyway.

Make fake designs for things you think the job in question will want to see. Having hard copies of produced pieces, particularly large pieces, can really carry a lot of weight, too. If web-based design is your thing, be able to show live examples of your work (i.e., live web addresses), but if print is your thing, make a book to take with you to an interview, along with produced pieces to show if they seem interested by that particular page in your book.

I'd say getting an MFA is a bit of a waste unless you want to teach or feel that you'd really progress in the program.
posted by Pecinpah at 12:00 PM on October 23, 2009

You could look into Dantes and CLEP, previously and previously... if your school accepts the credits.
posted by auntbunny at 12:13 PM on October 23, 2009

I wouldn't spend the money, especially in a field where portfolio trumps degree. Have you looked into the costs of the second BFA? I did for the longest time, and the only places I could afford (Cal States) wouldn't even LET second Bachelors students apply, and only the insanely expensive art schools ($40k a year, for tuition alone) were available. But my situation was even worse than yours, since my first degree was in Biology, and not even in a remotely art-related thing.

A cinema studies degree to me seems close enough to pass if a job has a degree requirement. What I might do in your situation is take as many graphic design classes as you think are needed. You can do the basics at a community college for cheap (e.g. Fundamentals of 2D Design or something). You can look into "advanced diplomas" or "awards of completion" which are basically programs consisting of a few classes geared toward a specific area, but without the rigorousness and cost of getting the second BA. For example, http://online.academyart.edu/degree_certificates/certificate/certificate_graphic_design.html
The classes will help you make contacts too, which I'm sure you know is important getting your foot in the door.

So maybe just work on that portfolio, take classes you think you need, and see if that's good enough. You can probably start out freelancing this way.
posted by problemcat at 12:51 PM on October 23, 2009

If you can find some sort of internship at an actual firm you will learn more and be more hire-able.
posted by shopefowler at 1:30 PM on October 23, 2009

i had a BA from an ivy league school when, six years later, i went for a BFA from one of the top designs schools in the country. the design studios who are doing great work as well as companies that are really design driven, almost always require a design degree or, in lieu of that, a fantastic portfolio and enough experience to make up for a lack of degree. of course, there are a lot of hack "designers" out there (anyone can call themselves a designer) and people who will hire them. it's up to you what you want to do.

as for MFA, an MFA degree in design has little impact on one's salary or career prospects. design MFA programs are more theory-oriented.
posted by violetk at 1:47 PM on October 23, 2009

nthing everyone saying to just make it a hobby and go from there. Even a great school isn't going to make you a great designer, you can't learn some of the things that make a good designer. I'm sure you know that.

The portfolio is all that matters. If a company looks at schools/education before portfolios and employment history, they probably aren't worth working for. A firm owned by two people once rejected me simply because one told me to come back "after my degree," while the other tried to argue I'd gain more experience and exposure if I were hired.

When I did try college out during a lapse in creativity and general early-20s "what is my purpose/is this really it?" phase, I realized that most colleges were often just churning out kids with degrees that only proved they understood what made good design but couldn't do anything but regurgitate the same concepts. Granted it wasn't an art school, but I assume most people who pay more for a good design school are already pretty sure they know what's up. That or they had enough money.

If you have the money go for it -- I'm sure it'd be a great resource, but those schools tend to be pretty darn expensive. The best resource I ever had besides my own inspiration was to join forums and communicate with designers that inspired me, follow their blogs and ask them questions about their techniques and preferences. They're usually incredibly helpful and kind.

As for that firm that didn't hire me? Once I saw what they were actually putting out, I was glad I didn't pay thousands of dollars to have my name associated with that crap.
posted by june made him a gemini at 4:40 PM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

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