Eleazar Ruiz
Eleazar Ruiz. Graphic Designer Based in Seattle, WA.


Should You Go to College for Graphic Design?


The answer to this question is something about which I'm very passionate. Today, according to InfoWars, approximately 15% of college and professional school students exit with student loan debt balances in the six figures. At this point, student loan debt in the United States has hit a grand total of $1.2 trillion.

My opinion is that you don't need to go to school to be a successful graphic designer. I myself am a self-taught, successful graphic designer. I have worked for in-house teams and design firms, and I have been a successful freelance artist. I have worked for all different types of companies that a graphic designer could work for--without a degree.

I learned through tutorials, reading, and observance of how the best designers in the industry have made their way to the top of the trade.

Admittedly, you will most likely sense my biased opinion in this post. And yes, I will do my best to convince you that formal education is unnecessary for those pursuing our trade. It's simply not worth the money. Not only have I experienced this personally, but I have several industry friends who have gone to school for graphic design and agree with me that networking, a chair, and a computer are not worth $80k (a.k.a. two-three years tuition at a private school).

Now I have to admit that some people might not have the self-discipline, passion, and will to teach themselves. With that in mind, I have divided my answer to the stated question into two categories.

Reasons for Going

1. You don't have the discipline.

Unfortunately, graphic design requires a high level of personal discipline. Graphic design is always expanding. There is always something new to learn, new software, new processes, new tools. Learning, refining, growing, and the discipline to do so is always required in this field. So, if that's not your personality, that's ok! I would just recommend that you reconsider getting into the graphic design field.

2. Your current situation doesn't allow for you to have the equipment to learn on your own.

We each have different socioeconomic situations. Based on your situation, the government may be willing to cover all or most of your school expenses. If this is your case, this might be the only way you would have access to a computer and the software necessary to learn the skills.

3. You are looking into other branches of graphic design.

Within graphic design, there are a number of different fields into which you can venture. Interior design, game design, and fine arts are just a few of them. If you are interested in fields such as those, you might need a degree. Do your research.

4. Your parents are willing to pay for your education.

Hey! If your folks believe in your education and are willing to pay for it, why not?! But if they want you to go to school but aren't funding it, then it's up to you to decide if you want to be $40k+ (and that's a modest estimate) in debt for next 10-20 years.


5. If you live in a different country that doesn't value graphic design.

I'm from the Dominican Republic. This wasn't my case but I do know of places where graphic design doesn't have much value in the marketplace. In that case you could use school to change your geography and move to a place where graphic design is in high demand. Meet new folks, do some networking, and land a gig in another country.

Reasons for Not Going

1. Art directors don't care about your resume.

Heck! The CEO at my current employer doesn't care about it either! Here is a good read. Your portfolio is your ticket. In my seven years of experience, I have seen for myself that my work is what gets me in the door. Hands down.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly four out of every ten U.S. households that are led by someone under the age of 40 are paying off student loan debt right now. So...no thanks!
Companies will hire you without a degree, but they will not hire you without a portfolio.

2. It's too expensive.

Do we need to emphasize this? I mean, even if you went to a community college you will have to pay $3-6K per semester, which is likely money you don't have. Even if you cash-flowed school, is it really worth the hassle and investment?

Not only is college expensive, the aftermath is just as bad. Because of the debt on your shoulders, when looking for a job you might act desperate. This will cripple the chance of you getting the job you actually want.

Today, I work as a senior graphic designer on an in-house team. My wages are the same of someone with the same position with a graphic design degree. The only difference is, they are paying off their loans. And because of that, at the end of the day, I still make more money than them...yeah... 

3. A lot of online resources to learn from.

These are very affordable. Check them out: Udemy.comLynda.comSkillshare.com.

Here is a great sample from one of my favorite classes in Lynda.com with Aaron Draplin.


If none of the above reasons are enough to make you teach yourself, please DO NOT go to private school. If people don't care about your degree in this field, I'm guessing they care less about where you earned it.