My Journey to a Graphic Design Degree

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To design or not to design that is the question. It still amazes me when people ask me the question “What does a graphic designer do?” Maybe the fact that the possibilities of a graphic designer are endless causes the profession to be somewhat a mystery to those around us.
I would like to encourage you to look beyond the bounds of your knowledge and think of the possibilities. I also started out knowing nothing of graphic design or what you can do with it. I was limited in my knowledge of the possibilities. Hopefully by sharing my experience it will shed some light and help you make a decision. Degree or no degree?

Journey to the Graphic Design Degree
When I started out my freshman year in college I was headed for the stage. I considered art a side thing, a hobby. As I progressed in my Theater Major and Fine Arts Minor I found myself looking forward to my art classes more than my theater classes. Don’t get me wrong I live for the stage and anything dealing with theater and film. I just seemed to see myself progressing in art and my theater classes taught things that seemed like second nature to me. So with a lot of discussion and thinking and praying I felt like “fine arts” was the way to go.
Never did I ever think of going into graphic design as a concentration. Painting was where I was headed. I took an entry level design class to fill a credit. I felt like an ant in Times Square. I was in over my head. I can remember freaking out not knowing how to log out of my user name on the Mac computers in the design lab. (granted this was before Mac was everywhere) I can remember gazing with my chin on the floor watching the seniors zip around adobe design suite like a boss. Every day I would go home thinking “I will never do design for a living.”
Was I ever wrong. I knew from the Lord that I was supposed to pursue Graphic Design. It scared me and I didn’t ever think I would get good at it. Let me tell you it is the best thing I have done (Go God, He knew what He was doing) Thinking about it, I know how to act and I know how to paint. I was staying in my comfort zone. Why should I pay thousands of dollars on a degree to learn something I already know?
What I Learned from my Graphic Design Degree
You might be surprised to know that the thing I value the most from my Graphic Design Degree has nothing to do with Photoshop, kerning, leading, points, or picas. The best thing I received from my graphic design degree was the ability to learn. Being self taught is the best quality to have as a graphic designer. With adobe updating every couple of years and technology moving at the speed of lightning, you never quit learning in this field. As a graphic designer you have to have the ability to research and get in there and figure it out. I can remember my best friend and I would get so frustrated when our design professor would send us away telling us to “look it up”. At first I thought he was cruel not helping us and telling us how to do this or that. Then after my first year I had taught myself web design and looked more like those seniors zipping through photoshop and InDesign. I realized he was teaching us the most important thing a graphic designer can have, the ability to be self taught.
On graduation day I can remember thinking that I didn’t feel like the same person that started out in that first “Graphic Design 101” course. It even changed my personality. I know that might sound crazy but I see the world very differently. I am much more organized and detailed than I was in High School.
Can I still do Graphic Design without a degree?
I am a strong believer in higher education but I don’t think it is impossible for someone to be very successful without it. With the vastness of the internet anyone can learn on their own if they are willing to do the work. I can say for myself I am thankful for the experience the degree gave me. I could have gone through and googled and tried to get where I am on my own but I know it would have taken me about 10 more years to get here. I feel as though the degree was like a launching pad giving me all the tools I needed to be a successful designer. I have still continued to grow and work on my craft, as every designer or artist should. We are always growing and always learning in our lives.
If you are thinking about getting a graphic design degree I encourage that thought. I have loved the possibilities that graphic design has opened up for me. Let me know what you think? Have you enjoyed your degree? Do you think a degree is necessary?
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