The Role of College for Web Designers
College has changed in the past 100 years, rather, the importance of college has changed. I remember in one of my literature classes, we examined an analysis of Gilgamesh, and the writer listed himself as George Bradshaw, B.A.
Yep, he flaunted his Bachelors of Arts. That was a big deal during the 1910s, I guess. But now, since everyone’s getting a B.S(omething)- college students across America are asking themselves “why am I here?” (or “why am I drunk?”- depending on how well you did on your SATs). But you still have to get a degree- it’s just ubiquitous in our society.
As a web designer who has come to grips with the role of college in my life, I still have to ask myself some questions: Who is going to teach me design? Is that something I have to do myself? What purpose does college serve me, a self taught web designer running a internet company?
A piece of paper does not put you on a pedestal. It boils down to the quality of work you are capable of producing, where experience plays a monumental role. Degrees are a way to get your foot in the door, but your portfolio will be what helps you get all the way in.
Bubble of Free Time
College provides a unique bubble of free time. Self-improvement is your full time job (they don’t tell you- but that tuition pays for your social life as well). Traditionally, college means hitting the books, putting in library hours, and getting involved around campus – all the standard steps to success. All of that is true, you still need to put in the hours for academics. If you focus all on academics-explain the boredom (you have free time, buddy).
College students have been trained to think a career is something that doesn’t start until after college. For many web designers, that buffer time doesn’t exist. We have the luxury of starting our careers well before graduation day. Some of the prominent internet companies of our day started in dorm rooms: Google, Microsoft, and Facebook all have roots in college age students putting in time between classes, taking advantage of the time they had before family, taxes, and social security checks became the foremost things on their minds.
The Social Aspect
You have the opportunity to get familiar with a very desirable market – 18 to 25 year olds. By going through the motions of school, you will be able to better relate to this age group, perhaps even drawing inspiration for projects based on their needs. Although grasping the zeitgeist of the hormonal is beneficial, there are other merits:
- Connections and Internships - Odds are your school has some connections you don’t, which provides great leverage for internship opportunities. If your school doesn’t, then it’s on you to fend for those ‘ternships. Dump out those resumes and cover letters- you’re bound to be noticed by someone.
- Meeting Potential Partners - There are other people with entrepreneurial interests that may extend outside the internet, yet be good individuals to partner with for joint ventures. College is a breeding crowd for young, enthusiastic people looking to be a part of something meaningful – perhaps one of them would be a perfect addition to your web company. That doesn’t mean you need to put yourself up for election for student government- check out your school’s improv troupe, those kids are dying for friends (and they sure have enough ideas to fill the year).
- Press, Contests, and Awards - The press loves student entrepreneurs. A story about the trials and tribulations of a 20-something juggle trying to run a company and going to school full time? Absolute news bait, take advantage of it. Also, your school probably has writing contests. Sure sure, you may not be the next Hardy, but hell- $200 bucks will get you that refurbished monitor you saw on Woot. Furthermore, student entrepreneurial contests can be a great gateway for networking and press coverage.
Do you think Facebook would be as successful if it had been created by a high school dropout rather than a college student? Yeah, maybe Harvard had something to do with it- but still. I saw the movie- he was drunk. Going to college is as much about staying connected with your age group and developing your social skills, as it is about education. If social media has taught us anything, it’s all about networking. There’s really no telling which of your peers/teachers could be responsible for your next big job.
Academics – Time Spent Wisely?
If you run a web business alongside your school work, there will be plenty of days where you will question the value of doing your art history homework over chipping away at client work. If you don’t see the purpose of an assignment, it can very quickly become a nuisance that will be skipped right over, which is why picking a relevant degree is key.
For those of you currently pondering the pros and cons of different majors, think about what skills you are lacking, as well as what would compliment your current talents. To illustrate this, here is a glimpse at the process of major selection for Zach and I:
Initially, I was open to majoring in web design. The problem was the sheer number of programs across the country, each with a slightly different names and focus. While there were a plentitude of “Computer Science” and “Design” majors, many web majors were masked as “Multimedia” and included topics I wasn’t at all interested in.
Recognizing this, I opted to continue teaching myself web design and major in something that would compliment web design/I wasn’t too knowledgeable in – Marketing. It’s translated over decently, although I will admit the bulk of what I have learned in the context of internet marketing has been self taught.
I opted to go with a major in Multimedia and Web Design, which gave me the opportunity to keep working on things within the web industry. There is a good amount of overlap between personal and school work, which means I don’t have to drastically swap gears from Biology class to CSS 101.
Given how fast the internet moves, it is hard to make a major around web design and have it stay relevant for all 4 years. Ultimately, the ability to teach yourself is the most important part of keeping current. If there is no client work it can be good to work under other peoples schedules projects, although it is not the same depth.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Are you making enough money to justify a full time job?
- How would this degree improve my skill set (Not necessarily web related) ?
- Do you need the structure that school provides to keep you on track?
- Would being in school cripple you or open doors for your business?
- How do you stack up against designers that have the jobs you want?
This is part of an ongoing learning experience, parts of which I am still discovering, so I would deeply appreciate any thoughts/experiences/insight anyone might have regarding the subject.