Associates Degree vs Bachelors Degree

Discussion in 'Design and Graphics' started by Danielk1989, Mar 24, 2011.

  1. macrumors newbie

    Sep 16, 2010
    I'm currently going to school for a Associates degree in Multimedia and Design, I am a little concerned that other designers will have bachelors degrees from more prestigious schools, and a potential client or employer will overlook my work because of my insufficient degree. In your experience is having a killer portfolio more important or your degree?
  2. Moderator emeritus

    Jul 4, 2004

    In an ideal world, a design degree would count for a lot, but in practice in many (not all) instances, the type of degree seems irrelevant to many employers. I've never been asked for details of my design degree and know some pretty good designers who haven't got design degrees... I've also had to interview designers, it's usually CV (resumé) and portfolio in that order.

    Portfolio (of real work) > degree
    Experience + portfolio > degree
    Contacts + experience + portfolio > degree
    Versatility + experience + contacts + portfolio > degree

    Good communication skills, relationship-building, adaptability and versatility: all just as important.

    All the best for your studies. :)
  3. thread starter macrumors newbie

    Sep 16, 2010
    thanks for your input, so are you a working designer? would you say it is a good field to get into, with a lot of opportunities?
  4. Moderator emeritus

    Jul 4, 2004

    It's very competitive. Great artwork will not fully make up for a poor attitude. Design is also about relationship-building and managing expectations.

    Yes, I'm a semi-working designer, working mainly in print. Semi because I'm currently freelancing, but it's not working out as well as planned, mostly because I'm not suited to working from home for various reasons. Planning to return to working in an inhouse team (my first love) later this year, once I clear a few projects out of the way, including this branding for a series of CDs I'm currently working on.
  5. thread starter macrumors newbie

    Sep 16, 2010
    cool, by in house do you mean a design studio?
    So i should work on becoming a more outgoing and positive? i guess part of it is convincing other that you're the best at what you do and you have something no one else does right?
  6. Moderator emeritus

    Jul 4, 2004
    No, inhouse teams are usually in large firms, non-profits and other enterprises in all sorts of fields from retail, publishing to finance. They work almost exclusively on that organisation's work. Not suited to everyone, but why I like them is that everyone in the same organisation is working towards the same goal and relationship-building between teams is more prevalent than agency work.

    No. It's about understanding what the client wants, being able to translate that and communicate effectively with them, managing their expectations. Design isn't something you buy off a shelf, it's a service. The best designers are also good listeners and pitchers.
  7. macrumors 6502a

    Oct 13, 2008
    Wellington, New Zealand
    I can't disagree with Blue Velvet's quote above in abstract... but there are some complexities you should be aware of...

    The different degrees - associates, bachelor of arts, and the bachelor of fine arts - are essentially defined by the number of hours you spend in studio, working under faculty supervision. Each degree, in order, requires more time in studio (and conversely less time on other courses) working on your art and design work.

    In a great many percent of cases, student portfolios directly reflect the amount of time students have had in studio. This means that the more time you spend in studio, the stronger your portfolio will be.

    I look at a lot of student portfolios, and while you do get "superstars" at every education level, on average the portfolios reflect the students education level...

    for example, a design student with a B.A. may have taken one semester, or perhaps a year, of typography. A B.F.A. student usually has between three and four semesters of typographic study. Twice as much time working in a discipline is going to be visible in the student portfolio.

    Expertise comes with time... and the different degrees are there to allocate time differently within your education.

    In the United States, the B.F.A is designated the "professional degree" from an accreditation standpoint... it is a degree designed to prepare students for industry.

    So, a designer is always judged by the quality and sensitivity of their portfolio... and the professional world does separate the good from the bad... but at the student level, as you are hustling for those first couple of jobs, your education level does come into play because it is reflected in the things you have made.

    I will say that I see a lot of students with associates degrees returning back to school after a few years to get a more advanced degree. That may not be true in all areas, but in a competitive area like mine -- we have two freestanding colleges of art and design in my city graduating over 80 Graphic design BFAs a year -- the students find it hard to compete against the more advanced students to get jobs and also find it harder to advance up the career ladder once they have a job because they have not had the same level of training in formal and conceptual skills.
  8. macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2010
    Most employers look at the big picture and won't discount a resume over a single line item, like degree level. That said, it's probably in your best interest to complete your BA, even if you do it part-time while working.
  9. macrumors 65816


    Mar 22, 2010
    As an art school dropout, I can vouch for the fact that the portfolio means more than the degree.
  10. macrumors regular

    Mar 31, 2010
    Los Angeles
    I agree with citizenzen.

    I have an associates degree from an art school and work in the computer art field. The work/portfolio/reel is what matters... I'm never asked about my schooling.
  11. macrumors member

    Sep 6, 2009
    I graduated last June with a Bachelors in Digital Art and Design and the majority of the jobs I applied to required a Bachelors degree. During interviews I was also asked about my school so to some it does matter. That said, the place I got my current job at doesn't care much about schools, just portfolio.
  12. macrumors newbie


    Feb 16, 2011
    The main advantage of the Associate's Degree is that with it it's easier to start working, but with a Bachelor's Degree you will get paid more on average. Ultimately, employers these days care more about real word experience than the degree you earned but without it you won't be considered at all.
  13. macrumors 6502a

    Jan 31, 2003
    I am also a graphic designer whose been working roughly 10 years in the industry and I am confident to say that your portfolio and real world experience is what counts the most these days. A degree is just a piece of paper and doesnt really show what you're truly capable of. Sure it may help out but what's important is experience and portfolio which basically is a representation of you. A portfolio can tell a lot about yourself as a person.
  14. macrumors 68040

    Apple OC

    Oct 14, 2010
    many talented designers have no degree ... their portfolio of work is what sells their time.

    also some people are just gifted with artistic design talent.
  15. macrumors 6502a


    Oct 25, 2008

    A talented designer with a good body of work behind them is going to find it easier to find a job than someone who has a good degree but not the same quality of work.

    The proof is in the pudding as they say...

    With that said, a degree certainly isn't worthless. Just have a good portfolio to back you up when you go into that job interview.

    Good luck in your future career. As much stress as there is in this field, at the end of the day when you can look at what you've created, it's worth it.
  16. macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2010
    Sure, heck, Steve Jobs dropped out of college. That doesn't mean that every college drop-out is going to be a Billionaire CEO. As a new entrant to the design field, you've got an up-hill climb ahead of you. A degree is one of the things that will differentiate you from other candidates. If an employer likes you, a degree isn't going to make or break the deal, but it also isn't worthless as some here are suggesting.
  17. stainlessliquid, Mar 25, 2011
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2011

    macrumors 68000

    Sep 22, 2006
    Hopefully they wont care about the degree because I would say at least 80% of the people in my class stunk at design and should have gone with a different career choice. The places that only care about degrees are the places who are going to be putting out shoddy work.

    Then there are cases where the student is better than the teacher, sometimes full schooling isnt the right choice for some people especially if they cant afford the big schools with good teachers.
  18. macrumors 6502a


    Mar 3, 2009
    San Diego, CA
    In the case of shops that require it, a bachelor's degree will get you past the HR shills and help you to get an interview to show that you know your stuff. It's stupid, but something as small as that can kick you out of the running for a job.
  19. macrumors 68000


    Mar 4, 2006
    Some places won't even consider you unless you have a bachelors degree. If you don't have one, then you better know someone on the inside and have a killer portfolio. But in my experience, an associates degree in design is crap compared to a bachelors at a reputable school. You might learn decent design skills at a community college, but you probably didn't learn the discipline and research skills that a bachelors usually provides.
  20. macrumors 68000


    Mar 4, 2006
    A bachelors degree is NOT a small difference! It should be heavily weighted if you got it at a reputable school.
  21. macrumors 68000


    Mar 4, 2006
    So, in other words... you went to a crappy school. The school I went to had a stringent portfolio requirement and they only let 40% or less of the students who applied, into the program. Most of the students coming out of the program were qualified to work at large agencies or start their own shops. Most of them are amazing designers who paid their dues. So, I guess that pretty much invalidates your statement about places who care about degrees put out shoddy work.
  22. macrumors 68000


    Mar 4, 2006
    It is EXTREMELY rare to find a talented designer who doesn't have some type of formal training, or at least had the discipline to spend hundreds of hours learning on their own. Show me someone who is a talented designer without spending the time learning the fundamentals, and I'll show you someone who has no understanding of color, grid, type, hierarchy, concept, relationships. You know, the things that make for great design. Of course, your standards might be lower than mine. ;)
  23. macrumors 68040

    Apple OC

    Oct 14, 2010
    Why not just say all your comments in one post? ... I never implied people people can just open Illustrator and produce amazing work the first time. Everyone needs practice to be better. I have worked in Graphic Arts and Printing for over 25 years and have seen my share of good and bad.

    Many designers think their standards are high ... when really that are just average ... maybe you are setting your standards higher than they really are.

    On the other hand I have worked with many talented Artists without any formal training and they are just plain gifted.

    What I am saying is, just because you get formal training does not make you an Artist. I found in school a lot of students were just not going to cut it in the real world because they don't have what it takes creatively. :cool:
  24. macrumors newbie

    Mar 14, 2012
    I think both a graphic design degree and an impressive portfolio are important to make it as a graphic designer. It’s obvious that a Bachelor’s degree in graphic arts probably holds more weight than an Associate program, but the latter should be enough to help you secure entry-level or assistant jobs from where you will have to work your way up. If you are looking for slightly more senior positions, then consider transferring to a Bachelor’s program.
  25. macrumors 6502

    Aug 29, 2011
    I'd have to say this is pretty darn accurate. While I am a self taught who is now working full time at a good job, my growth was definitely slower then it would have been had I gone to school for it. While I've always had an eye for design I've clocked in thousands of hours reading books, watching tutorials, doing free projects for friends, and getting feedback from professionals. Ultimately, it was through networking that I started to get higher profile freelance work to build a solid portfolio and finally land a comfortable full time job. I would have preferred to go to school for it, but life got in the way. I've been successful, but it's definitely not a path that I'd ever recommend to anybody looking to get into design. Best of luck to you!

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