Recently, I engaged in a message board debate about the need to earn a Masters Degree as a graphic designer. Valid arguments were voiced on both sides of the coin. The message board debate was started by a recently graduated Bachelors Degree design student who wondered if she should continue her education and secure a Masters Degree.
I preface this article by saying “no education is wasted.” In fact, your level of education will have a direct impact your success as a graphic designer (or any career field). However, the word “education” in 2013 does not mean the same thing that it meant in 1983. In today’s world, “education” is not necessarily measured by how many tassels someone has hanging from their flat, black hat.
3 Reasons a Graphic Designer SHOULD Get a Masters Degree
1. You want to teach at a university.
If you plan on teaching higher education, get your Masters. Not only is it a prerequisite, but the extra classroom time will give you some valuable experience to help you better organize and run your future classrooms. In addition to robust note taking about graphic design principles, be sure to take copious notes about how to be a good graphic design professor. Learn from your instructors successes and failures.
2. You have money and time to burn.
Let’s say you blew through your Bachelors Degree by taking summer and evening classes. You’re still young and love being in school. You have a bank account full of discretionary money, a sugar daddy or some fat scholarships. If this describes your phase of life and you want to get a Masters Degree, go for it. On the flip side, if you are in your mid-twenties and a Masters Degree would put you deeper in a pile of debt, you should think long and hard about whether you should continue your formal education.
3. You prefer being taught versus self education.
If classroom learning is, without question, the best and only way you can learn then you may want to consider pursuing a Masters Degree. If you truly don’t believe you have what it takes to continue learning in the trenches of the real world, perhaps you should sign up to continue learning your design fundamentals.
6 Reasons a Graphic Designer Should NOT Get a Masters Degree
1. You don’t need a Masters Degree to secure MOST jobs as a graphic designer.
As a proud Bachelors Degree holder from Indiana University I have found success in my career. At age 28, I was a Senior Creative Director at FOX. At age 30, I started my own design agency, Riser. (We made the Inc. 5000 this year.) My team of designers and programmers execute on high traffic projects for our client list that includes Disney, ABC, NBC, Sony, FOX, National Geographic, Google, and YouTube. A good friend of mine runs a 100+ person team of designers and programmers as a Vice President at NBC in New York City, he only has an Associates Degree. Another good friend of mine started his own agency around the time I started mine. He too, only has a Bachelors Degree. I could go on with countless examples of designers and programmers succeeding independent of their degree level.
Over the course of my 17 year career I have NEVER been asked what degree I hold. I wasn’t asked during my 5 hours of interviews at FOX. I haven’t been asked in any of my dozens of meetings at Disney discussing new projects they planned to send to my agency. I have never been asked what degree I have prior to being invited to speak at universities and industry events. My degree has never come up and I have had a dream career by most designer’s standards. My level of degree just hasn’t mattered.
What does matter is “education.” My “education,” on the other hand, seems to come up all the time. My “education” enables me to get jobs done on time, execute at a high level, and run a successful business. My “education” started at Indiana University but has continued through my ambition and desire to continue to learn on my own.
2. You understand how to self-educate.
We work in an ever changing world. Technology is changing all the time. Design trends seem to last a year or so. The only way to stay on top of it is to self-educate. If you are willing and able to self-educate by combing design blogs and books, subscribing to technical tutorials (like those found on Lynda.com), and regularly try wrapping your head around new software and techniques, then you will probably be just fine without a Masters Degree. Thirst after education. Just do it on your own, for free.
3. You are ready to start working now.
There is an opportunity cost to getting a Masters Degree. Your two years of additional studies is costing you real world experience and pay. If you have an understanding of design principles and a student portfolio that will land you interviews, go out and get a job.
4. You are out of money.
Here is a soapbox comment, our debt hungry society is the real cause of our economic instability. If you are out of money, scholarships and sugar daddies, you should think long and hard before you take on additional student debt to get your Masters Degree.
5. You already have a design job.
If you are already working as a designer somewhere, try putting your whole effort into your job. Your single focus on progressing with your current employer could pay real dividends and be a launch pad for your career. As I have stated, a Masters Degree has never been a prerequisite for an employment opportunity for me. But real world experience has. There is no substitute.
6. You are not guaranteed higher paying design jobs with a Masters Degree.
Not only does a Masters Degree NOT guarantee you a job over another candidate (in most circumstances), it is also no guarantee of higher paying jobs. When I graduated from college with my Bachelors Degree, I honestly thought that some day I would be a Creative Director and make $50,000-$60,000 and that would be the cap. Little did I know that throughout the majority of my career I would have an annual income several times that amount. There is no cap to what you can make as a designer. Business rewards high quality. The ability to produce at a high level can be learned in many ways (a Masters Degree is only one of them). I have employed all types of “educated” people: self-educated, Bachelors Degree, and Masters Degree (both at FOX and at my agency). A Masters Degree has never correlated to increased compensation. What does correlate to higher compensation? Quality of work. Production speed. Leadership skills. Project management. Interpersonal skills. A Masters Degree can help you learn these skills, but so can real world experience and self-education.
I realize that some people would staunchly argue the other side of the coin (probably Masters Degree holders :-). I speak only from my experience. A couple things I know for certain, “No education is wasted.” and “Working hard and working smart lead to success.” As for the Masters Degree, let the debate rage on.
(By the way, this article only applies to design related careers. If you are going to crack open my ribs and transplant a baboon heart into my chest, you better have every degree available.)