In some fields, a graduate degree is absolutely required to enter the profession. For many creative jobs, however, your abilities are much more important than any qualification or title. A portfolio of stellar work can get you noticed just as easily as any degree. In an essay at Stemmings, designer Ainsley Wagoner writes how the “Grad School Assumption” can be dangerous for budding creatives:

From what I can tell, for today’s designers and developers it is more important to demonstrate being an independent learner rather than to have degree credentials. I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing, working in the day and age I am—where I feel my work is more valuable than where or how long I went to school. I get the feeling my training as a designer lies not in the hallowed halls of a post-secondary institution, but out here, learning from an international, rapidly changing community of design professionals.

Are we reaching the end of the line for creative degrees? How did your schooling help prepare you for your career?
Read her entire essay here.
  • George Garrastegui

    great article, and somewhat true. As a designer who went back to school, i realized it opened my eyes to the bigger picture and vast potential out there. I believe it all depends on what the particular person is into, but I agree that learning institutions need to do a better job with the flux of the creative profession.

    creative degrees are still very viable, but they will never supersede talent.

    thanks for sharing your thoughts Alison.

  • JCfromDC

    A “creative degree” is practically an oxymoron. How can one or another institution “rate” such a thing? From a practical standpoint, it merely verifies that one has “completed” a set of mechanical tasks that fits a curriculum over a period of years. These “years” are stretched out into unrealistic time-frames that would only take weeks or months in the real world. From a realistic point, it has little to do with “being” creative, something that, in my own experience, cannot necessarily be “taught” (but possibly stimulated).

    From the standpoint of employability, a “creative degree” merely states the fact that someone has successfully endured an academic situation for a painfully extended period time, so therefore they can endure “real life” situations better than someone who hasn’t. Rubbish! However, employers (i.e., in the “wise eyes” of HR department screeners) have convinced themselves of this “truism”. Also, If one wants to “teach”, 30 years of “real world” experience is completely worthless in the face of a four or five year degree with ZERO “real world” experience. One recent “professor” of mine was a recent M.A. grad. HE could teach MY class with NOT ONE single previous job (of any kind) under his belt, whereas I could not qualify to be his assistant with 20 years in the field.

    This industry is becoming more akin to politics every day. One would best have a law degree to “qualify” to run for elected office. But, failure in a courtroom or other litigation would not necessarily keep one out of office. An Office where writing sensible and understandable laws for “the rest of us” (but not themselves) is the primary task.

  • Calvin Robertson

    As a creative, I took an approach that may help someone’s thought process for attending grad school. Since graduating with a BS in Graphic Communications, I’ve worked in a few corporate settings plus a startup. The biggest challenge came when management (or other people of influence) could or would not see the value that creatives bring to the table. Maybe creatives and managers didn’t speak the same language or maybe there was a lack of creative resources. So, I decided to go back to school. I didn’t choose a MA in a core creative discipline, because I didn’t see talent (or lack thereof) as the problem. I opted for a MBA program. Why? I noticed that no matter how creative you are, there is always a manager or leader above you that must buy-in to your work…otherwise it will be cut because they just do not see the value. In order to get buy-in for my creative projects, I needed to think past my creative self by showing how my work brings value to the business. I did this by aligning my projects closely with their business objectives, explaining in detail with their terminology how my work will help them accomplish their goals. It helps them to understand why I do what I do. They also appreciate a creative who is willing to ‘translate’ the creative world for them. And when they see how it effects their goals as well, communication barriers seem to fall.

    I hope this helps someone. Going to grad school helped me. It was almost like a foreign language emersion class! Like most MBA programs, there are few to no creatives to lean on. Throughout the whole program, you have to learn how to communicate effectively in a business setting, all while accomplishing your creative agenda.

  • MsMatthes

    The timing on this article is incredible. I have been debating pursuing an MBA for about 6 months and just decided to go for it. (wish me luck, it’s quite a process just to get in).

    I graduated from a very specialized degree program in Fashion Communications (Bachelor of Design) and have been working as a graphic designer for about 7 years. I wanted a degree not for what it would give me early on but for the future opportunity it would allow me. I can’t get a masters with a college diploma. That being said I have found that writing essays about english literature, history, marketing and sociology (though they have little to nothing to do with graphic design) have made me an incredible communicator and I’m far better at explaining the value of the work I’ve done than some of my co-workers. “Because I said so” is never a good argument. Usually you are explaining your ideas to a person who then needs to explain them to someone else, like a sales exec to a client or a manager to a director and giving them some tools and language they can use will always put you in their favour. “This is the most effective way to reach their customer” or “This ad space is a big investment and I want to see them get the best return on that investment by …” etc.

    I have run into road blocks and salary caps I didn’t anticipate. Most apparel retail or wholesale organizations don’t have creative directors or art directors, they have marketing managers and marketing directors. I want to get an MBA because I have pigeonholed myself as a graphic designer though I have a lot more to offer an organization than typographical skills and an expertise in CS6. Unfortunately, I actually need the piece of paper to make the leap from creative to analytical and show potential employers everything I can offer them.

  • milestogo

    I went to graduate school in English Lit, a subject I enjoy. It has given me ideas and a historical perspective without the orthodoxy of an MBA or other such degree. (I also have a Masters in Special Education because I teach, but that does not connect very directly to my creative endeavors.)

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