Things I’ve Learned as an Art & Design Student: Part 1

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As I’m sure just about everyone is aware of by now, deciding to go (or not go) to college is one of the biggest things you’ll do. It’s a lot of chaos. These people telling you that an education will be what opens doors for you, these people over here saying that in today’s world education isn’t practical, and this group sharing the statistics: many students struggle to find a job after graduation, because a degree doesn’t guarantee anything. And it doesn’t.

I spent my senior year of high school grappling with the idea of higher education. I couldn’t settle on a major and I just didn’t feel like college was the right decision for me. So against the opinions of many, I didn’t enroll. I spent my first year out of high school running a startup bakery and trying to find my place.

About a year and a half after making that decision to not go to school, I started feeling this urge. Like it was time. I’d found my niche, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and now I just needed the tools and skills to do so.

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There are a lot of different opinions on whether or not it’s worth going to school for art. As revealed by the countless Youtube videos I managed to go through, a lot of people seem to believe that it’s not worth spending a small (or large) fortune on things that you could essentially teach yourself. And it’s true, to an extent. With all of the resources on the internet today, I’m sure you could teach yourself quite a bit. But there’s one little problem. Many professional workplaces (even in the art industry, as I’ve found) still want to see something in the “education” section of your resume.

Now, of course you could bypass this if you’re planning on working for yourself. This was one of the main things I grappled with. If I plan on running my own business, why do I need to go to college?

Here are my thoughts.

Starting a business takes time, as I’ve learned. I know that once I graduate I’m going to want to start working in my chosen industry. I also know that I may have to work for someone else for a while, and I’m okay with that. This degree will at least keep that option open, because like I said, many employers still want to still that piece of paper that says you hold a degree in the field.

I’m also learning that there are experiences and opportunities that may only come up as a result of college, like networking through instructors or getting really great internships through references.

I think what I’ve decided is that an art degree is not for everyone. We are all different. I believe that some people could teach teach themselves all that they need to know, find the right people, and be crazy successful all on their own, without a degree. But on the other hand, some of us don’t know where to start. Some of us need the unique experiences that college can offer. And some of us need the extra instruction.

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The most important things I’ve learned so far?

1. Keep an open mind.

I went into this college experience with a lot of trepidation and nerves. I doubted whether I had made the right decision, and I admit, I almost didn’t commit to it. I had a few classes that I thought I was going to totally hate and ended up loving them. The point here is that I think just with life in general, it’s important to open your mind to the opportunities and possibilities around you. I really worried about the student loans, and I’m sure I don’t even have to go into detail on those. I’ve heard countless times that they’re a nightmare, that you’ll spend the rest of your life paying them off, and this and that. I fell for it.

I was reminded by someone close to me to change the way I think about them – to open my mind, essentially. This is an investment in myself. In my future. They will get paid off, because they just will. That’s how it works. One way or another. They may even pay for themselves, so to speak, as I work towards my dream career.

I’m learning to like optimism.

2. What you put in is what you get out.

Is college worth it?

If you go into it with the lowest expectations, only do enough to just make it through, and don’t go beyond what is expected of you, then no, it’s probably not going to be worth it. Here’s what I’ve found.

If you go into the experience like this: put in your all. Do the extra work. Ask questions. Work on the extra material. Teach yourself things on the side, as much as you can. Go above and beyond just making it through, then yes, it will be worth it. You will see the results. You will begin to pave the way to success.

What you put into the experience is what you’re going to get out of it, so only putting in an average amount of effort is probably only going to get you an average amount of success. And why spend so much money on that?

I think an education should be something you have a passion for. It’s something that matters to you, so why wouldn’t you want to take the most from it that you can?

3. Put yourself out there.

In other words, network. This one is so, so important. I’m really shy, and even in an online learning environment I’d rather just keep to myself. Guess what? That’s not a good strategy in the very least.

One of the first things I was told when I enrolled in my school is to plan on reaching out to other people. The art industry (design, music, writing, etc.) is the kind of place where knowing the right people can open up opportunities and get you places. College is a great time to start forming these relationships. Do it now, before you’ve graduated and are suddenly thrust into the workforce.

I’ve talked to everyone from musicians who needed someone to design an album cover for them to people in the film department who needed flyers and other design media. And if I ever need music or anything else for my projects, I know just where to find someone.

5. Work on your career while you’re still in college

I already owned an art business coming into college. For me, this degree is really about building on what I already have. I’m going to be learning a lot more about the business aspect of it as well as the technical areas, which I’ve never been too comfortable with. I’ll be expanding on my knowledge and taking additional classes in web design and HTML so that I can work with a broader audience after graduation. And I’m just slowly adding these things to the business as I go. I’m not starting from the ground at this point, although it’s okay if that’s where you are. We all have to start somewhere.

College is a great time to start figuring out your priorities and goals, meet people who can help you make them happen, and starting building your skill set. It’s a time to experiment with new ideas and learn what works and what doesn’t.

So in short, what have I learned so far?

Be open to change and the unknown and start building lasting relationships.

You can check out my work and follow my progress on Instagram @halcyonevergreen

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