The Value of Art Degrees

Crews Varner
April 17, 2023

Is getting an art degree worth it? Absolutely not! Thanks for reading, everyone. We’ll see you next week.

I’m kidding. A college degree, no matter the field of study, is a massive undertaking of responsibility. I’m sure you’ve heard before that a degree in [insert any career path here] is easy. As someone who went through college and studied in many different areas outside of art during that time, there’s no such thing as an “easy degree.” Turns out, studying anything at a high level for four (or more) years takes a lot of effort. Getting a degree in art is no different, as you’ll study history, techniques, production, etc. Truth be told, it’s likely that you’re going to learn more about art and design after you graduate.

The interesting thing about college is that it’s less about what you learn, but how you learn. This isn’t to say you won’t learn anything during college, because you learn an incredible amount, but discovering how you best take in information will accelerate your learning for the rest of your life. High school isn’t really enough of a challenge to demand that you find out how you learn best, but you can bet that college is. The amazing thing about college is that it’s like a really, really long American Ninja Warrior course but for your brain. College is filled with obstacles that will require you to either improve yourself or drop out.

I completely understand those of you who felt that college wasn’t necessary for your career path. A college degree isn’t for everyone, even creatives. If you’ve done the research on whether or not your desired career path needs a college degree and you don’t need one, you’re better off not throwing yourself into years and years of student loan debt. Truthfully, Art degrees don’t hold as much value as other degrees to employers, but they will hold a lot of value to you. Hopefully, by the end of this, my experience with art school will help you decide whether or not you should go.

Studying graphic design and art for four years was probably the best and worst thing I could have done for my mental health. Just before enrolling in college, I was one of the top-performing design students in my high school digital arts class. Many of my classmates would often come to me with questions they were too afraid to ask the teacher. After graduating high school, my ego was through the roof and I felt like I could take on any challenge university might throw at me. Just a month into my freshman year at college, I hit one of the lowest points of my life because I was easily one of the worst in my design foundations class. Everything I thought I had known wasn’t even close to the skill level my classmates had. I heavily considered dropping out my first semester, because I thought I needed more time to prepare myself. I’m grateful that I didn’t, though, because I now understand the point of an education. In high school, I was only really concerned about being the best in my classroom (don’t blame me, name one 18-year-old guy that doesn’t have an insanely large ego.) College challenged my pride and taught me — the hard way — how to get the most out of any education.

“Student” isn’t really an occupation, it’s a mindset. Being one of the worst in my class and almost flunking out didn’t make me a horrible student, but quitting would have. It taught me I have so much room to learn and grow, and that’s an exciting thought. Had I never gone to college I would have likely still learned this, but the consequences were far less dire as opposed to underperforming in the workplace and getting fired. College is filled with failures like myself. That’s the entire point, though. Everyone is there to work on themselves and improve their craft. It’s a constant back-and-forth of getting knocked down and getting back up. It can be very emotional at times, but it’s all in the name of self-improvement and growth.

Even toward the end of my college career, my work was not remarkable. As a creative, I still didn’t quite understand my purpose and life direction. My work reflected this. Again I struggled with poor mental health and loneliness, but I pushed forward and eventually earned my degree.

“Crews, this sounds terrible. Why should anyone go to college if it’s just going to be miserable emotions and student debt?”

While expensive, I believe college was a fantastic transition point into adulthood for me, and it may be for you as well. The connections I made in college are still a huge asset to me, and its a fantastic place to start your networking. Although, if you don’t really care for the social aspect of college, here are some much more affordable alternatives:

  • Community College: I’ve taken a few community college courses to work towards my degree, and I still believe not enough people take this route. If you’re fine with missing out on the typical college experience but you still want a degree on your resume (which most employers still prefer applicants to have), I’d suggest taking community college courses. You can even take them online if you’re an introvert like me and prefer studying in solitude.
  • Online Courses: There are some great online courses that you can take to grow your skills in pretty much any career path. While you can’t work towards a college degree using these courses, you certainly will improve your portfolio, which often matters more than a college degree does if you’re an artist or designer. One particular website I want to recommend is bringyourownlaptop.com, they’ve got a very wide range of in-depth online courses for any experience level at an inexpensive price. They’re not paying me to say this at all, I’ve been using this resource for the past 6 months and have loved every bit of it. They also offer certifications, which are always a fantastic addition to your resume.
  • YouTube: It’s insane to me what kind of content is available FOR FREE on YouTube. There are Harvard-level college lectures you can watch from the comfort of your own home. Gathering valuable information in the modern day is easy, but applying that knowledge to your work is the difficult part. Remember to not get sucked into too much content without acting on it, set up specific video lectures for specific days, and assign yourself work to apply the knowledge you just learned about.

Now we know where the different pipes of information come from, whether it be in person or online. As I just mentioned, the focus here is applying that information, and college keeps your brain on a roll by assigning you mandatory, relevant work. Assigning ourselves work to grow our skill sets can be difficult because it’s not “mandatory” like college work is. That’s where discipline comes into play. If you first establish discipline, you can stick with anything, no matter how difficult it is. Discipline doesn’t care whether you’re motivated to do work or not, you simply act because that’s what you’ve trained yourself to do. Here’s a summary of things to keep in mind:

  1. Decide the right path of where you should gather information, whether that be college classes or online courses.
  2. Practice and build your discipline to stay committed to learning and growth.
  3. Enjoy the process. If you don’t love what you do, you’re not gonna love the end result.

I hope this post has been helpful to those of you still thinking about college. It doesn’t matter what age you are, being a student is a mindset, not an occupation. Hopefully, this has helped you understand how you will learn best, as I encourage everyone to pursue higher education of some kind.