Dropped out but trying to get back in

Hello everyone,

So to further expand on the title, I dropped out of university in the spring of 2018 after working 3 and a half years to get a bachelor’s in graphic design. The main reason I dropped was because I felt really burnt out from the work I was doing and I believe the secondary reason was because I ran out of financial aid money to pay for tuition.

In the meantime, I’ve worked several minimum wage jobs which really have been stalling me in life and right now I have this factory job which pays $12 a hour. The amount of debt I accrued (50K plus interest) has also been a hamper on me, obviously. And I haven’t done nothing about it yet. So all this leaves me to wanting to get back into the game, without having to go back to school though. Because honestly I don’t think I could do the coursework again including the unneeded classes that have nothing to do with your major.

I wanted to include a link to my Behance portfolio but the site won’t let me. Anyhow, I would love any advice on how to restart my career without a degree.

Thank you

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Welcome Aboard!!! :slight_smile:

That’s because you are brand new and we don’t allow new members to post links. It keeps spam to a minimum :wink:

I’ve bumped you up a notch so you should be able to post it now. :slight_smile:

Oh thanks so much! Here it is https://www.behance.net/dancydestrb207

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G’day mate :beers:

That’s pretty rough, 50K of debt is a pretty decent chunk of change! You need to make it a priority to eliminate that as quickly as possible. I totally hear you regarding the courses being very general, when I look back what I learned in design school 10+ years ago, you can probably learn it all on YouTube for free.

What kind of design work would you like to do?

It seems the internet is rapidly replacing college. I prefer to work on flat designs like posters, boards, magazine ads etc. Three dimensional designs like boxes and cup holders were things I had a lot trouble with when it came to folding things out, propping them up and gluing things together.

In the OP you asked for advice about persuing a career in design without a degree, I think this is totally fesible but it still requires a lot of work. When it comes to geting a career in design or onboarding a new client, a good portfolio is worth exponentially more than any degree.

Looking at your Behance page, I would suggest that you start filtering out the garbage. The mindset you need to have for this process is that you’re only as good as the worst work you have up there. A client will look at your page and say: “If they can put that up there on their own profile, what will they do to me?”

I think you’ve got talent and can do it, but you’ve got to spend some more time refining your design skills. Stop trying to be different and unique with design, if you want to be commercially viable just focus on being good.

If you’re serious about working in the industry, I would recomend spending some time here and bouncing ideas off the community here, I know I have grown significantly just by spending time here.

Which pieces do you recommend that I should get rid of? Secondly, when it comes to creating new pieces, I know I have to create mockup projects; which sites would be best for that? Thirdly, does that one video you provided suffice (for now) or do you recommend buying all the courses from the Futur?


I think these are your weakest pieces at the moment:

Design culture now
Anti-smoking propaganda

Regarding your other stuff on your profile, would recomend that you look around Behance at how other well established designers present their work and how they demonstrate the problem they’ve solved. I hate to say this mate: but if I were you, I’d be looking to build a whole new portfolio, one which shows that you specialize in one particular area and you do it really really well.

Regarding the mockups, have used these guys in the past:

Regarding The Futur courses, I wouldn’t recommend buying any of them in your position. I think you can learn most of that stuff for free by searching YouTube, you need to have the willpower and self motivation to look for it and to challenge yourself to do so with assignments to do so. The Futur is a great resource (in my opinion the best!), but mostly for their free design business and mindset stuff.

You said you dropped out 3 and a half years into your course. Was the degree a 4 year course? The degree I have was a 3 year course (we don’t study any non-related classes though). I really feel for you. You would have had a degree already if you were doing my course. Sorry, that doesn’t help you at all. Honestly, if it was only 6months left on a degree, I would go back.

If you want to fill in the gaps in your knowledge, I would pull up the curriculum and figure out what design classes you missed and see if you can teach yourself using online resources.

I have hired interns before, and I only hire year 3 design students. Have you got any design related experience?

I have a slightly different take. I’d find a way to finish the degree, given how close you were to finishing. It will give you an edge when job hunting. However, as Pluto said, you will need a strong portfolio. You need to demonstrate your problem-solving abilities.

One thing that bothered me with what you have said is that you couldn’t do the coursework again. Can I ask Why?

Re your degree; where did you do your first one? Was it a private university? Without being too harsh, the standard of your work is not what I would expect from an almost graduated designer. Perhaps seek out a top-notch college and speak to them. See if they will accept you for the last year, based on your already completed modules. Find one that suits you and the direction you want to go. I don’t even know if this is possible, but it’s worth a question.

I won’t say that you can’t do it online, but you will join an army of self-taught hopefuls and make the task of finding a job, much harder. Those of us who have been doing this for some time can usually pick off the youtube educated a mile off (apart from the few who just have natural talent). What gives it away is usually the typography and the lack of depth to the work.

To me it looks like you could benefit from doing a year in a college that can give you a solid grounding in type. Most of your work shows that you have never really been taught the basics (heavy use of arial and machine condensing doesn’t help). The one piece I thought showed a bit of typographic solidity was the muscle milk packaging. I then checked. You were just using the existing packaging in your layout.

That said, when I look back to my work when I graduated, my use of type was not exactly brilliant. Something clicked a couple of years later and I just seemed to get the plot, but I’d had a very good grounding in the first place.

I am not saying this to dishearten you, but I think you could do with an intense year in a good university. It is extremely competitive out there and there are some very good people (with good degrees) you will be competing against. You need to give yourself the best chance you can. As I say, it’s not impossible without, but you would have to have a knock-out portfolio. Right now, if I were hiring, yours wouldn’t be top of the pile, I’m afraid.

The fact you have a $50k debt, to my mind, is immoral. Education should not burden young people with such outrageous debt.

Out of interest, can I ask what sort of other work, that was ‘nothing to do with your major’ did you not like?

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Yes I only had two semesters left which would’ve equaled to eight months or close to it.

The design work was tough but what added to it were additional classes you needed to take in order to get the needed credit hours. Why not just focus on what I NEED to learn and be done with it?

Depends what the extra classes were?

Honestly, I’m not willing to go back to school to risk getting deeper in debt. But what you said is interesting: an army of self-taught artists. So are these type easy to spot among professionals and the reality is that it’s hard for those who are self-taught to be successful? I always thought using platforms like Udemy, Cousera, etc would be good for those in my position or those who want to avoid getting in debt.

Art history classes (which does have interesting stuff) and the liberal arts classes that required you to do a lot of writing. But thank heavens I did not have to take any math classes in university.

I’d say they’re not bad things to study. The more you learn to write, the more literate you become. Throughout your career, you will likely deal with more written words that you ever thought possible.

Also, a wide range of knowledge is a good thing for a designer. Again you’ll need greater wide knowledge that you think you might.

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You may even find you need this too. I still remember thinking in school that I’d never need some if this stuff ever again. How wrong I was!

You talk about wanting to only learn what you need to know and not waste your time with what you don’t. To my mind, this attitude may cause you problems in the future. We’ve all sat through lectures about Brunelleschi given by a particularly tedious architectural historian in which you would sell your own sister to be able to leave, but this information is important.

Years ago I did a book with Stephen Hawking and CERN in which I had to illustrate particular elements (no pun intended) of quantum mechanics. I needed to be able to understand it to be able to illustrate it. Thankfully, I had a general interest enough to be able to want to know more. Thankfully the super smart boffins at CERN were very patient with the dumb designer and in the end what I produced became their visual shorthand for up, down, strange, etc quarks. Immensely satisfying.

Not once doing a degree in Visual Communication did I ever think I’d need anything like quantum mechanics.

Also, at one point, I was European Editor of a now defunct online visual arts publication. If I had never learned / developed an interest in how to write and a love of language, I’d have never been able to contribute and write articles. In fact a love of language and words is, I’d say, inextricable from a love of type anyway.

See where I’m going? The more, seemingly irrelevant, information you can shove into your noggin, the better. You never know when it will come in handy.

You also said the design work was tough. This, too, concerns me a little, as the pressure will only ratchet up about ten-fold once you start working in the industry and the decisions you make have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars riding on them and deadlines are immovable as a consequence. Of course coursework is tough. It needs to be. It needs to prepare you. If it didn’t you’d be in for a shock if you ended up working in a good studio.

Deadline-driven career choices are always going to bring feasts and famines of sleep, money, time, etc. It’s the nature of the beast – well, at least for the first ten years of your career.


You don’t even need to work with Stephen Hawking or CERN to require math and such - business plans and taxes will do.

In order to expand your horizon you don’t necessarily have to climb all the mountains in front of you - you can also turn your head every now and then.

The book example was not about maths per se, it was more about sometimes needing very, very left field knowledge. Quantum mechanics was not something I ever thought I’d be dealing with, no matter how lightweight the involvement.

You are absolutely right re maths and accounts/ taxes, etc. Get that wrong and you really can end up in hot water.

It depends on where you’re located as to whether or not you will get any traction without a degree. In the US, most places that hire set the entry level for a graphic designer at having a 4-year degree and 2 years of experience. Without both, you won’t get an interview. For every job posting, a studio might get upwards from 100 applicants. They have to weed that down, and right now the arbitrary cutoff is what I said above. Some places are different, like where I work, we don’t require a college degree, but you gotta have either a good portfolio or the skills we’re looking for. We don’t hire designers, we hire makers.

I’d consider art history a required course for a designer. You have to know something about what came before so you can either build off it or refurbish it somehow. There is no time in the real world for basic art history research and certainly no budget for recreating the wheel.

Same goes for some of the spatial classes like 3D design. It frightens me sometimes how some designers can’t think in spatial elements. Something as simple as a flat die cut standee figure can be challenging sometimes…

But we all here have to admit too that college will not teach you everything. Most of us learned more in the first 6-months on the job than we ever learned in college as far as the output end of this job is concerned. College is all about experimentation and theory. Having that experience sort of prepares you for the creative part of the career. The reality of budgets, time, and yes physics are always huge considerations when working for a company or for clients. (if I get asked again for those invisible, micro-thin antigrav devices to hold prints on clear acrylic to a wall “without visible fasteners,” I’m gonna esplode, LOL!)

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