Going back to school - Looking for advice

I was working as a motion graphics designer and video editor for the past 18 years at my last company before they closed their US facility recently. Now I’m eligible for Trade Assistance (some free schooling) and I’m trying to figure out which college program to take. The main two I’m looking at are Graphic Design and Web Development/Design. Both are for Associate’s Degrees.

I went to a non-accredited school for Multimedia Design (Associate’s Degree) 20 years ago and learned a little bit about everything. Over the course of working at my last job I became specialized with my main tools being After Effects, Photoshop, and Premiere (and a little bit of Illustrator). I only ever used Dreamweaver in the early 2000s - so much has changed since then. And I never used InDesign.

In my job searches I’ve found the skills I’m missing are in web design and print. Web design seems more future proof though could it be more susceptible to outsourcing? The little experience I had with it wasn’t as fun as my motion graphics work. With print, I like the idea of designing something that doesn’t just exist in the digital realm.

The other things I’m considering are that the Web Design program is online only (never took online courses before) and Graphic Design program is all onsite classes though it’ll be a 50 minute drive to get there. Also, the Graphic Design program is the closest to what I’ve already taken and I imagine a considerable amount of it will consist stuff I already know. However, the school I went to for Multimedia Design was non-accredited and no longer exists unlike the one that I could go to for Graphic Design. Don’t know if that matters much in this field unless I eventually want to transfer to get a bachelor’s or something.

Anyway, I’m having a difficult time deciding which route I want to take and I’m curious if anyone else has any suggestions/advice.

I don’t know how it is in other countries, but here in New Zealand, good web designers are scarce and constantly being poached and head hunted. The money is insane. Sure, you can outsource that kind of work but there’s nothing quite like a designer that not only speaks the client’s language but understands the market.

However, I hate web designing. It hurts my brain. I do a tiny bit of web, for my own sites and when clients beg me to do it. But I don’t offer it. Ever.

So, I think the important thing is, what do you think you’ll enjoy more. Or at this stage it doesn’t matter or you could see yourself doing any of the above?

A few years back, I earned a certificate in Web Design and Development, and found it useless. Others had more education and I couldn’t compete. Since then, that field has come up with even more coding software, like Ruby on rails, etc.

It sounds like you enjoyed doing motion graphics and video. If so, would the trade assistance pay for a Multimedia Associates?

You’d be building on a strong foundation, in a field with a good future.

The problem with an Associates Degree is, in the field of graphic design, it is no better than a certificate.
I’d suggest looking through the help wanted ads to see what the qualifications are for the job you want. I think you’ll find most start at a Bachelor’s degree. Even with 18 years experience, for some bizarre reason employers today stop looking at you once they don’t see that 4 year degree.

I’m not getting something here though.
One is will the Trade Assistance allow you to take a second Associates Degree if you technically already have one.
Two is why the government entity that runs Trade Assistance considers Graphic Design to be a viable career alternative (but by all means take advantage of it, if that is what you really want.)

If the trade assistance allows it, I’d check into a 4-year program and talk to the Admissions councilor about what you can transfer for previous schooling and life experience. Since your school was unaccredited, maybe not much, but you might be surprised. Then see if you can CLEP test your way out of as many gen-ed courses as possible.

You won’t learn the mechanics of actually doing print production work at school unless it’s a trade school with a printing aspect. Most things about production output are learned on-the-job in the specific industry you are working in. The best thing a designer can do, especially when learning is to lean on their printer for information prior to starting a design project in order to get the files right for output.

Then there is the whole problem of this industry being supersaturated. The reason the companies look for that 4 year degree is they need some sort of cut off point. Every job is getting upwards from 100 applicants. No joke. And because the market is so glutted, the pay scale has dropped through the floor. Freelancing, which shouldn’t be done until after several years of working in the industry for someone else, has become the dumping ground for a lot of out of work design students, each trying to low-ball the others out of the market.

Consider your options carefully.

With 18 years of experience designers start running into another problem — employers start wondering whether they’re too old, too expensive and too set in their ways to do the job. You can’t win no matter what.

Agreed, though — without the four-year degree, the difficulty of landing a good design job is several times more difficult than the already difficult task of landing a good design job with the four-year degree.

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Actually, I disagree with this statement, because it’s too general. And frankly, a tad bit discouraging.

An Associates is better than a certificate, a Bachelors is better than an Associates, a Masters is better than a Bachelors. Each level represents a certain amount of time spent and training gained.

You get out of it what you put into it. So a person with an Associates, a lot of drive to learn and excel, and good networking skills can be just as successful as a slacker with a Bachelors degree.

It also depends on the geographic location. An Associates in a rural area can be equivalent to a Bachelors in Seattle.

Financial resources, too. If a person is only financially able to get an Associates (often the case with worker retraining) then it’s better to do that than not. One can continue to increase their skills while working.

Unfortunately, Trade Assistance will only cover a Bachelor’s if you already have an Associate’s and you only need a few more credits for a Bachelor’s. This is because there is a total cost limit they will cover and for some dumb reason it has to FULLY cover the cost. What I mean is you can’t spend your own money or anyone else’s money on the training or degree your going for. If the government is only going to cover 25000 max, you can’t add your own money to that and get something that costs 50000. Also, it has to be a program of some sort where you get a certificate or a degree. You can’t take a mishmash of courses. EDIT: You can get scholarships and grants but I would need a ton of them to cover the difference.

Due to the rules and how much they will cover, it looks like they want to steer you towards taking something like welding, plumbing, carpentry, or being a nurse aide. None of which interests me in the slightest.

Yeah they may not cover the graphic design program as they need to approve what you take. They have the web design program listed as pre-approved though. And at the moment I’m think I’m leaning towards that. At least the skills I built up over the years would still be of some use, unlike starting at the very bottom at some blue collar job.

It’s going to really rough no matter what I do. The best I can hope for is to build a great portfolio and hope a few of my resume’s get past the auto filter.

About half the listings I see in my area either state they are looking for at least an Associate’s OR a Bachelor’s or the equivalent experience. So that’s somewhat encouraging.

Yeah this sucks. My last job had Bachelor’s Degree listed in the requirements though I got the job through a job fair at the design school I graduated from. I impressed one guy and he ended up giving me a full interview on the spot and later hired me.

All the other designers I worked with had Bachelor’s degrees but most of them were weren’t that great. They had the book knowledge, but they didn’t have the eye to put it to good use. One of them would even do things like put red text on a bright green background or animate text appearing in goofy/cheesy ways when the project had a serious theme. Over the years they were all let go and I was the last designer the company kept before eventually shutting down.

It’s unfortunate some places use Bachelor’s Degree as a way to weed out applicants in the graphic design field when the portfolio should be the most important determinant.

Yes it is. I mean, I get that they need a way to filter applicants, but I’ve interviewed for jobs where those criteria were for show, and the actual jobs didn’t necessarily require everything they listed. As requirements.

Job descriptions suck.

However, Ramses, don’t discount networking after school. Along with a good portfolio, knowing people is your other strongest tool.

I did my work study and internship at the college printshop, and did a really good job. That manager is still sending me potential clients.

I didn’t have much luck getting employed (age!) so started freelancing instead, and due to networking, am building a nice little business.

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Yeah. Gotta concentrate on networking. I should have done more of that at my last job.

Regarding the web design program. The college also offers a web design certificate which consists of all web courses without the inclusion of the general stuff like English and math. If I took that I could be done in 1 year though I wouldn’t have the Associate’s. I’m trying to weigh how 2 Associate’s looks vs an Associate’s and a certificate. I suppose it would be nice to have an Associate’s from a school that’s not defunct.

I took a years worth of general community college courses after high school which the councilor said they’d accept 4 of them to go towards the Web Design Associate’s, however I’d still need to go 2 years.

I’d get the Associates if you possibly can. It’s a degree, and will look a lot better than a certificate, and will mean you have more training and education.

You will be competing for jobs with other candidates with degrees.

An Associates is better than a certificate, a Bachelors is better than an Associates, a Masters is better than a Bachelors. Each level represents a certain amount of time spent and training gained.

While this is generally true, it is not true in Graphic Design any more. Not some, but most places use the Bachelors as the cut off point. They don’t even look at an Associates. As far as a Masters goes, the employer specifically is looking for someone with one, having one doesn’t mean mean you automatically get put ahead of someone with a Bachelors, and oftentimes a Masters is discarded as probably being too expensive in most areas of this field. In GD if you get a Masters, consider a complimentary degree rather than just a Masters in Graphic Design. In the biological sciences we called a B.S. degree “bullsh!t” and a Masters in the same field “more sh!t” You don’t want to pile on more of the same.

You get out of it what you put into it. So a person with an Associates, a lot of drive to learn and excel, and good networking skills can be just as successful as a slacker with a Bachelors degree.
Unfortunately today, it will be much more likely that if the slacker has a good portfolio they will get the interview while the Superdrive with the associates doesn’t even make it past the mail sort.

Sorry to sound so “discouraging.” But there are enough of us here that can corroborate this as being true from both sides of the issue, hirers and hirees. There are just too many Graphic Designers being pumped out of the schools these days. Perhaps this program realizes this, and wants those being retrained to have a decent shot at being reasonably compensated for their work.

If your area is hiring on both Associates and Bachelors, consider yourself very lucky. I cannot imagine what the payscale difference will be.

Also, a lot of university are offering AAS to BAS programs now where your AAS degree counts as the requirements for your Major. You pick a minor and take a few electives and you have a bachelor’s degree from a university. So getting a 2 year workforce degree isn’t a dead-end like it was a few years ago. (not talking about the normal two year Associates- that’s always been a transfer degree). There are other options, for instance if you don’t like being a graphic designer- you can become a cop or something. They only need like 50 credit hours of college in my city.

I’ve always thought of it sort of like this- designers with Associates can easily get jobs at places like Minuteman press or whatever your local alternative is. Designers with Bachelors work for larger companies, designers with no degree will work for sign companies.

As laborers, technicians or for old-school shops that are basically lower-tech production facilities, your characterization might still be true.

Today, though, signage is complicated, with all kinds of constantly changing, specialized and varying processes and materials. I know some incredibly good and well-educated designers who work at sign companies. They design some beautiful work — everything from three-dimensional environmental graphics to stunning museum displays. For that matter, I’d consider this field as one of the growing and more in-demand avenues for design students to pursue.

B is right. Even quite a few college educated graphic designers cannot grasp the 3D concepts needed to work as designers in a sign shop, not to mention having to know the programs inside and out in order to field client files for sign work.

Where I work we don’t require a degree for general laborers. For design work and production, yes, though it is, in theory, possible to work your way up.

Just curious, what software do they generally use for 3D signs? Is it all CAD?

On another note, I have various experience other things besides design, motion graphics and video, but nothing that I’ve found to be useful for job hunting (at least at my current skill level). These include: 3D modeling (worked on and off with 3D Studio Max, Carrara, and zBrush), 3D printing and molding (basically printing statues and making molds out or them for plaster casts), music composition and mixing (probably useless - everyone’s a musician these days), game design (made a few games for iOS and PC - though with dev kits that require little programming), and some programming (some javascript and dabbled in C# years ago). Do you think it would be worth it to really work and expand on any of these skills on the side? Like through Lynda or Udemy? Obviously it would be useless on a resume as far education goes.

I could just go back to school for programming, but I don’t know if an associate’s programming degree is worth much either. I also don’t like programming enough to be solely doing it all day every day. It would probably drive me nuts after a while, especially if the project is something that doesn’t interest me.

Sorry if that came off wrong, I wasn’t by any means insulting or saying it was an inferior position to work in a sign shop.

My first design job, before completing college was at a sign company designing 3D, electrical signage as well as a lot of typical small and large format print work. And a large portion of my company’s clients are sign companies who outsource parts of the process. One of the first topics that comes up in meetings with designers is education and background. It’s just a trend that I noticed.

Working in something like programming (or anything I guess) will be a nightmare if it drives you crazy. Perhaps you should take some sort of aptitude test. You can see a career councilor, they’re probably much more qualified at questions like this than we are.

That being said, an associates degree in programming will get you a lot further than one in graphic design, especially if you learn a language inside and out and are able to get a few certs and ace a code interview. Twice a week I teach a supplemental programming course at a university and people seem to pick up Python (one of the most in-demand languages) pretty quick.

I already took some aptitude and personality tests and met with a career councilor. The personality/interest test rated me really high for Artistic, in the middle for Scientific and Plants/Animals, and really low for everything else (and extremely low on Industrial, Business Detail, and Selling).

The aptitude test ranked me high in Form Perception, Clerical Perception, and Spacial Aptitude. And ranked me above average in General Learning and Verbal Aptitude. Everything else was dead center average.

My career councilor hasn’t been of much help. She was pretty much pointing me towards web design but she said if I go that route I would have to make sure I get really good at it.


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