No Degree

Hi everyone! So, is it possible to become a Graphic Designer without the degree? Thanks!!

In the US, the current entry level qualifications are a 4-year degree (bachelors) and 2 years of real world experience. There are far FAR too many design graduates for the number of jobs out there. One listing at a studio might generate well over 100 applicants. There has to be a cut-off bar and that’s what it is right now.

Without a degree, that’s what you are competing with. Unless you are very very talented and very very lucky, and even then…
Sorry to be a downer.

Aren’t you an LAFS student? What happened? It’s none of my business, but just curious

I figured that was the case, but one can dream I guess. Long story short, I didn’t qualify for the rest of my loans, lost my job due to covid so I couldn’t make payments on what I owe, had a break through found a great job, would like to go back but is the debt worth it?

In the U.S., yes, it’s possible, but not especially likely. In other parts of the world, that differs.

As PrintDriver mentioned, the market is oversaturated with graphic designers who do have bachelor’s degrees in design, so you would be competing head-to-head with them. It’s not just a numbers game either, the whole reason for the education is to provide you with enough of the basics to get you started.

Without that education, you’d be entering an oversaturated market, competing against more experienced and knowledgable people, and you wouldn’t have that all-important degree that many companies use as a requirement when hiring new designers.

Then again, there are people who have taken that route and succeeded, but honestly, the odds would be stacked against you.

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Then again, I have a strong aversion to debt. Get a job, save up, and pay cash. Or work your way through school. I don’t want to see you end up with a bunch of debt and you can’t get a good paying job because the market is saturated with designers.

Also, there is no reason you can’t work on learning design on your own while you are working and saving money. That will give you a leg up if and when you decide to go back to school.


I appreciate the honesty, that actually sounds great. I do know some stuff already but of course, not as much as I should. I did find a great job. I’m labeled a “Graphic Artist” but I do pagination for a local newspaper. Just laying it out for now. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I do.


Good for you. That sounds like a great job and a way to cut your teeth, so to speak. Consider letting your boss know that you’d be happy to layout ads for advertisers that aren’t supplying their own art.


Newspapers are fun. I worked at one for 15 years.

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Thanks! So far I’m just doing pagination, and learning to be a back up accountant. But I’m hoping eventually I can do more. It’s a real laid back place, but I think it’s full of opportunities!

That’s awesome! I plan to stay there for awhile, I really wanna get into some photography and do magazines as well, but those spots are already taken. I still love it though!

I don’t think it is worth it.

I think a lot of young people these days fall into doing a tertiary degree of some sort because it seems like the next logical step after graduating high school. Personally I wouldn’t advise anyone to go to university for anything unless it’s an absolute prerequisite for whatever field they’re getting into (i.e. doctor, lawyer, scientist), on the basis of the amount of debt you accumlate, relative to the value you get.

I don’t think design is something that necessirily “needs” a degree, I think a good portfolio is exponentially more valuable than a degree.

That said I do think you need to learn about design, however this isn’t 1980’s or whatever and a lot of this information is readily available online or in books if you’re prepared to look for it and learn it and apply it.

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Sadly you will more than likely not even have your resume screened. The majority of applications are online and once you get to the “education” section and leave off the degree you won’t get seen. Because of computer pre-screening it doesn’t matter how right you are for a job or what your portfolio looks like. I have 20+ years of professional graphic design experience and have had to change careers because I only have an Associates Degree. I applied for hundreds of jobs between 2015 and 2017 with only a handful of responses. I can’t imagine how much more difficult the market is today. I will also say that while I am a big fan of on the job learning (most of the technology I learned in school is obsolete. I learned everything real world and from Google) it is important to have design schooling as a base. The theory, principles, art history and the practice of class critiques are relevant and useful in the work environment.

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That’s true at many mid-sized and larger companies that have their human resources (HR) sections handle the nuts and bolts of the hiring process.

At two recent jobs where I was the creative or design director, we would draw up a specific list of requirements that HR would use to screen applicants. Since we knew we’d get around 150–200 applicants per job, we needed to make that first rough cut based on their answers to questions filled out using online forms.

Since the completion of a 4-year college degree is a fairly good indicator of an applicant’s seriousness and basic training, that, among other criteria, was an obvious way to narrow down the field. Those first cuts were always handled using HR’s software. Applications not meeting minimum requirements were immediately eliminated. Each rejected applicant was nothing more than a single entry in a database to whom the software automatically emailed a standard rejection notice. Human eyes never looked at the applications, no one ever read the resumes, no portfolio work was ever seen and the names were never shared with me.

It wasn’t until the computer algorithms reduced the number of applicants down to around 15–20 did I get a chance to look through the resumes and portfolio links myself. From there, I’d typically call in who I and the team felt were the top seven or eight candidates.

That said, these two companies had between 100 and 400 employees each. The startup publishing company I worked at between these two jobs was much smaller — somewhere around 25 people. There, we only had a single person who handled the HR stuff and it was very informal. When we hired creative talent, I’d get to look at everything and call in whom I wanted for interviews. A college degree was always nice, but experience and a great portfolio counted for a whole lot more. Even so, the best candidates usually had 4-year university degrees and had survived the rigors of ruthless classroom competition, critiques and school-related internships.

So based only on my experience, it’s possible in the U.S. to land a design job without a college degree, but the options are fewer, the odds are against it and the competition is very tough.

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