Ask the Pros: What if I didn't go to a design/art school for college?

To help prepare you for the real world, our Ask the Pros series is here to help answer some of your most common questions about interviewing, job-hunting and working in the world of publication and media art and photo departments.

Got a question you want answered? Send it to us at and we'll put it to our experts! A varying panel of professionals will give you their take, and then it's up to you to put their advice to work.

And if you're a working professional yourself, we'd love to hear your opinion too ... don't hesitate to add it in our comments or email us to be on one of our panels.

Today we're talking about how your type of college affects your job chances...

Question: I went to a general liberal arts college/university and not a school known for its design/art program. Does it hurt my job/intern chances if I didn't go to an art school like SVA, Pratt, RISD or the like?

PRO: Cass Spencer - Design Director, Prevention
It's going to make it harder, but I know of more than one Creative Director on high-end consumer titles that never went to art school.

PRO: John Walker - Art Director for Mobile, Popular Mechanics
Well it doesn't help! You'll really have to prove strong interest and do something out of the ordinary. Be creative to show your creativity--scan in 12 layouts you love and write brief descriptions of why you love them. (If you can't describe in words why something appeals to you visually, this probably isn't the career for you.) Create a virtual exhibit of your favorite art works (don't have the skills to do this? Not ready to be a successful intern.)

PRO: Jesse Southerland - Design Director, Philadelphia
No, it does not hurt your chances with me personally. I'm from south western Indiana and went to a terrible school for design. It was the connections I made through school that helped me get started. I find that many designers who went to school just for art direction are very tunnel-visioned and not as resourceful as designers who weren't into overly specialized programs. BUT, you have to work your butt off and find other ways to get the knowledge you otherwise would have readily available from an art school. I have a soft spot for the underdogs; watch Hoosiers and you'll understand. 

PRO: Matthew Bates - Creative Director, Active Interest Media Outdoor Group
It is always great if a student has a design/art education but I would never say it is an absolute must. Personally, I have a degree in journalism, and I know several amazing Art Directors who have degrees in other fields. I would say that if you don't have a design/art degree, your extra-curricular work becomes even more important. Having great practical experience such as work on a student publication or an internship can really help your chances. Also, your portfolio becomes even more important if you don't have a design degree. If you can show me that you are able to think through a design problem and come up with great, well-thought-out solutions, you will be ahead of the game. 

PRO: Julia Knetzer - freelance designer and art director
I didn't go to design/art school, and I feel like this did come into play for me from time to time when I was looking for my first jobs. I think it can be a setback, especially if the person hiring specifically says that art school is a qualification he or she is looking for. But the great thing about being a designer is that it's really your portfolio that counts. As long as you have talent, and good instincts (and a command of the relevant software!), those things will come through in your portfolio, and, with a little perseverance, the jobs will come.

PRO: Ryan Haigh - Designer, Complex
When we're speaking with potential interns for the first time, we're looking for a solid understanding of the design tools we use everyday. We're also looking for a strong sense of composition and the ability to think critically and solve design problems on your own. I don't think everyone needs design/art school to acquire these skills. As long as you're exhibiting those skills, it won't hurt your chances. 
     I do however, believe that higher education is a great opportunity to learn from industry professionals, teachers, and receive constructive criticism from your peers. It's a great time to collaborate and soak up as much information as possible. 

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