Ask the Pros: As a self-taught designer, will grad school help me get a job?

Ask the Pros: As a self-taught designer, will grad school help me get a job? After our terrific Ask the Pros: Live! event (get caught up on the great advice our panel had to share), we're back with more of the online version. Our Ask the Pros series is here to 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. 

Read on for today's question about grad school .... 

I'm a self-taught designer currently interning in the graphics department at a daily newspaper, but would really prefer to work in magazines. I have been thinking about going to graduate school to help me do that. Is this is a waste of money or what should I do instead?

PRO: Linda Rubes - Art Direction and Design  
Furthering your education is never a waste of money! But a graduate degree is not neccessarily the only means by which to make the switch from newspaper to magazine design.
    First of all, bravo to you for landing an internship in the graphics department of a newspaper! You've already got some practical experience that you can use to leverage your way into a magazine internship. Since your experience is rather specialized, you might consider targeting magazines that are keen on graphics or have a graphics department.
    If going to graduate school is an option, by all means I think it's a great idea! But the choice comes down to what your main objective is for the near future. If you need to join the workforce, you might find it more practical to enroll in some continuing ed classes at a school like the School of Visual Arts in NYC where the classes are taught by working professionals. That way you can work on a design portfolio specific to magazines, and also make some connections that might help you obtain an internship or entry level position at a magazine.
    All that being said, a good graduate program can definitely alter the trajectory of your career. But be careful to consider the focus of your studies. I think the problem with graduate school, at least where magazines are concerned, is that the publishing industry is in the midst of a particularly transformative time. Print magazines are on the decline and new platforms are emerging and evolving almost daily. Consider what it is that draws you to magazines--is it the print itself, or is it visual storytelling? Be careful to choose a program that will be innovative and forward-thinking. For example, if you're really interested in graphics and visual storytelling you might consider something like the multimedia journalism program at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  

PRO: Edward Levine - Creative Director, Psychology Today Magazine 
One of my first design positions was at a weekly business newspaper, but I was interested in the aesthetics of magazine design as well which I found exciting and inspiring. With the goal in mind of becoming a magazine designer, I began freelancing at magazines for very little money in exchange for experience and tear sheets. It was challenging and rewarding and helped me realize I was making the right decision. I never attended graduate school, so I can't speak to that directly, but my experience has always been you learn more and faster working on actual projects at real businesses and get a realistic perspective on the industry.

PRO: David Curcurito - Design Director, Esquire
I certainly don't think school is a waste. But before you commit the dough and time, why not put together some samples of your work and get them in front of some magazine people to get a good old-fashioned critique. There are plenty of art directors who, if asked properly, will give you an honest response. And, for a nominal fee, I'll give your their e-mail addresses (I'm joking...make me an offer). Who knows, maybe you're a design genius, maybe you'll start with a first-hand education at Modern Cat magazine. But if you're not a design genius, continuing your education might be the way to go. It's such a funny fucking business, you could have an MFA and lack the talent to land a good job or, you could literally have no education...OK, at least an 8th-grade education, and become the design director of Esquire. Alright, send me your goddamned samples: dcurcurito at Oh yeah, my assistant art director dropped out of college after his junior year, but he's a design genius.

PRO: Daniel Añez - graphic designer, Review & Herald Publishing Association
Going to graduate school will give you the opportunity to expand your knowledge, some of which you will not be exposed to at the newspaper. If you have the money or the possibility to go to graduate school, I would advise to do it, if you feel like you've had all the experience you can get at your current job.

Thanks to our terrific panel of pros for all their great advice! 
Check out our previous Ask the Pros questions below. And email us if you've got a question.
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