In the last lesson, we explored different reasons to launch a career in computer graphics. Now, we'll talk about different ways to get your computer graphics education.
While a lot of learning happens on the job, I think it's very important to have some sort of structured educational foundation. Computer graphics can be highly technical, in addition to requiring a developed artistic sensibility. You don't want to get thrown into the deep end of a pool without first learning how to at least do the doggie paddle. It's much better to learn the basics in a school setting than with an actual client deadline at stake.
As a budding computer graphics person, you have many education options. We're going to talk about liberal arts colleges and universities, art and design schools, trade schools, and online programs.
Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities
Out of high school, I started my own education at a liberal arts university with a traditional four-year degree program. Liberal arts schools generally offer a broad education and exposure to many different subjects. It can be great to have these other learning opportunities, because your life should not only revolve around computer graphics. I think the broad exposure can also help you to confirm that computer graphics is indeed what you want to be doing for a career, and not something else. You'll find a wide diversity of classmates and opinions, and ample opportunity to network and make friends with people from all backgrounds.
There's also a financial benefit if you choose wisely – if you pick an in-state public university or even a community college, you can generally get a two or four-year degree for a much lower cost than at other types of schools.
Art and Design Schools
These obviously focus on art disciplines, which is wonderful if you're certain you want to be an artist, whether in computer graphics or something else. If you take full advantage of this education, you'll likely be more exposed to artistic opportunities than you would at a typical liberal arts school.
The downside to art school is that you generally won't have as much exposure to non-art disciplines. For example, if your true calling is actually as an engineer or psychologist and not as a graphic designer, you may not have the opportunity to figure this out due to limited classes in non-art fields. And if you're having a hard time getting work in an art field, you may not have as many fall-back options as someone who studied multiple fields at a liberal arts college or university. On the other hand, if you know you want to work in art and don't feel the need to dive deep into any non-art area, this could be the perfect fit.
One final thing to note is that art school costs are generally in line with private colleges and thus more expensive than state universities and community colleges.
Trade or Technical Schools
These tend to be much smaller than the previous types we've looked at, are often more career-focused, and are very specific to a discipline. Trade schools are ideal if you know exactly what you want to do and want a more direct, more affordable, and faster pathway into securing work.
I actually went through one of these programs myself. After graduating from a traditional four-year university with a Major in New Media and Minor in English, I realized I wasn't yet qualified or connected enough to land the kind of job I wanted. That's when I found a one-year intensive 3D animation program near the city, with very specific training and ample networking opportunities. I started immediately, worked hard, and was fortunate to land a great job right after graduation.
Some students there were right out of high school, others came there to change careers, and still others like me went there right after college, now ready to double down on the career they knew they wanted.
The risk of a trade school is that it won't leave you other fallback options if you can't land a job in your desired field. But if you know what you want to do, it can be one of the most effective pathways to a computer graphics career.
These are generally the most affordable option by far, not only compared to a college, university, or art school, but even a trade school. A big reason for this is that there is no physical space to pay for, including rent, utilities, groundskeeping services, insurance, and more. To put it this way, we could be talking about a few thousand dollars of training in an online program, vs. tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in one of the other options we've looked at.
Online programs are very focused and specific. If you pick a good one, you can have great networking opportunities, including exclusive online groups and one-on-one training with industry experts.
Now keep in mind that, unlike some professions, in computer graphics, you're typically not judged by which school you went to or which degree you possess. Your portfolio and demo reel are much more pivotal to your success. The most important thing to a client or company is whether you can do the work.
Your task: If you wish to go to school for computer graphics, consider which option may be best for you. Do you want a broader education where you can explore many career options and have some fallbacks if computer graphics doesn't work out? Or do you know exactly what you want to do and want to focus all your energies on learning that one subject? What's most affordable for you? How quickly do you want to start?
These questions will help guide you toward the best educational approach for your situation.
In the next lesson, we'll look at how to get as much value as possible from your education.