Considering Non-Portfolio Design Schools
Admission to some art and design schools requires a portfolio of work prepared while in high school. But admission to others does not. Entering an art or design school with little to no previous exposure to the field can be a tremendously risky proposition. But it is not unusual to find schools, even very good ones, that will admit students with no technical skills. The expectation is that the students will pick up the fundamentals and develop their own design aesthetic as they complete their degree. Yet these programs also have higher dropout rates than most. Worse, if you stay too long you wind up with credits that cannot be applied towards something else.
Here are my suggestions if you’re considering a non-portfolio art and design school:
Ask yourself this question: Do I want to design or do I want to be around the excitement of a design profession?
If you watch Project Runway, you see that the judges who appear regularly are a fashion icon designer/marketer , a fashion magazine editor/publisher and a runway model. There will be guest judges in fields such as fashion marketing, who wok on the brand side, and fashion merchandising, who work on the retail side. Could you fill any one of these roles or only one of them? If you love fashion you might be able to switch from design to merchandising early enough to avoid losing credits and spending more time in college than you hope.
Ask yourself this question: Can you afford the extra costs of the program?
Some universities have design schools that charge higher tuition and fees than students would pay to be in their liberal arts college. Design students have additional costs of software and supplies that their classmates in book-and-lecture classes do not have.
Find out how instruction in the basic courses will be delivered.
At Philadelphia University a small (2,800 undergraduates) school where classes will be small. Even at the introductory level you’re not likely to have a class with more than 35 students. On the flip side the physics course that you will need to take to get your architecture degree at Penn State may have more than 100 students. A teaching assistant, a grad student, might be your primary instructor. The best way to learn subjects that you understand the least is to learn them in a setting where you will receive the most help. The smaller school will provide more hands-on instruction from the professor. A larger school will have a better-staffed tutoring center, where you will have to learn after hours.
Ask about employer expectations for students entering the field.
The good career centers will know what employers expect an entry-level design professional to know and what that employee is likely to do on the job. Entry-level salaries in these fields are not very high. The tasks might be less than exciting. Promotions will be based not only on talent, but how well you work with others. If you have watched any movies based around the fashion world, such as The Devil Wears Prada, the personalities are exaggerated. However, they are based on something real.
Design is partly about solving business problems.
A design degree is worthless if you do not understand the business decisions that must be made about financing, manufacturing and marketing your product. If you learn early enough that you prefer solving the business problems, you might be able to switch from the design degree to a marketing degree.
It can be very exciting to enter some of these non-portfolio programs at first. You’re taking classes in the field for the first time and you get to see what successful people do. If you show a willingness to learn and take advantage of the opportunities presented by your school, you will be fine. But if you’re not sure of the field or less than confident in your abilities you stand the risk of losing time and money in these programs if you wash out.
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