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You can be a successful graphic designer without a college degree, Part 1

Unpopular opinion: You can do something really cool without wasting your time, money, and mental health on a degree. BEFORE we get into the really good stuff, I have an exercise for you to do if you want to be a graphic designer.





Emilie, why should I trust you? Here are some quick facts about me.

  • I have a BFA in Graphic Design.

  • I spent a total of 6 years in college.

  • I was stressed out the whole time.

  • I was not taught how to use any tools.

  • I lost my confidence and creativity.

  • I didn't learn anything about the real world.

  • I had to rediscover the talents I started with, before college, in order to run the design business that makes me happy.


Take these steps to see if college is (or isn't) the right path for you.



1. Job shadow a few different kinds of designers.

  • Agency designer

  • Corporate designer

  • Freelance designer

  • Independent business owner (a designer is great, but doesn't have to be!)

...you probably didn't even know these types of designers existed! Not sure how to find one? Look on LinkedIn – tell them you're interested in pursuing graphic design and would love to set a meeting with them to learn about their job!


2. Don't just job shadow them. Interview them. Get personal!

  • Can I see your portfolio of projects you've worked on here?

  • Walk me through your favorite project.

  • Walk me through your least favorite project.

  • Do you have fun at work?

  • What frustrations do you run into?

  • What are your working hours? Are they flexible?

  • Do you feel like you spend enough time with your family?

  • How do you like your manager?

  • For the business owner, ask about when they knew what they wanted to do and their path to starting their own business.

3. Ask about their career goals.

  • What are their goals in 1 yr, 5 yr, 10 yr?

  • What is their ultimate dream?

  • Do they ever wish they would have done something else with their degree?

  • Have they ever thought about running their own business?

4. Ask about their salary throughout their career.

  • This one can be touchy, but it's important to understand how much money you would make in different environments. You might be surprised to find out you could make a livable income in non-corporate environments that might make you happier.

5. Ask each person to give you a sample project they'd do at their current job.

  • Remember to ask them for help and guidance along the way! Start with: "How would you approach this project?" This will teach you about the design process from research, to adhering to brand standards, to using the programs, and will honestly help you understand what a designer does every day in different environments! See if you can do a project in Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator (or other programs if you're interested in motion graphics or web design)

6. Find a mentor.

  • Of the people you interviewed, do you feel especially inspired by one of them? Ask them to be your mentor! Ask them to help you navigate your career and help talk through ideas you have. They don't have to be in the same "field" of design you're interested in!

7. Brainstorm ideas about what you would do if you ran your own business.

  • The possibilities are endless....

  • What are you passionate about? Food? Apparel? Faith? Family? Education? Social issues? Invitations?

  • Look through Etsy and see what the world of independent creatives are doing.

  • Do your own "sample project" – something you think you could sell.

  • Try selling it!


8. Check out my Facebook page and my shop.

  • I'm a real world example of an artist who went to college to be a corporate designer, and then decided she wanted to do something more closely related to her original fine art skills!


This should be everything you need in order to see if you're actually interested in the field, and what the possibilities are within the graphic design world. It's a lot of work, but the payoff is HUGE if it helps you decide whether or not you really need to go to college in order to do what you love.


In part 2, I will walk through the steps to start your own business (even as early as in high school!)

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