Many people who want to go into multimedia design as a profession take the conventional route to this career. They head off to art and design school to get a degree in multimedia design, hoping that their four years at college will eventually land them a job in the field. However, student debt continues to rise, making many prospective design students take pause. Many question if they even need a degree or if having a portfolio will be enough to get them a job.
Cost of a Degree
Students who question the value of a degree have reason to do so, and it isn’t just because of how debt will affect them. It’s how it will affect their parents as well. According to Student Loan Hero, nearly 70% of students took out loans in 2019 and the graduating class of 2019 left school with nearly $30,000 in student debt. Equally disturbing is the fact that 14% of these students’ parents ended up with more than $37,000 in PLUS loans (Parental Loans for Undergraduate Students).
According to Credible.com, students who graduate with the average amount of student debt will pay $305 per month for 10 years to pay off their loans. They’ll eventually pay more than $36,000 when it is all said and done. To put this into perspective, the average payment for a used car is $381 per month and the average mortgage payment is over $1,000 a month.
Basically, this means that at minimum, students must pay the equivalent of a car payment or one-third of a house payment each month in student loan debt. This kind of monthly bill makes it more difficult for them to put money away in savings, for a downpayment on a new home or for retirement. Therefore, the question of degree versus portfolio is a legitimate one.
Purpose of a Portfolio
Students who graduate from design school usually end up with a portfolio. It’s such a given that many people may not even question why they need one beyond the common mantra: You need it to get a job. However, as an article in The Muse points out, there is more to a portfolio than that. It isn’t just about showing a prospective employer that the designer can make pretty pictures. It’s about the value that that employee brings to the workplace. The portfolio is one way of providing tangible proof of that value.
The real proof is whether or not a would-be employee’s portfolio proves that the employer the designer can solve real-world design problems. Pretty pictures don’t always prove that. In college, class assignments give students problems to solve that would show a future employer what that designer can do. However, for the multimedia designer who is thinking about going the non-degree route, there is still a way to accomplish this. As this person is working on a portfolio, it’s good to ask what kinds of problems exist in the business world? More specifically, what kinds of problems do multimedia designers solve on the job?
While the on-the-job demands placed on the average multimedia designer vary from workplace to workplace, it’s pretty fair to say that they need to have skills, like graphic design, web development and video and audio production. Now, the question is how do those skills help the designer solve a real-world business problem? To answer this question, the degree-free designer can first pick an industry, like the restaurant industry.
Now, the designer creates a mockup portfolio project. Perhaps, the designer will build a website that would show the restaurant’s menu, an online order form and a shopping cart. The mockup site in question must also be user-friendly and easy to navigate. For example, if a prospective restaurant customer went to that site, could that person order from the site easily, or is the set up confusing? If it’s the latter, then that may cause the customer to abandon the shopping cart before the purchase is made?
The designer who can make a mockup website that solves this problem has demonstrated that he or she knows how to solve business problems using his or her design skills. While the above example may be a lengthy description of what an employer is looking for, it gets to the heart of what the non-degreed designer needs to have in his or her portfolio to land a job.
Will Employers Hire Without a Degree?
The quickest answer to this question is: It depends on the employer. However, some large employers, like Google, Penguin Random House and Apple, are no longer requiring people to have degrees to get hired, according to Glassdoor. Many of the positions these companies are hiring for are in the fields of graphic design, UX/UI and multimedia.
However, a question still remains. How does a person without a degree get in front of an employer to get hired? Once the aspiring designer has a portfolio created, it’s then important to not only put it online but also to attend job fairs, networking events and so forth. This allows prospective employers to see it. While it is possible to apply for open jobs, there is an advantage in meeting prospective employers face-to-face. Many companies still rely on computer technology to sort resumes. If that company’s software is automatically set to look for keywords, like Bachelor of Fine Art in Multimedia Design or something similar, then resumes without those keywords get booted from the system.
While a college degree still has its usefulness, many aspiring multimedia designers are wary of going this route due to student debt issues. Instead, many have questioned whether they need a degree to get a job. Many employers still want incoming employees to have a degree. However, many major employers are willing to overlook this requirement. If a would-be employee can prove via his or her portfolio that he or she can do the job, then it is possible to get a job with the portfolio, even without a degree.