Do Graphic Designers Need a College Degree?
In today’s digital world, becoming a graphic designer is one of the more popular career paths for creative, tech-savvy individuals. Many colleges and universities help hopefuls prepare for this job by offering graphic design degrees as one of their many art and design courses.
However, it is possible to qualify for a rewarding graphic design career even if you don’t have a degree.
Becoming a Graphic Designer Without a Degree
While you may have the creative skills to succeed in a graphic designer career, you’ll need to learn how to use the proper software and turn your artistic ideas into effective marketing tools.
If you don’t have the time or funds to learn these skills during a lengthy degree program, you can enroll in a graphic design program and take the following steps to become a graphic designer with no college degree.
Step 1: Learn Fundamental Design Principles
Begin your journey toward a graphic design career by learning the foundational principles of design theory. Design theory teaches you how to communicate thoughtful and clear messages through visual imagery, which is the primary goal of a graphic designer. Components of design theory include:
Vocational and trade schools are a fast-track option for people who want to learn these concepts outside of a degree program.
Rather than spending two, four, or six years going over these principles to earn an associate’s, bachelor’s, or graduate-level degree, you can enroll in a certificate or diploma program and complete your course in six months to a year.
Step 2: Learn How to Use Graphic Design Software
Next, you’ll need to become familiar with the graphic design industry’s top software programs. Knowing how to use the latest technology and most popular design programs lets potential clients and employers know that your skills are up-to-date, which could make it easier for you to get hired.
Many graphic designers learn how to use graphics-creation software and image-editing programs like:
- Canva, Adobe, and Google graphic design suites
Qualified trade school instructors teach students how to create various designs using one or more of these programs. Training might also include passing an official exam to become certified in a particular software program.
Course Curriculum Examples
For example, your course curriculum might prepare you to earn an Adobe certification, such as Adobe Certified Associate (ACA), Professional (ACP), or Expert (ACE).
Since this career involves working with electronics and using technology to create digital images, a graphics design program is the perfect course to complete online.
Taking these classes online is a convenient way to learn how different software programs work and sharpen your design skills while sticking to your own schedule and studying in your own space.
Step 3: Practice Your Graphic Design Skills
Once you learn how to use your chosen software program, start practicing with it to perfect your skills. Your instructor might give you assignments that require you to use your newfound graphic design knowledge to create visuals based on a given prompt.
During this part of the course, you can try your hand at designing:
- Movie posters for a fictional blockbuster film franchise
- Billboards advertising the opening of a new restaurant
- Decorative banners for a block party or community event
- Branded T-shirts, mugs, pens, and tote bags
- Graphics, layouts, and visuals for video game designers, mobile app developers, and web developers and designers to use in their programs
Step 4: Create a Graphic Design Portfolio
As you gain more experience and improve your skills, compile the designs you create into an organized portfolio. You’ll need to have these designs on hand when applying for jobs so potential clients and employers can see examples of your work and determine whether you’re suitable for a particular graphic design job.
Fill your portfolio with the best or most complex designs you’ve made, including visuals you created in class that received high marks.
Be sure to prioritize any commissioned work you’ve done, such as business logos you made for an entrepreneur friend or pamphlets you volunteered to create for a local community outreach program.
Step 5: Market Your Skills to Potential Employers and Clients
Now that you’ve learned the necessary skills and created a portfolio of your work, the final step in this process is to start applying for graphic design jobs.
Trade school courses sometimes teach basic marketing skills that can help you promote your work and maybe find a few freelance gigs. However, you might also consider applying for an in-house graphic designer position at a larger company.
Solo Learning or Certificate Program?
Some graphic designers choose to skip the formal education route altogether, opting to purchase software programs and learn how to use them on their own.
While this is one way to become a graphic designer without a degree, solo learning takes much longer than a standard certificate program. Also, clients and employers may hesitate to hire graphic designers who lack any formal training.
Continuing Education Courses
Even if you’ve learned the basics of graphic design on your own and have a portfolio in the works, you can increase your chances of finding jobs by taking continuing education courses at a local community college or vocational school.
During these courses, you can update your skillset and familiarize yourself with the latest software programs, which could help you appeal to more clients.
Non-Degree Graphic Designers
While some major corporations and high-profile clients might prefer to hire graphic designers with degrees, you can get an entry-level job in the industry if you have a trade school certificate and an impressive portfolio.
Online trade school courses are one of the quickest and most convenient ways to qualify for both freelance and in-house graphic designer jobs.