Guide to Design: What Kind of Design School Do You Want to Attend?

by Frederick H. Carlson
Guide to Design: What Kind of Design School Do You Want to Attend?

Large Colleges and Universities with Traditional 4-Year Programs

If you desire an education that encourages interaction with a variety of people and subjects in addition to design, and a range of degrees from the bachelor's level to the doctorate (Ph.D.) level, the university program is probably desired. Some very good departments are within the auspices of large universities, but often do not promote themselves as aggressively as schools specializing in design alone. Coursework at large schools emphasize the liberal arts outside of one's major field, typically in areas such as English, History, Humanities, and Science. The four-year program gives you the most freedom to focus later in your educational experience. You may get overwhelmed with design and switch majors!

Adaptability and many options are the benefits in this environment. The large resources of the endowments and monies at these institutions have caused a great deal of program improvements in these large, often state-supported schools, and tuitions are competitive especially for in-state students. The cost of new technology is often more easily assumed by these institutions as well.

Four-Year Design-Focused Schools

These schools offer intensive, studio-centered design instruction and theory with segments of liberal arts courses, granting degrees at the Bachelor's, Master's, or very occasionally the Doctorate level. All degrees offered are design-related and design career specific, and the required coursework outside of the studio design classes is more industry-centered.

These schools feature a career-oriented design focus with a few additional non-design course electives (writing, history, business, marketing, advertising) to broaden the young designers' perspectives. It is hard to change your major to something outside of design if this gets too overwhelming. You'll have to transfer if your needs are not being met. One advantage of these schools is that they are used to crafting curricula that mix a blend of full-time and part-time adjunct faculty providing a great range of practical and theoretical experiences for the student.

Design Courses at Community Colleges

Community colleges typically offer two-year degrees in the form of associate's degrees or certification. They offer a shorter program than colleges, universities, and 4-year design schools, often with a vocational focus in specific areas that serve the design business, such as the commercial, computer, and graphic arts. These credits and degrees can either serve the student for life depending on their drive and desire, or serve as transfer credits to a four-year school. These schools are designed to meet the needs of those just beginning their post-high school education without a clear idea of where they may wish to work, those who want to supplement a prior degree, and those who have already entered the work force and are looking for a part-time education around a full-time job.

A major trend among all institutions of higher education is the part-time or adult education programs; but community colleges most often fill this need.

Vocational/Technical Colleges with Design Courses

A vocational/technical education is planned to teach you exactly what you need to know to get a job in a small segment of the design field, including programs in the applied arts, printing industries, and computer training.

These colleges and academies offer bachelor's, associate's degrees, certificates, and diplomas. Some may also offer master's degrees. Coursework stresses practicality and hands-on experience.

Employment networks are organized around these schools to help graduates find jobs after graduation.. If you have excellent drive, personal ability, and desire to self-teach, these schools can help you save money and complete satisfying career pathways in design.

Design Workshops, Trade Conventions & Special Design Programs

You can prosper from brief, intensive training in a desired subject or skill set by attending design workshops often publicized in trade publications or by mail that are offered in your preferred discipline.

Design schools, colleges with design programs, and other local trade associations like IDSA, GAG, and the AIGA (who often use universities and colleges as hosts) feature special programs bringing adults together to educate and congregate in design workshop settings that renew and update horizons in particular design trade segments.

Design workshops can focus training into a day or a series of days instead of taking the semester-length approach. Design students are often welcome at reduced cost. You may need to travel if there's nothing like this offered in your area, but this sort of design training can be well worth your while. You can also sign up for special design courses on a part-time and/or evening basis without enrolling in a design degree program.

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