As it’s that time of year, I thought it might be quite useful for some of you if I wrote about my experiences of arts education. As the fees are now averaging £9000 a year, going to do an art degree might seem like a huge risk financially and something that you might want to consider very carefully. Questions you might be asking yourself: will I get a well paid job at the end of it? Will I even get a job at all!? Is it worth it? What will I learn – if anything?!
When I went to university the fees were still around £3000 a year, so the loan didn’t seem as big as £9000 a year. I imagine with any degree now at such high costs, a lot of people will be contemplating even going ahead with a degree at all, especially an art degree.
There is SO much to cover, so I’ll try to write a couple of posts over the next few weeks. In this first post, I’ll highlight a couple of things you may want to initially think about before starting your course. I hope this will be of help to someone! I’ve also fished out lots of my old illustration work that I made on my degree (the fun – omg so much bad photoshopping!) so all photos/drawings on these posts are from my time studying.
Grab a cup of tea… this isn’t short!
Why I chose to go to university
I knew I wanted to do illustration or graphic design from age 15. At 16 I went to college and did a National Diploma in Print & Publishing for two years (the equivalent UCAS points to 3 A Levels – except in a subject you want to do if you’re not just wanting to do academic subjects!) this diploma covered design, writing and marketing, as well as photography modules and learning how to use Photoshop and InDesign. I then did Art Foundation for 1 year where I specialised in illustration. It was then that I decided to apply to Kingston University for their Illustration & Animation course.
For me there was no doubt I wanted to do a degree, and I am lucky that from a young age I sort of set out what subject I was interested in, this made my decision to continue my studies much easier. I knew that to get better I needed those three years that a degree gives you – to hone my skills and practice practice practice! This is something to think about, do you actually NEED your degree to do what you want to do? Be it for time to practice, or the actual qualification to get a specific job? Ask yourself that question.
Where to go?
I wanted to go to one of the best courses (I’m sure everyone does) but I honestly don’t think I would have paid to go if I hadn’t got into one of the uni’s I wanted to go to. If I didn’t get in first time, I would have tried the year after. £3000/£9000 a year is a LOT of money to spend on an art degree and lets be brutally honest, a lot of art degrees out there are a complete doss from what I have seen/heard from friends who have gone to universities and been very disappointed with their courses.
Make sure that you are 100% certain the course you apply to is going to be good, ask previous students for advice on the specific course, do your research. If you do go to your second choice, make sure you’re happy about it. You can always take a gap year and re-apply for your first choice again. In the grand scale of life 1 year out is nothing, and a lot of students on my degree were not 19 (they were in their 20’s!). You need to be happy about your decision!
Working hard – Art school should not be a doss
If you are going to go to Art School at age 18/19 and the course isn’t as regimented and full on as some of the courses with good reputations, then you need to be VERY self motivated. Make sure that you know what you want out of it, work on your own projects in any spare time, and just work extremely hard. Kingston was very good at treating university like school – you were in at a certain time and were told off if you weren’t in! You had homework, and strict deadlines. A lot of work got done because of this, most people worked so hard and if you didn’t you got thrown off the course! Looking back, I’m so glad it was like this, it instilled a great work ethic and the precedent was set as to what real working life was going to be like.
I know most art courses are not as structured and strict though, so working hard and pushing yourself is my advice for everyone on any art course. I do know plenty of talented people who were on courses and didn’t get the most out of it. If uni isn’t challenging you, do your own projects! Don’t waste your spare time getting drunk 24/7.
I really do think it’s important to take the hard work element into consideration, doing an art degree is not the same as going to an academic university and getting a good ‘solid degree’. When you graduate with an academic degree at a uni with a 2:1 or above, many companies often see that and think ‘well, this person has a good academic grounding so I will take them on for a graduate scheme/first job’. With an art degree, it’s not as easy, you do have to prove yourself a lot more, so be prepared to work bloody hard!
This sounds utterly obvious, but you really should choose your degree based on what you foresee yourself doing in the future or/and what you would LOVE to spend 3 years doing.
I did my degree because I knew I wanted to have a creative job in the future, and I knew I loved illustration. If it didn’t work out immediately (job or money wise), I would have enjoyed myself and made the most out of my three years of artistic freedom. If there had been any doubt for me personally, I wouldn’t have wasted my money or time.
It can also be important for your future to consider where you do your degree. Will people recognize your course? What will potential employers or clients think? Obviously this is not the be all and end all, as in the creative industry your portfolio IS what gets you work, but it should be something to think about because it can help. Look at the connections the University says it has, what do the alumni of the course go on to do? These can be pointers as to what industry and clients think about the course.
The above is one of the reasons that I chose to apply to Kingston, as it does have a very good reputation as one of the best courses for Illustration. I’d be lying if I said that this hadn’t helped me since graduating, it has been recognized and I have been contacted based purely on the fact that I graduated from that specific course. Industry are aware it exists. However, as mentioned earlier it certainly is not the be-all and end-all. Your future success is inherently down to the work you do, and how hard you work. But a great course can get you some free exposure and a couple of good connections.
Do not be fooled though, attending a reputable course does in no way make anyone have an easy ride (uni’s do like to over exaggerate how well you’ll do after the course – while luring you in to apply and give them loads of money!). All it has done, at best, is opened a couple of doors for me that might not have been there if I hadn’t been to Kingston/uni in London. Working on my own projects and keeping to the ethics that my degree taught me is the approach that has won me work and jobs.
I don’t want to shatter anyone’s dreams of becoming a full time artist, but you do have to be realistic and realize that the cost of living in this country right now is extremely high in comparison to the wages that we are earning. It is not impossible to go into self-employment full time straight from University, I know a few people who did (though some moved home to do so, or away from London).
Most of us will work other jobs doing different types of work, while doing our own work so that we can live comfortably and not have to starve/move to the middle of nowhere/live with parents. Especially when starting out, there was no way on earth I was in any financial position to work for myself from graduating. I did not move back home, my parents give me no money and I had a huge overdraft to pay back. Illustration does not make you rich, and it definitely does not make you rich when you just start out. Think about these questions when you commit to three years of a course: are you paving the way for what you want to do in the future? Will you commit to your art afterwards and continue to work on your own projects, even if you have to work unrelated jobs or be skint? Ask yourself truthfully! If the answers to any of these questions is no, then think hard about why you are investing in your degree.
Phew, this post is long, apologies! But hopefully I have now covered the basics and given you a bit of ‘food for thought’ as they say.
In my next post I’ll cover what it was actually like for me at art university, what I thought I learned – what could have been better, and if I thought it was worth it. So do keep your eyes peeled!
Please do let me know in the comments below if you found this post useful!