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The Dubious Advantages of a Web Design Degree – Killersites Web Design Magazine

The Dubious Advantages of a Web Design Degree

I got a call last week from someone who was considering a three year college program in web design. The whole thing was going to cost him tens of thousands of dollars … and that’s just what you have to pay the school!

He called to ask about my video tutorial courses; he saw that we were covering much of the same material in about $80-$100 worth of videos!

… He was wondering what the heck was going on here? Do you really only need just a few video tutorials and perhaps a book or two? Could you get the same value as a college program, that cost tens of thousands … for so little?

Short answer: easily.

With a good set of videos as your base, a road-map and occasional help from a good web design forum, you can indeed develop marketable web design skills.

… I’ll be talking much more on that in soon to come videos, podcast and articles.

The Dubious Advantages of a Web Design Degree

The one thing that the college will talk about, is the nice piece of paper (degree) they will hand you after you’ve spent years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars (possibly), of your cash.

If you’ll remember anything, remember this:

The fact of the matter is that YOU WILL PROBABLY NEVER BE ASKED IF YOU HAVE A DEGREE in web design or web programming.

… The one exception is, if you are dying to work for a really large company where HR red-tape and bureaucracy rule. Other than that, your portfolio and work experience is all prospective employers (clients) will want to know about.

When I hire web designers, the last thing I look at are degrees and certificates. Instead, I look for talent and ability.

Are all schools bad?

Not at all. I am sure there are some great classes out there on web design and web programming. For some people, the structure and schedule that the college class provides, is what they need. Personally, I’ve always preferred the freedom of being able to learn when I was in the mood.

Final comment:

I would strongly advise that you think not twice, but ten times before you get yourself into big student loan debt. Student loans can easily become onerous, evil shackles about your neck.

There is a whole generation of student/slaves who have huge student loan debts that can never be forgiven (unlike a business that can go bankrupt) that are forever working to pay off massive debts – with interest!

In the middle ages, there was a class of slave called the serf, they were technically not owned by the Lord, but they were considered part of the land and could not leave.

… Today, students with unforgivable student debts, are not owned by the land … just by the banks who hold the loans.

Stefan Mischook

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23 responses to “The Dubious Advantages of a Web Design Degree”

  1. Well,I can do nothing but agree with your comments here, Stefan. I just wish someone had written them 15 years ago and that I had read them then!

    Several thoughts come to mind:

    1.) No matter how well-known or respected your college may be, you can still get poor instructors–then what can you do? Then the money you spent for the certification will be even more painful for you.

    2.) Classes, courses and educational institutions have their own financial reasons for stretching the learning experience out as far as possible. Using your own pace and your own level of understanding–combined with a top-notch web design forum can allow you to take flight much sooner as a web designer earning money and gathering clients instead of focusing on “grades” and bland and generic class assignments.

    3.) Last but not least, not every web designer wants to design with the same elements or approaches that may be considered required learning in a classroom setting. Using a design forum to learn from allows you to select and focus in-depth on what is important to YOU as a designer–not what is being enforced by a college “curriculum,” rubber-stamped out by the powers that be!

    Believe me, I learned all this the hard way—maybe I can help avoid that for whoever reads this…have a Great, Creative New Year!

  2. Stefan,

    Your article just spoke to my soul! I got into web design in 1997 while finishing a degree in Exercise Science and realized this was my true passion. What started as a hobby started to get me major publicity on campus and in the local area so I landed a few interns and independent projects.

    While seeking jobs in IT as graduating senior, the recruiters kept telling me “you’re not really technical, but you have a lot of web developing experience.” At that time, web developers were paid very well, but a surge of web editing programs arose which made it easier, but in order to have real control you needed to know programming. I mastered HTML, but trying to learn other laguages like ASP, Javascript, C++, etc., overwhelmed me.

    That’s when I COMMITTED THE FATAL FLAW OF TALKING MYSELF OUT OF THE PROFESSION (i.e., too hard to learn code, time consuming, doesn’t pay well anymore, etc) and got a job as a IT support tech which lasted nearly 10 years. That job was not fulfilling, my boss did not want to pay for the web design classes I wanted to take and it did not help me pay back my student loans either!!!!

    My passion has always been web design, but I lost my confidence and belief. I’ve had Dreamweaver MX for at least 4 years and never used it. I decided to install it and learn it–that’s how I came across your web tutorials. They are masterfully done!!! Thanks to your tutorials, I believe again I CAN DO THIS and promise I won’t let anything stop me this time.

  3. Hi Michael,

    I hear you … in the end, the key is to stick to it.

    I appreciate your kind words regarding my video tutorials. I keep working to make them better.

    The good news is that with the new year, you can expect a lot more videos tutorials – and some other goodies too.


  4. I stopped 2 classes short of an Associates simply because it took me that long to realize that the school was stuck in the past and really had no concept of where Web Design/Development was going. How can you expect your students to get a job at a web firm if they’ve never learned Flash, AS3,jQuery or (believe it or not) CSS?!

    It can be tough trying to learn without a mentor. My very first flash slide show took an ENTIRE weekend. That why these ‘video’ tutorials are so valuable. For me, reading a book hasn’t been nearly as helpful as watching and listening to someone else walk you through it.

    Many thanks for all of your effort : )

  5. I agree with you on a academic and financial level but there are loads of other good reasons to go to University. I had the three of the best years of my life at Uni drinking, joining the Uni radio station, meeting new friends etc. People reading this shouldn’t just think that your excellent video tutorials can replace a whole University experience.

  6. Pete,

    I have to agree … university is a fantastic place for drinking and meeting new friends. I’ve been there and done that!


    But in Canada (where I went to school), a year of schooling at a top notch university, only cost about $4000 – beer not included!


  7. Hi Stephan.

    I’ve just been going through your wordpress videos, and I have to say that I love what I’ve seen so far.

    I’ve just finished the first year of a 2 year Dual Diploma in Multimedia/Web Design. Here in Australia, the TAFE structure is changing, and what cost me less than $300AUD last year would be costing me around $2000AUD+ this year.

    What I decided to do instead, is build my business and with the help of sites such as this one, SitePoint, and the Gary Simon tutorials, I have a “Degree” right there at my finger tips.

    People like you and the aforementioned sites should be commended because you help to take the mystery out of the design process. I look forward to purchasing all of your tutorials and using them to help build my skill set.

    All the best,


  8. Stefan,

    You are so correct that I can’t find the accurate words to describe. Here in Turkey, I’m going to a university to study “Visual Communication”. One of my lesson called “Multimedia Design”. Fancy name. Except for the fact that lessons are so pathetic, I can’t stop laughing at it. And it’s not about our Teacher, it’s about the scheduled program. I’m confident that the money I spend there is going wasted. But everyone has to have at least one diploma in my country these days.

  9. School is great for networking and meeting potential future clients. Other than, If you want to learn, you’ll be able to do it, with or with out school.

  10. Getting a degree has many advantages — but as Stefan points out you don’t want to become a serf so be careful there.

    However, if you go the university route your hard earned money (or future salary) really are best spent getting a degree in a field of study that you enjoy or have a talent for like art, design, art history, anthropology, history, or computer science to name a few; not necessarily in something specific like Web or Multimedia Design.

  11. I use this site for great info and knowledge to learn web design. I also recommend this site to my friends.

    However, I think this article has some cons and pros…

    I think it matters on the person too, some people can learn things by reading and others are more hands on.

    Programming does not come easy to me. I am a CS major at the University of Houston. I have been trying to get an internship or a job with a company so I can get some experience and more knowledge. But I cant find any internships, and I cant find a job because they either want candidates with a BS degree and at least 1 year or more experience. But I dont understand the 1 year or more experience part, because how can you get a job in that field if you have no prior experience in that field but are fresh out of college with a BS degree. I do agree with Tom, that web design can be learned on your own.

    But I think college is NOT a waste of money. I have learned so much going to college that I feel I would of never learned not going.

    I think in these days and this economy, a BS degree for CS is well needed to get a good job.

    I’ve come to the conclusion its all about who you know, not what you know.

    I just want to Thank the creators of Killersites… You have helped me so much in Web Design!

  12. Hi,

    As I said in the article, some schools can be very good. My main points were:

    1. Don’t get into huge debt.
    2. Degrees in web design are not required.


  13. There is a lot of truth in that my friend. I was just inputting my opinion.

    Thanks again for all the great info I have received from your website. I bought 2 of your dvd’s and they rock!



  14. I got learned web design in the 90s by modifying established websites and learning how they were put together. Later I was told that a formal education would improve my employment prospects. Like a fool, I believed it. The classes were so entry level that by the time I got finished being taught everything I already knew, I had to catch up on new technology.

    On the upside I now have an associates degree.

    I wish I had had your advice 7 years ago.

  15. I got learned web design in the 90s by modifying established websites and learning how they were put together. Later I was told that a formal education would improve my employment prospects. Like a fool, I believed it. The classes were so entry level that by the time I got finished being taught everything I already knew, I had to catch up on new technology.

    On the upside I now have an associates degree.

    I wish I had had your advice 7 years ago.

  16. I think these are fair points re a uni degree.

    However some things that a uni course is great for.

    1 – Getting you a placement.
    2 – Getting you better connected and networked thus getting you of to a flying start.
    3 – Helping you build a superb portfolio that can be used towards your degree.
    4 – A degree cannot hurt. It can only ever make you more employable.

    Im not so much arguing ‘for’ a degree here as I personally do not think the debt/expense outweighs the benefits listed above, but feel the need to highlight, there ‘are’ benefits.

  17. Hi,

    The debt/expense is a major issue … especially these days where a degree in web design can easily run you $10000+ whereas we provide the same training for about $100-200!

    …. Check out our Complete Training video packages: http://www.killervideostore.com

    Beyond that, the four benefits you mentioned (getting placement etc ..) can easily be had on your own.

    1. There are many job placement agencies looking for people to place. It cost you nothing.

    2. You can get connected via the Web and friends and family. I will put something together detailing that.

    3. Portfolio is easy to build, you just need a little discipline.

    4. True, degrees can’t hurt but I think the benefits are marginal.


  18. This has always been a tough idea to sell to traditionalists of education, especially with regards to IT… formal education not required. My wife’s side of the family is really big on expensive private higher education. Sure they are well versed in academics and run circles around me when it comes to subjects usually found in schools.

    My wife is working on her Masters, her sister has a masters, her brother will have a PHD next year, father… masters and her mother (the black sheep of them all :P) dropped out of school to raise her children while writing her thesis for her masters. So me 10 years behind schedule and finally finishing my BS in computer sci… not looking too hot.

    Despite this history and my research online and talking with IT professionals, they all refuse to admit that IT employers dont care about degrees or certificates much at all. I would try to explain the employer wants to know you understand that specific topic you are trying to get a job in well, not an introductory base of multiple subjects. They just wont hear it.

    I am not saying education is bad… Americas poor education standards is one the biggest reasons we are in the state we are in.

  19. Just as there is cronyism and corruption in government, there is the same in higher education.

    Many degrees are in subjects where the skill of the ‘practitioner’ (for lack of better words,) cannot be easily measured … if at all. So now we have this artificial system (master degrees, PHD’s etc) that supposed to ultimately be a measure of ones skill.

    … I’ve met many highly educated professionals in many fields who had practically zero REAL knowledge in the field that they were certified as being experts in.