So, here are my suggestions if you're considering a non-portfolio art and design school:
? Ask yourself this question: Do I want to design or do I want to be around the excitement of a design profession? If you watch Project Runway, for example, you see that the judges who appear regularly are a fashion icon designer/marketer (Michael Kors and Zach Posen), a fashion magazine editor/publisher (Nina Garcia) and a runway model (Heidi Klum). There will be guest judges in fields such as fashion marketing, who work on the brand side, and fashion merchandising, who work on the retail side. Could you fill any one of these roles or only one of them? If you love fashion you might be able to switch from design to merchandising early enough to avoid losing credits and spending more time in college than you hope.
? Ask yourself this question: Can you afford the extra costs of the program? Some universities, Penn State and Temple are examples, have design schools that charge higher tuition and fees than students would pay to be in their liberal arts college. In addition, design students have additional costs of software and supplies that their classmates in book-and-lecture classes do not have.
? Find out how instruction in the basic courses will be delivered. Philadelphia University, as one example, is a small (2,800 undergraduates) school where classes will be small. Even at the introductory level you're not likely to have a class with more than 35 students. On the flip side the physics course that you will need to take to get your architecture degree at Penn State or Virginia Tech may have more than 100 students and a teaching assistant, a grad student, might be your primary instructor. In my experience the best way to absorb subjects that are harder to learn is to study them in a setting where you will receive the most help. The smaller school will provide more hands-on instruction from the professor, the larger school will have a better-staffed tutoring center, where you will have to learn after hours.
? Ask about employer expectations for students entering the field. A good career center will know what employers expect an entry-level design professional to know and what that employee is likely to do on the job. Entry-level salaries in these fields are not very high. The tasks might be less than exciting. Promotions will be based not only on talent, but how well you work with others. If you have watched any movies based around the fashion world, such as The Devil Wears Prada, the personalities are exaggerated. However, they are based on something real.
? Design is partly about solving business problems. A design degree is worthless if you do not understand the business decisions that must be made about financing, manufacturing and marketing your product. For example, an architect who designs homes for different price points must know which features that likely buyers will expect to see in their homes. One of the strengths that I saw at Philadelphia University was that design and business students work together on team projects for real businesses. Industrial design students, for example, participate in Sprint competitions, where they must solve a design and business problem and present the solution to the client in a week. If you learn early enough that you prefer solving the business problems, you might be able to switch from the design degree to a marketing degree. Presuming you choose a school that offers both degrees, that decision will not force you to backtrack too much. More important, courses such as those at Philadelphia University will give you a sense of whether you will prefer to work in a small business or corporate setting.
It can be very exciting to enter some of these non-portfolio programs at first. You're taking classes in the field for the first time and you get to see what successful people do. If you show a willingness to learn and take advantage of the opportunities presented by your school, you will be fine. But, if you are not sure of the field or less than confident in your abilities, you stand the risk of losing time and money in these programs if you wash out.
Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admission. Elizabeth helps students identify majors and career paths, and develops best match college lists; she offers personalized essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth guides students from all backgrounds to maximize scholarship opportunities and financial aid awards. For more information visit Elizabeth Call (925) 385-0562 or email her at [email protected]