Shit They Don't Teach You In Design School

Wanna know a dirty li’l secret about college? After four years of classes and $60,000+ in tuition costs, you STILL won’t really be prepared for the workforce. (Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.) But don’t fret, soon-to-be grads: here’s some insider-only information to improve your odds of getting a graphic design job:

Step 1: GET AN INTERNSHIP (paid or unpaid) in your field while you are in school. Or maybe even two, or better yet three. This is where you are going to learn what it’s really like to be a professional, full-time designer. Trust me, those fake deadlines and strict requirements in your portfolio class are nothing compared to real-life projects. Better to experience the pressure/restrictions/revisions/challenges while you’re a student than risk falling flat on your face the first week your first job.

Step 2: Network. Not to sound cliché or anything, but it’s definitely not what you know, it’s who you know. I heard this advice all of the time in college, but I never felt like I knew where to find the best networking opportunities. Let me tell you, the answer is NOT at your local college where you’ll only be interacting with fellow students. Instead, join professional organizations in the nearest metropolitan area, such as the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Artists) AMA (American Marketing Association) and AAF (American Advertising Federation). I recently volunteered for a special charity event (BvBCLE for the Alzheimer’s Association), too, and have met many industry professionals as part of the communications committee.

Step 3: Take the right classes. College teaches you, above all else, to be a critical thinker. In the case of graphic design students, that means coming up with big ideas and (somewhat) impractical-to-produce portfolio pieces. Sure, that’s great for preparing you to be a future creative director at a big agency. But that’s not the job you’re going to land right after graduation. Instead, you’re going to be doing at least a little bit of production grunt work, so be sure you also take classes that emphasize technical design skills. (You need to be able to use Creative Suite like a pro, and do it FAST.) Also, don’t overlook the importance of general communications and writing classes. The smaller the graphic design studio, the more likely you’re going to be tasked with light copywriting and proofreading.


I know that college can be stressful—between final exams, work-study jobs and extracurricular activities—but just remember that the more prep work you do before graduation, the faster you’ll find a job and the better prepared you’ll be once you enter the workforce. Everyone nowadays has a bachelor’s degree and a decent design portfolio—what’s going to set you apart from the dozen other people who have applied for that same job? Internships. Networking. Technical Know-How.

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Topics: Career Advice

Candace Graves

Written by Candace Graves

Candace Graves is a digital marketing specialist with a degree in Public Relations from Baldwin Wallace University.

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