Web Design & Development: Do You Really Need a Degree?

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:: By Larry Alton, @LarryAlton3 ::


There’s no doubt that the Web design and development fields are swiftly growing.

As a millennial who is graduating from high school and weighing options for the future or a professional considering a career change, you obviously have a huge decision to make. Do you pursue a college degree, or do you dive headfirst into this job market? Unfortunately, that answer may not be as straightforward as you’d like.

The Case Against College

Let’s start by making the case against college, since it’s considered the alternative or less-traditional choice. In a world where college has become the norm for many career paths, it’s important to remember that obtaining a pricey diploma isn’t always the smartest choice.

Over the past 11-plus years, the cost of college has consistently increased. This means students nationwide are assuming more and more debt to meet these rising tuition costs. As a result, 69 percent of college grads are leaving school with weighty financial burdens. In the class of 2015, the average graduate with student-loan debt is required to pay back more than $35,000. And that’s just the average! Some students will be saddled with six-figure debts by the time they enter the workforce. That’s nearly insurmountable when you’re dealing with meager entry-level salaries. 

The good news for those in the design field is that a degree isn’t a mandatory requirement. There are numerous self-learning opportunities on the Internet and this career field is much more about your skills and knowledge than a piece of paper signed by a university president.

While tuition costs are certainly a major strike against the case for college, you also have to consider the time commitment. As designer Nick Pettit points out, “It’s like taking a vacation at an expensive resort hotel, when instead you could be building savings and a career.” He’s referring to the fact that college students are paying for things like fitness centers, overpriced dorms, clubs and meal plans when they could be spending four years in the real world. 

The Case for College

With so many designers and developers attending college, there have to be advantages to obtaining a degree – right? Well, yes, there certainly are. Let’s review some of these positives. 

For starters, obtaining a specialized degree looks fantastic on a resume. A degree shows that you’re committed to your field of expertise and have the discipline and skill needed to excel. From an employer’s point of view, there’s less risk associated with hiring a college graduate than someone who is simply self-taught. In fact, according to one resource, there are roughly nine times as many graphic design jobs available to people with a bachelor’s degree versus those with no degree.

Another thing to consider is the experience you gain from obtaining a degree. While Pettit relates it to an expensive four-year vacation, the reality is that you learn a lot about life by attending a university. You’re forced to live on your own, manage your resources and make your own decisions – albeit in a safer environment than the real world. This freedom to learn about life can be an invaluable asset in the long run.

Making a Personal Decision

The decision regarding whether or not to pursue a college degree can be a tough one. There are risks and rewards to both options. The key is to avoid letting others make the decision for you. In the end, you’ll be the one dealing with the results. 

Don’t make a rash decision. Take your time and figure out what’s best for your future. If that means going to college and obtaining a degree, then so be it. If it means forgoing a formal education and investing in on-the-job learning, then feel free to make that choice. Just know that there are multiple paths to success.


Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer and researcher who contributes to a number of reputable online media outlets and news sources. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he’s also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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10 comments

CarolynR 01-14-2016 2:24 PM

College is an opportunity to meet new people, make new contacts and broaden your worldview. It is a valuable step to adulthood and has lots of future benefits when you are making important life decisions, or want to move into a leadership role. Obviously, it's not for everyone, and a select few make it to the top with little formal training. But, unless you are instinctively driven to succeed from the seat of your pants, or are not worrying much about your future, college is a stepping stone that many people use to set themselves on a path to job opportunities and steady career growth. If you find you are a curious person, like to learn about different things or would like to develop skills that will help you after you max out as a cube rat, college is a good investment.

AllenC 01-14-2016 2:32 PM

Certificate programs at local technical colleges can save time and money over traditional university degrees.  While obtaining a certificate isn't a university degree, it does show some competence or ability to complete that specific work.  This may be a better alternative for people that don't want a 4 year degree, but doesn't yet have the discipline to handle self-directed learning well.

ChristinaO 01-14-2016 11:40 PM

It make nice if the college can offer other way to get a college to become self -employed for doing graphics while they get the certificate.

BrianW 01-15-2016 9:04 AM

When you come out of High School you have a High School mentality. Unfortunately, this mentality carries over in to 2 year colleges. It is just that you meet more people. The shift to adult mentality seems to come in the Junior or Senior year of college. A high school mentality is okay for graphics but for the real world and web development a more serious and realistic approach is needed. The discipline, ideas and social skills picked up in the college environment help later on when developing websites.

<a href="http://www.ukbesteessays.com/">legit paper writing services</a> 01-15-2016 3:33 PM

I think Allison Howen! initial education is very significant according to my experience. Because through it anyone can get success easily and understand any kind of articles. Anyway nice written. - See more at: www.websitemagazine.com/.../mobilecause-eliminates-transaction-fees.aspx

StephS 01-17-2016 5:57 PM

College is overrated. I left school at 15, got on the job training and qualifications, bought my first car outright at 18 yrs old and bought my first house at 21yrs old. That's what I call gaining an adult mentality. Due to not having college debt I have had the freedom to work in and become qualified in 4 different industries. That's the advantage of not dedicating tens of thousands of dollars and 4 years of your life to one thing, you don't become trapped by it. I am earning equal to or more than my college graduate peers. I do believe that getting out in the world and giving it a go is much more progressive and character building than another few years of glorified baby sitting.

LouS 01-18-2016 9:44 AM

Young Web-Workers,

Take a few bits of career advice from someone who has no financial interest in your decision to educate yourself or in your employment choices.  I am living in my eighth decade, I have worked in the  telecommunications and computer field my entire adult working life, and I am now comfortably retired but still consulting and running a few web sites just for the extra $$$.  So I have picked up a few bits of wisdom about working in technical environments along the way.

Tip #1:  Go to college and get a degree. - two-year, four-year, or masters. Accomplish what you can academically before going into the work force.  But if you absolutely can't go, due to financing or family demands, then skip tip #1 and go directly to tip #2.

Tip #2:  After landing a job, go to college at nights and/or weekends.  Continue your education.  The only thing you can count on is that your work environment will continually, and sometimes suddenly, change.  And if you want a paycheck you need to change with it.  Most web jobs did not exist in the early 1990s and they may not be around in the 2020s.  I saw well-paying TV repairmen and switchboard operator jobs disappear in a few short years to everyone's surprise.  So continue your education to both assure your job advancement up the career ladder and to prepare yourself to laterally move into another field of your choosing when necessary, or when desireable.  Do not get forced out of your job with nowhere to fit in.

Tip #3:  If paying for your education is a problem (if you have skipped tip # 1) there are options available.  Working days to finance your education at night (see tip #2) is one option.  Another option is to consider three or four years in military service before entering the work force.  The GI Bill of Rights is available for continuing education both while on active duty and after you leave service.  See any recruiter for the details.  The modern military is very web-skill oriented so you can pick up experience while serving.  Yeah, yeah, I know some of you won't have anything to do with the military.  But I also know someone who spent his entire four-year Coast Guard stint patrolling Boston Harbor.  I also know many employers who give extra consideration to ex-military job applicants because they are considered more mature, more loyal, and show up for work when required.

Tip #4: Marry a wealthy spouse and working for a living won't matter.

Alternate to Tips #1-#4:  Don't educate yourself.  As Judge Smails said, in the movie "Caddy Shack," to Danny after he complained about having no money for college: "Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too."

StevenH 01-19-2016 8:57 PM

You can always do both.  Get your career going and slowly take evening and weekend classes year round until you finish your degree. It will take a little longer, but what you learn working is attributable to your education and vice versa.

PatrickW 01-25-2016 10:41 AM

The true argument for college is that your resume needs it.  For ninety-nine percent of the jobs out there, no one is going to even look at your resume without "college" on it.

Phone Detective 03-28-2016 2:05 AM

Actually you definately need a degree, it is not only for the job even to make you a responsible and mature human being.

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