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

Posted on 1.13.2016

:: 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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