freelance education

Informal Education vs Traditional Education for Creatives

Credit for featured image goes to  Zach Roszczewski

(Disclaimer: I did two years of schooling in a design related field, before I quit the formal education route and ventured out on my own. Hopefully this is a fair representation of both sides.)

There’s no actual way of knowing for sure whether a formal education is the right path of education for you to pursue. If you do better under constant coaching, enjoy being guided into doing certain projects, and have the money, a formal education might be one to look into. You will learn different aspects of your craft then you would have on your own. You will have a built-in network upon graduation, people to fall back on, and the benefits that being an alumni gives (one person I work with from time to time has a verifiable farm of interns working for him because he maintains an active relationship with the school he graduated from). You will quite possibly also be saddled with student loans for a degree that may get you laughed out of other collegiate circles. The flip side of not pursuing formal education, is what I’m going to go into after the jump.

Whenever I see (REQ: Bachelors Degree or higher) in an advert for something in my field, I just have to cringe. It’s an immediate reflection on the company posting on it, and it shows a bit of naivety towards our field. I can understand trying to stem the flow of applications that might come from a thirsty job market, and I can understand how you would possibly want to qualify someone based upon their ability to endure a few years of schooling. What I don’t understand is why it’s even mentioned in our field (ok, HR departments are often who pen these). All that should have to be proven is your ability to do the job. This is proven by your portfolio, word of mouth, and your previous work experience. On the plus side, unless it’s a school or government facility offering this job posting, this is often a good warning sign to steer clear of the company. I’ve gone into a few a few of these interviews before and it’s always the same slack-jawed lack of understanding towards what someone in a creative field does. Paperwork (yes, with real paper) is usually high on the list of things you will be spending your time on. When a company starts breaking down things in percentages of how you will be spending your time, it’s probably time to run. So without further ado, I bring to you a list of things you may want to consider before you make the financial plunge into formal education.

Textbooks vs Lynda

freelance education

lynda media kit logo spacing

Ok, this one is a softball. While there are a few solid books that cover the absolute basics and theory for any creative craft that are often considered “must reads”, you will definitely get your mileage out of your Lynda subscription. One textbook at my school could probably have equaled a years subscription to Lynda, and I had a lot of textbooks. Thankfully, this trend is starting to change, and textbooks are being phased out at least somewhat is some schools in favor of more non-traditional methods.

Theory vs Practice

freelancing education

Credit goes to Fede Cook!

You may have heard this before. Schools teach theory, but don’t give you any hands-on experience. In my case, that wasn’t true. I received plenty of hands-on experience, but it was mostly outdated advice when I was being taught it and hopelessly ancient by the time I was on my own. Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that unless you stick with teaching just the principles that will hopefully carry on long into the future, you’re going to be wasting your time. Which some teachers (hello tenure) have plenty to waste.

Colleagues vs Classmates

freelancing education

Credit goes to Dovilė Kreičmanienė!

Jump into the workforce and you get people fighting to put food on the tables. Often times (when working the good jobs) you will be working with consummate professionals. These people have been through the ringer, and are often a bit older than you. There’s a ton to learn from this demographic, beyond just things that are immediately work related. You will also learn the hugely important “What the hell can I write off?” question come tax season if you ask. However, before you can work in these circles you will mostly likely have to deal with some utter tools that will make your work unbelievably miserable and are as far from reliable as you could possibly be. Classmates on the other hand will vary greatly. You will meet people who have no idea why they are there, people who are honestly trying their hardest to succeed, and you will probably make some life-long friends. You will encounter many of the same hurdles together, and grow as a result. Hopefully they pick up your calls post graduation.

Structured Projects/Assignments vs Freelancing/Personal Projects

freelancing education

Credit goes to Motion Authors!

I couldn’t stand structured projects, and writing a proof then having to follow through to the “T”. It’s not what the real world is like, things will change a hundred times before the client is happy and it may not resemble your initial vision at all, yet everyone’s happy and you get paid. However, there is something to be said about being forced to do a shitty project. It’s good practice for being able to grind your teeth and do a shitty project for a client in real life. But, there is a flip side. If you constantly are being pushed to work and create, it can develop good habits for you that will hopefully lead you into some interesting personal projects on your own time. However, if you decided to forego formal schooling, you probably already know that this is what you want to do with your career, so you will be hopefully banging out personal projects on the side to flesh out your portfolio and keep yourself sane.


In case it’s not obvious, I’m not suggesting that anyone drop out, or not go to the dream design/film/HVAC school of their choice. Just know that there are other options, and if this is really what you want to do, you may be better suited getting a head start on your peers and jumping right in.

As I decided to leave behind the sure thing and step out on my own into the wide world of freelancing, I thought "Why not up the workload a bit and post about every hurdle you encounter?" And here we are.

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