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Grades or Experience?

Discussion in 'Universities & Training Forum:' started by ednuttall, May 12, 2014.

  1. ednuttall

    ednuttall New Member

    Hey Guys,

    Stick in a bit of a predicament at the moment,

    Im currently in my 2nd year of FdA Graphic Design at University Campus Suffolk. The past 2 years have costed me £14,000 in student loans already, baring in mind the 3rd year will cost me another £7000 but I would come away with a Honour's Degree at the end of it. By just completing the 2 years I will gain a Foundation Degree which obviously isn't as high standard as an Honours.

    Along side my Uni course I am working part time as a designer at a local design company, I got this job from a work experience project set by my uni.

    Question is,

    Do I complete the 2 years and come away with a foundation degree? Then work full time at the design company and go for experience on my C.V rather than a better degree?


    Go onto pay another £7000 to do the 3rd year and gain an honours degree and have not as much experience on my C.V?

    If there are any employers out there, would you employ someone with experience of working in the design environment, or someone with a better design qualification?

    If anyone could give me some advice, I would appreciate it a lot!

  2. hankscorpio

    hankscorpio Moderator Staff Member

    It's a double-edged sword.

    Having a degree doesn't make you good at the job. A work environment is very different than a classroom environment.

    Then again - having a better degree will get you in the door faster than someone with a lesser degree, but they could edge you out if they have experience.

    My advice would be to get some freelance work - or try to get part-time work somewhere.

    Try your local studios in an area where you're interested. Look them up - check out their portfolios and see which area you like.

    You can always apply to do work experience with them. But unfortunately, most don't pay and some take advantage of you.
    ednuttall likes this.
  3. dedwardp

    dedwardp Member

    I would do the third year and continue gaining your experience at the same time. I wouldn't worry too much about the student loan debt, it's a non-commercial debt and doesn't need to make you worry in the same way any other debt would - what you owe is almost irrelevant, you'll still pay back the same amount each month and you'll still stop paying it back (if it isn't fully repaid) at the same time.

    Continue to learn and explore new styles and techniques whilst complementing that with gaining your commercial experience around it. From an employment perspective, your portfolio and experience will be important, but education is still a big thing too, whilst it allows you to develop your portfolio and add variety to it at the same time. Financially, it will probably also prove easier to finish that final year now than to decide you'd like to go back to it in 5/10 years time, say.
    ednuttall likes this.
  4. Paul Murray

    Paul Murray Moderator Staff Member

    This is true, a lot of what you owe gets wiped for various reasons, and you only pay back when you're earning over a certain threshold, and even then it's practically pennies every month.

    Honestly, I didn't enjoy my final year at uni. I found the safe environment of the classroom environment restrictive, having to spend weeks and weeks on a single project, going through a checklist ensuring your research ticks certain boxes to qualify you for a certain grade. I was expecting the final year to be an intensive, "in at the deep-end" way of working, with lots of projects with fast turn-around times to prepare me to jump into the real world of design. Instead, it was the complete opposite, and ultimately I got bored.

    Contrary to the majority of people though, I did really enjoy writing my dissertation, though this is the main aspect of an Honours degree that people seem to dislike. The written side of the module is what gets you the Honours degree, otherwise you just have a BA in whatever subject, so why people complain about having to write a dissertation or journal on a friggin' Hons degree is beyond me.

    Looking back, I don't think my final year was entirely relevant to where I am now. My work from that year was average at best, and has since been buried in the depths of design oblivion, never to see the light of day. Even my degree show (which ultimately ended up being organised and branded by just myself and one other) was a flop, as we had to close our venue at peak time right before lunch time due to a hipster burger restaurant on the same street burning down. It did make for a good photo opportunity though…


    It's entirely up to you, but I've found (and I think most will agree) that practical experience, both freelance and internships, is much more valuable and sort after than someone who can get good grades. I know a creative director who didn't even finish his college course, he was snapped up by a studio he interned for on the strength of his ideas and potential when he was about 16, and has just worked his way up through a number of studios over the years.

    Personally I'd spend the portfolio building and chasing internships in studios. They might not offer you a job, but chances are someone in one of those studios will know someone else in a different studio who will. A strong network of contacts is probably the most powerful asset you can have as a graduate.
  5. bigdave

    bigdave Moderator Staff Member

    I'm going to fly in the face of popular opinion and say the BA Hons isn't going to be the golden ticket into that well paid job. Essentially a qualification like an FdA or BAHons is a stepping stone to get you into a professional job. If you can secure the role that will set you up for the rest of your career, why delay that by continuing in education?

    If at the end of your FdA there's the option for a full time job as a designer, take it! 12 months down the line, you'll have 1000's of graduates leaving uni having spent the past 12 months writing a dissertation with little or no commercial experience. Whereas you'll have 12 months agency experience on your CV, a commercial portfolio and a glowing reference from someone who isn't your head teacher.

    As a side thought, most graphics FdA courses offer the 3rd year 'top-up' based on the UCAS points accrued from completing the FdA course and year 3 is usually a specialism in a specific area of design. UCAS points don't expire so you can take the 'top-up' any time and whats to say that the area you'd chose to specialise in now will be the same in 3 or 4 years when you've got some experience under your belt?

    How do I know this?.. Because I did an FdA at Hull Uni and was going to specialise in flash development (with hindsight massive bullet dodged) for my top-up but decided I wanted to work. I've ended up spending 7 years working in design for print and publishing and am now going back to digital media and focusing on web design.
  6. @GCarlD

    @GCarlD Well-Known Member

    I could of written this myself almost word for word. We definitely share very similar experiences here. I loved writing my dissertation too, so much so I got an A in it!

    But like a previous comment said I would recommend finishing your final year. You are 2/3 complete and it will be a hell of a lot easier for you to complete your course now than it will later, as you are already in the swing of things.
    Don't choose between grades or experience, achieve both! Once you have the grades you are eventually going to get the experience anyway, and with the grades its easier to gain that experience.
    Last edited: May 12, 2014
  7. @GCarlD

    @GCarlD Well-Known Member

    If only this were true. This is what they make us believe but in fact I know a couple of people whose names were sent to a debt collecting agency for their student loan. Things don't always work out in life and they were unable to pay it back. It ends up being a headache and a lot of stress if you can't pay back what you owe, irrespective of your earnings.

    You are right to be concerned and I really do feel for you, as uni fees were high enough when I was there, they are even more abysmal now. But you have to take risks in life, there's no reward without a gamble. Sometimes I think back and wish I had got experience first and then if needed, do a degree. But in hindsight I am happy I got my degree first, as I doubt I would of wanted to study after gaining experience. Plus at least the fees weren't as high as they are now.
  8. ednuttall

    ednuttall New Member

    Thank you for all of your feedback so far guys, really appreciated! Has got my brain ticking.

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