Should I go back and finish my degree?

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  10 October 2012
Should I go back and finish my degree?

Hello everyone,

I'm at a bit of a cross-roads in my life and I'm really not sure what the next best step is, so I figure I'd reach out to the older/wiser here on CGtalk and get some opinions. About 4 years ago, I joined the ranks of the 30% of Americans that left University before finishing their degree. I was a little under a year from finishing film school, but due to financial limitations and the uncertainty of adding another heaping of debt to make it through, at the time I decided I would head out with the skills I had. I moved home to Chicago from LA to save money and live with the folks, and have since worked at a video game studio as a concept artist, left to direct a short film of my own through kickstarter, and have been freelancing in concept art (no longer living with folks).

My ultimate goal is to work in visual effects for film, but most of my experience is in games. I don't mind working in one until I can switch to the other someday. I want to get back into the workforce, but I'm beginning to wonder if my growth and opportunity is severely limited by my lack of degree. I've heard mixed things, most people in the industry claim that a degree doesn't matter, however I've heard many people say that you can't really climb, or often just get past HR, without one. I also can't get work visas if I want to say, work in Vancouver, without a bachelors. I also want to improve myself, develop my skills and push my knowledge base. The fact that I still have a lot of fairly crushing student debt is weighing on me as well. I've flopped around too much and it's costing me.

I'm wondering if my time/energy would be better spent taking a job that my skills can get me, and just taking gnomon digital courses and developing that way? Or if I should continue freelancing, and go to school here in Chicago and finish my film degree, working to get scholarships and such to offset the cost?
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  10 October 2012
Originally Posted by SVMaerospace: I'm wondering if my time/energy would be better spent taking a job that my skills can get me, and just taking gnomon digital courses and developing that way?

Your time and money would be better spent that way. The point of a degree is to theoretically help you get a job. If you already have the skills needed to get a job, then you don't need a degree. It alone won't help you get a job, you're portfolio will. I would get a job where you can, in games if need be. And spend your spare time working on your skills to help you make the transition to where you want to be.

It is beneficial to have if you want to work overseas with the visa issue though.
  10 October 2012
I think the work experience you have gotten is worth way more than the degree
The Z-Axis
  10 October 2012
If the job you do is not what you want, and if this education will give you the necessary knowledge, then it's right choice. With each year you will get older and more reluctant going studying with young students.
  10 October 2012
I think the only benefit of having a degree in vfx is the points it will give towards a visa if you were to move abroad. Given the global and often sporadic nature of work in vfx that's actually worth considering, but it comes fown to what you can afford in the end and your individual situation as to whether you should complete it or not.

Nick Marshall
Head of Environments / Generalists
Double Negative :: Vancouver
  10 October 2012
Reasons to get a degree:
1) VISA reasons - You (I assume) have a USA passport and some years completed and no criminal record, doesn't apply to you right now or for the foreseeable future
2) The courses offer something otherwise inaccessible (lab time, computational resources, rigs etc.) - not the case here
3) You are undecided, lack motivation, and need time and direction and a stimulating environment of like-minded people to motivate you and inspire you - doesn't quite sound like your case
4) The course teaches something to professional levels and offers concrete and proven placement - for film VFX? The answer is "lol".

Don't accrue further debt, IMO, and keep working your way sideways from games into film. It will have better yield financially and work wise then going back to 0 income and sinking more money into a no-ROI debt.
Come, Join the Cult - Rigging from First Principles
  10 October 2012
Yeah I have to agree. Your work is good and maybe you just need time to push it. Debt at this moment sounds scary. I think education is a wonderful thing and you will always benefit from it, but seeing some of the fees I have to wonder if it is worth it. I would also choose your last alternative, plus not forgetting to network.
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Characters, Games, Toys
  10 October 2012
In most countries a degree is necessary for a visa, but can be replaced by professional experience (10 years, 15 years, it depends). Donít know for Canada or England, which are probably your most probable destination - you should check.

As you are getting older and more experienced, the need for a degree lessen.
  10 October 2012
I'm no expert and I not trying to sway you either way but from what you have said, I don't see the value of a degree unless you are getting skills that you don't have in return, which you have said not to be the case. The point about getting past HR, only really applies to graduates who have no relevant experience, so they can show that they have determination to complete something and an interest in the field of study. Generally experience will out weight education, which is in your case.

Even with experience, it is important to have a portfolio that meets the standards of what the studio(s) is looking for and time would be better spent working on a portfolio than taking a degree, unless the course will help build your portfolio or reel. A phrase to remember is, your portfolio is the passport into the industry.

In terms of going to some place like Vancouver, seems a bit much in terms of financially, as you have a lot of debt and going abroad will be very costly with a place to live, expenses and etc. Fair enough you need a degree to get a visa faster but do you have the money to live over there? Plus there maybe more work going over there but there's still competition to get the jobs.

You have also stated you want to work in visual effects for films but that's very vague, do you have a specific role that you want to be?
  10 October 2012
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