Formal education - how important is it?


Hi everyone, first time poster here and I’m in search of some wisdom.

I’m in a bit of limbo at the moment in regards to my career, essentially I haven’t really got it going yet. Here’s a bit of background…it’s a bit of a life story in brief so I hope you make it to the end…

I’m currently 25 years old and I’ve been interested in 3D/animation/vfx since I was about 16 and I’ve been drawing for most of my life. However I’ve had a real mish mash experience trying to get myself headed in the right direction.
When I finished high school I did a 1 year diploma of multimedia with QANTM (this being in Sydney, Australia) which covered all the web applications as well as a bit of 3D and 2D animation, but not nearly enough of it. After that I found myself with about 6 months of Flash work but when this dried up I really found myself in a hole. I ended up toiling for 3 years on loading dock without much direction with my career plans and going through some personal issues. This time was blank spot where I basically didn’t touch 3D or even put pencil to paper.
Last year I started doing some work exp with a creative retouching agency that taught me quite alot about photoshop and 3D rendering/modelling. I scored several months of real work with them doing retouching and some basic 3D stuff. I learnt a hell of alot, but unfortunately things took a nosedive in November and the financial crisis left me without any work.

Now doing a bit of soul searching and I’m considering stepping into some formal training. I’m primarily considering a fine arts degree as I’ve noticed this to be a common qualification amongst the successful professionals I’ve heard of, and those I’ve worked with. I just see a real benefit in training as an artist first and foremost, then taking into the digital realm.
As far as training with programs, I’ve been lapping up gnomon lectures and other training resources since the beginning of the year and they’ve really helped alot, so I don’t feel the need for formal study for these just yet.

Basically I want to know, would it be worth the time? At this point in my life a 3 year committment to study will have a real impact on my life in terms of finances and way of life.
Would I be doing myself a disservice if I just did a few short courses with an art college rather than a full bachelor degree? Is there alot of extra fluff in a degree that I could safely do without?

Thanks in advance for any advice, and thanks for taking the time to read this :smiley:


Short answer: Employers in the fields you mention don’t particularly care whether or not you have a degree, most of the time.
Worth considering: A degree helps with immigrations if you ever want to work in another country, or teach.

It’s up to you.

Do a search on this subject, as it’s been discussed ad nauseam.

(On a personal note, I’d recommend the fine arts degree)



As far as professional degree is concerned it doesn’t make any difference in the field of animation, as Leigh said, employers only look for a great show reel.

Your decision of taking up fine arts degree is really good. A good knowledge about traditional art definitely sets the base. And i feel recession is a good time to sit back and learn new things (provided you can afford it :wink: )

Best of luck for your future and hope things turn great for you :slight_smile:


Cheers and good luck.


Thanks alot guys! You’ve pretty much reinforced what I had suspected about it.

Leigh : Yes, one of the big reasons I was looking at a degree was how it could help my chances with finding work overseas. It doesn’t hurt to be qualified.

Rockstar30 : Thanks, yeah I was hoping to take advantage of the downturn by studying but cost has been a big factor.

Kanga : That was some very useful info, cheers! The Art Renewal site mentioned in the article is something I came across before. It’s really good to know that this kind of art is still valued, my concern would be signing up for uni and finding that all they teach you is how to sneeze on a canvas and write a 20 page rationale on it’s social and political commentary :S

I’m leaning towards just getting a graphic design/web/retouching job next year and doing some short courses at an art school. I would love a degree, but the cost and time away from paid work is going to make it prohibitive for at least a year. I’m thinking I’ll just save some money for a while to make this less of a problem should i go for a degree a bit later on.

Thanks again for the input, I’m hoping it won’t be long before I have some nice pieces of CG artwork to post up here :smiley:

All the best


I see alot of folks noting that a degree isn’t necessary for an animation position. Since, I am not in animation, I accept what everyone said about this. BUT!!! Let me present a different point of view.

There are some very good reasons to get a degree among which are:

  1. As Leigh noted, in foreign countries, it might be necessary to get a job there.

  2. More importantly, it opens up many doors that might not be available otherwise: I have found that folks never know where their life will take them or what changes will ocurr in their life. What happens if suddenly studios start wanting degrees or want those with degrees and experience for higher level positions?
    This has certainly been the case for other professions and can certainly start happening here too.

More to the point, what happens if you want to leave the field of computer graphics? This could happen due to outsourcing, problems with the industry ,or simply changed objectives by you. Having a degree opens up more options.

I know someone who switched from animation to eventually going to law school and specializing in intellectual property law. Having a degree will open up other doors.

Also, if a school has a stringent admission policy, you will learn from other top students as well. Top schools also tend to attract top faculty. Lets face it: faculty would prefer to teach the better kids.

Also, I would bet that top faculty have a lot of industry connections. If you go to a good school and do well, it is common for faculty to recommend students to employers and for employers to ask top faculty for recommendations. This happens all the time in many fields of endeavor.

Personally, I STRONGLY recommend that you get a degree. Now once you have one, you don’t need a second degree unless you want to teach. You can attend a trade school to get the skills needed such as Gnomon or Animation Mentor or even study books or take online programs for the skills. However, having a degree can’t hurt you. It can only help!

With all this said, you still will need a strong demo ( which should occur if you work your butt off at a good school) and would need decent interviewing skills.


I totally agree that a demo reel i 100% - well, 99.9% but it’s not like a good demo reel and a degree is working against each other.
If you attend a great school, for lets say animation, you will most likely get teachers from within the industry.
I’ve never heard of anybody who have learnt as much, as fast by self studying, as entering a good school. No matter the subject.
Being taught by great teachers is invalueble.

Not to mention the value of being taught by people, who may very well work at your very dream position. Getting to know people “inside” like that, is again, something that can be very difficult to do from at home or whatever.

I too would strongly recommend a degree whenever possible, but that doesn’t change that a great demo reel is the single most important thing. I just believe that a degree would be the fastest and best way to that great demo reel.



This is a really great post and should be made a sticky.


Hi Rebecca.
Noted and responded to.

Cheers Chris


i got 2 questions about this…
first getting a degree will help or is it a must for working in other countries?
2nd, a degree in animation or can it be any degree (fine arts)

  1. It’s not a compulsory thing to have a degree for working in other countries but maybe for teaching jobs or for visa purposes (don’t really know that). The most important thing is (again) good portfolio and maybe a some experience.

  2. The degree you choose will greatly depend on what type of work you want to do. It would be really good to select a fine arts degree if you want to be involved in the aesthetics of the business. While an animation degree is also fine if you are pretty confident bout your drawing skills. However, you don’t have to be a Leonardo da Vinci to get into animation.

If you are learning fine arts also make sure you are well versed with animation software.


I have a question:

I see the discussion is mainly on the 4 year degree emphasis. What about people coming to the usa to do masters degree but don’t have a degree in the first place? Are they given the work visas as well? Coz in our field, it is possible to cross over from a 3 year diploma to a masters programme with direct admissions and a good work/portfolio ethic. Some people might have the opportunity to go straight to the masters programme. How does this differ?


I agree 100% with Tax Guy, that is a perfect post.
my dad always says, that his priority in his life is to give the best education to his sons.

getting a degree will never hurts, it will bring you more and more opportunity in your life.



I felt that the importance of this discussion, especially in obtaining a degree ( see post number 6), should be read by all potential students of animation.


Definitely agree. Something else about college is that, outside the degree and schoolwork itself, it’s a learning and growing experience.

Moving away from home (in most cases) and being on your own, making new friends, doing stupid things that you’ll regret later, etc., it’s all part of that transition from teenager to adult. My degree (in architecture) doesn’t really directly relate to what I do now, but the experience absolutely made me who I am today.


I take continuing education classes, they’re the same price as the class and go for $300-700 instead of $3000-$4000


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