Why an animation degree may, or may not, be the right choice for you.
A common question amongst those hoping to work in the animation industry is “Do you need a degree to get a job?”.
It’s a fair question but the simple, and often repeated, answer is, “No, the only thing that matters is the quality of your showreel.”
Whilst this is true, and is typically the advice that I would offer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that studying animation at college or university is the wrong choice either.
I’d therefore like to offer a more nuanced answer to this question so that you can more easily make the right decision regarding the best path to take.
The reason that most animators would advise that a degree is not necessary is because, to get a job in animation, you are first judged upon the quality of your work as demonstrated by your showreel. If this is of a high enough standard, you will typically be invited for an interview. At this point, the focus will shift to how well you are likely to fit in with the rest of the team. It is rare that your degree will carry much, if any, weight within this process.
The one obvious exception to this is if you are applying for a job in a different country which will require a Visa. In this situation, a degree can help to meet the official criteria for obtaining a Visa, assuming that the studio has already been satisfied they would like to hire you.
Studying for a degree is a big commitment. Typically it will require 3 or 4 years to complete and, depending upon where you live in the world, a degree can be extremely expensive. The tuition fees for CalArts, one of the top American animation schools, are currently $52,850 per year.
If you could be guaranteed employment upon graduation it may be easier to justify the expense and time required to obtain a degree, however, that simply isn’t the case.
Sadly, many (although not all) institutions do a very poor job of preparing graduates for a role in the animation industry. It often becomes necessary to do additional, postgraduate study in order to achieve the level of proficiency required for an entry level job.
This might take the form of an online course or self-directed learning but, either way, this additional study requires yet more time and money.
Finally, the online courses that many graduates are forced to take to supplement their skills can actually be embarked upon without first obtaining a degree. They offer a highly targeted education which provides a significantly quicker and cheaper solution to building the skills required to work in the animation industry.
If a degree carries so little weight, and there are other, more comprehensive and affordable, ways to learn animation, why would you consider college or university at all?
First of all, not all colleges and universities do a bad job. There a number of institutions with excellent reputations. You simply need to do your research well before deciding where to study.
One factor which is often overlooked is that a degree course affords you a period of time in which you can be totally immersed in animation.
Most courses will allow you to explore all of the different roles within an animation production, perhaps discovering that your interests lie somewhere different to where you first thought. As part of this, you will typically spend time working on short films. This experience can be invaluable to give you a more rounded filmmaking knowledge which may help in your career.
You will also be surrounded by other students who all share a similar passion. Those fellow students can help to push your work to new levels, either through shared knowledge or friendly competition. You will also be building a network of contacts through your fellow students which can become invaluable as you start out on your career.
Depending upon the type of learner you are, you may also benefit from the clear structure that a college or university course provides.
For some, their goal is not to enter the animation industry at all. In these cases, a more rounded, less industry focussed education can actually be a good thing.
So, whilst you don’t need a degree to become an animator, if you have the time and money to pursue one, it’s certainly not as worthless as some people might lead you to believe.
Obviously, that begs the question, “What if you don’t have the time and money to pursue a degree, does that mean you’re missing out?”
There are other ways to replicate the benefits of a college or university education without following that path.
The money that you save on fees can be invested into more focussed courses which will not only save you money, but will help you get to where you want to be, faster.
The social/community aspect of being surrounded by like minded students can, to some extent, be found online through forums and places such as discord. Taking opportunities to attend conferences and animation festivals can also be a fantastic way to make real world connections.
If you’re following a self-directed curriculum, part of the beauty is that you can follow your muse and lean into whichever aspects of animation interest you most. If you’d like the experience of crafting a short film, there are literally no barriers to doing that from home these days.
Whilst a degree is not a requirement to work in animation, it can still be very worthwhile to the right person.
Alternatively, if you decide to learn animation online, you can still get an excellent education and replicate many of the benefits usually associated with a degree course.
Which path is best to follow?
Only you can decide.
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