home Q&A Should I Go to Art School? A Q&A

Should I Go to Art School? A Q&A

By Sophia Pena

Original artwork by Samantha Pena

With the end of junior year nearing a lot of us, we are becoming more pressured to choose what career path we are going to pursue in life. Some students may be considering the route of going to art school, but there are a few parents who aren’t supportive of that. They may ask questions like “is it really worth it to go to art school?”, “But it’s so expensive, and it’s hard to find a job. Are you sure you want to go?”, or “Don’t you want to go to a real school?” I decided to ask my older sister, Samantha, who is an alumnus of Academy of Art University in San Francisco, about her perspective on it. She studied Game Design, and is currently employed at Applovin, a mobile marketing platform company based in Palo Alto.

Q: Did you go to art school?

Yes. At the time I felt immense pressure to pick a career path and pursue higher education to earn my degree.

Q: Did/do you want art to be your main source of income?

When I was growing up, I definitely wanted art to be my main income source.  As an adult, I recognize that I have many interests across the creative spectrum, which makes it difficult to land a job requiring specific specialization. I would say that I don’t necessarily need every facet of my art to be a main source of income, but it was definitely a personal requirement that my job allow me to use my creative abilities.

Q: What did/do you want to study?

For a very long time, I was unsure of what direction I wanted to go in. I took many general education classes at a community college to help me narrow down my interests, but I never really gravitated towards any one thing. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I wanted to do game design. I felt that games were the ultimate culmination of all the arts, and a place to contribute drawing, music, etc.

Q: Are you satisfied with what you got out of your schooling?

Yes and No. Pursuing my degree gave me a deeper understanding of the industry, and ultimately guided me to the stable position I’m in now. While in school, I began to realize that the skills I needed to land a job couldn’t be learned in the course of a semester. This served to further motivate me to spent time outside of class honing my craft. Looking back, I realize that a lot of the skills I picked up could have been learned in my own time.

Q: Do you think what you paid was fair for what you got?

No. I think a lot of people assume that a private art school is going to have amazing teachers and great job placement, which isn’t always necessarily true. While I did have a handful of very talented teachers, there were definitely some that left me with feeling underwhelmed.  I recall specifically requesting that the school allow me to retake a course because of a teacher’s incompetence in the course material.

Q: Did going to school make it easier to find a job in your field?

In terms of job placement, my school did very little to help me find a job. They kept a bulletin board posted with job openings, but they were mostly geared towards students in other fields. Thankfully, one of my more talented teacher’s recognized my drive to find a job and offered me an interview for the company he was working at. Learning from him and getting my foot in the door at a small game design studio were the stepping stones to land me my current job.

Q: Could you have learned everything you learned in school on your own?

Today there are a variety of classes offered online that cost a fraction of what art school does. Sure, — It takes more motivation to watch videos in your own time (especially when you are studying at home), but this alternative allows you to see the reviews of the courses and teachers, so that you can tailor your classes to your specific needs. In terms of networking, there are usually local meetups or workshops to help you connect with people in your desired industry.

Q: Did art school prepare you for work in the private sector?

Somewhat. I always always assumed that going to classes, doing the homework, and eventually getting the degree, would help me to land a job right out of school. It wasn’t until about halfway into my second year that I realized I would have to live and breathe art in order to beat out the competition. My industry of choice was incredibly hard on artists, requiring long hours, little pay, and extensive requirements. Of my graduating class, only three3 of the people I knew ended up landing jobs at large companies. There were a dozen more that sent their portfolios to every company they could before eventually giving up and moving on to a job outside of art. I learned early on that the degree was just a piece of paper. , Wwhat truly made you stand out, was your ability to make connections and persevere in your art.

Q: If you could give someone looking to make a career out of art ,what piece of advice would you give them?

I would tell them that it is incredibly important to nail down the specifics of what they want to pursue as their career. There are so many parts of the pipeline in any industry, and it is toin your benefit to decide where you want to fit in. Once you know where you want to be, make your art your passion and commit to doing it every day. If you do go to art school, be sure to network and make friends with as many people as you can. You never know where others may end up down the line, and they may even be the ones who land you a job.


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