Graphic design degree VS Self-taught – Which one is right for you?

Nowadays it seems as if you can find the answer to everything on Google. I’ve often found myself looking up Google for logo design tips and typography rules.

It makes sense to think that since you have access to all this education for free “What’s the value of a graphic design degree?”

Many self-taught designers choose this path to run their own business. Alternatively, others think that getting a proper education is necessary for a secure future and direction.

There is no right or wrong way of learning graphic design. Both design paths are beneficial and would not be wasted.

You might be choosing between these two paths and think which one is best for you.

In this article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of getting a graphic design degree and learning on your own. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll be able to make a decision on which type of education is most suitable for you.

Self-taught Education

In 2018, 22% of graphic designers were self-employed. The number of self-taught designers are growing as more online courses, blogs and videos are becoming easily accessible to people on the world wide web.

Self-taught education takes a lot of patience and determination to execute successfully. The pros and cons of becoming a self-taught graphic designer are as follows:

Flexible scheduleNo restrictions can lead to lack of discipline
Various ways to learnNo proper direction
Up-to-date with latest technology and graphic design trendsLack of professional/specific help
Free of costToo many options can lead to confusion
Learn from homeLack of job security

Can a Self-taught Designer Get a Job?

If you maintain a certain level of discipline and are determined it is possible to teach yourself graphic designing and get employers to hire you.

You may be surprised to hear that many graphic designers won’t be were they are if they weren’t self-taught.

Graphic designers who did choose to pursue a degree also found themselves doing most of the actual work themselves.

This is because a graphic design school can definitely give you a jump start in the initial stages but later on you’re the one who has to develop a portfolio and deal with clients.

Logo designers for Coca cola, Volkswagen, Barnes and Noble and AOL never had a design degree.

If you manage to learn and master the fundamentals on your own, there is nothing worthwhile you can’t achieve. But, keep in mind you’ll have to start slow and charge lower prices to your clients and work your way up whereas degree holders already have some proof of knowledge, which may help them get a better starting salary.

Formal Education

The typical entry-level education required for graphic designers is bachelor’s degree (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Many employers do require a graphic designer to have at least a bachelor’s or associate’s degree.

Studying from a graphic design school is benefical as it opens up a lot of opportunities for you and provides you with long-term job security.

Here’s a list of the pros and cons of pursuing a graphic design degree:

Safer OptionCan be very costly
Less doubt and confusionsTechniques and tools you learn may become outdated and obsolete
Expanded education
Long-term security

Despite the advantages and disadvantages of each you should choose the career path you prefer. This is because the main criteria for a graphic deisgner is his/her portfolio.

You’ll see many designers with a master’s degree but a terrible portfolio and some self-taught deisgners with an exceptional one.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between a Self-taught Education and Graphic Design Degree

Let’s dive deeper into some factors to consider when choosing the right career path for you.


If you choose to get a formal education you will have to establish a proper routine different from what you may be used to. You have to wake up early in the morning and get to your classes on time. The schedules are usually fixed and set according to the institution’s guidelines or the teachers’ availability.

As a self-taught designer, you have the flexibility to learn at your own pace. Most online graphic design courses have pre-recorded videos so if you miss one of the lectures you can go back to it. This allows you to set your own timings and adjust your study into your preferred routine.

Medium of education

By joining a graphic design school you will be learning from teachers. Every teacher is different so every teacher would teach differently. Some may use presentations and some might just give a one-hour long lecture without providing anything visual.

The great thing about studying by yourself is that you have access to not only a few but hundreds of online lecturers. On the internet, you can learn graphic designing through blogs, videos, courses and ebooks.

Some people are visual learners who want interactive exercises whereas others prefer reading long articles and applying the knowledge themselves. When you are self-taught you can choose whichever suits you the most and stick with it.

Stay up-to-date

Well-established graphic design schools do their best to use modern technology and tools in their syllabus. However, due to the competitive nature of this industry, it is constantly evolving and trends keep on changing. It’s not possible for colleges and universities to keep issuing new syllabuses when a certain trend is introduced.

If you are studying online on your own a variety of online platforms will keep you well informed of the recent industry trends and technology. Many blogs also encourage their viewers to subscribe to their newsletters so they don’t miss any important changes.


A graphic design degree can cost quite a lot of money. Other than the usual tuition fees you would also have to buy design software, a computer, textbooks and other art supplies. Also, if you choose to stay at a dorm room or hostel those expenses would also be included.

However, self-taught education is virtually free. You can access the best tutorials and guides for free through YouTube, Google, and Online courses. There are also many paid courses out there that teach you expert techniques. These premium courses are usually charged at a very affordable price with most costing an average of 30$ per month.

Learning from Home

Everyone feels the most comfortable in their own homes and dread the mornings when they have to wake up for class. To add to the frustration many would have to get out of the house early to catch the morning bus. Even if you don’t use public transport, gas can be expensive especially when your college/university is far from home. And finally, if you choose to opt for a hostel or dorm room those costs can stack up too.

Till now a self-taught graphic design education might seem like a dream of many. However, there are some disadvantages that often get overlooked.

Proper Curriculum

When you are learning by yourself you are fully responsible for the path you take. You can start from the fundamentals or take an expert-level course in graphic designing. You don’t know where to start and when you will be finished with your education. If you want, you can keep on learning forever and never start the actual work. This is why you need to have a proper structure of where you are and what you have to achieve.

Graphic design institutions have a specific syllabus that all teachers and lecturers will be following. This will ensure that you are on the straight path and progress.

Professional Help and Advice

In self-taught education, nobody will be able to fully understand your problems. Since most online institutions don’t offer any custom help you won’t be able to troubleshoot your design problems. The best bet you can take is to ask your question in a forum but then you’re just stuck with a number of different opinions from people ranging from beginner to expert. They’ll also have different views which may contradict each other leaving you even more confused.

When studying at a design school you will have teachers that are there to help you in every step of the process. Since teachers are experienced professionals they know the common mistakes students make and how to correct them. Also, they would know where you are having an issue and give you the appropriate solution rather than guessing.

Job security

Having a career with a secure future is essential so you could rid yourself of the worry of getting terminated suddenly. As a self-taught designer, you don’t have much authority in the industry and could be overtaken by a designer with a degree.

A degree offers you security helping you to switch positions while maintaining your reputation. This is because a degree is proof that you know what you’re doing and aren’t just a random person with a passion for graphic design.


This is one of the most overlooked aspects of studying from the comfort of your own home. Your home is filled with a lot of distractions. This can be anything from your partner disrupting you to run some errands or just mindlessly refreshing Facebook to find new updates. Any type of education requires a high level of discipline. Since you don’t have any time constraints or restrictions you could choose not to learn anything if you don’t feel like it.

When studying a graphic design course at an established university they would require you to focus on the task at hand. The environment of a school is designed to minimize distractions so that students don’t lose track of what’s important.


It is possible to teach yourself graphic design and get hired or start your own design agency. But then again, that doesn’t mean a graphic design degree is totally worthless.

You should choose whatever suits you the most as the most important aspect of this field is going to be your portfolio.

You can create a stunning portfolio either by yourself or with the help of a design school.

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