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  • Writer's pictureCajvanean C. Alexandru

The Value of a Graphic Design Degree: My Personal Experience.

The Value of a Graphic Design Degree My Personal Experience Cajva

When I told my parents that I wanted to study Arts & Design on the other side of the country, my father said “Yes, yes, of course you are. In fact, you will need a laptop so you can work and study there, so I will talk with my carpenter friend to build you one out of wood. Mhmmm . . . yes, yes.” Well, I decided I would go there anyway and after a while, his friends encouraged him and softened his view. When I think about it, he was more pampered and encouraged than I was. And it was me, the young and dumb one leaving home with no plans, no money, and no understanding of the risk I was exposing myself to. I now see why he felt this way, not knowing if he could support financially and morally such a mess of a kid.

I wasn’t sure back then why I wanted to do college in the first place. Why even study arts and design?

Someone suggested that I should study law, that I would be good at it and I would be making good money, even during college I had opportunities to go and work in the field of Intelligent Services. Thank you, I said, but no thank you. And I don't regret my decision from back then.

Lots of good designers dismiss the degree of college design. Some say it’s a waste of time and you could be learning everything you need to just by doing a few courses and YouTube tutorials. Others might say that no one is even looking at your diploma, your portfolio is the actual diploma. Why stress a few years when you can just try working directly on some freelance website? They are right. But they are wrong as well and I want to point out why, in my case(or yours), going to college and getting a diploma made sense. Even though I never picked up my diplomas. I don’t even know how those diplomas look.

I always loved to paint and draw and later on, I enjoyed taking photos and filmmaking. I was drawing on the side of my notebooks and I used to reproduce logos I likedyes, capitalism gets you while you are young - Ferrari, France 3, Vans, DC, Etnies, Quicksilver, Fishbone, and Element logo which I was considering the best among them. I still love the Element logo, created by the company’s owner Johnny Schilleriff. So I thought why not try to step up my game and study a bit of arts and design? There is that and there is my mother who insisted that I should go to college and not head directly into the work field. I also didn’t want to go back to learning and stressing like I did in high school so arts and design seemed somehow the easier choice.

colorful composition designed by cajva

You could learn everything there is to learn about art and design without going to college.

Yes, you can but that requires time. If you are in the lucky position where time is on your side and your close ones are supporting you, this could work. Ideally, you could be doing and learning most of the things by yourself, and much cheaper. For me, staying at home and trying to learn by myself meant that sooner or later someone would have grabbed me by the hand and thrown me somewhere to work already. Constant pressure from family and friends could’ve pushed me to make short-term decisions such as finding a quick job, moving by myself, finding a partner, getting married, reproducing, living, and dying happily ever after. Which is perfectly fine.

Going to college removed me from pressure and allowed me sufficient time to study and think. Yes, think, meditate, and try to understand myself better. And that is a luxury that many don’t get to have. Time in which no one asks you what you are doing with your life because you are not ready yet to give the right answer to that question.

Ah yes, life as a constant state of preparation for something that never comes. You get into kindergarten and prepare for elementary school, and then you learn and study hard so you can get into middle school where you get good grades and do your homework in preparation for high school. In high school you learn a lot of useless stuff and very little about the real world and while you get to ask yourself many questions you rest on the idea that all will be answered because you are still preparing for the next thing. The next thing you prepared for and that’s college, where you are preparing for next thing. And you get to answer some of the questions, more questions arise but you are calm knowing that after all the preparations you will be prepared enough to take it all in and understand everything like a good adult. Then college is over and you prepare for a job, you get the job and then you raise some money so you can prepare for the next step in your life. Which might be a promotion, starting a family, or just moving on to another job.

“Then, suddenly when are about forty or forty-five years old in the middle of your life you wake up one day and say… Huh? I’ve arrived, and I feel pretty much the same as I’ve always felt, in fact, I’m not so sure that I don’t feel a little bit cheated. Because you see… you were fooled, you were always living somewhere where you aren’t. And while as I said it is of tremendous use for us to be able to look ahead in this way and to plan. There is no use planning for a future which when you get to it and it becomes a present, you won’t be there… you’ll be living in some other future that hasn’t yet arrived. And so in this way, one is never able actually to inherit and enjoy the fruits of one's actions. You can’t live at all… unless you can live fully, now.” - Allan Watts

Learning by yourself means you are by yourself and you are the only one capable of seeing your flaws and understanding your struggle.

Besides having the time to learn and do what I do now, I’ve met people like me. People who love art and design, people who are thinking like me, people who can see my flaws and help me become better. And that made all the difference. Sharing the same dorm, sharing the same food, exchanging thoughts, and connecting with people made me more than just a good designer, made me a better human. It is almost impossible to achieve this by yourself. We need other people and we must help other people as well so an institution like this could bring people together.

As I said, I had no laptop and while my father was still mounting the hinges on that one made out by our local carpenter, I needed a real device to do some homework, prepare prints, and learn. And I was lucky enough to be sharing a dorm room with some of the most generous and kind people. They lent me their laptops, they taught me how to do better design, how to skip classes, and what to look out for to get better grades. Together we’ve created some amazing memories and those are some years that I will gladly remember for the rest of my life. I’ve basically extended my youth and got to mature more steadily and relaxed which I'm very grateful for.

Over the years those friendships turned into something bigger and now I get to share a network of talented and creative people. So that’s one extra point to Griffindor, I’m sorry, one extra point to "why got to college".

I know college, at least in some parts of the world, is expensive. Overpriced. College is becoming an extravagant way of spending money you don’t have on knowledge that doesn’t last.

That’s a good reason why to avoid college. Money. All the points I’ve made above about how you can study pretty much everything you want by yourself make a lot more sense when money is brought up. To put things in perspective, one year of college was worth around 6 to 12 base salaries in 2011. Which is a lot. A family with two kids in college would spend most of their money on education. We add to that cost of living, rent, and unplanned expenses. I went to the dentist and doctors after I finished college and started earning some dough by myself. So if you consider that education is cheap in Romania compared to other countries, in retrospect is just as expensive for someone making a living here. No wonder so many foreigners are studying here and living their best life. Good for them.

Is it worth to go to a college and study graphic design? Or should I teach myself this craft?

As I mentioned on the About Me page, design, and art are not something that is easily taught. You need to dedicate a lot of time and expect yourself to be bad at it for quite a while. That’s why college can offer that time that allows you to fail and learn. This is a perfect example of how money can buy you some time. If you can afford it, is worth it. If it’s costing you half of your life, you are better off learning by yourself. In the end, there is no right answer, you must assess your situation and decide on that. Power is not in knowing how things are done, is doing.

Oh yeah, that laptop, made out of wood, never reached me but my family helped me to buy a real laptop that lasted me for years.


Send me your recommendation or start a conversation.

I write on this blog almost weekly and you can find details about my graphic design work and get in touch on this website.


Feb 26

From my point of view, going to college only helped me build a network that got me a job in the area I live in and also in the creative field. I think what helped me even more was doing specialized (and more expensive of course) classes after finishing college that truly boosted my knowledge.

Cajvanean C. Alexandru
Cajvanean C. Alexandru
Apr 21
Replying to

Unfortunately or fortunately, we still have to be in a physical environment in order to properly connect with our peers but fortunately we have more access to knowledge now than ever. The sad part is that colleges have truly become just money grabbing institutions with not interest to actually educate but they still serve the purpose to get you started on your hero's journey. You are one of the most talented and hard working people I know and it shows through your flawless work. Doing everything you did shows nothing but determination and real love for the craft. Give it time and everything will get better and better. What we need to learn now is hot to deal with the…


Feb 24

Your experience is very similar to mine. I'm grateful for your frendship and all the good memories from college.

Cajvanean C. Alexandru
Cajvanean C. Alexandru
Apr 21
Replying to

Mr. Subtire or should I call you Mr. Slim, tahnk you for making time to read my words. I hope you found them enjoyable and maybe entertaining. Of course our experiences are similar, we've shared the same dorm for fuck's sake. We've shared the same room and the same food, not to mention we've spent tons of time together and my favorite part was going to gym together. I'm grateful for your friendship and I'm glad we get to spend all that time together. I sure do miss it and every time I'm feeling nostalgic, I go to those memories to sooth my soul.

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