Over the past few weeks, I’ve conducted six different workshops for high school arts students. At the end of each workshop, there is time for Q&A. Invariably, no matter what workshop I’m doing, one of the questions I always get is, “Should I go to college for an arts degree?”.
Well, that depends.
There are a variety of factors that can influence this momentous decision; among the many are location, financial feasibility, desire, and expectation. Making the choice to engage in higher learning is a deeply personal one and, sadly, it is one that few high school students are equipped to make.
My real answer is that it all depends on what you want to be when you grow up and what you want from life. What are your long-term goals; and I do mean long term (30-40 years from now)? If you desire to be a Broadway designer or a professor at a University; it helps considerably to be packing at least an MFA. If you want to teach at a junior college, you may just need a teaching certificate along with the appropriate coursework. If you want to be a roadie, traveling the world on concert tours, then an MFA might be superfluous. Again, though, if you look at the career of a roadie, it’s important to look past the 25 good years of your youth (when the job is physically easier) and into your 50’s. What does life look like then?
When you’re a junior in high school, projecting that far into the future is difficult. It’s too abstract; but I encourage students to try nonetheless. What is the future? City or suburbs? Buy or rent? Spouse? Kids? Travel for work? Vacations? The inklings of answers to those questions can point you in the right direction.
Perhaps more importantly than “Should I go to college?”, is “Which college should I attend?” There are a plethora of exceptional schools out there; and it’s important to remember that YOU are hiring them and paying them; not the other way round. It’s perfectly fine to demand the most for your money. The key thing to remember is that this is YOUR decision. Picking the school that fits your learning style, that offers you connections to your industry, and that excels in teaching what you want to learn will take time. Talk to the professors, recruiters, and administrators. Interview THEM; not the other way around.
That sounds like a lot of work; and it is. But I will tell you that I know a number of people who blame their school or college for not preparing them adequately, or who feel their degree was a waste of time. The work you put in is directly related to what you’ll get out of it in the end. YOU have to do the work.
Another way to think about college is to do what my buddy Mike did. He always wanted to work in lighting. He had a lot of experience and was quite good even at a young age. He looked at his industry and realized that most people were free-lancers; and that in order to be very successful, he would want to run his career as a business. He also realized that he didn’t know the first thing about being in business, or free-lancing, or entrepreneurship. He paid his way through college doing lighting gigs, and graduated with a business degree. He’s now incredibly successful. I tell this story because its a great example of someone willing to engage in tough self-examination of their strengths and weaknesses, resolving to do something about it, and then following through with the hard work.
Finally, if you decide not to go to college, that’s okay. Don’t feel like you need to bend to societal norms or your parents expectations. Also, take a look at this story from Mashable, offering 6 ways to succeed without going to college.