Ten Tips for Graphic Design Majors

I was recently asked by a friend, “Is majoring in graphic design at a four-year school difficult?” I really wasn’t sure how to answer this. If by difficult, they meant attending four, three-hour classes a day, revising a project until you have nothing left, frequently going through 100-packs of exacto-blades, battling for the next available campus printer, walking to class with a four-foot portfolio case and doing so all on three hours of sleep, then yes, it has been a little difficult to say the least.

I took a second to look back at my previous four years at UWM and realized that I really wouldn’t change a thing. I simply smiled and responded, “It’s not too bad.”

Here are ten tips for current or future GD students that will surely come in handy.

1. Come to class prepared

No-Brainer right? Have your work completed and ready to present. Instructors don’t appreciate waiting to begin class while everyone is printing, trimming, mounting work, etc… Even if you have to stay up all night, be prepared, you can sleep after class.

2. Give it 110%

You might not be the greatest at everything you do. But give, whatever it is, your best and your instructors will take note of your effort. I’ll admit: I don’t have any business drawing somebody else’s portrait, but I sure tried my hardest (my apologies to Ashley D. from drawing class; I may have gone a little overboard with the shading on your upper lip).

3. Listen to feedback from others

If someone offers an idea or suggestion, give it a shot; after all, two brains are better than one. Don’t take critiques personally—any and all feedback is beneficial.

4. Participate

Do your best to be active in discussion and give feedback to others. Your instructors appreciate not being the only one talking for three hours. Even if you’re one of the quiet ones, try your hardest to speak up.

5. Be honest but remain respectful

Not fond of a classmates work? Tell them during critique. Tell them why. Tell them what they could do to improve. Nobody benefits from generic feedback, so be specific. Remember to always be respectful while doing so.

6. Don’t follow the crowd

It may be tempting to complain about all the homework you’re getting, or throw in your two-cents in on your class’ Facebook page. Keep quiet and do what’s asked of you, most of the time it’s really not that bad. There’s no crying in baseball and there’s definitely no crying in graphic design.

7. Build your portfolio NOW!

Start putting together a portfolio early on. It’s never too early to start showing people what you’re working on. In addition to a print version, build an online portfolio. This doesn’t have to be fancy; posting projects to a Behance or Flickr profile will do just fine.

8. Apply for scholarships

Seriously, do it! There are plenty of scholarships that I didn’t even know existed during my first few years of college. Any financial assistance will go a long way. Many of these are quick and easy to submit. Remember that you have a 0% chance if you don’t apply!

9. Immerse yourself

Be active in school organizations. For me, Ad Club, AIGA and the United Adworkers have been extremely valuable. There may be membership fees, but the potential connections you can make are well worth it. Apply for internships early on. It can be terrifying as you near graduation and have little or no real-world experience. Use your connections; knowing the right people can get you where you want to be.

10. Work hard, but have fun

College is supposed to be fun!  The combination of class and homework, among other things, can be stressful. Don’t forget to let loose from time to time, but know when you need to buckle down.