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The Case for Traditional Education for Prospective Industry Candidates

Proprietary schools offer tantalizing programs and accelerated degrees, but traditional education has advantages that might give candidates a distinctive edge in the long run, and other opportunities for those whose dreams might not or are slow to develop

Andrew Calhoun, Blogger

September 13, 2010

8 Min Read

This post is a verbatim copy of a post on my blog on my personal website, I felt it was appropriate to throw it up here though, as there are likely readers who are getting ready to apply for college or head back to school.

As a graduate of a top tier university who wants to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, namely In gaming/interactive media, though animation and CGI/FX are not out of the question; the number of schools offering fast track programs that often promise dream gigs within the industry is somewhat alarming.

I happened to attend one of these schools for about a year to augment my education, but left due to the lack of professionalism in my fellow students and that our classes were practically taught straight from Focal Press and similar how-to books one could pick up off Amazon for like $35-$50.

There was very little critique from the instructors in many courses and criticism was often left to students who used then period for unmoderated abuse of each other, or to praise their friends. This is not a slam against proprietary institutions, but there are definite disadvantages for all of the purported advantages.    This particular school, like many of its class (proprietary vocational institutions), had "flexible" admissions standards, fluffed up credentials, and flashy open houses.

Having had a more traditional education in the liberal arts under my belt, I really did not mind the lack of academic rigor, simply because I did not take GEs. I was there for vocational training, plain and simple. Flash forward a year after I started attending with cautiously optimistic hopes and I left in relative disgust.

Perusing other websites focused on education and careers in creative fields, I have come across numerous accounts of individuals having negative experiences at some of these schools. Of course, with all things mileage does vary and I am certain that many prosperous creative or creative industry adjacent careers have been birthed from proprietary schools.

The primary issue with proprietary for profit schools is that they are a business, first and foremost, and the education, safety, and welfare of their students frequently comes secondary to the profit models and it shows absolutely in the cost. With many state and non-profit private schools offering extension and minor classes in a variety of fields pertaining to new media, gaming, and film along with powerhouses like UCLA, USC, and NYU among others, the dangers of a proprietary school outweigh any potential benefits.

Secondly, vocational schools exist to purely teach you a trade. If they offer a bachelors you are likely to get a few General Education classes that offer watered down curricula, especially if your program is accelerated like many are. Lastly, and this only applies for schools that have accelerated programs, you burn through your college experience in 2.5 years and still amass the same amount of debt you would if you had attended a private college or university.

This is why I would admonish anyone who wants to get Into the entertainment industry to first attend a nationally accredited university or college. Private or public is a preference purely up to the applicant. If you want to fast track, you still can, but regular universities offer many opportunities in academics, social and personal development, and other intangibles a proprietary school may not offer.

Again, from my meandering experience and posts seen on sites like GamaSutra and CgSociety, the general consensus is that a traditional education or a vocationally oriented education with a strong educational background is far preferable to a fast track strictly vocational education that might have a few token educational courses in very general subjects that really don't do much for expanding or nurturing intellectual curiosities.

There will of course always be students who pursue their educations outside of class and may find their life paths changing as well. This is another advantage of traditional education, say a student wants to change their major, it's a fairly simple process at a traditional college. Sure, there are hurdles, but there is a level of flexibility offered. This might not be available at a proprietary school, and credits are often non transferable, resulting in starting from square one under a mountain of crushing debt.

The benefits of a traditional school are that there are tons of options and credits are frequently transferable to other institutions. This makes it easy to change schools if you change your mind or the institution is a poor fit. One thing about being 18 to 25, you don't know what you want to do, so why limit yourself to a few very narrow options. Odds are too, that any traditional school you will find just as many or more dedicated individuals who wish to pursue a career in the creative industries.  

There are definitive social advantages that a traditional school offers as well in terms of downtime and things like active clubs, Greek systems, community and religious organizations, a better dating scene and opportunities to let yourself grow as a person. From what I've heard and seen, proprietary schools offer very little of this outside of token clubs and groups which are often poorly attended or poorly supervised.

It can happen at a traditional school as well, but there are incentives for clubs and people to put in the work in the way of university funding and student dues.   This is not to say that specialized proprietary education doesn't have it's benefits, but it lacks many of the qualities of more traditional routes. By and large, the biggest advantage is the broad education one can get at a traditional school.

Frequently you take survey courses that serve to give you a general scope of the human condition, but given a full semester, one can take the time to actually sit down and digest what they a learning rather than regurgitate the facts on a watered down quiz in class, or as many for profit institutions are doing, making the classes solely online with or without teacher interaction.

Now, you might complain about the class sizes of Lower divs at a state or private school, but even there, you often get a section and some interaction with a teaching assistant to help you understand the material. When this is lacking, students miss out on invaluable learning experiences and come to sees learning as something that is simply another hurdle to an overall goal. 

Going back to the point I brought up earlier, having a well rounded and holistic education makes one far more desirable to those hiring, if only for a potentially more enlightened and broad perspective. If the only frame of reference someone has is video games, or modern movie making techniques backed up by only seeing the latest blockbusters or wanting to get into the music business because they want to make fat beats since the flavor of the week got rich that way; then your options become increasingly limited.

There are other ways to get educated as well, but the way the system has even set up, everyone wants to see that piece of paper with at least an associates from a regionally accredited community college, if not a bachelors nowadays. The problem with proprietary schools in terms of accreditation is that their credits are frequently unrecognized as i said before, as they are frequently accredited through the same agencies that license cosmetology and dog grooming schools.

The more prestigious ones have additional and even national accreditation that may provide transferable units. My advice on this, and it seem rather roundabout, but if your credits don't transfer and Uncle Sam won't accept the degree for advanced standing or officer status in the military, walk away. I am getting off on a tangent, so I'll get back on track here.  

 The biggest benefit of a traditional education is applicable skills like critical and analytical thinking and problem solving, likely enhanced social skills from dealing with radically different people, the ability to read and write, and an adaptable mind. Other skills like engineering, comp sci, political theory, and anything else you learn is secondary. With the primary foundations, everything else will fall into place and become clear.

I for one am proud and happy to have my Bachelor of Arts, because I was exposed to thousands of ideas and experiences that have allowed me to be far more creative and diverse as a creative. As a whole, the education industry is a business, but most traditional schools are wholly non-profit and serve the public good, at least ostensibly, rather than their shareholders. With all things, your mileage may vary and the accelerated, focused program of a proprietary school may be what you are looking for, especially if you are that locked onto a particular goal, but please take the time outside of class to expand your horizons. 

All that being said, if you already have a bachelors degree and can afford the proprietary education, I'd say do the research, find a school with an excellent reputation, and hope for the best, so that even if things don't work out, you have something to fall back on. Good luck, good hunting, and enjoy your educational and academic endeavors.

P.S. If you choose to go the route of a traditional college, study abroad and learn a foreign language. It helps, trust me.

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