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In 2017, art graduates will complete school with an average of $58,538 in debt. With only an expected starting rate of $30,000, it raises the question, “Do you need an Arts degree to be a professional artist?”

Online tutorials, workshops, webinars, and even YouTube are now being considered reputable educational resources for those wanting to get away from the traditional higher education model. People are now able to learn the specific skills required for the jobs they want without leaving their home or breaking the bank. This isn’t to say that traditional higher education doesn’t have its advantages. You’re able to work collaboratively and you can gain the specific credentials employers may require. However, every industry weighs the quality of a candidate differently, so some investigation should be done before making a decision.

How does this ideology work in the digital art world? Knowing the very costly nature of arts education, we surveyed CG Master Academy (CGMA) instructors and their students on whether or not they believed a degree was necessary for professionals. These are the results:

• 92% of instructor respondents and 90% of student respondents believe you DO NOT need an Arts degree to pursue a career in art.

It’s important to note that 62% of CGMA instructors have degrees and the majority of them believe they didn’t need them in order to work on some amazing films and games. However, the majority didn’t completely denounce higher education either. Many recommend that aspiring artists scrutinize their resources wisely when wanting to build on certain skills.

One instructor explained, “Technically no, your portfolio should demonstrate your artistic ability. Of course a degree helps with communication and working as a team. I would highly recommend a degree of some sort but your portfolio is what we review initially. I would also recommend not to go into a huge debt for a degree but understand that doing art in a professional setting is about team work and hitting deadlines.”

Another instructor said, “I myself don’t have one. It’s an industry with skills that can be: 1. Self taught; 2. Learned through online schools like CGMA, Schoolism, etc; 3. Learned by following professional artists’ online networks; 4. Online availability of video references and tutorials. But to balance it, the artist must have a high level of discipline and passion to attain a degree of creative maturity. One has to really love it.”

The majority of student respondents, which represent variety of skill levels and professional experience, had opinions surrounding the topic that aligned with most of the instructors’.

One student said, “After high school, students should have learnt a high level of communication skills in writing and speaking, as well as basic sciences. A degree is designed for a specialized field beyond the basic subjects. As someone who hires artist[s], I would LOVE to be able to look at a grade from school/ and choose candidates based on degree. But unfortunately, the methods of grading and standards from art schools does not reflect the workforce. Due to the current state of art grading in college, companies cannot depend on a degree to make decisions on what makes a good artist. Until a more robust Degree and grading system is established, an Arts degree isn’t relevant. But speaking in terms of the education art college degree provides, there are good ones. But it is so few and far between.”

Another student mentioned, “The college I went to for my Undergrad was for drawing and painting. When I went to grad school, I went to be a 3D generalist. If you want to work in animation as a character/environment/viz dev artist, you don’t need to go to school for it. Programs like CGMA provide everything you’ll need to know to build a portfolio to work in animation.”

The proof is in your product. This seems to be the conclusion most artists have come to understand throughout their journey. Obviously, everyone has the choice to go through the traditional channels for Arts education, but in recent years many other options have emerged for artists to gain the skills they require.

CGMA has been the leading online art educator for over a decade. Unlike other educators, a degree and a job is not promised at this academy. Instead, we offer students the freedom to choose the areas they want to develop and give them the resources they need to become better artists—this is what’s important. With payment plans, portfolio reviews, and individual admissions assistance, we truly want to provide our students with what they’re missing in traditional education—control. Our gifted instructors along with a course list that responds directly to industry needs gives students the confidence to enter into the industry well-equipped.

Gitlen, Jeff. “Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2017.” LendEDU, 1 July 2016,