designer working with color palettes at desk

Is Your Portfolio More Important Than Your Degree?

In college, I began my academic career as an architect student. As we were drafting ideas at our tables one day, my professor wisely said to us about our chosen field, “You’ve got to love what you’re doing now, or you’re going to hate what you do later.”

Looking down at the repetitive rows of straight lines forming a boxed garage, I had a realization. I hated what I was doing.

As a graphic design instructor, I can tell you that a college atmosphere can breed community, set higher sets of standards, challenge skills, raise questions, expose gaps, introduce new ways of thinking, and instill confidence for a career. One that you can continue to grow and expand upon once you graduate.

But you have to love it.

You’re an Artist, Not a Robot

Little robot on the beach.

A completed representation of a creative’s work — a portfolio — is your desired goal upon graduation. It’s what you as a creative will showcase as you interview for jobs.

If your education’s focus is solely on your degree, you’ll only spend your time satisfying what is asked of you. Your portfolio will probably be filled with tasks not of your own choosing. You’ll have little to show at an interview.

When you’re focused just on a degree, your work represents a student who can follow directions. Complete this project. Write this code. Design this layout. It’s an approach that can completely miss the most important part of why you chose to get this degree: that you love what you’re doing.

Pursuing a degree is a demonstration of commitment to your selected profession. What’s placed in your portfolio is a demonstration of the thrill behind that commitment. Learn how to make a portfolio site here.

Knowledge is Shared, Talent is Unique

A woman panting by a lake.

If you love what you do, there’s a natural desire to practice it and make it your own. The more classes you take, the more your portfolio should shift from a requirement to a personal statement.

While a degree shows the interest and commitment, a portfolio shows the talent and contribution. The 2012 census stated that over 30 percent of U.S. adults have a bachelor’s degree. That’s a lot of people with frames on their walls.

But only you (and possibly your creative crew) came up with that unique solution found in your portfolio. It’s worth the time to exhaust your creativity into portfolio-worthy work.

Work Speaks in Your Absence

A book of fonts.

We are visual people. It’s why we dress up for an interview. It’s why we smile more during first impressions.

It’s why what we place in our portfolio matters.

Creatives don’t regularly make it a practice to post their academic credentials on their websites, at least not in a prominent place. What you should see first, whether online or in person, is the creative’s talent showcased prominently by their portfolio. Creativity is there, and the skills garnered during the time in school are demonstrated. You won’t need to tell people you went to school for this — it’ll be obvious from the work on display.

At the end of the day, it’ll be the designs created and not the degree that will leave the greatest impression.

Portfolios Don’t Live in Frames

A variety of frames

Your portfolio should grow as you grow. And if you place focus on what will go into it while you’re still in school, your portfolio can give future employers a glimpse into your potential.

Employers do look at portfolios during the interview. And clients request to see your work and not your degree.

A degree is a milestone. It represents what once happened however many years ago. It’s an accomplishment that is indeed worth its frame.

But a portfolio shows what you are currently capable of creating. It offers ideas that are most important to you now. Not five years ago. It should be just as current as your resume and updated more often.

Taking hold of your degree upon graduation will be much more satisfying when you’ve enjoyed the work that got you there.

A degree says you took that walk in cap and gown.

A portfolio says you’re now ready to run with it.

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