University or Self-Taught?

I am currently looking to pursue a career in web design, and I have come to learn that there are thousands of websites/books/online tutorials that can help me to learn as much as possible about web design. I have been studying for the last 12 months but I have come to ask the question is it worth going to university to learn web design?

I have a few questions if some people with experience of university, or people that have self-taught, I understand web design is an ever growing field and designers need to be learning all of the time:

  • Does a degree in Web Design make a possible candidate for a position more attractive or is it based on their portfolio?
  • Is there anyone that has been to university to study web design and found they could have learnt most modules using the vast amount of tutorials/books?
  • How many people on here work for themselves or work for a company?

Thanks in advance, I am trying to get a feel for the field of web design and which way I should go to become most successful

Everything I hear suggests that it’s your portfolio, projects you’ve worked on, initiative you’ve shown etc. that make the difference. Many in the web design world are self taught, and it doesn’t seem to matter. You can learn everything you need to know without a course. The main advantage of university course is that it teaches discipline and application. And, of course, you get to bounce off others, get useful feedback and criticism etc.


Good question!

I studied modern languages at uni, then moved to Germany after graduating.
I currently work (part-time) as a freelance web designer and have never had much trouble getting work.
I don’t think a degree would have helped me overly much on the path I have taken. Clients tend to prefer a good portfolio that demonstrates a well-rounded skill-set.

Saying that, that’s just me. I’d be interested to hear what others think.

Let me first state that all I know about the web has been self-taught. However, that is because it was long past the time for me to attend a University that the Internet was born.
However, unlike any other time in the History of mankind the access to important information is so easy and immediate, as a result of the Internet, we all should be able to continue the process of learning without hindrance.

In any [creative] field, the University Degree serves only one purpose. It gets you the first job (or two). From that point, your experience and demonstrable expertise is what continues the momentum of your career (or not!)
As I have said many times (particularly providing advice to my children as they were finishing school), the purpose of a Resume is to get you an Interview. The Interview is where you land the job.

I recommend you never, never stop seeking out opportunities to practice and learn. And these Fora are a great resource for that. But, ultimately, your decision to attend a University should be based on the value you believe it offers for the investment (in money and in time) you make. And if it is honestly to just gain a certificate, you cannot justify it (IMHO).

I will to answer your first question:

Does a degree in Web Design make a possible candidate for a position more attractive or is it based on their portfolio?

If I was planning to employ a web designer, I would have very little interest in whether or not they had a degree. The main thing I would want to see is one or more sites they had actually designed. So, with that in mind, the portfolio is vastly more important than any formal qualifications. Of course, other prospective employers or clients might take a different view, but I think my approach would be fairly typical.

Also, it seems to me that, if you are thinking of a full-time university course, that’s going to take three or four years, and it’s going to cost a lot of money. That’s a big investment to learn something that a competent person should be able to learn in a matter of weeks or months. Consider too that by the time you had finished the course, the technology will have changed, so your skills might be out of date before you even start work.

The great thing about web design is that you can actually do it as you learn. There’s nothing stopping you from starting a web site today, and gradually developing and enhancing it as your skills improve. Your first shot might be rubbish, but you can then do another one. And then perhaps another one after that. Before you know it, you have a portfolio - something to show prospective employers or clients. (You can’t do that if you want to train to be a civil engineer or a dentist or an airline pilot.)

You say you’ve already done 12 months self-study. On that basis, you ought to be ready now to start developing a portfolio - and looking for work. If you are not, maybe you just need a bit of direction in your study programme. But if you’ve spent 12 months trying learn the subject but are no closer than the day you started, that suggests you should re-think your choice of career.


Yes, and that’s even assuming that what you were taught wasn’t already out of date—which is something you can’t assume, as web design courses tend to have a bad reputation for being behind the times. I listen to podcasts where people write in to say that their college professor still teaches outdated techniques like tables for layout. :rolleyes: If you do take a course, check it out carefully beforehand to verify that it’s actually up to date.

@Mikl thanks for the detailed response. I have been studying for 12 months, but after being on this forum for 2 months I have learnt a lot more. I didn’t have the right direction after an introductory course last year, but now feel I’m going in the right direction with the help of this forum.

I have come to the conclusion that a lot of courses can become out of date overnight and found that self-study is a lot more effective. The best way for me to learn the practises in web design have been to actually build a website, which I am in the process of doing. I just thought a degree would give me some credentials, but I could learn a lot more self-studying, which I have realised!

You say you’ve already done 12 months self-study. On that basis, you ought to be ready now to start developing a portfolio - and looking for work. If you are not, maybe you just need a bit of direction in your study programme.

As i said I have a lot more direction now being on this forum, I don’t think I could delve into applying for jobs until I have looked into php as I see this is a huge part of web design now, which I know very little about. Could you suggest the best place to start learning this language? Or have people learnt it on the job?

Just have to say thanks to everyone thats replied to this thread, I’ve gained a lot more information that I initially thought I would, thanks :slight_smile:

There are many ways, but I like to start with a book or some other comprehensive resource (like a Learnable course) to lay the groundwork. That said, any fixed resource like that will slowly get a bit old, so after laying the groundwork, check out the online resources that are kept up to date, like forums (this one and StackOverflow), and resources like this:

There was a good article on SitePoint recently about this:

All self taught here, though the technology moves so fast you never stop learning.

One thing to bear in mind that to be successful it’s not just the “web design” part that’s valuable to an employer (or if you’re self employed). Things like good communication skills (oral and written), good maths and English, ability to work in a team or one one’s own, working to deadlines, and problem solving are all part and parcel of the job.

Your passion, skill and portfolio matters. I don’t prefer university for learning web design. You can be your master if you have enough dedication for web design.

If you’re a self-employed developer/designer, then you need to be a salesman, too.
If you can’t sell your skills, you might as well pack up now …

I think the optimal solution would be to attend university/college while learning on your own as well. My reasoning for this is because universities might end up spoon feeding you with the education you require to pursue a particular field. Where as in the real world like bluedreamer mentioned, technology moves forward so fast. So you’re going to have to learn to be resourceful and pick up the new tricks of the trade if you want to stay ahead of the game.

More and more people just showing me how I can do this using self study. I will have to look at the learnable website, and that php link thanks for that.

I have been in sales for the last 10 years, so I’ll have the confidence to sell the websites, just need to make sure they are created correctly first :slight_smile:

I’d love to work for a company first, or have some experience in the work place to get a feel for how a company works

I really wanted to pick up another degree with a specialty in web design, at least an AAS at the local CC. Almost immediately, I started learning stuff more quickly on my own – Then I started to get put off by how far behind the times the material was (I -just- dropped my courses… They were hovering at around 2008 technology, which in the language of the e-webs, is ancient history). Throw on top of that the hassle of dealing with school admin, the extra cost, the time investment and being forced to learn certain things at a certain pace… I WANTED the structure, just hated the speed and direction.

Ended up going self-taught, started building my own portfolio, got a couple of barter sites, said ‘what the hell’ and started my own design/dev business. Haven’t gotten much in the way of actual paying client work (yet), BUT… I did recently start getting interviews based exclusively on my portfolio. Nobody’s asked about a degree, yet.

That’s surely a key point.

In all the many years I’ve been doing freelance work - and with the large number of clients and prospective clients I’ve dealt with - I have never been asked about a degree or any other formal qualifications. The main thing they want to know is whether I can solve their problem (and how much it will cost them, and how quickly I can do it).

That’s even true of work-related qualifications, like vendor certification. Like many software developers, I went to the trouble of getting a Microsoft certification, but it has never helped me get work, even though I have the logo on my website.


I have learned that by myself. self-teaching is very good!

Self taught here :).

I actually have seen designers that went to college to learn to design are usually worse than self taught designers (I’m not saying all, I’m just saying a lot that I have seen).

I have a Graphic Design BFA from a very well known design school but never been employed as a designer. I currently work for a major media company as a Senior Web Developer and here is my take on it. I think for a fare majority of people degrees are required to land that first job or internship. Many companies out there require a degree just to get in the door. So if you ever want to have the “security” of working in-house I would highly recommend seeking out higher education.

The term “Freelance” is thrown around so much but I think really about 25% of people who “Freelance” are actually freelancers. The majority of those people are making peanuts on sites like 99designs and such hoping to one day get their big break. While it may happen for a small few the chances of being in that bucket is very small. So I guess you have to ask yourself is if you want to chance it making a good, secure, living, or not. Four years is a small price pay for something that will last a life time and probably lead you in some way shape or form to getting a foot in the door and not relying on “Freelancing”.

There is much wealth to be gained freelancing but that should only be an option once several years of experience has been accumulated in a business setting with people who have MUCH more experience. Simply starting out freelancing is no way to begin a career. Generally the only people who do that are those who can’t find jobs because they lack qualifications and/or skills. A Degree is not worthless, it is a stepping stone into a career. Anyone who says otherwise ask for a resume and salary than jump to your own conclusion.

I will add that when it comes to programming I’m self taught. I’ve learned everything I know from books and on the job experience. However, it is very unlikely that I would be where I am today without a degree. If nothing else it helped me get a foot in the door and the rest is history.

Thanks for the advice oddz.

I am looking to learn how to build websites proficiently, enough to allow me to apply for positions as a Junior Web Developer, would you say this position would require a degree.

I know the company differs, but what would you general consensus be over a low-level entry like this be, would I need a degree?

I think you’ve got a consensus. The majority opinion here is that your portfolio is more valuable than a degree for getting the sort of job you are seeking.

But if you are still not sure (and no-one can blame you for wanting to be certain), why not look at the job adverts for this sort of work. See what qualifications they demand. Or, better still, talk to one or two recruitment agencies. You’ll get a much more objective opinion than anyone here can give you.