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How important was your college degree to your career path?

Discussion in 'Education and Career Development' started by gafftaper, Jan 8, 2011.

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Read the 1st post FIRST: How important was your college degree to your career path?

  1. I would not have my job without my college degree.

    25.8%
  2. It was the most important factor, but other factors were also helpful.

    15.2%
  3. Education was equally important as other factors.

    22.0%
  4. My college education had very little to do with reaching my career goals.

    17.4%
  5. What degree?

    19.7%
  1. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Let's please make this poll only for people who have been out of college at least 5 years preferably more like 10. People who feel they have really found their place in the industry and their career.

    How important was your college degree?
    Did you get an MFA? BA? BFA? Did it help?
    Do you have a theater degree at all?
    What has been the most significant factor in you reaching your career goals and the position you are in now? Education? Hard work? Dumb luck?

    Please vote above and comment below.

    EDIT: I want to be clear that I am not by any means saying you should not go to college at all. I agree with Icewolf below about seeing many high school students who come in to college thinking they know it all when they really don't have a clue of how professional theater is run. College is VERY important to the vast majority of us. It just isn't a golden ticket to immediately paying off your $50,000-$100,000 in student loans immediately. You need to be realistic and get the education you can afford then work like crazy and don't worry about getting the bigger degree.
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2011
  2. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Explaining my vote: Equally important.

    I do not have a theater degree. I have a History degree and a Masters in Education. Working in educational theater they care that I have a masters degree but don't really care what it is. I got my foot in the door for my current position at a community college because someone looking for tech help on a show called a friend of mine out of the blue and he recommended me for the job. Getting the job had nothing to do with my education, but my degree allowed me Education degree (not theater) allowed me to expand into teaching and other things beyond basic technician work.
     
  3. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    I don't think that I would be where I am today without the formal education that I have in theatre. I have a BFA in theatre production from Ithaca College. While real experience speaks a lot, I think it take a lot longer to reach the same level of knowledge if you don't have formal education.

    I see this all the time in the people who work for me. Bear in mind that most of the people who work for me are in their mid 20s or college age. I have plenty of people with no formal education in theatre, some without any formal education past high school. They are great people, very helpful and very eager to learn. However there are many things that they don't know and that I have less time to teach. This includes, but is not limited to: a real sense of how a design works, how to program, electrical theory, etc. There are definitely times when I wish that I had more people who came in with some of that knowledge.

    On the other hand, much of this stuff can be learned on the job and there are many cases where knowing someone gets you in the door. It seems to me though that wile it used to be very true that who you knew and your experience spoke a lot louder than a piece of paper from a school but I think that is changing. I think that people do care about you educational background more today than even 5-10 years ago. So I wouldn't be so quick to discount having a formal education.
     
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  4. porkchop

    porkchop Well-Known Member

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    I didn't get my degree, and I studied Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, but the three years of education I did get are absolutely crucial to my ability to do my job. From complex math, to advanced problem solving and troubleshooting, to surviving day to day in a more professional environment the things I learned in college help me do my job today. Prior experience, a good resume, and lucky timing got me the job. What I learned in college makes sure I keep it.
     
  5. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    I want to be clear that I am not by any means saying you should not go to college at all. I agree with Icewolf about seeing many high school students who come in to college thinking they know it all when they really don't have a clue of how professional theater is done. College is VERY important. What I am arguing is that unlike other fields it isn't a golden ticket to immediately paying off your $50,000-$100,000+ in student loans. You need to be realistic and get the education you can afford. Work like crazy and don't worry about the fact that you didn't get a degree from a "more respected" institution.

    I know several people with theater degrees who LOVED theater but couldn't afford to work in theater. Unfortunately they had to get other jobs to pay off their theater degree student loans and were not able to get back into theater later.
     
  6. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Rephrasing the question slightly: Does the majority of your colleagues/co-workers have more or less formal education than you?
     
  7. mstaylor

    mstaylor Well-Known Member Departed Member

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    I have no degree or even any college at all. I have learned what I know from practical experience, independant study and an unending thirst to learn. I have been to certification classes for various things to help me along but I have always read everything possible about my business.
    I still agree that a college education is important, but not necessarily in theatre. It helps but an EE degree, business degree or education degree are all good things to help you along and give you a fallback position if needed.
    As an aside, the local college theatre, years ago, was run by all instructors with MFAs or PHDs. Everytime they had a problem they would call me to figure it out for them. Artistically they were great but structure or electrical escaped them.
    I mention this not to be arrogant, I just always thought it was ironic that they never learned basic problem solving.
     
  8. porkchop

    porkchop Well-Known Member

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    Gaff I couldn't agree with you more, even given the fact that my education has helped me a lot. I've seen numerous stagehands come from a VERY expensive school (I won't name it but it's initials are FS and it's based in Orlando) with a flashy degree and they are next to useless in the professional atmosphere. The experience is great, the things you learn outside of the classroom are often even more useful than the things you learn in it, but if it comes down to working hard to get earn a full time job in the field or going into more debt than you can afford just to complete the degree, I did (and would again) choose the job.
    When it comes to choosing a "more respected" institution you have to make a judgement call as well. If you know a little something about the program and you genuinely believe there is something there that you can't get elsewhere (a designer you really respect teaching there, high end equipment you can get hands on experience with, etc...) then it may be worth the extra investment, but if you're just looking at spending more money because you think it means a better chance to make it in the business, well then I will refer you to something that my uncle, who works at college, once told me "Once you try and get a real job the degree is just a check box on the interviewers form."
     
  9. Dillon

    Dillon Active Member

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    I'll own up to being the guy that checked "A: wouldn't have my job without my degree." Here's why:

    I graduated with a degree in Computer Engineering from a respected state university. The classes that focused on thinking down to very, very small details while maintaining a good view of the "big picture" were the most instrumental parts of my classroom education.

    I did not major in theatre, but I did take a few classes "for fun." Working on productions larger than I had done in high school were great stepping stones to eventually working on even bigger professional productions. Not having worked on those college-level shows, I never would have been able to keep up with the pace of my first real professional gig.

    The majority of my co-workers have a bachelor's degree, the majority of which are not theatre-related.
     
  10. FatherMurphy

    FatherMurphy Active Member

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    For me, the experiences I had during college are what served me well later on. My BFA degree came from a school with a much higher than usual percentage of theater students and faculty, and they ran the program like a professional house (even the Chair would say that classes were second to production... until the show was over, then he'd be asking why classwork was behind), and after that I did a couple years at an MFA program, where I got involved with the IATSE local.

    Neither of the schools taught technical work much past the general Stagecraft 101 level, instead leaving us to learn by doing in the shops (the small private BFA school being better in this regard than the big state MFA school). Over the years, I've been a house electrician, carpenter, cutter/draper in a costume shop, worked and installed flyrails, high rigged, painted, and pretty much anything else... sometimes all on the same day. Most of those tasks are ones I first did while in school, and might not have had a chance to if I had simply gone to work.

    My first job was at a community theater that I'd previously been a volunteer at, and my work there got me acquainted with the local production house I've worked at ever since. Having education/degrees helped, but wasn't a deciding factor, other than being part of who I was. My current day-to-day work in rentals and one-offs rarely goes beyond the basics, but every so often I end up using something from a long-ago class to bring a bit more to the table for a project, or use some of my cross training to make life simpler for all.
     
  11. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    So, "My college education had very little to do with reaching my career goals" best fits me. First of all, I had no plans on doing theater as a career, it's just what I do. I started school with theater in mind because I enjoyed it in HS and frankly there was more scholarship money in technical theater than there was in Archaeology (Indiana Jones helped to solidify that as a career choice for me, but I already had that in mind before the first movie). So, even though I had offers to better colleges, I stayed local to incur the least amount of debt possible by going to a state college. With an Associates degree under my belt, I went to my dirt digging passion. Needless to say, that's not the direction I ended up going.

    So, how did my AA in theater help me with work. Frankly, I doubt that it has done much other than showing employers that I have some theory under my belt and not all on the job training. However, my technical skills in theater have all come from professional experience and workshops. My college did not have a computerized lighting console, but a two-scene preset board. A Mackie 1202 would have easily outperformed our sound console, and we still had to splice reel-to-reel tape when recording our sound effects. I think that we only used a mic once the entire time I was in the program. What my program at my college did for me was give me opportunities. In the two and a half years that I attended, I was able to work in all aspects of the production. Not a lot of larger schools would allow a freshman to be the SM of a large musical. Due to my hard work, I proved my capability and had that opportunity at the end of my first year.

    However, the position that I now hold probably did not consider my degree one bit. I have co-workers who don't hold a degree in theater at all (some with no college at all) and others who have advanced degrees. The majority were able to get their position from their hard work and whom they impressed. Now, I work in corporate theater (for profit) and found that when I worked in regional theater (not-for-proit usually) that there was a different outlook on college experience. In fact, there are many regional theaters who will not hire upper level positions without at least a Bachelor's degree in theater, preferring a BFA or MFA. So, by the choice of only obtaining an Associates degree, I have limited myself in some aspects.

    I am not against college education by any means. However, I encourage all students to look at the reason why they choose to go to college. Since education is the only time that you can obtain extremely large sums of money on credit, without proven credit records or a means to pay it back, many students end up failing as has been previously stated because school works against them. If you choose to go to school because you aren't sure what you intend to do in life, or to try new things, or because that seems to be what is expected of you, you might find yourself in quite a lot of debt without means to pay for it. It's wasted money and opportunity. If you want to go to a technical trade school (Full Sail is probably top for this particular industry), then you have a limited time to make the most of it. I find that more students who have a better working knowledge before they go into those programs get a better education from them than those who rely on them for all of their training.

    So, depending on your career goals, college may be extremely important, and sometimes it will depend on what school that you go to, such as Yale. On the other hand, college may or may not benefit you at all. Dumb luck and good experience can get you far. Look at Luc LaFortune as an example of a successful designer without a proper education. In some ways, you could consider him as the lottery winner of lighting design since it will be unlikely that any of the rest of us will get that kind of luck.

    My college experience may have given me the tools that I needed to get where I am today, but the degree is not a consideration, and I doubt that it was a consideration to any of my employers as to whether or not they should hire me.
     
  12. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    See you are actually a perfect example of what I want to get across to students thinking about college. Yes your college degree and experience helped prepare you for your work... and A1 on West Side Story national tour is a pretty high up on the cool list for high school students thinking about going into tech by the way. But, like me, you don't have a theater degree. You no doubt learned a few things in your few theater classes you took. But it sounds like it was your hard work outside of class on college productions that really taught you the skills you needed. You don't have to get an MFA or an expensive degree from private school for that. It was the fact that you were immersed in a very good theater program (at a state university no less) that was the most important factor.

    Thanks buddy I had hoped you would share your story. It's fascinating and another great example of my theory at work.
     
  13. Tex

    Tex Active Member

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    BFA in Theatre - Acting Emphasis
    I'm a high school theatre teacher, so I wouldn't have my job without my degree. I think I'm somewhat unusual in the fact that many of the theatre teachers I meet don't have a theatre degree. Texas allows certified teachers to take any other certification tests they choose. I got certified in Technology Applications that way.
    I don't think the degree makes me a better teacher, but it does give me the background in theory, analysis and history that teachers from other disciplines may not have. Coming to teaching late after an acting career, I also think I can give students a more realistic perspective about what college theatre and the professional world is really like.
     
  14. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    I think the problem with a poll like this is that the answers are greatly predicated on the unstated caveat of "for what I do" and that the role and area of theatre someone is in, or wants to be in, can strongly influence the responses.

    As a Consultant a Bachelor's degree is almost a requisite, I would not have had the opportunities I did starting out without my degree. Those in the consulting field also often have degrees that are not necessarily in theatre, many are in Engineering, Architecture, Music, etc. Somewhat similarly, areas such as theatre education and theatre management may just about require a degree and not necessarily in theatre.

    I was lucky enough that much of my college education does directly apply to what I do but I also agree with Cody's comment that the oft overlooked aspects are the underlying approaches and perspectives learned. It took me some years after graduating to fully realize this but at least for me and those I've worked with a college education was not about trying to teach you everything you need to know to do a job, it was much more about gaining the basic background, skills and thought processes to then go out and grow into a job. I've worked with a few people who through their inherent personal perspective and years of self education and informal training gained the same basics, but those are much rarer and most were lucky enough to encounter strong mentors along the way.
     
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  15. Pie4Weebl

    Pie4Weebl Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    I don't qualify to vote yet, but I still feel compelled to pop in my two cents. (Actually make that one cent, I need the other for my student loans! :oops:)

    As of present I fall into the category of "school+other factors got me my gig."

    My education taught me about the artistic process and gave me design skills for future use. It also gave me four years to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and four years to "grow up" and "find myself", which was very much needed. My side jobs during school gave me the technical knowledge to learn the actual skills of being an electrician and moving light tech.

    I find the value in going to a conservatory or a bigger program, is that you surround yourself with the kinds of talented and passionate people who really want to be there. You can build the starts of a life long network of people you will work with in the future. Not saying this is true of all state school theatre programs, but it seems there is a lot of "well my family wants me to go college and I liked theatre soooo". Its harder to grow with others when you are with people of that. I know of at least one CB member who transfered schools to a larger program because of this problem.

    So how did I get my gig? Well, a Webster alum, as well as someone I networked with through my job both have large pull at the place I now work, and they were able to find a spot for me in the company.

    So do I regret racking up $60K in student debt? No, not really, I won't lie, it is a struggle I fight with, and it requires a lot of due diligence in managing my finances. IL is such a backwards state, that going to a private school cost me just about the same as if I had gone to a state school after the scholarships I got. So my only other option would have been to skip college or go to community college. And when I talk to my friends who took those options they are all the same as they were when we were in HS and haven't had that opportunity for personal growth that college brings.
     
  16. meghanpotpie

    meghanpotpie Member

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    I think both schools of thought are pertinent. Field experience is a great learning tool but sometimes its just not enough. With more and more theaters pumping out more and more productions in smaller increments of time there doensn't seem to be any time to ask questions anymore. I've been in the field for about 6 years outside of earning my BA and wouldn't give up that time for anything. However, I am finding that in order to get the better gigs I'm still lacking in a lot of areas that I just don't seem to have the time to learn under my current production deadlines. I think if you've been in the field and are learning all you can handle, then wonderful! If you're like me and have been in the field but are still not making gains towards expanding your skills and knowledge then perhaps continuing your formal education is a better option. I'm not saying pick the most expensive fancy school but be smart and research programs. A lot of state schools have wonderful programs based on getting you practical experience.
     
  17. Morydd

    Morydd Member

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    In all actuality, more than one of the options is accurate for me. In terms of what I actually learned in the theater program at my college, it hasn't been a deciding factor in my career. However, most of the jobs I've had came either directly or indirectly via the people I met in college. I also went to a liberal arts university, so I had a wide array of other educational actives that have benefited me in my career. So, college was vital to my career, but my actual degree was not so much.
     
  18. erichart

    erichart Member

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    It's a tricky poll, in that I can't really imagine where I would be without the education I've had. Not that I would be in a worse place, or even that I wouldn't be in theatre, but since my career grew out of my college experience, with each step building on the last, if you take the education component away, the rest would fall like a house of cards. That being said, I think my education (a bachelors degree in theatre and 1 year in grad school before withdrawing) has given me a solid foundation in my everyday work life. Of course, I've also learned much, if not more, on the job. If you're the kind of person who works hard in school, you're probably the type of person who will work hard at everything else. At my level, most, if not all, my colleagues have at least a bachelor's degree. It's not a prerequisite; if you have an impressive career, by the time you're in your late 30s-40s, no one will really care whether you went to school. But as someone in their early 20s, a college degree can be an incredible boost, especially if one is looking for an eventual job in educational theatre or as production staff in regional theatre.
     
  19. bishopthomas

    bishopthomas Well-Known Member

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    My college experience (incomplete computer science major) has nothing at all to do with the career I have made for myself. Before I decided to go to college I considered going to Full Sail but ended up staying in my home town, working my first paid tech job at my church, then marrying my high school girlfriend and moving to New Jersey where I have my sound and lighting company and freelance with other larger companies. At no point has any employer or client asked about college education. They hire me by reputation at this point, but starting out they hired me out of necessity. I was a warm body, proved myself by pushing cases, and here I am...

    I usually recommend youngsters to steer clear of the trade schools. A college degree can be useful (I don't have one buy from time to time consider finishing) at some point and some situations, but I don't think a "degree" from a Full Sail type institution holds any weight either in or out of the industry. Everyone I know from Fool Sail is a complete moron who thinks they know it all and are entitled to work. When I get resumes from people with this "accomplishment" I don't necessarily deduct points but I certainly don't award any either. It's work experience and/or a willingness to learn that matters to me.
     
  20. DuckJordan

    DuckJordan Well-Known Member

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    While, I am not answering the poll since i'm not in the demographic. I am, however, going to state something many people who have been to college have learned but this is also a great thread for people in high school and maybe even middle school to know. The biggest misconception i see when people talk about college is its there to teach you everything you know. At the University that I attend they stand by the quote of, we don't teach you everything you need to know, we teach you how to find out new information and teach yourself.

    I don't know of a single University that claims to teach you all the things you know about your career but if they are a good university with a large alumni group and most of which became successful, I've noticed tend to teach more about teaching yourself and showing you how to do so. So to me this poll is almost useless in its original thought (not sure if it was or not just what I've seen come from it), and while you learn a lot on the job you most likely will not learn how to do your own research and your own learning without a college degree. This isn't an absolute statement, but I tend to see that in the place I work, the stage hands that went or are going to college have learned how to learn new things while the people who never had the opportunity or want to go to college struggle to embrace new concepts.
     
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