I don't know about Digipen or the North American college system.... but just want to say, don't worry yourself too much! You're too young for that kind of worry
I'm in Australia, so things are likely different, but I had a "free" education, and accrued about $5000 a year in debt to the government while going to University, which they now take back slowly by charging me a bit of extra income tax.
I got pretty average grades in High School, and didn't get into the Computer Science course that I wanted to do. So, instead I went to a little-known university in a small town and did an IT course that accepted almost anyone. While there, I spent the entire time building my own hobby games outside of school, and I took all of my elective subjects in CompSci/Games related subjects, so I still learnt a lot of CompSci material. When I applied for a job, they were happy that I had a
degree, even though it wasn't CompSci, but the thing that impressed them was actually my portfolio of hobby games, not my school-work after all.
So, even if you don't get the 'best' education, you can still make the most of a less reputable education.
Also, even though getting a CompSci degree is the best way to prove yourself as a potential programmer (and getting an IT / Soft Engineering degree is a decent backup plan
), it's still possible (harder, but possible
) to get hired without a degree as long as you've taught yourself well and are good at your job.
One of the best lead-programmers that I've worked under was completely self-educated, and even spent a portion of his life homeless, living out of a van in the US. Given the chance, I'd hire him any day over some graduate with a degree
The average salary in the industry is ~$80k, but as a junior, you can probably expect about half of the average. The difficulty in finding a job depends on how talented you are
When I decided to get back into the video games industry, it took me 5 months to find a job, but when that company went bankrupt, it took only 1 month to find an even better paying job. A lot of it is luck and being in the right place at the right time...
I honestly don't want to be a big gaming company or work with one. All I want to do is make games that take people out of the world we live in today and put them into a new world that I built for them to enjoy. I want to be independent and make a game how I think it should be made and not have someone tell me what I have to do.
I felt the same way right before I got a job at a huge 400-person developer, and was quite anxious about making those crappy games instead of games that I can put my heart into... However, it was a really great experience working at that company -- constantly being surrounded by other people who have been recruited from all over the world because they're good at making games, people who care as much about making games as you do, people who have so much that you can learn from them... Even if we were making someone else's game, doing it as part of such a great team is an amazing experience. Also, I probably learnt as much in my first year in the industry as I did in several years of University, I'm a much better indie developer now than before I worked as part of teams like that one.
Plus, I put a large part of my pay-cheques into a savings account while doing that work, and now I'm living off that money so I can be an (experienced) independent developer!