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Jokeman248

Game college: Cheaper school or better school?

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So I'm trying to figure out where to go to school for game design. I know that Digipen is considered one of the best there is (though their art side is supposedly lacking) and am interested in their BA in game design, but since they're for-profit the max amount of scholarship they can offer me is 10,000, so I'd have to pay 17,000 a year to go there. Since I'm covering all my tuition myself that's kind of a lot. Cleveland Institute of Art, however has offered me a full scholarship. Cleveland is considered to be one of the best art schools in the country though since they're an art school I won't get as much technical education and since they're game design program is pretty new it's not really "proven" so to speak and there isn't as much industry recognition, it's also not in as good a location as Digipen (Digipen is like walking distance from Microsoft Headquarters).

 

As for my background, I enjoy both the art and technical side of game development and thus could see myself doing either, though what I really want to do is design (level design, mechanics design, gameplay design, ext., playtesting, iterating, I'm not looking to just be some kind of "idea guy"). 

 

From my experience so far I work best on my own, and thus have been considering being an independent developer. This is the main reason I'm looking at Cleveland as having no debt would allow me to more easily be indipendant whereas if I went to digipen I'd be forced to work in industry for a while just to pay off my debts. 

 

So, basically I have two options:

option 1: Go to digipen, get a more technical education and better design education, work in the industry for like ten years to pay debts and get more experience, THEN become indipendant.

OR

option 2: go to cleveland and get a great art education but less quality game design education, but be able to start working on indie games right out of school.

 

I was just hoping to get some third opinions on my situation as it's a pretty huge decision and I'm having a lot of trouble making it. My art teacher thinks having no debt is a larger advantage while my dad thinks the better school trumps everything. So if you could give your opinion on which option you think is better or more/less risky and just your general thoughts on the situation it would really help :)

 

If you'd like to see some of the work I've been doing in high school my website is TristanBegin.Weebly.com

 

Thanks!

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You have many more options that than. Read all the links in section 3 of the FAQ.

 

My personal opinion is that the game school is not worth the extra cost over a traditional school. The people I've known who went to a game-specific school were able to get jobs in games, but all of them had some regrets about choosing the school.  One in particular back in 2012 wanted to advance to a masters degree, but he was turned down from the university's graduate studies program because the game school's trade degree was not considered rigorous enough on mathematics and science for the master's program. 

 

I also strongly dislike the concept of a for-profit school that requires you to get financial aid, and I think the amount they charge is insane. Locally for me there are 11 colleges and universities within a 60 minute commute, 8 of them have annual tuition under $8000. Four have annual tuition under $5000. (One of those, a community college, is running advertisements of "$2015 per semester for 2015".)  

 

Considering the cost, the quality of education is not 3x better than traditional school. And when you consider interest on all that extra debt you will carry, the education would need to be 4x or 5x better. Now if you are very wealthy and have a desire to pay that much for education the story is different. But if that were the case you probably wouldn't be asking. There is no additional mystical content that the school covers that traditional schools do not. However, traditional schools tend to cover a wider range of topics which will benefit your lifetime career that the trade school omits.

 

Perhaps in your specific circumstances it may be a better fit. I don't know you and your specific circumstances.  

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I know that Digipen is considered one of the best there is

 

 

Perhaps, but being the top of the bottom of the barrel doesn't say much.

 

As an alumni of DigiPen, and an industry professional who has had to work with and consider the hiring of a large number of DigiPen graduates, I have a very low opinion of the school, its degree, and how it has evolved over the years. I would not recommend going there.

 

I am not a huge fan of "game schools" in general, though I wouldn't necessarily recommend you away from all of them or everybody away from them in general. However if the choice is between DigiPen or a decent school that will offer you the educational program you want and the capability of being debt-free upon graduate, I would strongly advise you take the debt-free approach. The value of being debt-free is actually far more than the amount of debt you are trading it for.

 

However, I know nothing about the other school you're talking about and can't advise you there with respect to it's merits. I can only offer you my professional and personal opinion on DigiPen, and that is to avoid it.

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I'm also a DigiPen alumn. I've also been through the college experience at other schools, both small community college campuses and one very large, well-known, highly-regarded university (which I did not finish, though I did attend for ~4 years part time). I'm currently a senior engineer at a very successful international game company. I didn't go to DigiPen until I was 27, already had a decent amount of education, and had been a professional for around a decade; my experience at DigiPen is very atypical, but of course I have a lot of close friends and coworkers who attended with more commonplace perspectives.

con: The biggest problem with DigiPen these days is the cost. You can get an education from schools like Carnegie Mellon for around the same cost. CMU is hands down a better school, even for gaming; the CMU students have kicked DigiPen's ass in student game competitions more than a few times in recent years, for instance. It's very difficult to recommend DigiPen for everyone today for this reason alone. Keep in mind that game developers don't make much; a programmer can make far more outside of games, and neither game design nor game art are even remotely lucrative career choices. Weigh the cost of the school against your future earning potential.

con: The curriculum and instruction at DigiPen are not often the best. Some classes and some instructors are absolutely amazing, but most are... well, not. You'll do most of your most valuable learning on your own for projects classes or by working with the other students (being able to make friends is a must to get the most out of DigiPen). The undergrad program works you as hard as most graduate degrees, and the graduate degree is... not fun. You can expect to spend 40+ hours/week just on your main game project, plus you have regular classes and (if you're an idiot like I was) a full time job on top of that (seriously, don't even try that, it's a terrible idea). DigiPen's education quality comes from the framework and environment, not the actual school, at least for CS.

wash: DigiPen ramps you up into a very productive software engineer quickly and far better than most other schools, but other schools can give you a far firmer and wider exposure to the world of computer science. It's give and take. A DigiPen graduate is often better suited to an entry-level position than graduates to other schools, but may take longer to advance out of entry-level positions. Our company has DigiPen grads (and dropouts) in all departments and at all levels, but mostly concentrated in the junior positions (though certainly not exclusively, as we do have DigiPen grads in senior, lead, and executive positions).

pro: The location helps in terms of networking; for instance, I'm about to head out the door to a weekly game developers' meetup in a bar just down the road from DigiPen, and there were a throng of DigiPen students at a monthly meetup last week that sees some of the more prominent game developers in the Seattle area show up from time to time. The location also makes it easier to deal with an internship as you aren't forced to do it during the summer months while relocating or renting an apartment far from 'home'. This, honestly, is the reason I chose DigiPen over other options when I decided to go back to school, and it's worked out fantastically for me in hindsight. Most of my senior year was me "interning" at a game development studio and taking a handful of classes to finish off the degree requirements; this is not uncommon.

pro(ish): Let's not forget that it's so easy to find a job in the area that DigiPen has a problem with graduation: a sizeable number of students drop out because they land a job in their junior or senior year of school and see no reason to keep sinking time and money into a diploma they'll never actually need in the industry. I would ecommend finishing it up if you're that far through, especially if you don't already have a CS degree from another institution, as non-games jobs might care more about the degree (Microsoft, for instance); games companies don't tend to care much about a degree as you might think (especially for design and art).

pro: The students are an advantage because of networking again (I got my first big industry job through a schoolmate and have since helped several other schoolmates to get hired there, and I now have friends from school at Microsoft Games and non-Games, Blizzard, Valve, Riot, ArenaNet, Volition, Epic, Sony Games, Nintendo R&D, etc.). There's also a much easier time working on your passion when you're surrounded by a several hundred like-minded folks; you'll have a harder time at other schools doing such. That networking matters a ton: remember that the golden of life is that it's all about who you know, not what you know. smile.png

verdict: If you're 100% convinced that you want to do games, and you're ready to work your ass off to do it, and you don't mind spending the money, DigiPen is an acceptable choice. If you aren't entirely sure, you aren't ready to sell off your personal life for 4 years, or you have any problem with the cost... look elsewhere. I'll echo Josh that being debt-free is really important, though I obviously disagree with his abject hatred of the school. smile.png
 

One in particular back in 2012 wanted to advance to a masters degree, but he was turned down from the university's graduate studies program because the game school's trade degree was not considered rigorous enough on mathematics and science for the master's program.


Just as a point in regard to this, DigiPen's current curriculum is strong enough to get into various masters' programs. Several of my old schoolmates are getting Master's from various schools after a Bachelor's from DigiPen, and I'm planning to enter such a program next year if my job actually gives me enough time (... I have no idea why I'm still holding out hope that it will). DigiPen also now offers an accredited accelerated Master's program that combines a Bachelor's and Master's degree into ~5 years.

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games companies don't tend to care much about a degree as you might think (especially for design and art).

They do care. Those employees bring less to the salary negotiating table, and hence are favored when budgets are tight. A quick Google search shows the difference is about 20% that follows most of your career, but each individual's salary negotiations are unique.

 


If you're 100% convinced that you want to do games

That is hard.

 

Every industry including games has its ups and its downs. If for some reason you have difficulty finding a job -- even through not fault of your own like mass layoffs -- or if after some time you decide to try a different type of programming that pays more money, seeing a non-traditional game-oriented trade degree outside the game industry is a major drawback. Games degree at a game studio is fine, but games degree at data warehousing company is not so great both for employment opportunities and for salary negotiation.

 

But these are also both covered in the links in the Forum FAQ, which hopefully you've read by now.

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pro: The students are an advantage because of networking again (I got my first big industry job through a schoolmate and have since helped several other schoolmates to get hired there, and I now have friends from school at Microsoft Games and non-Games, Blizzard, Valve, Riot, ArenaNet, Volition, Epic, Sony Games, Nintendo R&D, etc.). There's also a much easier time working on your passion when you're surrounded by a several hundred like-minded folks; you'll have a harder time at other schools doing such. That networking matters a ton: remember that the golden of life is that it's all about who you know, not what you know. smile.png

 

 

This is a huge benefit to DigiPen, in fact, and probably one of the few positive things I will generally say/agree with about the school. You come out of it with a pretty solid network of ready-baked industry contracts (since unlike traditional schools the majority of your graduating peers will probably enter the industry). This helps you both in terms of finding who you want to work with/for... and who you don't.

 

Just as a point in regard to this, DigiPen's current curriculum is strong enough to get into various masters' programs. Several of my old schoolmates are getting Master's from various schools after a Bachelor's from DigiPen, and I'm planning to enter such a program next year if my job actually gives me enough time (... I have no idea why I'm still holding out hope that it will). DigiPen also now offers an accredited accelerated Master's program that combines a Bachelor's and Master's degree into ~5 years. 

 

 

Even when I graduated years ago, this was true as well (I went to NYU for a masters and a fellow student went to Brown; although I didn't bother actually finishing the degree, he did.)

Edited by Josh Petrie

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One in particular back in 2012 wanted to advance to a masters degree, but he was turned down from the university's graduate studies program because the game school's trade degree was not considered rigorous enough on mathematics and science for the master's program. 

 

This is very important if you plan on continuing education.

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Thanks for all the replies guys, this is really helpful!

 

Few points about CIA to give help with comparing. While the school is an art school, they share a campass with case western, which means I could taking coding electives there while attending. One major draw back of the school is that you don't declare your major until your second year which means I wouldn't be getting much gaming education my first year (the first year is foundational art). The school itself is regarded as a very prestigious art school however it's game design major specifically is not very well-known and very small (29 students total and only 2 dedicated game professors). The junior and senior years students in the major team up with coders at case western to work on 2-4 game projects throughout the course of those two years. 

 

Few points about myself. My parents agreed to pay my room and board so long as I cover the tuition. I've saved up around 20,000 for tuition (combining money in college fund and competition winnings). Since (with my scholarship) digipen is 17,000, that money would already cover a year, however I suppose it would also be a boon to leave CIA (where I got full tuition scholarship) with 20,000 spending money to get me on my feet. I would likely leave Digipen with around 40-50,000 in debt, assuming I get a part-time job while there, so how hard do you think it would be to pay that off assuming I get an adequate entry-level game design job?

 

I don't have much interest in becoming some kind of coding guru, which brings me to another question, is that all Digipen is good for? Everywhere I look online it seems to only talk about the great coding curriculum there. While i think it's important I learn to code, that isn't my main interest. It's game *design* that I like to do. If I were forced to get a job in the industry (rather than making indie games on my own) I'd prefer to be the one designing levels, encounters, mechanics, ext. I'm not some wide-eyes kid looking to be some "idea guy" though. So would Digipen be the best place to prepare me for that? Or is the school worthless to anyone not pursuing a computer-science focused major? 

 

I have no gripes about having to work hard. I already spend nearly all my free time making games so it wouldn't be too much of a shift for me.

 

I also have no gripes about a degree not being flexible for non-game jobs. I am 100% sure this is what I want to do. If I don't make it in the industry OR as an indie I'd probably try to become a teacher of game design, anything that would allow me to be a part of the industry. This has been my passion since I was 11, and I know a lot of highschoolers say they want to be game designers when really they just want to play games, but that's not me. I know the work required for this and I am prepared for it. 

 

Also a few of you mentioned Masters degrees. One boon of going to CIA for free would be I'd be able to potentially go right into a master's degree (since I'll have no debt). However, do you think places like Carnegie Mellon or University of Southern California would accept a graduate student with a fine arts game design degree (from CIA)? Or would I need a better coding background to get into those schools (if I couldn't get in with digipen either I suppose I'd simply have to say goodbye to going for a master's degree). 

 

One last thing. Do any of you have an opinion on the value of working in the industry before trying to be an indie? With your feedback I'm leaning toward CIA, but debating if I should try to get an industry job just to get more experience before jumping into trying to be indie. 

 

Thanks again for all the feedback!

Edited by Jokeman248

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Thanks for all the replies guys, this is really helpful!
Few points about myself. My parents agreed to pay my room and board so long as I cover the tuition. I've saved up around 20,000 for tuition (combining money in college fund and competition winnings). Since (with my scholarship) digipen is 17,000, that money would already cover a year, however I suppose it would also be a boon to leave CIA (where I got full tuition scholarship) with 20,000 spending money to get me on my feet. I would likely leave Digipen with around 40-50,000 in debt, assuming I get a part-time job while there, so how hard do you think it would be to pay that off assuming I get an adequate entry-level game design job?

Most student loans are for 10 years. If you don't finish school, or if you struggle to get good employment, the financial burden could be quite high.

Running it through a loan calculator, assuming a 6.8% rate on 50,000 at 10 years with one point fees, loan calculator says $581/month. For ten years. Don't plan on getting a home loan or a car loan until you've got several years of work experience and are making more than an entry-level wage.

Or ...

With $20K and scholarships you could likely fully pay for all four years of a state university and finish the program debt free.

I don't have much interest in becoming some kind of coding guru, which brings me to another question, is that all Digipen is good for? Everywhere I look online it seems to only talk about the great coding curriculum there. While i think it's important I learn to code, that isn't my main interest. It's game *design* that I like to do. If I were forced to get a job in the industry (rather than making indie games on my own) I'd prefer to be the one designing levels, encounters, mechanics, ext. I'm not some wide-eyes kid looking to be some "idea guy" though. So would Digipen be the best place to prepare me for that? Or is the school worthless to anyone not pursuing a computer-science focused major?

Excellent questions.

Go re-read the posts and re-read what the school catalog lists.

They have a trade degree, not a traditional CS degree. They are not particularly well regarded relative to traditional CS schools.

Game design is not an entry level career option. Designers typically have five or more years experience in other disciplines. Don't assume that getting a degree from a "game design" program will bypass that requirement, it will not. The most reliable entry paths are programming, art, and animation.

Level design, on very rare occasion, will be assigned out to someone with an interest with a little less industry experience. That is not a reliable entry path into the field, perhaps only a handful of individuals follow it each year. There are usually a few hundred globally who enter the field through programming, animation, and art every year. Many of those who graduate from a game school will never work in the game industry.

Also a few of you mentioned Masters degrees. One boon of going to CIA for free would be I'd be able to potentially go right into a master's degree (since I'll have no debt). However, do you think places like Carnegie Mellon or University of Southern California would accept a graduate student with a fine arts game design degree (from CIA)? Or would I need a better coding background to get into those schools (if I couldn't get in with digipen either I suppose I'd simply have to say goodbye to going for a master's degree).

Simply: no.

There is a lot of competition for CMU and USC graduate computer science programs. Even if you did very well in your GRE scores it would likely be a struggle to convince the school that either the CIA art degree is equivalent to a CS degree, or that a game school's trade degree is equivalent to a traditional CS degree. Because they are not.

One last thing. Do any of you have an opinion on the value of working in the industry before trying to be an indie? With your feedback I'm leaning toward CIA, but debating if I should try to get an industry job just to get more experience before jumping into trying to be indie.

The term "indie" means a lot of different things to different people.

It is extremely improbable that you, as a developer working by yourself, will be able to release your own games sufficient to maintain a high quality of life in the US. It happens on occasion, but the odds are probably better at Vegas.

If you mean "indie" as a group of like-minded individuals forming a company and developing products, that is several orders of magnitude more likely to succeed. In this route several of those individuals should have experience in the industry, but not all of them need it. Even so, I've seen and read that only about 10% of these survive to the long term.

If you mean "indie" as in you and some friends have real day jobs and have a hobby in the evening of making a game, then if you keep your expectations realistic it can be quite likely to reach a moderately good state. It probably won't be a commercially viable product, but could be fun for you and your friends to show off online.

As you asked again for recommendations, I'll repeat mine more simply: It is probably best to go to a traditional four-year CS program that you can afford if your intentions are to program video games in the US.

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One major draw back of the school is that you don't declare your major until your second year which means I wouldn't be getting much gaming education my first year


That's not a drawback. That's a plus (assuming that the first year's courses are transferable general ed courses that would be required by a 4-year school if you try to transfer to one later). Edited by Tom Sloper

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One last thing. Do any of you have an opinion on the value of working in the industry before trying to be an indie?

 

 

I agree with all of what frob said in response to this. I'll offer this advice though: if you are planning to be the kind of "indie" that strikes out on your own (or mostly on your own), without a regular day job to support you, then you will almost certainly want to consider the financial ramifications thereof. Not having a steady income *and* being in debt with school loans will make that more of a struggle.

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A lot of you seem to be under the impression that I want to become a programmer. So let me state it clearly: I'd sooner shoot my foot off than go get a traditional Computer Science degree. I like coding as a sort of side-thing that I do in order to reach the final product of my games, but that is definitely not what I want to with my life, or even spend four years of my life doing. I'm an artist at heart, and if you guys seem to agree that game designers can't get in on an entry level, then I'd probably try to get into the industry as an artist or animator. In which case perhaps Cleveland is the better option. 

 

Also, I think it's worth noting that I am a senior and application season is long gone. Therefore my only two options are the two schools I applied and am accepted to: Cleveland Institute of Art, where I have a full scholarship, and Digipen where I have 10k (making tuition 17k). A traditional degree isn't even an option for me, not that I'd want one. I'm accepted to the Bachelor of Arts in Game Design at Digipen and the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Game Design at Cleveland

 

I think it's worth noting I also applied to USC's game design program. However, the tuition there is friggin' 45k a year. I might get scholarships (though i've heard that's unlikely at USC) but if I don't, do any of you think the quality of education there is good enough to justify the cost??

 

Also, I went to visit Digipen and most of the students we talked to that were seniors already had industry jobs lined up at places like Microsoft and Nintendo, so what do you mean by Digipen grads being less hire-able?? Even if I was entering these companies as a coder, it would be worth it to eventually be a designer at Nintendo O.o

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1. A lot of you seem to be under the impression that I want to become a programmer.
2. I'm an artist at heart, ... then I'd probably try to get into the industry as an artist or animator. In which case perhaps Cleveland is the better option.
3. and if you guys seem to agree that game designers can't get in on an entry level,
4. my only two options are the two schools I applied and am accepted to: Cleveland Institute of Art, where I have a full scholarship, and Digipen where I have 10k (making tuition 17k).
5. I think it's worth noting I also applied to USC's game design program. However, the tuition there is friggin' 45k a year.... do any of you think the quality of education there is good enough to justify the cost??


1. Yeah, you'll find that most of the active members here are programmers and assume everybody who comes here want to be programmers. I keep tryin' to tell'em but they don't listen to me. tongue.png
2. I split up your words for the purpose of replying to what you said. Since you are an artist at heart, you should absolutely pursue art, and stop listening to people who tell you you have to be a programmer. That said, you should learn about the use of computers.
3. Somebody on another forum chided me for saying that. He pointed out that there ARE entry-level design positions. I acknowledge that entry-level junior design positions DO indeed exist. But you have to be godawful lucky to find one and get it! Clint Eastwood famously said, "are you feeling lucky, punk?" In this life, we make our own luck. Pursuing your passions persistently and tenaciously for a painfully long time can get you where you want to go (or a place you'll like). You're an artist at heart. Go for art. You have other outcomes you also desire. Pursue them. Follow your passions.
4. I don't know if you expressed it that clearly and strenuously before (it does sound kind of familiar). You have a decision to make. YOU have to make it. Make a decision grid, and decide between those two schools. You've gotten a bit more information now, probably not enough, but you'll never get enough, and you have to decide soon.
http://www.sloperama.com/advice/lesson25.htm
http://www.sloperama.com/advice/m70.htm
5. I teach at USC. I never would have been able to afford to go there when I was your age. If your daddy's rich and is willing, fine. If not, stay with your "only two options," as you called them. That kind of debt (even with the scholarship you MIGHT get) isn't for everyone.

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Avoid debt if you can possibly help it.

 

College debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy -- if you were disabled they would garnish your social security to pay back your college loans.

 

Debt denies opportunities. You have payments that must be made, and that limits your ability to pursue lower paying options with long term payout, or to get access to credit that you might need for future purposes.

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