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How Important is an Honours Degree in Games/Audio Industries?

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 I know there are a good few game audio legends on this forum - it's the pros that I'd really like to hear from today.  Also would love to hear from those of you who are self-employed in the game or audio industries.  



I completed my bachelors degree and am now half way through my honours year, but I feel like I want to drop out.  I've been absolutely killing myself over this decision for months. What I hope to gain from your responses is some idea of the difference between an unclassified bachelors degree and an honours degree in both the games and audio industries.  I'm more interested in being self-employed presently, but the decision to complete the degree would be based on the doors that it will open for me in terms of employment.

Just to give a little background on my thoughts, I think that I could achieve more in terms of knowledge, skills, and portfolio content through developing my own personal projects than I could through completing my honours degree (and honours project).  I feel highly motivated to get started on my own projects right away whereas my university work makes me feel quite demotivated in contrast.  My own projects would include building a website for my work, creating a music/sfx pack for game audio (to be sold through Unreal and Unity stores), at least one DAW plugin (to be developed for Reason but possibly in other formats), and indie games (longer term projects).  For the purposes of this conversation, please assume that my personal project work will be to a high standard!  My thoughts are that in undertaking these personal projects successfully that I would have a pretty good portfolio that would make up for my lack of honours classification.  99% of people I've asked advise me to finish the degree to be on the safe side, but I've never felt that any of these people really knew my industries or the demand for practical skills, showreels and creative passion.  Subsequently I doubt myself because 99% people are telling me something I don't agree with; it's hard to tell whether I'm being blind to a bigger picture or not...  Still, it seems the most popular argument I'm given in favour of finishing the degree is that "I'm nearly there - it's only another 4 months", but to that I say it's an entire thesis that will take up all my time and energy for the next 4 months; it won't benefit me to do the thesis anymore than being able to say "Hey employers, I have an honours degree!" will.  

So if you were an employer, would you want to see my name next to an honours degree, or next to real products, or both?  Am I going to mess up my life by dropping out?  
 

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I feel highly motivated to get started on my own projects right away whereas my university work makes me feel quite demotivated in contrast.  ...
99% of people I've asked advise me to finish the degree to be on the safe side, but I've never felt that any of these people really knew my industries or the demand for practical skills, showreels and creative passion.  ...
it seems the most popular argument I'm given in favour of finishing the degree is that "I'm nearly there - it's only another 4 months", but to that I say it's an entire thesis that will take up all my time and energy for the next 4 months; it won't benefit me to do the thesis anymore than being able to say "Hey employers, I have an honours degree!" will.  ...
Am I going to mess up my life by dropping out?


The purpose of your post is to figure out whether you should finish the degree you're THIS CLOSE to finishing. YOU SHOULD FINISH THE DEGREE.
Moving this to the Game Industry Job Advice forum. You should read the job advice FAQs. http://www.gamedev.net/page/reference/faq.php/_/breaking-into-the-industry-r16 Edited by Tom Sloper

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The purpose of your post is to figure out whether you should finish the degree you're THIS CLOSE to finishing. YOU SHOULD FINISH THE DEGREE.


Aha, so you agree with the 99%?  

To answer you, that's sort-of correct.  The purpose of this post is to find out if, and precisely how it matters if I don't have an honours degree in these industries.  As I say, I may be 4 months from completion, but I still have essentially ALL the work to do.   All I've completed of this year is a video production module and an advanced game audio module.  I'm proposing that if I drop out I could spend my time doing more meaningful work and in 4 months time I would be more capable in these industries than if I'd completed the degree.   

  I want to drop out, but I can barely find a soul who doesn't automatically advise that I finish it.  Many of my fellow students really want degrees and that's why they went to university, but my attitude has always been very different.  I only ever cared about learning what I needed to learn to be able to bring my ideas to life.  I admired this attitude in myself for the most part, but that admiration has never been reciprocated by anyone else and now my faith in it is being tested pretty hard. 

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It's easy to spend 4 months working on personal projects that you enjoy doing. And odds are, in the course of your life, finding the free time to develop your skills won't be difficult either. It is hard to face that thesis and get your degree. Show future employers that you can do something hard and see it to completion.

Also, employers intend on paying you for the work they want you to do not the work that you want to do. What conclusions will they draw reading your resume, before you have any chance to explain, when it shows you didn't finish your degree?

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The only down side to finishing the degree is 4 months of your time; in the long term that's absolutly nothing. The audio industry has changed a lot in recent years. What used to take a million dollar investment can now be accomplished with a fraction of the cost. Couple that with the fact that musical talent isn't exactly rare and the technical aspect has become greatly simplified. All of these factors have led to an oversaturated market that can be very daunting to enter. Whenever I hire someone I have to see something that separates them from the masses. That is either going to come in the form of a degree or previous work experience, a demo doesn't cut it anymore. To get work experience without a degree you're going to have to spend a lot of time on unknown projects hoping that one of them will pan out into something impressive. That will take you a lot longer than the 4 months it will take to finish that degree. Finish the degree, there's no real downside.

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As others have said, four months is nothing in the grand scheme of life. Sometimes a single job hunt will take more time than that. You're in a marathon and the finish line is visible, are you seriously going to throw in the towel at that point? Seems a waste, and if employers learn of it, it will make you look like a quitter.


Absolutely! Well said.

It is about viewpoints. When you are a child you think like a child, interpret the world as a child, and struggle to interpret the world differently.


And this, too. Thumbs way up. Edited by Tom Sloper

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@frob

I appreciate the lengthy response.  It was balanced and helpful.  

There are some important circumstances in my situation as it happens.  I've been quite depressed being at uni for a long time now, and this decision to potentially drop out is anything but impulsive on my part. In fact the only reason I didn't drop out earlier is because I was determined to finish the modules I had already started.  This was partly due to an obligation I felt committed to in a team project.  My plan was to complete those modules and to decide my course of action over the holiday period.  A very strong factor in this for me is stress relief - it actually feels like I burned out a year ago and have being doing damage ever since.  

I'm not sure what the sense of spirituality and/or gut-feelings is like around here, but I've felt a sort of calling to go and do my own thing as it were.  I have a choice now to either commit all my energy to making myself /look/ good by getting a degree, or /getting/ good by doing more relevant self-study and seeing through my own set of goals.  

It's hard to know what to say to your analogy of thinking like a child, teenager etc.  I'm not sure the way I think falls into any of those categories.  For one thing, I think of time as precious and the coming 4 months aren't so insignificant to me.  I want to do something meaningful in the time it wouldve taken to finish the degree.  I think I'm about to do more work than I've ever done and give something my all, and I don't want that something to be for purely superficial reasons e.g so I don't look like a quitter.  If an employer doesn't look further beneath the surface to see a candidates true abilities, that candidate would probably only have existed as a number in a corporate environment.  I'm a bit too free-spirited for that sort of thing anyway, so I suppose I'd be better off.  It seems there will always be a trade off between my attitude to life and being successful in life, but you've got to do what makes you happy, right?  Call it child-like or even idealistic if you will though...












 

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There are some important circumstances in my situation as it happens.  I've been quite depressed being at uni for a long time now, and this decision to potentially drop out is anything but impulsive on my part. In fact the only reason I didn't drop out earlier is because I was determined to finish the modules I had already started.  This was partly due to an obligation I felt committed to in a team project.  My plan was to complete those modules and to decide my course of action over the holiday period.  A very strong factor in this for me is stress relief - it actually feels like I burned out a year ago and have being doing damage ever since.


If you need to seek professional help with your depression, you absolutely should. Depression is a serious problem for a lot of students, and most schools offer free counseling.

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If you need to seek professional help with your depression, you absolutely should. Depression is a serious problem for a lot of students, and most schools offer free counseling.


 

Seconded. Childish may have been going a bit too far, but as you get older you do get perspective, and you'll realize that 4 months is a very short period of time in the grand scheme of things. Talk to a mental health professional, get some help, and finish your degree.

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Thanks.  Not that I want to get into too much detail but I do see a psychologist already. I've also made use of the university services.  Sadly in the long run, university support services are not helpful enough, but the therapy does help give me some perspective.  Through therapy (and a considerable amount of overthinking) I've learned that, even if my personality is a strong factor, uni makes me unhappy because it feels like I'm jumping through hoops and wasting time.  Last year didn't feel like that - I was really learning a lot - but this year I honestly feel like the work I'm doing is a waste of time and energy.  The only reason I chose to do honours year at all was because I thought I'd have a full academic year to develop my own project (I had an incredibly over-scope idea).  It turns out the requirements for the honours project are more strict than I realized, and in fact my project has needed to be twisted into something more academically friendly.  For me to complete that project now feels like I'd be bluffing the whole thing just to 'pass' instead of doing something meaningful.  It feels too much like playing the game to me, and that's one of my psychological triggers that make me so intensely against staying.  I can't play this game when I honestly know that's all it is; it won't make me a better audio professional - it will only make me look like a better audio professional, and so it feels like a waste of myself to go through it just because I'm afraid that I /need/ the honours classification.  I have to doing something genuinely beneficial to be happy.

I do slightly resent that the world tends to work in these sorts of game-like ways and that most people would respond to this by telling me to suck it up and get on with it;  my attitude is 'be the change you want to see'.  I would like to be an example of someone that did what they thought was right, and I don't think it's right that the education system can be more about labeling over learning.   I don't think the university is 100% a place of truth either, and that bothers me; I've raised issues about their testing systems and made other significant complaints, but the university pussyfoots around the issues and avoids liability wherever possible.  If you want to appeal about unfair assessment, 'hoop jumping'is an understatement...

The real world alternative is to this is to stop wasting time now and begin real projects.  Projects that help me learn what I need to learn, and projects I can I still would have access to all my learning resources which I planned to use, so I'll come out the other end of this as good as any other honours student in my field if I do leave.  That is a guarantee because I'm not trying to escape intense workloads right now - I'm just trying to make sure what I spend time doing is /really/ worthwhile.  Now in the real world I will be uninhibited and unconstrained in my work, and I will not be depressed.  I will not feel like I'm wasting my time trying to look like a good student; I will actually be being a better student.  

If you guys really think that it's better to have the degree than to become better at what you do and more knowledgeable I'll take all this advice carefully under advisement.  But please tell me why if you think that way?   To me it doesn't seem right, and I just don't understand how people can be so content to play the game to the detriment of their real potential.  Also I haven't noticed anyone specifically tell me what's wrong with my current degree in comparison with an honours degree?  It sounds from what you guys are saying that even if my C.V portfolio work was outstanding and also with the bachelor degree with merit that I have that my C.V would still end up in the bin most of the time.  If so, why is that?  Why would employers not be able to see that C.V in a positive light just because there is no honours classification (which I remind you in my case would amount to an illusion that I am a better student than without it, and would serve only as proof that I'm an A-grade hoop-jumper - it will NOT make me better and is therefore not something I can even be all that proud of.)

 I appreciate that all of you have advised that I finish the degree, but the only way I can bring myself to act on that advice is if I can justify it to myself, and the only way I can justify it to myself is if you can honestly tell me that you believe it's better to look good than to be good OR if you can honestly tell me that outstanding portfolio work and a bachelors degree count for nothing compared with an honours degree.  It must count for something because it (or possibly my demo or friendly demeanor) got me an interview with Lionhead last year.  In fact now that I think about it, I hadn't even finished my bachelor degree before I did that interview.  Funnily enough at the time I was posting here at the time asking if it was worthwhile to take the job and drop out of uni.  I might go back to that thread for inspiration...
 

Edited by Olliepm

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Not to sound harsh but the job world is all about jumping through hoops.  The better you get at jumping through them the better off you'll be in the long run.

 

Lots of people get jobs without degrees.  Lots more people get jobs with degrees.  It really is just a choice you are going to have to make.  One thing to think about is how useful the degree would be for getting a job outside the industry.  Music isn't something like programming where there is always a constant need for a musician on the payroll.  AAA games need several years to complete and smaller studios/mobile games might just buy premade royalty free music.  You may have to pick up side jobs to supplement your main job.  For the record, I'd say finish the degree as a fail safe for the future.

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Thanks.  Funny you should say but I've gotten really into programming and this is of the main reasons I want to self study - programming is more relevant to the skill set I need to be successful.  When I said I had several personal projects in mind including an SFX/music pack, I may have understated that the music/SFX design is just to get the ball rolling as a sole trader.  I'm primarily interested in developing audio software and indie games which have powerful or interesting audio/music engines.  I think I can potentially be innovative in that regard, at least in a creative sense.  In a perfect world I would be successfully self-employed as an audio software programmer so the idea of me jumping through hoops in the job world is a last resort anyway.  I definitely don't rely on my self finding success through audio/music alone; I'm trying to get hands on with every aspect of game dev because I find it gives a creative advantage when designing audio related game mechanics.  The dream for me would be to make my own games.  I've made a small game in Unity by myself so I have a fair idea of what's involved.  The only problem with games are that they can be enormous projects and may not be financially viable for me to undertake until later stages in life, but programming audio plugins on the other hand is something I think I can hit the ground running with.  I wouldn't go looking for a job in these industries until I'd failed at being self-employed i.e completed and marketed projects from assets packs to plugins and games with little to no financial gain.  I do already have a side job teaching guitar at a place nearby, and I might get some studio recording work through the same people once I have the free time away from uni to actually do it.  

You're right though - it's just a choice I have to make.  I  didn't want anyone to here make this decision for me.  Really I had made the choice already, but 99% of people are telling me it's the wrong choice and it's causing me to constantly reconsider.  I just wanted the facts about my bachelor degree vs an honours degree on paper so I could justify ignoring the advice of everyone and have confidence in my decision.   As it stands I can either concede and trust everyone else more than I trust myself or vice versa.  It's quite a dilemma.

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Not to attack the idea of quitting...  what is it exactly that you plan on doing in the next four months that will be something you can be confident will carry about the same weight as an honours degree or otherwise would validate the time that you have invested so far?

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What do you mean that you have a bachelors degree and are now completing an Honours degree?

In the US and the UK a bachelors degree is an Honours degree.

 

Your posts sound as though you are from the UK but in the UK there is no such thing as a separate "Honours" degree.

Do you actually mean you have a bachelors and are now doing a masters degree?

 

Or do you mean that you have done enough of your degree to leave with some kind of Diploma if you quit and if you finish it will be a proper degree with honours?


If you are planning to go self employed you do not need a degree.  

 

If you plan on applying for a job then you need pieces of paper.  The reason is that before anybody gets to see your portfolio they check your CV.  The person who checks your CV is most likely somebody in Recruitment or HR.  They will know nothing about Music, Games or Programming.  They will know about only about academic qualifications and job titles.  When it comes to applicants the one one with the best bits of paper and job titles wins the first round and their portfolio is passed on to the actual guy(s) who are hiring the ones with the least bits of paper get binned and nobody will even look at their portfolio.  It is one of the games that you allude to.  Life is full of game and hoops that you have to jump through and the only way not to follow the rules is to live in a commune somewhere.

It sounds like you've really already made your mind up that you want to quit.  This is fair enough but, I don't think you are going to find anybody on here or indeed anywhere that is going to agree with this choice.  4 months is a very short length of time and spending that time finishing your degree which will then open doors for the rest of your life is probably a much better use of it than learning a piece of technology that will be obsolete in a few years time or producing an SFX pack that will earn you a little beer money.

 

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It's hard to know what to say to your analogy of thinking like a child, teenager etc.  I'm not sure the way I think falls into any of those categories.  For one thing, I think of time as precious and the coming 4 months aren't so insignificant to me.  I want to do something meaningful in the time it wouldve taken to finish the degree.  I think I'm about to do more work than I've ever done and give something my all, and I don't want that something to be for purely superficial reasons e.g so I don't look like a quitter.  If an employer doesn't look further beneath the surface to see a candidates true abilities, that candidate would probably only have existed as a number in a corporate environment.  I'm a bit too free-spirited for that sort of thing anyway, so I suppose I'd be better off.  It seems there will always be a trade off between my attitude to life and being successful in life, but you've got to do what makes you happy, right?  Call it child-like or even idealistic if you will though...

It's a fun and optimistic way to look at the experience we call life, and I don't wish to denigrate your free-spirited attitude. But as an employer, I would politely show you the door. Game development is NOT the place for this. Industry projects are long term, challenging, and usually quite tedious work. Hard working employees are more valuable than those with "true abilities" - and frankly there's a healthy supply of people with both.

Edited by Promit

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?

 


What do you mean that you have a bachelors degree and are now completing an Honours degree?

In the US and the UK a bachelors degree is an Honours degree.
 
Your posts sound as though you are from the UK but in the UK there is no such thing as a separate "Honours" degree.


I'm in Scotland.  Here I think we do more work in 3rd year than in other parts of the UK and we can graduate with bachelors degrees after 3 years study or we can do 4 years and graduate with a bachelors degree w/ honours.  I think this is known as an unclassified bachelor degree.  I'm in my 4th year and I quote the following which should indicate what my qualification is worth in some sense here (note the merit part is because of high grades across all my modules):   "BSC/BSC (Hons) Audio Technology with Multimedia

                                            The Assessment Board for the programme named above has considered your module results and has made the following decision:

Proceed: Eligible For Degree With Merit"

 

 


Not to attack the idea of quitting...  what is it exactly that you plan on doing in the next four months that will be something you can be confident will carry about the same weight as an honours degree or otherwise would validate the time that you have invested so far?


 Well this would first require me to talk a little about my honours project.  The project I wanted to do was basically going to be a stand alone piece of software that could analyze MIDI files and manipulate them.  The reason I wanted to do this project was partially so that I'd be able to learn C++ whilst at uni (I've done that), and partially because I have a bit of a fascination with the specifics of the idea.  What actually has transpired in uni this year though has made me feel like I'm being held back in my productivity.  The honours project is a research project and I'm mostly having to refer to other people's work to 'inform' my own work, and it seems criteria is more about how well you can make an argument than how innovative your practical work is.  Now, I'm not trying to argue about the usefulness of research projects in education - I am simply saying that I feel like the honours project I would actually have to create over the next 4 months will be a pile of BS that I made up in order to meet the criteria.  This feels like a genuine waste of my energy - I just can't 'play the game' if it means suffocating my passions and churning out an entire thesis made entirely to look good and pass rather than be meaningful.  I already have done a considerable amount of coding for my honours project because I know how - I have a vision for that.  If I want to pass the module though, I'll have to write A LOT about how I read academic literature and how that /informed/ my practical work (when really it never did - it would be a lie).  Ultimately, I'm not so keen on doing pointless work for the sake of a bit of paper, I'm not so keen on sharing all my best ideas with the university especially when it forces me to constrain them, and I'm not so keen on holding myself back from learning what I need to learn in order to execute those ideas.  

So to answer your question, what I'm proposing when I say I will do something in the same time it would take to graduate with honours is that I start my own projects/my own business, and I give myself targets for the honours deadline (even though that deadline doesn't effect me if I drop out - it's just a method of self-discipline).  I give these targets 110% and by the time I hit that deadline I will have hopefully achieved something REAL.  I will hopefully feel  glad that I dropped out because I will be able to say "I didn't waste my own time and potential jumping through hoops in a one-size-fits-all education system - instead I seized an opportunity to motivate myself into doing the best thing I could possibly do with myself in that time".    What specifically will I do?  Well, I promise it will be the best use of my time and energy that I can come up with, but nothing is set in stone.  I thought I might make one of my plugin ideas for Reason first.  Also I need to build my website ASAP. I suppose by deadline I would like to have completed a plugin or perhaps a game prototype featuring some audio mechanics I've envisioned.  It was a long term plan of mine to build a prototype and seek funding from there.  It's not so important exactly what I do though - I just know I'll be extremely productive in whatever I do.

University is a hugely negative thing in my life for a lot of reasons now and I'm fed up of feeling so isolated in my views about the education system.  Like I said before, my fellow students seem to be at university because they DO want degrees.  They don't always care so much about what they learn if they can pass with ease.  They want degrees for the prestige and because of the employment advantage.  Me though - I'm fascinated by how things work and what you can create with them.  I'm 100% dedicated to /understanding/ things and /knowing/ things.  I have always said to my peers that it doesn't matter if you fail the degree - it matters what you learn.  It's like Portal for e.g. (hope you've played it!) - Glados didn't approve of anything the player did - all that matters is the player's problem solving ability and the player can escape regardless of the authority figure's control or influence.  I've always believed in the same sense that knowing and understanding will someday bring me success, and that it is more important to remember that than to get side-tracked into playing someone else's game.  University hasn't always been that way for me- last year was very beneficial to me - but this year it is holding me back.  I wanted to think that an employer would admire that attitude, but I suppose the truth is that I simply feel they ought to regardless of the true reality.

 


It's a fun and optimistic way to look at the experience we call life, and I don't wish to denigrate your free-spirited attitude. But as an employer, I would politely show you the door. Game development is NOT the place for this.

You couldn't if you tried =]  I think I just made up my mind.  
 

Edited by Olliepm

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Working in games is a job.  When you have a hundred million dollar budget it isn't play around all day in the lunch room discussing your favorite anime character.  It's a fun job and there is definitely more screwing off going on then in a regular corporate setting.  But like any job you are going to be asked to do a great number of things you don't like.  You either slug through it to get to the fun part or you get your walking papers.  One good thing about college is about half the classes you take you have no interest in but have to do get your degree.  It sucks, but it is good job training.  The other good thing about college is you can always go back.  After a couple of years working you'll wish you could go back to the easy days of college.

 

If you get a job at a game studio and you think your first day is going to be something like them giving you a big room for six months and them saying "give us a masterpiece" and them promptly ignoring you.  You're going to have a bad first day.

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If you get a job at a game studio and you think your first day is going to be something like them giving you a big room for six months and them saying "give us a masterpiece" and them promptly ignoring you.  You're going to have a bad first day.



Of course I don't think that!  In fact I may have come across wrong because I never said I didn't "like" uni work.  I don't, but hear me out...  

The difference between my university work that I do not want to do and any work I might do for a job that I "don't like" is that the job work actually has a purpose and a benefit.  When you work at a game studio, you are part of a team right?  Everyone in the team does what needs to be done because they all care about the fundamental product involved.  If I get asked to rename 1000 files to a new naming convention as part of a job at a game studio for e.g. I'd be perfectly content to do so.  It's not a very fulfilling task, but if needs to be done for the game to work, it needs to be done; it's probably because of a technical issue that makes some logical sense and I can't fault the situation on that.   Jumping through hoops at university on the other hand is just to prove that you can jump through hoops.  That doesn't really have a point to me, and that's the source of my de-motivation.    Anyway, I assure you that I hold no illusions as to what working in a game studio is actually like, perhaps other than how truly horrific crunch time at the end of a product cycle can be.  I've dealt with crunch time before, but I imagine I have never dealt the level of pressure that a studio requires its employees to work under.  Nevertheless I do /expect/ high pressure situations and am quite self-aware with regards to my abilities, strengths, weaknesses etc and I still think I'd have what it takes to do that sort of job well.  I also expect to have to learn a lot of new things very quickly if and when I did get work at a games studio because the development can't 'wait' for me to be trained up by them; the quicker I learn, the more of an asset I am.    Thankfully I love the nature of the work in general and will always do my best to find enjoyment in these things.  Conversely as I say, I see uni work as a monumentally enormous pile of pointlessness - it's different.  

I've decided to attempt to suspend my studies leaving me the option to return in a year.  This way I can spend a year on my own work and see how well I do with it, and by next year I'll know whether to complete the honours year.  I do hope at the very least I've made it clear that I'm not a quitter just because I'm choosing not to finish.  

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I've decided to attempt to suspend my studies leaving me the option to return in a year.  This way I can spend a year on my own work and see how well I do with it, and by next year I'll know whether to complete the honours year.  I do hope at the very least I've made it clear that I'm not a quitter just because I'm choosing not to finish.  

I did something similar, worked for a pro studio for a year before finishing up my undergraduate degree. Did me a world of good both in terms of mental health and in overall life outlook. I do recommend getting out into the real world and getting a job though, not spending a year exclusively on your own work. That is not a productive thing to do. Your best experience and learning will come from interaction as part of a team focused on creating a real world product.

Edited by Promit

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Cool, thanks for the advice!  My mental health has already improved just knowing I don't having something to worry about anymore.  

If I got any full time work just now, I probably wouldnt have much time to focus on self-learning.  Doing my own projects includes learning about the full graphics side of game dev, as well as learning as much as I can to improve my coding.  Getting work experience would be great, but I'm sure any job I would be offered anytime soon wouldn't be too strong on graphics or programming in terms of day to day work.  Those are topics I really need to get up to speed just now.   I am doing a game jam in two weeks though - intend to network and possibly find projects to be involved in with teams, so hopefully my plan won't be too unproductive.  

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A recent survey done by GameSoundCon asked about education levels for people currently working in game audio.

Short answer is that >70% of respondents said they had Bachelors Degree or higher.

 

http://www.gamesoundcon.com/#!survey/c1hp9

 

I'm doing a followup that tries to show income correlated with education level.

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