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Why you don’t have to go to art and design school in Singapore if you’re broke and why I did

As a recent graduate, I looked back at the four years I’ve spent in NTU. I do not regret receiving the education I had from my professors and peers. Nevertheless, I will be lying if at some parts of my four years I don’t admit that I was bored, uninspired, and unchallenged. Whether that’s on me or the curriculum, is an entirely different discussion. The conclusion will probably be a mixture of both. (It was me, it was me all along.)

The main point of this piece is reflection: is being $40,000 in school debt worth it? Because without the help of CPF, I want to inform any aspiring art school student, that that is where some of you will end up. It’s a truth any 19-24 year-old thinking of going into a local programme should consider.

Not to mention, if you are a foreign student you will have to pay more to receive the same education. So, if you’re straight out of polytechnic or junior college and you’re thinking about your future, it is good to consider this aspect of reality which comes with pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. The first question is “who will fork out this money for you?” Secondly, “how will you be able to pay it back?”

With the internet, the world of learning has opened up. Sure, nothing beats learning a trade with a mentor guiding you but in recent years, information regarding woodworking, graphic design, UI and UX, and even how to handle money as a freelancer has become readily available.

I believe that there should be more transparency with future art and design students. You will be sold by the facilities and modules offered. Take heed. Please do not be fooled that by going into design school you are drinking the Kool-Aid and earning some sacred, secret knowledge that only a few will ever possess. 

Most of us learned our skills through the aid of YouTube, library books, and interacting with like-minded individuals. These are already three things you can learn from without having to enter design school. It might be best to invest that tuition fee in software and equipment.

So, if you’re still saving up so that you can apply or you don’t think it’s right for you but still want to find out more about the industry, here are a few things you can start with: (Take note, you do not have to do everything in this list if it’s not feasible for you.)

1.YouTube and Google will be your best friend

Art school: Google

When it comes to technical skills, you are going to have to learn it yourself. You know who used to teach us software shortcuts and design hacks in school? The seniors and the internet. For photoshop, there’s Phlearn. Learning Sketch basics? Udemy. Motion graphics? Differing YouTube channels, depending on your desired style.  

2.The Orchard Library 

There are so many informational books about typography, branding, colour theory, logo design, and design process and thinking at the Orchard library. Some of these books are similar to what I’ve found in design bookshops and libraries at Imperial and Royal College of the Art in London.

If you want to learn about design thinking, you can download the free library app Overdrive and read during your commute.

3.Go to Museums and Art Events Now

Art school: Museums

There are exciting art events and exhibitions happening in Singapore throughout the year. Take some time to find out where exhibitions are usually held. For starters, you can search online to see if a genre you like is usually showcased at a local museum. If you’re undecided, we have some listed places you can check out here

4.Create a Passion Project

If you’re interested in film and have a camera lying around, start shooting. It doesn’t need to be good yet. It doesn’t need to be long. You just have to start somewhere. You can experiment with techniques. Over time, you will get better. You can check out other filmmakers and editors on Vimeo.

Is illustration or animation more your style? You can start your own 100 day challenge: https://uxdesign.cc/100-days-of-motion-design-463526af852f

The sky’s the limit.

5.Find your tribe or mentors online

Instagram, Facebook, Dribbble, and even Behance now allows you to reach out to other designers and artists. You don’t have to be a stalker. That’s one way to get on a blacklist. But! Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or compliment someone on their great work.

One of my friends used Linkedin to reach out to designers she admired. They have become her “mentors” in a sense. They were nice enough to impart knowledge to her. And most people in the industry will be happy to talk to you about their projects as well. It might just open up areas of collaboration and learning.

6.Learn about handling money and knowing your worth as an artist or designer.

Art school: Client work

One of the hardest things to do is to quote design projects. It is important to know what you’re worth down to the hour. There are great podcasts and videos that break down what you need to calculate so that your career as a creative is sustainable and long-lasting.

Need a guideline? Try watching this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKXZ7t_RiOE

7.Learn about client management

Having a great EQ is part of being a fantastic creative. If you’re dealing with clients, you’re going to have to be a great listener and conflict manager. I have to admit, this is one of my main weaknesses since I like to run my mouth. You’re going to have to be patient, understanding and have the ability to negotiate.

You can start with your client management journey here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEvVoXZzkKU

8.You can learn a whole lot more from an internship

If you need to make money and learn at the same time, an internship can be your first step into the industry. There are a lot of companies looking to hire interns. Even a month in a good company can open your eyes to the niches and career possibilities in the creative field.


So why did I go to art/design school? The gist of it is that my parents wanted me to go. It’s great that I didn’t regret the experience, had fun along the way, and met amazing people I now consider my close friends. But if external pressure is the only reason for you to pursue your university education, even if it is aligned with your passion, you might want to reconsider. There are alternatives to getting an education. It might take you being a bit more inquisitive and self-motivated than the average university student but ultimately that drive will give you an edge. 

Hint: Employers don’t care much about your grades. They care about your portfolio.

In the end, what I would like to impart is that the most important thing about being a great designer or artist is not necessarily a formal education. Anybody can be taught design or art theory. However, it is harder to teach drive, empathy and being a decent human being. Possessing those qualities can push you to create thought-evoking, fresh ideas that can serve you and your career well.

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