Which university is best for a degree in video game design?

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In this episode of Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, I answer a question from Andrew, who asks “Hello, I’m in 8th grade and I was wondering if USC was a good school to go to for video game design. I have heard good things about it.”

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why “the best” school may not be the best for you
  • The 4 key questions to ask yourself about each school you consider
  • A little-known way to find out how successful a school’s students really are

If you have a question you'd like to get answered on the podcast, leave a comment below or ask me anything here.

Find game schools near you

Hello, and welcome to the Game Industry Career Guide podcast. This is episode number 33. I’m Jason W. Bay from gameindustrycarreerguide.com, and this is the podcast where I answer your questions about getting a job and growing your career making video games.

This week’s question is from Andrew, who left a comment to ask this: “Hello. I’m in eighth grade, and was I wondering if USC was a good school to go to for video game design. I have heard good things about it.”

Good game design schools

On the surface this question has a short answer: Yes, the University of Southern California in LA is considered to be a good school for game design. In fact, it’s often ranked as the best game design school in the US.

But when you’re choosing a college or a university to attend, there are a lot of things you should think about, not just how the school is ranked for a particular subject area. Because even though USC has a good game design program, that doesn’t mean that it, or any other school, is right for everybody, and not necessarily right for you.

Choosing a school

Choosing a university is a big decision, and it will affect the next several years of your life in a big way. So you should evaluate several schools in detail and try to make the best decision for you based on at least four different criteria that I’m going to talk about today.

You need to look at each school on your list and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Will this school teach me what I need to learn?
  2. Can I afford to attend this school?
  3. Will I like the school’s culture and environment?
  4. And, have people graduating from this school gone on to have successful careers?

Alright, let’s talk about why each one of these questions are important, and how you can do the research to answer them for yourself.

Learning the skills you need

The first question to ask yourself about this school that you’re considering is, “Will this school teach me what I need to learn?” At a high level, this is an easy question. If you want to learn game programming, you can just check to make sure the school has a degree program in programming, or in game programming. Or if you want to learn art, you can make sure the school has an art program. That’s the easy part — every school has details about each of their degree programs online, so you just need to read through the details and make sure the things that they teach match the things that you want to learn.

If you aren’t sure about what exact things you’ll need to learn to get a specific job in games, here’s a trick: You can search the internet for job postings from video game companies that are currently hiring for the job that you want to do. If you want to be a character modeler, you search for job posting about character modeler jobs. Each job posting will have a list of requirements, and many of those requirements you can learn them in school. So just see if the school you’re evaluating can help you learn those required skills, it’s a good way to get oriented.

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Tuition costs

The next question to ask about a school is, “Can I afford it?” Getting a college or university degree is expensive — really expensive. And racking up a giant heap of student debt that would take you years to pay off, it isn’t exactly a great way to start your life as an adult.

If you can’t afford a big name private school, that’s okay. Consider whether a less expensive local college might also be able to achieve your educational goals in a fraction of the price. I think you might be surprised.

No matter where you’re thinking of attending, be sure to check out any options for financial aid. Almost anybody can get financial help in the form of grants or scholarships, but you have to do a little bit of leg work to find out how to apply. You can search online, or you can call or email the school’s financial aid office for more information. It’s totally, totally worth the effort. You could save yourself thousands of dollars. So be sure to do that.

Is it for you

Another question that often gets overlooked is ask to yourself, “Will I like the culture and environment of this school?” You should find out things like how many students attend the school each year? And find out how big the classes are. Big or small? Is that a fit for your personality? Is that a fit for how you like to learn? That’s important.

You can also find out about the city where the school is located. Is it next to a rural town with lots of outdoor activities like hiking and fishing? Or is it near a big party town with lots of festivals and night life? You’ll be living there for several years, so make sure it’s a place that you’ll actually enjoy living.

You can find out some of that info online, but there’s really no better way to find out about the school’s culture and environment than by actually traveling to the school campus. You can go there during the week, and just stroll around and check things out. You can also sign up for formal tours given by the school, but you could also just go there by yourself and have lunch at the cafeteria, you could catch a few students between their classes and ask them how they like the school and what they like about it. You can find out a lot that way.

Student outcome data

The fourth question that you’d do well to ask yourself about any school that you’re thinking about attending is, “Are their past students successful?” This is a tricky one that people usually overlook. But think about it: if the school is graduating lots of people in their degree program, and those people are going on to have successful careers, then that’s a strong indicator that you too can be successful after attending that school.

On the flip side of that, if they’re not graduating a very high percentage of students, and they’re not going on to good careers, that’s something you’ll want to know about.

One way to get some insight on this is to go onto LinkedIn and search for people who’ve graduated from that school in the degree program that you are evaluating. For example, if you’re thinking about going to USC for game design, you can search LinkedIn for people with the game designer job title, and then filter by the school as University of Southern California. It’s an advanced filter. You’ll see a list of people who graduated from USC, and are now game designers, and you can get a little insight into their job history by just looking through their profile to see what they’ve been up to since they graduated.

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A more data-driven way to evaluate a school is by looking at the school’s “outcomes and disclosures” information. And this is really great data. The Federal government requires schools to keep track of how well their students do after they graduate, and they’re required to post that on their website for you to find out. You can learn things like, how many students were in each program? How much did they spend on tuition? How many got financial aid? How many completed the program? And how many were placed in jobs or internships after they graduated? You can also get the sense of how many dropped out. How many people didn’t make it through the program.

All of that information is available online. You can see it’s super information to have. Sometimes it is hard to find that on the school’s website, because they kind of bury it sometimes, but you can usually find it by going to Google and typing in the name of the school plus the words “outcomes and disclosure”. If you still can’t find it, you can just email the school or call them and they’ll send it to you.

This is your future

Okay, those are four super important questions to research about any college or university that you’re thinking about attending. If you think all that research sounds boring or hard, just remember that you’re about to make a decision that will cost you or your family thousands of dollars, and it will impact the next several years of your life. Isn’t that worth a few hours of research? Yeah, of course it is. You’ll be glad that you did it. So definitely do it.

Thanks to Andrew for this week’s question and thank you for spending some time with me today to learn how to better prepare for your future. Please help me spread the word about this podcast by telling your friends about it, and by sharing it on social media. And if you have a question of your own, stop by the website, leave a comment, or send me an email and I will answer it on a future episode. For more information and inspiration about getting a job and growing your career making video games, visit me at gameindustrycareerguide.com. I’m Jason W. Bay, I will see you again next week right here on the Game Industry Career Guide podcast.

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