Is An Online Degree In Web Design Right For You?

Not many would question that there’s a lot to learn if you want to be a web designer. From the traditions of graphic design to the ever changing technology of developing a web page, there’s a lot to learn. What’s the best way to get that education?

Should you seek a 4 year degree from a university or college? Should you buy books about design and development or learn from online tutorials? How about something in between? Where do online degree programs fit in?

The following is a guest post from Amanda Tradwick that looks at two popular places to get online degrees. I’ll add some thoughts of my own at the end.

Desks and chairs in an empty classroom

ITT and DeVry: A Comparison of Web Design Programs

If you are interested in completing your formal training in Web design, or if you are a professional who is looking to change careers, there are many online schools that can provide the training you need and allow you the flexibility to continue to work or tend to family responsibilities while you study.

Two popular online schools, ITT Technical Institute and DeVry University, offer programs in Web design. If you are considering pursuing your degree with either of these well-known colleges, here is more information about how the two programs compare so you can determine which is right for you:

ITT Technical Institute logo

Programs Offered

Both schools offer a program in Web design, each with different parameters.

The broader degree offered by DeVry has to be narrowed by adding a specialization in Web Design and Development.

Those who are looking for a specific degree in Web design might find that the specialization option at DeVry is not comprehensive enough. However, the abbreviated associate’s degree program at ITT may not be extensive enough. Your individual professional goals will determine which program is the best option.

DeVry University logo

Program Focus

The degrees offered by each school offer a general education in Web development, though each has a different focus.

The program at ITT teaches students how to design, create, and maintain Web sites. Training includes coding with popular programming languages, use of database technology, and more. The program promises to provide students the training to become Web administrators, applications developers, software developers, and Web site developers.

The program at DeVry is a bit more theoretical in nature. The program teaches students business fundamentals, principles of Web site layout and structure, and standards of design. Practical skills focus on the use of database technology and how to develop and use animations, videos, and images.

Those who are looking to quickly enter the workforce or to change careers would likely benefit more from the program at ITT, which is more focused on teaching practical skills in a shorter period of time.

money wrapped in a rubber band

Investment

The amount of time and financial resources required to complete each program greatly varies.

The bachelor’s degree at DeVry is a typical four-year program. However, the associate’s degree is 30 months — six months longer than the typical two-year program available at ITT.

Both associate’s programs are comparable in price.

  • The program at DeVry costs $37,405
  • The program at ITT costs $40,896

Though the program at ITT is shorter, it includes more credit units than the program at DeVry. The associate’s degree at ITT includes 96 credit hours, and the longer program at DeVry includes 67 credit hours.

This means that the program at ITT includes more classes, but that the classes meet for a shorter duration. If you prefer a more fast-paced, skills-oriented program, then the program at ITT would better suit your needs. In contrast, the program at DeVry is more conceptual in nature, but allows greater time for learning the material.

Determining the program that is right for you will depend on the type of learner you are and the goals that you have for your professional development.

Those who are looking for a more intense, results-oriented program in a shorter time span would benefit more from ITT’s shorter, practical curriculum.

Those who want a more traditional bachelor’s degree and are interested in developing as a manager or project leader would benefit more from DeVry’s program.

Both are fully accredited and offer financial aid. Of course, both also offer the flexibility of online learning, allowing professionals to create their own schedules and to balance study with work and other responsibilities.

Worm eye view looking down a row of chairs toward the blackboard in an empty classroom

General Thoughts from Steve

Back to me. I think education is important, not just for web designers, but for everyone. We’re all different though and we learn in different ways and have different goals for what we’ll do with the things we learn.

I mentioned 3 places to learn from at the start of this post.

  • Physically attending a 4 year college or university
  • Getting an online degree
  • Teaching yourself though books and online tutorials

All 3 can be great ways to learn. You’ll have to do the last at some point if you want to stay current and continue learning. The question is whether to go either of the first 2 routes.

I’m someone who did go to college. In fact I went to several in earning 2 undergraduate degrees, neither in web design or development, though. As a web designer I’m mainly self taught. The online degree is the one path I didn’t travel.

My guess is many of you reading are either self taught or starting on the self teaching journey. Ultimately I think your success as a web designer will come from the understanding and skills you acquire and not so much from where you acquire them.

At the same time I wouldn’t brush off a more formal education. Had I not spent the years in college that I did, I don’t think I would be able to teach myself the way I can now. I wouldn’t be as disciplined or organized in how I learn. Picking up tips and techniques from tutorials can be a great thing, but they don’t always show you the big picture and help you integrate what you learn into a whole you make your own.

Both the big picture and the finer details are important for success.

In the end how you learn is up to you as long as you learn. The only mistake you can make is a failure to learn.

Classroom, Village 2, Solio Settlement, C. Kenya

Author Bio

Amanda Tradwick is a grant researcher and writer for CollegeGrants.org. She has a Bachelor’s degrees from the University of
Delaware, and has recently finished research on native
american grants for college
and wyoming
education grants
.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

29 comments

  1. I think any online degree is a joke. Education in itself is a bubble that we all will soon have to deal with. These places aren’t churning out quality graduates. They’re in it for the money and they’re going to get you in and out as fast as they can and as easy as possible.

    I graduated High School in 2008 and went directly to a local Community College. The only option that they offered for Web Design was mostly online. It sucked! I wasted $10k on a joke education. I’ve learned more in the first 6 months at the job I landed at a local web agency than I had all through school!

    So basically I just want people to know that college is not a necessity, especially not in this industry. If you want success, make it happen. Don’t depend on a piece of paper (degree) to carry you through life. There are plenty of online resources that can teach you more and a lot better.

    • TJ I’ve never taken online degree courses so I can’t say whether or not they’re worth it. I did however go to college and I disagree that it’s a waste of time.

      No, you aren’t going to the latest web design skills at a University. The technology simply changes faster than the curriculum. However the specific skill set isn’t the only reason to attend college. You can get a general education, which is more valuable than many realize. You can make connections with people who will help you in your career. You also learn how to learn.

      Web design programs may not be the best, but there are some great graphic design programs. When I look around at the people who I think are among the best web designers, many of them have a formal education in graphic design.

      I would never tell anyone they have to attend a university program or earn an online degree. As I said in my thoughts above I think it’s the education that’s important and not specifically where you get that education. However that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be gained from earning a degree. You get a lot more than a piece of paper out of it.

    • TJ,

      I’m sorry you think your online education was a joke. I wonder though if you step back and examine it closely whether or not it was as bad as you thought.

      I would guess that in your time in your web design program, you probably took classes that taught you the basic concepts of marketing, elements of web design, basics of databases, several programming platforms, basic graphic manipulation, etc… Now it is true that you probably could have learned all of this on your own. But, and you really have to search your soul on this one, would you have known that you needed to learn about all of them to be a successful web designer? If your answer is yes, Congratulations. You understood the big picture before you even started.

      However, it is likely that you learned a lot more than you think. I would also likely wager, at a minimum, your degree likely helped you to get your first job at that web agency, making it a solid investment for only $10K.

      In general, college degrees should be thought of as a toddler’s first steps. It is a monumental achievement for that child at the time, but it is truly just the beginning. Soon that toddler will be running, skipping, jumping, somersaulting, etc… Things that are far more advanced. But in order to get there you had to learn to crawl or walk first. And that’s precisely what the purpose of your degree was. To help get you to the “walking” stage of your professional career. Now you are learning to run.

      • I won’t argue that I have learned some valuable lessons through college. There were maybe 2-5 classes that I would consider worthy. That’s maybe 1 semester.

        At this current time, I have decided to discontinue my college career. I have been going since 2008, part-time. I am about a semester away from completing my degree, but I still have chosen to stop.

        I landed my first web job earlier this year at a web firm of 10-12 people making $13 w/o a degree at all. Yes, I may have caught a break, but because I worked on personal projects on the side, showed true passion for my craft and was committed to succeeding, I was able to land the position. I have since left them to work at another web firm where I am paid salary. Still without any degree. I was also offered multiple positions since then, with, you guessed it, no degree.

        I do understand that a degree is a commitment and it may look poor to some that I have “given up”. In reality, I have had a realization. These schools are simply businesses that need to make money. The quality that is offered does not justify the cost. This is obviously not true in every situation, but I certainly believe so with mine.

        I hope that you all truly understand what I’m saying. This is something that I have thought long and hard about. There isn’t a set way to live life. You can do it by any means you feel necessary. Well, this is mine.

        • I realize that you don’t need a degree in order to succeed in life. Witness Richard Branson, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, etc… If your enough of a self-starter, don’t mind getting your hands dirty (figuratively in this case) and working your way up. That’s fine.

          I would also offer that you are at the beginning of your career, at a sufficiently low level that your lack of a degree is not hurting you. The question is, when you try to make the next leap, will it hurt you? Having a degree leaves more options open to you in this credentialed society. So, you are deciding to close those doors because you don’t want to pay what, $1500 to finish out your degree.

          So the question is, at what point will you be shut out of your next progression because you decided not to get that degree? It may never happen. You might be that good. $1500 is not a lot to pay to keep that potential future door open.

      • It wasn’t meant to come off as if I was bragging. I’m just stating that it’s possible to make a decent living without a degree.

        Thanks for your extremely relevant and overly mature response.

  2. I enjoyed this article. While I agree that the $75k it could cost you for an online degree from one of these places is a bit of a waste, some people need that sort of motivation to help them learn.

    I’m going back and forth a lot right now about self taught or the degree route right now. On one hand, I could probably teach myself a lot more practical technique on my own. The biggest problem I am having right now is time/motivation. Between work and commute, I am gone for about 13 hours a day. The few hours of time I have where I can focus on web design/development are also taken up by a wife and 2 kids.

    The money for a degree may be excessive and the technical knowledge a bit out dated, but spending the money would definitely be a huge motivator to focus my time on learning. There is also the benefit of networking and building relations. While I would love to work at a web design firm and learn on the job, I’m not going to land a position where I can support my family with my current skill set. As much as I don’t like it, an online degree is looking to be my best option in my current situation.

    • You’re facing a choice lots of people make. It sounds like there isn’t a lot of time for a degree program for understandable reasons. At the same time entering into a degree program could be the motivation you need.

      If you have a family you might be better off hanging on to the money and going the self taught route. It really depends on what your goals are though.

      If you plan on using your design and development skills to start your own business you probably don’t need a degree. I do have degrees, but not in web design and development. On the other hand if you want to work in the corporate world a degree could open some doors for you.

      And again if it helps you focus enough to get the skills in the first place…

      I’m not sure how much you can network with classmates and teachers getting an online degree, but a few years back I was taking classes in the evenings to earn a certificate. It did lead directly to a job with a company. Someone I’d taken a couple of classes with knew I was looking for work at the time and thought I’d be a good fit. I was able to apply for a job that was available, but not yet being advertised.

  3. The price tag for an online education is excessive, and the laughs you’ll get for having one of these on your resume? Priceless. As for paying any money at all for an education, you bet I want it in a classroom, where I can have a personal relationship with the professor and my classmates. The value in a traditional education is more in these non-technical “extras” than in the core courses, IMO. If you want to learn from home and forgo all the usual perks of having a seat in a real classroom, don’t waste $40k or more. Learn through tuts, tech docs and experimentation. After all, if you need someone to guide you to learn anything, web development is NOT for you. It is constantly changing, and you need lifetime skills and habits of self-education to keep up.

    • I bet online degrees aren’t laughed at as much as they once were. Lots of people want to learn, but still need to work and have other commitments that preclude being enrolled in a traditional college. I would expect more people will be getting their education online in the years ahead.

      I agree with you about the personal relationships. A big part of school to me was the people I met. Online social networks can fill that gap to a degree.

  4. Just wanted to chime in a bit to give another side of the coin in regards to the comments made by some regarding online education. Yes it is more expensive typically then say a local community or in-state college but with a little time and research one can find the best online schools available. Let’s face it, online education much like work from home, is the way of the future. Plus, as a web designer, what is contained in one’s portfolio goes along with education credentials. I’ve been to brick and mortar colleges for about half of my education and finished the last half through online training. I’m very confident in the skills I’ve acquired, I wasn’t “laughed” at in any interviews and in fact I landed the first few jobs I interviewed for. I currently have a great job and my company actually paid for my last few online courses in order for me to earn my degree. So, for some people to just assume that you will be laughed at for obtaining an online degree?… well that’s just simply a naive and uninformed comment. To sum it up, do the research, find the quality programs that are out there and don’t be afraid to find out if an online education could be for you.

    • I agree it’s the way of the future. Even traditional colleges are offering more online. Have you seen iTunesU? You can get lectures from Stanford and MIT and plenty of other colleges.

      One of the things I’ve observed about all education whether tradition university, online degree, or self teaching, is you tend to get out of it what you put into it. Sounds like you put a lot into it and as a result got plenty back in return.

  5. Just to add, if you have an a degree it not only shows that you have that piece of paper but it also shows that you are able to start and finish something. I am 42 yrs old and I have always felt that being self taught in any field is good enough to get the job. That is far from the truth. A lot of companies wont even look at you if you don’t have a degree. That’s how some companies weed out people. you could be the most qualified applicant in the stack of Resumes but once they scan your resume and see you don’t have a resume your, its thrown in the trash. So I say all that to say this. I have learned that having a degree is more beneficial than not having one.

    • When companies collect resumes they often get from more people than they can interview. The decision of which resume gets an interview can be a quick one. HR is looking for quick things to eliminate people. One has a few typos it gets tossed, etc.

      Real job experience will trump a degree on a resume, but a degree certainly trumps no degree. It’s one more thing that enables a quick decision.

  6. I Learned more from working than I ever did at university and with the current pricing of a degree (I’m in England) I would say that companies should seriously consider picking up juniors fresh out of school. I’m a web developer and when I left uni I had very little experience in some of the very basics of the industry. It annoys me that someone can have all the skills needed for a job and still be put aside because they have no degree. Just give people a chance.

    • I think everyone who has ever earned a degree will say the same thing about their learning experience if they’re honest with themselves.

      Hiring someone is an expensive proposition. There is a lot of financial risk an employer takes every time they do it. That piece of paper says something, at a minimum, about what skill set you supposedly have. That risk mitigation is worth something to the hiring company.

      So how should a company hire a professional without a degree that limits the company’s financial exposure when they get it wrong?

      • There are other ways to determine whether a candidate is worthy or not. If you were a hiring manager at a medium sized web firm, would you honestly let a piece of paper hold that much weight in your decision? I wouldn’t. I’d want to see what that person is able to do. Code challenges, portfolio, etc.

  7. I would argue that you have it flipped. Initially landing a job is the hard part. No experience, no degree, etc. I think it will be easier from here on out.

    I do consider your points though. Nothing is set in stone. I can go back at any time. At the least, I’ll take the semester off and think deeper into the situation.

    Whether a company wants to hire me though is irrelevant. If I want to succeed, I will succeed. What I love about the web is that there is almost nothing holding me back from creating what I want. I don’t have to depend on someone else for a paycheck if I don’t want to.

    Maybe I’m just too young, arrogant, or whatever… I’ll just have to wait and see if I was wrong.

    • I would call it confidence. I’m not saying that it can’t work out the way you think it will. It can.

      History is full of successful people that never got a degree. In fact, I would be willing to bet that the majority of the Fortune 500 were founded by people that never had a degree.

      I would argue with you about always being able to go back. That is probably true within a specific time frame, say 5 years. Most colleges have a time limit on how long you can go from start to finish for your degree (usually 10 years for an undergrad degree and 5 for a graduate degree.)

      You sound like a person that is willing to strike out on their own someday when they hit a wall. If that’s the case, good for you. The world needs more people like that. My point was, you are 1 semester from finishing your degree at a cost that is probably very small based on your $10k quote earlier. The salary increase that comes with that, potentially even from your current employer when they realize you now have more doors open, may more than outweigh that.

    • I’ll call it confidence too.

      Fair or not a degree can help you get that first job and probably help with the next one too. I agree that skills should matter more, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work like it should in the corporate world.

      People get promotions not because they’re better, but because they pleased the right person at the right time. Someone gets a promotion because he went to the same fraternity as the person hiring. The degree does help and statistics do show that people with one make more over their lifetime.

      I like your attitude about wanting to succeed. Ultimately there are many roads to success and if you’re motivated enough you’ll find one of them or make build a new one.

  8. Excellent article and discussion on a topic that I also believe will become more and more commonplace in future (which has already started :)

    First of all, I learned from personal experience that any (well, almost any …) education can teach you everything (more or less) or leave you with a feeling of wasting time. This all depends on your own personal motivation and ability and commitment to learning. I don’t believe that there is any education out there that lets you lean back, just follow the normal curriculum and end up as a master of whatever your learning. You have to put a lot of effort into it yourself – no matter if you’re in a brick-and-mortar or a virtual school.

    That being said there are of course a lot of advantages of attending an education where you need to be physically present; the personal interactivity alone and the fact that you’re present in an environment specifically for learning.

    However, I still believe that you can learn a lot – and support your own self-learning – via online education. A few positive points in my eyes:

    1) You’re (more or less) free to choose from all (online) schools and universities globally (when disregarding fees and potential language barriers)
    2) You can learn in your own time and plan out your own education – and you can study in your own, natural environment (for some people this is actually a bit advantage)
    3) With all of the social channels for communication available today, you can still have a lot of interaction with fellow students and staff.

    I am myself considering signing up for a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration from the Interactive Design Institute in the UK. Here you will end up with a “real” university degree as the institute is associated with a brick-and-mortar university. Plus – the degree is not focussing on contemporary techniques for e.g. web development (I would rather learn techniques here on my own through tutorials and Amazon etc.), but rather the basics that will make you a much better designer / illustrator in the end.

    Just my 2 cents : )

    BTW: Does anyone have actual “hands-on” experience with studying via IDI?

  9. I read a lot of bad reviews about DeVry, I was wondering if anyone here has graduated from such school. I honestly cannot go to a brick and mortar school because I work 40+ hours a week and I do not have the luxury to leave my job as I have financial responsibilities. So my only option is online schooling. I’ve always loved graphic and web design but I feel the need to advance in a school like environment.

    I have seen a lot of comments saying the online schooling is laughable, but I believe that if you’re working full time and dedicating the little time left you have for school, it shouldn’t be laughable. You’re working just as hard as someone who only goes to school full time. I’m really serious about going back to school but all the comments about the online schools are really discouraging. I have seen Devry’s catalog and I am really intrigued by their courses. But with all the bad reviews and comments and people saying the degree would not count really get’s me depressed. But then again those are the same people that say all online schooling is dismissible so I honestly end up thinking what’s the difference if they will think that they will die thinking that.

    I just don’t know what to do or what school to go to. I’m lost…

    • I can’t say I went to DeVry or know anyone who has. Sorry I can’t offer any details from experience there.

      Your thoughts about working full time and still wanting to go to school are how I think of online programs. Years ago I tried to both work mostly full time while going to school mostly full time and it was impossible to keep up. I had to end the schooling since the job was paying the bills.

      Being able to learn at your own pace given your work schedule is important. If anything I expect to see more education happen online.

  10. I think it totally depends on the individual if college is right for you or not. It was one of the best decisions I made as a designer (but I’m also not disciplined to teach myself).

    • Good point and I completely agree. To me the most important thing is to keep learning. Where and how you learn is up to the individual. Some people need the structure of school and some do better when they set the structure for themselves.

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