Graphic design is a great career path for those who have an artistic eye and enjoy creative projects. Contrary to popular beliefs, a traditional four-year college degree is not required to become a professional graphic designer. Additional education routes are available for those who want to learn the field in a shorter amount of time or prefer to learn independently.

The graphic design field has lucrative opportunities for those who enter the field, regardless of a college education. It’s estimated that designers have an average salary of $58,000 in the United States, though this increases in areas like Massachusetts and New York. If you are looking to jump-start your design career but are hesitant without a degree? There are different steps you can take to help strengthen your design skills and secure a position.

1. Consider Certificate Courses

If a four-year degree seems too time-consuming or expensive to pursue, there are different options for professional training that are easier to obtain. These graphic design certificate classes are available in a live online format so that you can take them from any location. Certificate courses not only train you on industry software but provide projects as an opportunity to build your portfolio.

2. Workshops and Lectures

Another alternative to a college degree is attending a workshop-style training course or informative lecture on the graphic design industry. This is a great way to learn more about the field and if you want to pursue more training before committing to a longer course. Many local organizations offer lectures or training classes in design, which is also a great way to network with others in the industry.

3. Learn the Software

If you want to start a graphic design career without formal training, it is crucial you master the software used by professionals in the industry. The most common software used in design careers is within the Adobe Creative Cloud suite and features popular apps like Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator.

The suite contains over 20 apps used for graphic design, along with fonts and additional storage options. Membership is required to gain access and download the software.

4. Build a Portfolio

Building and maintaining a portfolio is vital for any design professional, as it is often a client’s first impression of your work and personal style. Different sites and free platforms are available to help you create your own online site, though there may be limitations on pages or hosting with free options. A popular choice among design professionals is Adobe Portfolio due to the hosting and unlimited pages all from one source. The program is designed for those in the arts and works to showcase your work with effective layouts. Building a solid portfolio can help you stand out among other applicants with employers or designers to a client.

5. Digital Design

The term graphic design actually covers a vast area of the design industry, including digital design, video editing, and several other focuses. One of the main areas of digital design is user experience (UX) and user interface (UI). Mastering these areas can provide additional job opportunities in web design, which tends to offer a more lucrative salary than other design positions.

6. Start Freelancing

One of the best ways to gain design experience without a college degree is to start freelancing and promoting your services to clients. Once you understand the software used in the field, you can use sites like Upwork and Fiverr to begin building a portfolio of work. It is important to verify any state or federal requirements for self-employment before starting your journey as a freelance designer.

7. Complete Personal Projects

Another way to gain valuable design experience is to work on your personal projects that spark your creativity. This is a no-pressure way to strengthen your skills within the various software and work towards developing your own style in the field. Always working for a client or company can shadow your own creative goals, which is why it’s important to keep a balance by working on your own projects throughout your career.

8. Research Internships

Even if you are not a student or do not hold a college degree, there are internships available for those who have some experience in the field and want to gain experience for their career. It’s common to see entry-level internship positions posted on job board websites like Indeed, as well as through professional clubs or organizations. Well-known companies like the New York Times have summer internship programs available for different positions, including design.

9. Find Your Niche

While building a portfolio and interviewing for jobs, it can be helpful to have examples of your personal niche in the industry. Everyone has their own vision and design style that catches a client’s eye and helps you stand out from the crowd. Finding your personal niche or specialty in the industry will help you identify your target audience and create a portfolio that truly showcases your style of work.

10. Stay Updated

Regardless of whether you hold a formal degree in design, staying updated on current trends in the industry and software processes is crucial for anyone looking to secure a new career role. Technology is always evolving, which means software can change each year with each new release. Taking refresher courses in software or best graphic design practices can help you stay up to date in the field and stand out from other applicants.

While a four-year degree can help with the job search, it is not always required to secure a graphic design position. There are alternative options to learn the field, including certificate courses, workshop training, and completing freelance projects. Taking graphic design classes provides the same immersive training as a college degree without the long commitment or high costs.

With remote classes increasing in popularity, there are a variety of live online graphic design bootcamps available for students to master the field in a short amount of time. Searching for graphic design bootcamps in your area is a great way to take the steps towards starting securing a design job without a traditional college degree.