Arizona State University

Arizona State University

I graduated from ASU in 2015 with a Bachelors in Design Management.

Going to college wasn’t exactly my cup of tea—at first.

After a grueling four years at an unforgiving high school packed with 2,400 other students, I was quite ready to move onto bigger and better things. My questionably volatile relationship with my parents only made that drive to leave the nest stronger. But when I finally got around to college, I unwittingly made the wrong choice (for me). I picked business school.

(What’s funny is, years later, I find myself in business and loving every minute of it!)

But business school itself was not the college experience I needed. So I set out to change it.

My college experience, from business to design

My first few weeks of business school felt just like high school again, except there were ten times more people in my lectures, none of which I knew. (The Tempe campus at Arizona State University is one of the ten largest campuses in the country.)

It felt dark and cramped, like this:

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I felt alienated. This felt like the opposite of what I’d envisioned.

Granted, for most students, the first couple years of college are packed with “gen ed” courses—nothing specific to your major. This is a flaw in college itself, but that’s for another story. 😋

Still, I’d envisioned a much more collaborative and creative experience.

I continued along like this, unsatisfied with my classes, until spring semester, when I set a meeting to speak with my counselor. Within a few minutes, she understood I would probably fit much better in a design program and made the recommendation that I switch majors.

As you might guess, the thought of design school made my heart race—how hadn’t I thought of that myself before?! I went into a Business Marketing major because I wanted to be in advertising—but I wanted the creative parts of advertising, like designing the ads. Not courses described like this:

ECN 211: Basic macroeconomic analysis. Economic institutions and factors determining income levels, price levels, and employment levels.

Comparatively, design school sounded like angels singing from above:

GRA 121: Graphic design as a language and process for creative thinking and realization.

So, with a skip in my step, I rounded out my last days in business school. I put in the minimum amount of effort to just get by in my economics and CIS classes. And I focused instead on finding a cool design internship to get a head start on my new path.

Switching from business school to design school

Right from day one, I felt like the studio concentration was exactly what I’d been looking for. It felt like high school art class on steroids—everyone was serious about being in the class, the professor had tons of industry experience, and the curriculum was highly hands-on.

Wouldn’t you feel right at home working like this?

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I made friends, collaborated on assignments, learned techniques and the history of graphic design. I worked part-time at

throughout the school year, which gave me a ton of real-world context for what I was learning. My work got better, and, for the first time in my life, my education felt relevant.

I also happened to be living with some friends in a classic college house—parties every weekend, and way too much distraction to be a good student. 🙈 By the end of the school year, I hadn’t put much effort into either my capstone project or my final review projects, one of which consisted of meticulously drawing dozens of gradient lines and typographic elements with a hand-cut carpenter’s pencil.

Needless to say, cramming these projects together in the last four days of the semester was not the way to stand out from the other 200 first-year students to become one of the mere 45 selected to continue in the Graphic Design concentration for the remaining three years.

Needless to say, I didn’t get into the program.

I was pretty upset at the time, but I didn’t let it stop me. With the help of my advisor once more, I switched to a Design Management degree—something between Graphic Design and Business Marketing, minus the design studio classes. This solution was perfect since it took into account the business school credits I’d already accumulated, and allowed me to graduate in four years after all.

Hacking My Way into “Real” Graphic Design Classes

Despite the fact that my major (Design Management) was a non-studio concentration, I still wanted to take some classes available only to the “studio students,” like Graphic Design majors. I spoke with my advisor about this, who admitted that I’d only be able to take studio courses if a professor approved me.

So, with a chip on my shoulder, I reached out to one of the professors teaching a “restricted” course and simply asked her if she would approve me to be in the class. I shared my enthusiasm for the subject and the reason I hadn’t gotten into the program. I was honest about why I hadn’t made it (partying, ugh) and what I had learned from the experience.

As you might have guessed by the title of this section, the professor approved me! I was thrilled and started that same week.

Never forget the power a simple ask can have—if you want something, there’s almost never any harm in asking.

Being in this studio-major-only session gave me access to some particularly interesting information. It also gave me connections to classmates as well as the speakers invited to come in and share lessons with us. And, most importantly, it exposed me to something special: the Phoenix Portfolio Review.

Breaking into the Professional Design Industry

I didn’t wait until college was over to weasel my way into the industry—and you shouldn’t, either. Design jobs and internships aren’t unlimited, so if you want a spot, you’d better go get it fast. The best time to start was yesterday—the next best time is right now.

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The Phoenix Portfolio Review at ASU

The Phoenix Portfolio Review is part of the AIGA Portfolio Review initiative to help design students get experience and actionable feedback.

ASU’s design school, Herberger, hosts this exciting event every year for students in Arizona. Events like these are an excellent way to meet influential folks in the design industry and get your foot in the door somewhere.

That’s exactly what I did in March of 2015, and I wrote about it on LinkedIn:

I also designed a custom poster as part of the contest that year, which taught me a ton about using

:

My submission to the PPR poster contest.
My submission to the PPR poster contest.

In summary, the portfolio review was my chance to connect with industry pros, and I made a point to meet everyone I could, to take the right business cards (rather than give mine and never hear back), to have a handshake as strong as my personality, and to make a generally good impression.

Above all, I had my sights set on

I made sure I got face time with Matt Fischer, their Creative Director at the time, and he invited me to tour the agency’s downtown Phoenix offices! I was thrilled.

I tried to have the same level of connection with the other industry pros at the event, but I knew it would be too busy for me to stand out much. I’d need to do something more in order to have my chance.

By the end of the night, I was already typing up thank-you emails to the professionals I’d met. I sent them out immediately and got a couple short responses back. I knew I needed to do more, though.

Following Up

A couple weeks later, I’d found some job listings online and used them as an excuse to reach back out to my new connections. I followed up to find out if their agencies were still hiring for any of those positions.

Reaching out to ask, “I see you’ve got a job listing for X. Is this position still available?” is great for several reasons:

  1. It keeps you top-of-mind, keeps building the conversation and relationship.
  2. It saves you from wasting your time if they’ve already filled the position and forgot to take down the job posting.
  3. It gives you the chance to ask additional questions about the job.
  4. It alerts them to the fact that you’ll be applying, which might make them more likely to notice when they see your name come through.

I also reached out to Matt at Moses to schedule a time to go check out their space. We settled on a date, and I continued on my job hunt. Three weeks later, it was time to visit Moses.

The story continues: