A little over a year ago, I wrote a review on Full Sail University’s Digital Media program. It was met with a minimal amount of controversy, with a few folks saying that the school was a joke, that Full Sail University doesn’t provide the necessary tools for success, and they are now in huge amounts of debt with nothing to show for it. I’ve had more time to think about things since then, and figured I’d write a follow-up about some of the pros and cons of the Full Sail University Digital Media program. Despite some of the criticism I’ve read, I’ve never really seen how this differs from any other college — a student will get out of the institution a result proportionate to what they put in. The ones who complain are the ones who are not talented, are not dedicated, or have unrealistic expectations of what any college education can do for them. Every student I went to school with that actually had the talent, the desire to learn, and put the time into the classes did great and are all in career-related fields now. Some are web designers or developers, some work in the video field, and others are involved in the video game industry. In all cases, these guys and gals showed tremendous amounts of initiative throughout the 13 months that we were at school and now have good jobs to show for it.
However, if you are an aspiring designer, videographer, or (insert creative career choice here), it should be noted that no school can teach someone to be creative — and Full Sail is certainly no exception. I think schools like SCAD are better suited to traditional artists or aspiring artists who are looking to break into the design field. Schools like that exist to spend more time and invest in your development as a designer/artist, and Full Sail exists to teach people how to harness the massive number of tools at their disposal to be successful in the design industry. That’s not to say that creative people didn’t come out of Full Sail – quite the contrary. There were a lot of amazingly talented designers that I went to school with — but I think the point is that these people were quite talented before they even walked through the doors.
That’s the difference between Full Sail and other design schools in my mind – Full Sail will essentially let anyone with a pulse (and a decent credit line) through the door, portfolio/talent be damned. This dilutes the talent pool, harms their long term reputation, and will eventually make it difficult for them to appeal to young designers who want to get into the DM field quickly with a robust skillset. The people who graduate from Full Sail and succeed are the ones who were talented before they showed up, and I’m not sure their program is set up (or will ever have the capability) to allow up-and-coming designers that simply need refinement the time to blossom and be at their best. If they continue to have no admissions requirements, no quality control mechanisms, and continue to recycle former students as teachers (lab instructors mainly), the number of graduates who feel like they ‘got their money’s worth’ will remain quite low. With all of that said, I still feel the school is worth every penny if you are a very specific type of person — one who already has at least moderate amounts of design ability but lacks the knowledge needed to get all of that creativity out there. Full Sail’s Digital Media program definitely will empower you to take your ideas and express them in any number of fields — with careers involving motion graphics, video production, 3d animation, flash development, and web design & development being just a few. If you’re that type of person, you can handle long days (8+ hours a day of school is the rule, not the exception), and don’t mind living in Orlando, this is a school that will have you in the design world within a year and a half. And a lot of schools cannot say that.
I think the one thing that has never sat well with me was this unrealistic expectation that Full Sail was supposed to ‘place’ you in a job related to your field of study. All colleges offer some sort of job placement or career department, and I feel it’s any university’s best interest to help with job placement, as it reflects on their ability to educate their students. However, when the graduates stop taking the initiative and use the placement department as the solution rather than a tool, problems obviously will begin to show. It would seem to me that a disproportionate number of Full Sail grads have unrealistic expectations for what this department can do and should do, and when they are unable to hep them find a job in the city of their choice in the field of their choice, they blame the school for the failing. As long as Full Sail touts this program to incoming students, they will continue to experience this problem, and get undue criticism from jobless students. It should be noted, of course, that most of the people with these complaints are not Digital Media, 3D, Video Production or Game Design students. The vast majority of these complaints are from the students that make up the recording arts program. If you’re a designer, or really a non-RA student, you have little to worry about. You will easily find a job right out of school if you have a good enough skillset.
Long story made very, very short: I do not regret going to Full Sail one bit. I met some amazing folks that I learned a lot with, and I know that I would not be where I am today without that education. During those short 13 months in Orlando, I learned ten times what I learned at the Art Institute of Atlanta. I’m not sure if that’s a huge plus for Full Sail or a huge negative for AIA, but I can say that I came out much better prepared for a career dealing with digital media after my graduation from Full Sail.