The Value of an Art and Design Education

Where does a degree from OCAD University lead? We answer your top ten questions about the prospects for art and design grads.

Art and design will always have intrinsic value. We all love beautiful, elegant, provocative and playful things. But when you’re making a decision about whether to spend four years of time, effort, fees and materials costs, we understand that it’s an investment. And it’s reasonable that you want to know what to expect at the end of the journey.

We’ve been telling you “Imagination is the new currency.” You deserve some evidence.

1. Will I get a job at the end of my program?

This is the question we hear the most often. And it’s a fair one. There are lots of confusing messages out there - whether it be the persistent notion of the “starving artist” or laments about the usefulness of the liberal arts degree in general.

We survey our graduates regularly. While we will never promise you a job at the end of your degree, we can tell you that among the OCAD U graduates of 2011, 82% say they were employed six months after graduation and 88% were employed two years out.

For sure, the first two years after graduation are difficult. Youth unemployment, currently about 16%, is a major problem in Ontario – even more so in Toronto. But the fact remains that a university degree is still better protection against unemployment - and a better predictor of long-term success - than any other form of education. And the market for creatives and cultural entrepreneurs is good - and getting even better.

2. Will I actually make a living making art?

The idea of the artistic genius working full time in their studio creating works that sell to collectors for tens of thousands of dollars is probably not a realistic goal for most young artists. Yes, some are able to do it.

But most artists will combine their individual creative practice with full or part-time employment, usually related to the arts. We call it “dual-tracking.” They often take short-term contracts or do freelance work, work on community projects, or teach art to adults or children. Some will support other artists or work for cultural organizations, galleries or museums, all the while, carving out time to develop their own practice.

3. Ok, so what kinds of jobs are out there for OCAD U grads?

Here’s what our recent alumni (graduates from the last five years) are doing:

  • 73% are either currently (59%) or have previously (14%) worked as a professional artist (broadly defined to include designers, fine artists, film makers, etc.)
  • Over 80% either are, or have been, self-employed.
  • Of those working within the arts, they work as graphic designers, illustrators or art directors, fine artists, curators, interior designers, web designers, craft artists, photographers, film and video artists, etc.
  • Among those not working in the arts, they are spread in a wide array of fields including communications, sales, office and administrative support, health care, education and management.

4. Can I go to graduate school after OCAD U?

Graduate school is a goal for many of our current undergraduates - indeed over 60% of our fine art students, and 38% of design students tell us they intend to do at least a Master’s Degree after graduating from OCAD U.

Do they do it? Among our 2011 graduates, 9% had already completed another post-secondary credential within two years - the bulk of them (50%) a graduate or professional degree. (And some have even come back to OCAD U for our own graduate programs.) If we look at all of our alumni - stretching back decades and including those who attended OCAD when we did not have degree-granting status - 24% tell us they have gone on to graduate school.

So, yes, if you do well, you have the opportunity to go on to further education at the graduate level.

5. Other than learning my actual craft (e.g. painting or graphic design), will I gain any other useful skills?

Much has been said and written about the value of a university degree, of a liberal arts degree specifically, and, to some extent, the fine and applied arts - much of it casting doubt on the return-on-investment.

Our alumni tell a different story: 86% say their training at OCAD U is relevant to their current employment. Among the skills they say they developed at OCAD U that are most useful:

  1. Creative thinking and problem-solving.
  2. Artistic technique.
  3. Critical thinking and analysis of arguments.

And it’s not just the creative industries and cultural sector that are looking for the skills we develop. A recent article in Forbes listed the “The ten skills that will get you hired in 2013.”  The top two? Critical thinking and complex problem-solving.

Creativity is in big demand in multiple sectors of the economy, driven largely by the growth in customized products and services. A recent study by Adobe found nine out of 10 professionals agree that creativity is required for economic growth.

6. How much money can I expect to make?

Salaries vary depending on your field and the choices you make post-graduation. Some professional associations survey their members regularly and post salaries and billing rates. The Creative Group, a leading creative staffing agency, publishes an annual report of salaries across an array of fields. Using a site like, you can search for average salaries by occupation and geographic region. So do your research before picking your major. But the short answer is: you can make a living doing what you love.

7. How does the future look for artists, designers and the creative and cultural sectors?

Between 1991 and 2009, the creative industries in Toronto grew at the same rate as tourism and faster than financial services, the medical and biotechnology industries, and the food and beverage industry. By most accounts, this growth is expected to continue. Cities, increasingly, are seeing cultural entrepreneurs as a source of economic growth. Hamilton, for example, has identified the creative industries as one of six key sectors for their economic development plan.

At OCAD U, we hired a consulting company to do a deeper analysis for us around the opportunities available to our graduates. Among the employers in the creative industries they interviewed, more than half intended to hire more recent graduates into their firms over the next three years.

8. What does OCAD U do to actually help me get a job?

Glad you asked. Lots. And there’s more coming.

One of the advantages of attending a specialized school like OCAD U is that you are surrounded by practicing artists and designers, curators, critics, and scholars of culture and visual communication. And all of our career development resources are designed around helping you find your place in the creative and cultural sectors, or in applying your creative skills in the field of your choice.

Professional practice is embedded into the curriculum.  Here’s the trailer for the new online version of a course called Creative Practice to give you an idea of what to expect.  (There’s a similar course for students in the BFA programs.)

Through the Centre for Emerging Artists & Designers - which will soon be located on a full floor dedicated to student professional development in the redeveloped 115 McCaul Street building - we offer experiential learning programs (community and industry-based placements), alumni mentorship, workshops, networking events, and our popular Talent Network, which posts over 1100 art and design-related paid opportunities annually.

9. Please, tell me more.

Ok, we hate to brag but…

Our hub for entrepreneurship and commercialization, The Imagination Catalyst, is currently home to 17 start-up companies and helps entrepreneurs build the skills and knowledge they need to be successful.

We run a series of Career Launchers - high profile opportunities developed in partnership with industry - to give a boost to our most promising grads.

We provide free digital portfolio space to all students via a unique arrangement with Format (a company founded by OCAD U grads!).

Our Financial Aid department runs a Financial Literacy Program to help students understand concepts like cash flow and credit ratings.

We have an Etsy ambassador on campus who works with students branching into retail, work with Indiegogo for students crowdfunding their projects, and we’re developing a living laboratory of freelance designers to help them get their start.

10. Where can I see some examples of what your grads are doing?

Here are a few ways you can get a real sense of what our graduates are up to:

Behance is the world’s largest network for creatives. You can narrow your search for OCAD U to see some of our students’ and graduates’ portfolios.

Check out our LinkedIn page to see where our grads work, all driven by the profiles they’ve created themselves.