Should You Go To Animation School? An In-depth Look

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You want a career in animation and have been looking into animation schools but haven’t pulled the trigger.

It’s a big choice.

One that could change your entire life—or at least several years of it. Animation requires years of practice to master, so starting on the right learning path is crucial for your success.

Many others have been where you are now. Some decided to go to school, while others chose different learning paths.

In this post, we want to give you an in-depth look at all the pros and cons, as well as some considerations you may not have thought of, to help you make the best-informed decision about whether animation school is right for you.

How expensive is going to animation school?

If you’ve looked into schools that specialize in animation like CalArts, Sheridan College, Gobelins, or others, you’ll quickly see how expensive they are.

Just one year at CalArts can cost nearly $60,000 USD/year. While Sheridan College in Canada is a much cheaper option, one year there will still cost you around $10,000 CAD/year. Gobelins’ two-year program is €10,500/year. None of these fees consider living expenses, textbooks, or supplies – and don’t forget if you’re an international student, you pay a lot more.

Do you actually need a degree?

The short answer is no

Animation is one of the industries that typically doesn’t look at your credentials when hiring or moving up the ladder. What matters first and foremost is your portfolio.

While there may be some instances where a degree matters – like if you require a visa to work, or if you’re looking to teach animation at an institution – most studios don’t care whether you have a degree or not.

What do you want to specialize in?

Do you know for certain you’d like to become an animator? 

What type of animator? 

2D, or CG? 

How about stop motion? 

How about a storyboard artist? Would you rather become a layout artist or a rigger?

One big reason to go to school is if you’re unsure exactly which role you’d like in the industry.

Animation school is designed to give you fundamental knowledge in all areas of production, offering classes that cover each role. Mid-way through their degrees, many students end up focusing their studies after discovering their preferred area of interest (like rigging, or painting), while still receiving generalist skills in all areas of production.

If however, you are confident about what area of production you’d like to make a career out of – say character design – perhaps pursuing a degree program is not your best path.

How are the professors?

Animation professors are often veterans in the industry who have worked on many of the shows, movies, and commercials you grew up with. They have taught hundreds of students before, so they know how to develop students’ skills at a good pace. Additionally, they are well equipped to answer any question you might have.

However, this can also be a downside, as many professors who have been teaching for years can become unconnected with the industry and may not be familiar with the latest software. For example, an older prof who perhaps made a career from hand-drawn animation, may not be equipped to teach animation on the latest software. Even so, Disney still recognizes the value of foundational skills and has hand-drawn animators teach CG animators.

It’s important to consider how fast technology is changing in animation with CG, motion graphics, VR, AI, and other techniques – and where you see yourself fitting in – versus how long school curriculums take to update due to the bureaucratic nature of educational institutions.

What is the student experience like?

While you may have come across stories of late nights, stressful deadlines, and burnout from animation students, have you considered the friendships you’ll make along the way?

Animation students often form tight-knit bonds with their classmates since they all share a love of animation. They work together, critiquing each other’s work and contributing ideas, which also speeds up the overall learning process. Additionally, many students end up friends for life, with their graduating class and all enter the industry in the same year together. Where else could you potentially learn from and befriend dozens of other individuals of the same mindset?

Will networking be easier?

Yes.

Animation schools are also hubs for networking, and you’ll be there every single day for years. Think of it like this: all your fellow classmates will end up in the industry, and it’s not uncommon for friends to hire friends and work with each other. After completing a program, you’ll already know dozens of other animation professionals who have spread out into the workforce.

Additionally, animation schools have many alumni working in the field. These alumni often visit to give talks, connect, and view students’ work. It’s not uncommon for students to get hired from these interactions.

Many animation schools also have partnerships with studios, creating internship opportunities for students and hosting career days for new grads. That means that before you graduate, you’ll likely already have industry experience and studios familiar with your work.

Will animation school guarantee me a job after graduation?

No.

Some students go through their program, create their thesis films, network studios, etc., and still end up unemployed. For example, Sheridan College reported a post-grad employment rate of 71.4% for its Bachelor of Animation Program in 2021, meaning 28.6% were unemployed after graduation.

In reality, no path can guarantee a job, but animation school can give you the tools and knowledge for your best shot.

So – should you go to animation school?

To sum it up, animation school can be very expensive, but it’s a great option if you’re looking to obtain general animation knowledge, connect with peers, and gain numerous networking opportunities, including internships. However, it’s crucial to evaluate your situation and determine what is best for your needs. Animation school is just one of many paths into the industry and is certainly not required to build a successful career in animation.

If you’re still not sure…

An affordable easy way to test whether an animation is for you or not is to try an online course. We offer animation courses on pretty much every industry-standard animation software, so be sure to check them out!