One of the questions game developers receive frequently is which college or university a student should select when interested in pursuing a career in game development. And who can blame them? There are probably millions of different schools out there, with different strengths and weaknesses, not to mention the hundreds of new majors and certificates in game design, game art, game programming, 3d modeling, graphics programming, entertainment technology, media theory, and any of the other majors there may be out there related to computer games and game technology. How is a young high school (or returning college grad) to make sense of it all? This article is an attempt to address some of these questions and hopefully present some of the tools that students should seriously consider when selecting the institution where they may spend four years of their life.
I have presented this article in a few simple rules, starting with a rule that is very frequently forgotten by lots of students looking for an education, guidance councilors looking to place students in prestigious schools, and even developers looking to get trained students.
Rule 1: There is not right college, only the right college for you.
There are a lot of things you should consider when choosing a school, especially if you are going to invest a lot of time (usually about 2 to 4 years) and money (anywhere from $30k to $120k) into a school. You should make sure you make a good decision, and this is not something other people can, or even should, help you with. This should be your decision. That said, there are a lot of things we can recommend that will help you make the right decision.
First, you should think about the type of school you want to go to, and the decision is not as simple as trade school versus "traditional" four year college or university, though this is possibly the biggest debate between developers, educators and students. However, from everything I've heard, everyone I've talked to, and from personal experience, I am now firmly of the opinion that the choice, in the long run, does not matter. You will hear arguments on both sides of the fence, from the biggest industry name to the smallest community college professor about why you should select one type of university over the other, but, generally, in the long run the choice probably won't matter.
I know you didn't want to hear that, and I know those of you that put lots of money, time, and energy into a particular type of school don't want to hear it either. But the truth of the matter is that part of what makes a good game developer is wrapped around a psychological model that revolves around a penchant for hard work, talent, and passionate dedication. Furthermore, a person with those qualities will do well regardless of which school they eventually attend.
Unless, of course, that person is completely miserable while attempting to get their education. And, believe it or not, a simple thing like learning style can make a huge difference in how happy you are at a school.
For example, when I went looking for colleges, I knew that I wanted a broader based education. I'm interested in a very wide variety of things, including percussion, religion, spirituality, ethics, practical and experimental science, fine art appreciation, theater, and marching band. I wanted a college that would encourage, even require, me to participate in these subjects, and to try new and different things. Learning lots of different things definitely matched what I wanted to accomplish in college. Going to a liberal arts school fit me and my personality.
Another student, on the other hand, although interested in just as many subjects and extra curricular activities, may not be as interested in taking them as required courses. They may want courses that are directly related to games in every subject, and may get bored in their classes otherwise. This person would be miserable at a school that required 30 credits of liberal arts and a gym class. As a result, their course work, even those classes related to games, would suffer.
So, are you going to be more successful at a school offering a broad based education, or are you going to be happier at a school that is strictly focused on your games education? Or are you somewhere in between? If you've already completed a B.S., B.A. or B.F.A. at another school, you're probably not looking to take the general education classes again right? This is the first question you have to ask yourself before even beginning to look for a college. In fact, it's the next rule of selecting a college for game development.