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  • Choosing a School

    - Jeff Ward

  •  Rule 2: Choose a school that fits your style of learning.

    If you choose a school that fits your style of learning, you will be happier and more productive, and you will be able to absorb more of what the professors are offering. Forget what employers and your parents want for the time being, and just think where you would be happier. It's your life, after all, not any potential employer's.

    If you understand the type of school you want to go to, start searching for programs in your particular field of study. However, when searching, you want to make sure to get as many schools as possible into your search, so you can make a more informed decision. Start with a large list, and whittle it down as you learn more about the schools. That brings us to Rule 3.

    We all learn in different ways.

    Rule 3: When searching for programs to join, do not just search for game programs.

    Though game programs are becoming more and more prevalent, and better and better schools are creating some great programs, you want to make sure you start with as large a list as possible. Some great art schools with great 3D modeling and digital art programs will never come up if you do a search on "game art" or "computer art." Some great programming schools will also elude your grasp if you search just for "game programming."

    Once you have a (very large) list of possible schools, then you can start to eliminate some of them based off of many criteria, including class size / school size, whether it fits your style of learning, and whether it looks like it has any majors or schools you'd be interested in. What exactly should you do to do this? Well, I'm glad you asked, because that brings us to Rule 4;

    Rule 4: The rules your high school guidance councilor gave you for selecting and eliminating colleges still stand.

    Don't think that just because you're going into game development, that you can disregard the whole "select two safety schools, two reach schools, and to medium schools" rule. Other rules also stand. Make sure you research potential schools fully. Visit the school. Ask professors, tour guides or department heads about all the programs you're interested in. Make sure you like the campus, that it has the facilities and extracurriculars you want, that it's in a rural or city area (depending on your preferences) and that you like the people, both the professors and your potential classmates. Sit in on some classes if you can. Go out into the middle of campus when there are lots of people wandering by. Generally absorb the atmosphere. If you have one, make sure to ask your guidance councilor about the school and its reputation. Remember that this is part of their job and they'll be able to answer many of your questions far better than any forum troll.

    During this search, you're going to be asking the same questions everyone else looking for a school is going to be asking: Is this the school that will look good on a resume and get me a job right out of college? This question is usually phrased on forums as "Is this school / program any good?" That's just as vague as asking "What school should I go to?" What you're really asking is whether people in the industry have hired good people from that school, and would be willing to accept others. However, past performance is not a guarantee of future performance, and no one knows this better than game developers.

    Yes, some schools may "look better" than others, but if you play your cards right, doing well at any school, along with proper networking, can look just as good as the "right school" This brings up the next rule.

    Rule 5: The prestige of the school should not be the reason you go there.

    Though the prestige of a school, and its programs (game development or otherwise) may help you land a job, there are a lot of other factors that are just as important. If you let prestige be the biggest or only factor, you're more likely to be miserable at the school, which will make you do poorly, which looks bad no matter what the name of the school is.

    What will really stand out to employers isn't necessarily the school you went to, but the amount of additional effort you put in towards areas both inside and outside your field of study. This doesn't mean you can ignore game related side projects and development, but it does mean that if you're at a school specifically centered on game development, you should seriously think about keeping up with your trombone playing and table magic tricks. However, it also means that if you're at a school that doesn't specifically teach you game development, you need to make sure that you're always keeping up to date on new technologies and participating in some game-related side projects. Either way, the combination of work inside and outside the field of game development will be impressive.

    That said, you don't want to lose sight of the big picture.


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