Is It Worth It?

By: Cora Dunnwald

Iowa State’s design program is notorious for being one of the hardest programs on campus. Between sleepless nights and little to no social life, the students involved are wondering if it will all be worth it in the end.

Anka Snider is an interior design major at ISU, and has always felt that her life would lead to a career in interior design. “It was either I was going to do interior design or be a teacher, or interior design or something else.” Snider said.  Her parents challenged her growing up to think in a creative way. “My parents taught me how to draw out floor plans, and a creative way to open up the room.” Snider said. 

Snider finds it difficult to balance work and play. “You know how it is, I don’t have a whole lot of time to create at school, but like once a week I try to get out an old sketchbook and draw something,” she said. Snider feels she has found a balance in her academic and social life, but it is still hard to maintain. When she toured Iowa State, she had a vision of herself spreading out a quilt she made onto the central campus lawn. She pulled out her sketchbook and started creating. While she has finally fulfilled this vision, it wasn’t until the last week of her first year. 

Snider finds it hard to have a life outside of the design program. “It’s really hard to find the motivation,” Snider said. She explains that most of her days are consumed by course work, and it makes it difficult to do things for herself outside of classes.

Carolkim Tong is a sophomore in graphic design at Iowa State University. She also feels that the program takes up a lot of her personal time. “I feel like I need to put more time into my career outside of (the Iowa State Design Program),” Tong said. “but you do it so much in school that it can sometimes make you feel like it’s not what you want to do anymore.” Tong tries to remember that this is her passion, and that this is what she wants to do for the rest of her life. While school work gets in the way of creating for herself, Tong believes it is a beneficial part of her journey. “It’s really important to learn, and education is really powerful.” Tong said. She feels that even if she was given the option of not having classes, she would still choose to learn. However, Tong contemplated switching majors her first year.

Several students say the first year is the hardest. Ashley Vance is an integrated studio arts major at Iowa State who shares this idea. “I did the one core year in just one semester, which is refered to a ‘suicide semester’,” she said. Vance backs up this slang term for the semester by claiming the name is appropriate given how taxing it is on students. “It’s the toughest eleven and a half credits I have ever taken in my life,” She said. 

Vance recounts nights she spent sleeping on floor pillows in the studios during her first semester in the program. “I would literally be in the drawing room until like, 5 a.m.,” Vance said. She described a project being due every single day, and calling into work countless times for exhaustion. However, Vance feels her years after the core year have gone much smoother than the core year. She urges the sentiment that it will get better after the first year. 

Vance also says that most professors have her back. “I think they are supportive, they are very understanding,” she said. “They know we have more than one studio going on.” 

Then comes the question, what happens after they graduate? Are these students going to be prepared? Is it all going to be worth it?

Lucy Besch is a graduate of the Iowa State’s design program. She is now working in Kansas City for a small marketing firm as a graphic designer. Besch works for several businesses under the marketing firm. “I make all their collateral, help design their website, design their logos…anything that has their logo on it, I make it,” Besch said. 

Besch feels as if the program, while tough, could have done a better job. “I felt prepared, but I also had two internships before I left Iowa State…I definitely think I wouldn’t be prepared if all I did was go to school,” she said.

Besch explains that the graphic design program focuses on building skills rather than what would actually happens in real life. “There was a lot of design work that I learned on the job,” she said. Besch learned how to create one pagers and email templates in the job she currently works at. She recalls a steep learning curve going into the workforce. “Actually having a real life course would have been nice,” Besch said. 

Vance also backs this sentiment. “Yeah, I do think it will be beneficial to have at least a one credit course that would prepare us for reality,” Vance said. Both Vance and Besch share the opinion that the design program could be more grounded in reality. Beach explains that there is a lot of branding rather than realistic projects.  

On the flip side, Tong and Snider feel the program is just right for them. Both express support and fulfillment in the design program at Iowa State. “I really think this is the right place for me, it feels right,” Tong said.

Several design professors were contacted for comments, but were unavailable for an interview.

About the author