For students interested in pursuing Industrial Design, there are several educational paths available but few obvious differences between them. BA, BS, BFA, BID... what do they mean, what kind of education will they get you, and what do employers want to see? We turned to the C77 Education forum, possibly the largest collection of ID-degree holding weirdos on the internet, for the real scoop. The upshot? It really truly varies by program, so do your research and pay some visits. But here are some themes we saw across the boards.
BS vs BA vs BFA?
It's not unusual to end up at this crossroads when charting a path to study industrial design at the undergraduate level. Some schools with ID concentrations offer one and not another, but which is better? Every program is different in its specific faculty, courses offered, facilities, resources, academic tone, demographics, etc., but broadly speaking it really is as simple as Science vs. Liberal Arts vs. Fine Arts. In the experience of many commenters, a program offering a BS will be geared more towards mechanics and engineering; a BA will lean towards creative thinking and appreciation of form; and a BFA will emphasize art skills and critiques. If the program's ID focus is any good, some overlap is inevitable, since you need a solid foundation in both technical thinking and creative problem-solving. As with any other type of school choice, it's up to you to decide based on your interests and good intel on specific schools and programs. But beyond the subjective learning experience, most commenters are skeptical about the difference the degrees makes after graduation.
Tarnergine was one of many who think it's irrelevant: "The Bxx honestly doesn't matter. As long as you have a degree + good portfolio you'll be fine. Look at what the curriculum will teach, instead, and how well you will fit into the school/their philosophy."
Greenman agreed that your output matters more than the specific degree title, suggesting a simple litmus test: "...pick a school, then go on Coroflot.com to look for portfolios of students from that school. This will help you get a more detailed picture of that schools' program and level of student quality, which is also extremely important. It is not always your instructors that you learn the most from."
From outside of the United States, The_Boogey_Man respectfully disagrees: "I'm not sure if it's any difference Stateside, but I say it does matter, in fact it's quite important...I've found BA's can be very different to BsC's, with BA's offering a more holistic, creative thinking approach and BsC's focusing more on the engineering and manufacturing side of things."So what about a BSID?
This is a theoretically more focused version of a BS or BA ID program, and it must be true because of the extra letters glommed on there at the end. Programs for the Bachelors of Science in Industrial Design are a bit rarer, most commonly offered through technical institutions (Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech) and certain accredited schools, whereas most schools offer an ID focus through their engineering, architecture or design departments.
Is switching from a Non-ID field difficult?
Yes, because getting good at new things takes work. A common forum question goes, "I'm currently studying/trained/working as a [mechanical engineer/graphic designer/sculptor/dental hygienist] but I'm more interested in ID. To switch fields do I need to go back to school or can I just dedicate myself and build a portfolio?" (Recentexamples) The common salty answer is Obviously Not, unless inverting the question makes sense: "I'm currently working in ID, do I need to go back to school to become a [mechanical engineer/graphic designer/sculptor/dental hygienist]?" While art and engineering and programming know-how are helpful, by no means are the skillsets 1:1 transferable, and it's a bit rich to think that self-teaching can put you on par with trained veterans in any field.
Extra degrees: Master in debt or master of your career?
It's easy to assume that higher degrees mean better job options, street cred, and pay, but it doesn't really pan out that way. Key reasons for going back to school are either to deepen skills and connections touched on too briefly in prior education, to change focus and gain access to a new skillset, or to lump on some more academic credibility. The strong general belief among commenters is that the most important lessons for doing good work are learned through doing work, and a MA or PhD has by far the most value as a means of personal self-betterment—not as a springboard for career advancement. However, if you're coming from a slightly different discipline or overly general undergraduate program, a higher degree can make up for certain experience and confidence gaps. Mappdaniel, for one, thinks it was a good choice:
Personally I felt that my MA really helped me to bridge the gap between student and professional. I also stepped outside my zone a bit and went from a BSc to MA (Science to Arts) [which] gave a me an insight into part of design that until that point I had known little about. When I was job hunting my decision to do an MA was always a talking point in interviews (in a positive way).
The pros and cons of PhD work laid out by Andy Polaine is an evergreen list of things to consider if you really think you need more letters next to your name before, y'know, getting to work. And if you're still not sure about grad school, consult Niti Bhan's handy guide.