Thursday, May 22, 2008

Choosing a School: Student Projects

I've already given a few things for you to consider when choosing a school, but I think it's worth including some things you should not consider too much. One of the common themes of recruiters is to show off cool-looking student projects.

Be wary of student projects. At the DDAF, almost every presenter on the Education Panel showed a lot of work from their past and present students. The work looks impressive, and the implication is "we'll show you how to make something cool like this." But when I thought about it, it didn't really tell me anything about the school itself.

Every school has a few brilliant students who will produce phenomenal work, on their own, with or without faculty assistance. The work certainly reflects on the quality of that particular student, but may or may not have any correlation to the quality of the academic program.

It's also easy to get distracted by quantity. Some schools have large programs and lots of students, so they will likely have more student work to show than a smaller school. Take the size of the program into account.

Also be wary if the most impressive student work is more than a year or two old. Schools with quality programs and a steady stream of incoming students should be producing cool stuff every year. Showing one or two works from four years ago is an indication that the school just had a handful of outstanding students that year, not that they have a great program now.

Lastly, if the student work isn't similar to your area of interest, that should be a red flag. For example, if you want to be a game designer or a programmer and the only student work available is animated video clips (not playable games), you're probably dealing with an art/animation program that doesn't focus on games.

I'm not saying you should ignore student work entirely. But treat it the way a hiring manager at a company would treat personal references for a job. The applicant chose their best references so of course they're all going to say great things, so this shouldn't really persuade you. But if someone applying for a position can't even find a decent friend or two that can say something nice without reservations, maybe that's a signal you should be looking elsewhere.

1 comment:

Lewis said...

And further, if you can't spend enough time to actually play the games (I'm talking hours, not minutes), to find out whether they're good games or just flashy, you can't tell much from student projects other than "flashy"--which is not substantial.