Formal Degree vs. Self-Taught: Pros and Cons

Did you gain your knowledge in the field of Web Design and Development through a formal degree program or are you self-taught? Which worked best for you? In this post, I will discuss my opinion on each, but I want to hear your opinions as well! Throughout my 10+ years in the computer world, I have done a mixture of both degree programs and actual real world field experience, where I was expected to teach myself. In January 2011, I will be starting my Masters in Information Technology, with a Concentration in Web Design and Development.

For the first time, I will be getting a degree in the area I actually work in! I am very excited about this; however, I know my 10 years of real work experienced where I was forced to teach myself has also been extremely valuable. Thus, in this post, I have come up with pros and cons of a formal education without actual training, as well as pros and cons of being purely self-taught; so you, as the web developer or designer, can decide which one works for you. Feel free to add some additional tips, and please comment as to what you prefer and why!! I hope you find this advice useful, and I look forward to hearing your opinions as well!

Formal Degree at a University or College

  • The ability to make a higher income the majority of the time.
  • Many jobs require a degree.
  • You do not have to prove your knowledge as much, as clients generally have more trust in a degree.
  • You get to hang your accomplishment on your wall for clients to see.
  • More respect from fellow colleagues.
  • The ability to possibly work in academia.
  • The degree gives you an edge against other equally talented designers or developers.
  • Generally more well rounded in areas of business, communication, and writing, which can help you in your career.
  • More access to resources in which allows you to practice and use, like my university allows me to download programs at a reduced price.
  • Makes your resume stronger and more competitive.
  • Very expensive, which is not affordable to many people. Even the lesser online degrees still cost a good amount.
  • Requires you to study fields you are not interested in, and you may even feel to be a waste of time.
  • Most of the time with designers and developers, it is hard to apply real world applications in the university setting.
  • Difficult to work at the same time, so income and experience is limited.
  • In an area like design and development the technology advances so quickly that most of the time the university curriculum is outdated.
  • Difficult to find programs specifically tailored to web design and development, as many are required to study either Graphic Design or Computer Science, when Web Dev is really a combination of both.

Self-taught through Tutorials, Books, and Real World Work Experience

  • Being able to actually do something is better than just having a title.
  • You are able to focus on exactly what you want to learn and what you need to learn.
  • You have the ability to learn from your mistakes.
  • You actually learn the practical application of your field.
  • You can get paid to learn, rather than having to pay to learn.
  • Some companies offer paid training, paid continuing education, and paid professional development.
  • The ability to work as a team and brainstorm ideas, as well as having mentors is your field to teach you rather than teachers.
  • You are not sheltered or naïve, as many fresh graduates are.
  • May not be able to apply to certain positions that require a degree.
  • You may not be able to work in administration or management, and you will surely not be able to work in academia.
  • You only learn from yourself, and you have little to no other outlets or resources.
  • You may lack actually “book sense”.
  • Your income is almost always lower than a person with a degree.
  • Despite your actual knowledge or talent, you may not be taken seriously without a degree.
  • Though you may know a lot and have great talent, without a degree you may lack the fundamentals.


Now this article was just for argument sake; so I was applying the extremes of the two. In my opinion, a mixture of the two would be the ideal case! In conclusion, your own experience and/or specific situation will assist you in determining whether an actual degree or just teaching yourself is your cup of tea. But, one thing to consider is maybe to look into certain online certificates in web design or development, IT, programming, or design, which can help you have the best of both worlds. You can have a piece of paper to show potential employers, and you do not have to actually step foot in a University setting. Anyway, I hope in the comment section you share your experiences and opinions on the topic!

Also, tomorrow, stay tuned for a list of schools that focus on Web Design and Development either through a certificate, Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees, if you are looking to formally study in the field!

Teylor Feliz
Teylor Feliz

Teylor is a seasoned generalist that enjoys learning new things. He has over 20 years of experience wearing different hats that include software engineer, UX designer, full-stack developer, web designer, data analyst, database administrator, and others. He is the founder of Haketi, a small firm that provides services in design, development, and consulting.

Over the last ten years, he has taught hundreds of students at an undergraduate and graduate levels. He loves teaching and mentoring new designers and developers to navigate the rapid changing field of UX design and engineering.

Articles: 183