Archive for the ‘Ad School’ Category


Masters (MFA,MS) vs. Portfolio School

January 23, 2006


  • You already have a Bachelor’s Degree.
  • You want to be an Advertising Superstar.
  • You think that Ad School is the best way to get you there.

The first question may seem to be which school, but a more appropriate question is which type. There are actually 2-3 different types of ad programs depending on how you count, but they can be lumped into 2 categories: Master’s Degree programs and Certificate Programs/Portfolio Schools.

Portfolio Schools:
Example: Brainco, Miami Ad School, Creative Circus, Portfolio Center,

The premise of a portfolio school is that the thing that matters most in advertising is your portfolio. The programs usually run about 2 years with a focus on kicking your ass and ending up with a great portfolio. You study nothing but advertising and end up with a portfolio and a certificate of completion. You may or may not need to submit a portfolio for admission.

Master Degree Programs:
Example: Academy of Art University, University of Texas, VCU Adcenter

The premise of a Master’s program is slightly different. A kickass portfolio is perhaps the most important thing for getting a job, but continued success in life requires a larger arsenal than just great design. A greater emphasis is often put on non-design disciplines like strategy, communication, creative business ideas, art, and critical thinking than in portfolio schools. Program length varies from 2-3 years. You end up with a Masters of Fine Arts, a Masters of Arts, or a Masters of Science, depending on the program. You will almost always need to submit a portfolio for admission.

Advantages of Portfolio Programs:

  • Industry reputation.
  • Don’t waste time with classes not related to goal.
  • May not need a portfolio for admission.
  • May take less time, especially if you already have basic skills.
  • May cost less overall.

Disadvantages of Portfolio Programs:

  • No degree if you decide advertising is not for you.
  • Narrower class options.
  • Few options (Cannot teach most places without credential/Masters).

Advantages of Master’s Program:

  • Industry Reputation
  • Broader education/class options.
  • Recognizable Degree.
  • More options (i.e. Ability to teach most places).

Disadvantages of Master’s Programs:

  • May take more time.
  • May cost more overall.
  • Will need some type of portfolio for admission.
  • Will take requisite time, even with prior experience.

This analysis is, of course, is overly simplistic. Either track you take will land you a great job if you work hard enough, and, with few exceptions, the teachers are either working or retired ad pros. You learn from great people who know great people. That said, the quality of individual teachers varies as widely as in undergraduate university (a lot).

Mainly, you should ask yourself a few questions and see where you end up.

  • Time/Money
  • How much time and I willing to be in school?
  • How much money am I willing to pay/borrow?
  • Degree
    • Do I ever want to teach?
    • Is having a degree important to me?
    • Is having a degree worth the extra time/expense/effort?
    • What is different between the portfolio and degree programs I am considering?
  • Prospects
    • Do students at the school produce award winning work?
    • What kind of connections does this school have?
    • What kind of internship/mentory opportunities does the school offer?
    • What is the job placement rate for graduates of the program?
    • How many graduates are working in advertising within 6 months of graduation?
    • Where do I want to live during school, and after?

    Visit some places and talk to administrators, students and teachers. Like most things, try not to game the situation too much– trust your gut. If it feels right, it’s probably the right place for you. If it doesn’t, all its merits on paper aren’t going to do anything for you.

    A Final Note on Master’s programs:
    Many universities have Advertising departments, but few of them will prepare you to work in the advertising industry. There are “academic” and “professional” programs. They are relatively easy to tell apart. Academic programs focus on the study of advertising. Professional programs focus on the the creation of advertising.

    A Degree Alternative to a Master’s:
    A second Bachelor’s Degree is an option at any school that offers a Bachelor’s in advertising, and is the only option at some schools, such as School of Visual Arts and Artcenter, which do not offer an advertising graduate program. A Bachelor’s will almost always take longer than a Master’s.


    Ad School Essential Tools

    January 6, 2005

    The following are things that I wish I had had on the first day, and while I got along fine, having them earlier definitely would have eliminated some hairy moments. In no particular order:

    USB Thumbdrive

    Why: Use to transfer files between computers to share, print, or have printed at Kinkos or Staples. By far the easiest way to move multiple files between computers.


    • At least 128MB
    • USB 2.0 (not a huge deal, but faster)
    • One with an internal battery will help as you can plug it in more places (hubs, keyboards, etc). An unpowered one is fine (that’s what I have) but you will have to plug it into the computer proper, or into a powered hub.

    Digital Camera

    Why: No matter if you are a copywriter, art director, or account planner, you will need to get images out of reality and into a computer. A digital camera lets you bring just what you want to your finished ads and give them a unique feel as opposed to using the same grainy, wrong proportioned stock photography as everyone else. Granted, someone in your group will have a camera, but it is good to not have to rely on others.


    • 2.0 megapixels or more will be fine. Great deals can be had on 3.2MP cameras everywhere.
    • Optical Zoom is important, forget digital zoom. Digital Zoom is the same as cropping.
    • Manual controls are very nice to have, but are not critical.
    • You don’t need an amazing digital camera, or even a new one. You can always hook up with a kickass photographer with great equipment later if you have a really killer idea.

    Day Planner

    Why: You will have more projects, groups, and meetings to keep track of than at any point in your life up to this point, no matter what you’ve been doing before.


    • Whatever works for you. Cheap paper, phone, or expensive PDA, the key is it needs to be something you can always have with you and always use.
    • Online tools are great as a supplement, but you need something you can carry with you (and use in a power outage).
    • Your school may give you a paper planner at the start of the year (mine did). If you don’t have anything else to try, start with that, you may be surprised how well it works. If it doesn’t work for you, you’ll be better prepared to evaluate alternatives based on the strengths and weaknesses of that experience.

    Adobe Creative Suite Premiere

    Why: In AdSchool, Photoshop is a noun, verb, and adjective (with a y). You can’t get by without it. Acrobat makes PDF Files which is how you exchange files with professors, classmates, prospective employers, and print shops. Quark has pretty much lost the battle, so you’ll be using InDesign to layout ads. Illustrator is useful at times, especially if you can draw, and especially for logos.

    • Creative Suite Premiere because Standard does not include Acrobat Professional.
    • Adobe subsidizes students with a 75% discount on their products. The $1200 Creative Suite Premiere is only $400 with for educational buyers. So make sure to bust out your student ID and never pay full price.
    • You may not need to buy Adobe software if you have access to labs with the software installed. Most people, however, like to be able to work on their own computer (if they have one). Pay for it if you can.

    Little Notebook and Pen

    Why: So you always have paper to jot down ideas and inspirations as they happen.


    • Any notebook will do, but anything bigger than about 4×6 will be hard to carry everywhere. Small drugstore pads are perfect. Also, look on the sale rack in bookstores.
    • The Moleskine brand has developed something of a cult following ( but can pricey. I think they are great, but I write way too much to use them exclusively.

    Color Printer and LOTS of ink

    Why: You will need to present color prints of your work on a regular basis. You will either need a printer or make plans to make all of your prints at a copy shop or a school lab.

    **STAPLES Copy & Print Center will do color laser prints for you for $0.39/each plus $2.50/first file and $0.99/additional files. Put all your ads in one PDF and save.**


    • A printer that has a tank for each individual color. This lets you replace what you use with less waste.
    • Price out ink cartridges on the models you are looking at buying. Some printers have only high cost, name brand cartridges available. Other printers have low-cost alternatives which are just as good. Search online and on Ebay for the best prices. For example, I have a 6 cartridge Canon inkjet. The Canon brand cartridges are $12/each. I can get them on Ebay for $2/each including shipping.
    • Buy a lot of ink up front and keep extra on hand. If not, you will run out at the most inoprotune moment imaginable. I promise.

    General Supplies

    Black Markers, Black Boards, Spray Moung, etc


    • Sharpies in Ad School are like No.2’s in Elementry School. Markers come in various sizes and weights and price ranges. Find one you like that is cheap enough to constantly replace. (Sharpies ~ $1)
    • Black Presentation Boards will often sell out at art stores as you near midterms and finals. You can reuse them to a point, but they beaten up pretty easily. Also, nothing sucks more than having to wake up early and go all over the city to find enough boards for your final presentation and end up paying 3x more for them. Always good to stock up. (Black Boards ~1-2)
    • Spray Mount. About $12/can but one can will last forever. Spray it very lightly, especially if you want to reuse the board.
    • Legal pads, notebooks, sketchbooks, etc: something to take notes with and jot ideas down. I buy the 12-pack of legal pads at the office supply store for $6. Some friends only use particular brands of sketchbook.
    • Sometimes there just don’t seem to be enough tacks to hang up all the work. They disappear like socks in the dryer.
    • Razor Blade Knife. You’ll need it sometimes, and nothing else will do. Box Cutters from the hardware store work great, and they are cheap. When the blade starts to dull, you break off the tip and have a fresh one. Exacto Knives are hard to make a long, straight cut with, in my experience, but better for detail work. Your mileage may vary.

    • Metal Ruler. Get an 18″ ruler with either a foam or cork backing to prevent slippage. 24″ rulers are really just too big and 99% of the time and 12″ rulers are too small. Some rulers have a tall, flat side designed specifically for cutting/drawing against, I find this very helpful.