Since I want to be a game designer in the future, I've been debating whether or not I should aim for a college like digipen. The tuition is expensive and I would have to move states in order to attend. Is there a difference between going to a school that offers a game design degree in my state, or going to a school like digipen or fullsail that specializes in it?
Ok, so… game schools. This can be a bit of a tricky subject. First, I suggest you read this old post I wrote [on game schools from some time ago]. Then, let’s discuss the finances, because that’s kind of a big deal.
Financing school is probably one of the most important decisions of your life, because most school loans are permanently stuck to you until you pay them off. As far as I know, they are the only kind of loan that can’t be discharged via bankruptcy. They will affect your credit, which will affect your ability to buy a car, a house, apartment approval, and even job prospects. And, as you said, tuition can get super expensive. The federal government hands out student loans, but does not directly fund tuition for any individual university (though they do pay for university research, which isn’t quite the same thing). So here’s a quick primer on how school tuition works.
Private schools do not receive funds from the government for education, and are entirely funded by private sources (usually tuition and donations). These include for-profit schools like Digipen and Full Sail, as well as established private universities like Stanford, Harvard, and Notre Dame. It does not matter to a private school where you are from; the cost is the same. Digipen charges around $30,000 per year in tuition and fees for a four-year Game Design degree. Full Sail charges around $32,000 per year for a 2.5 year Game Design degree. For comparison’s sake, USC has a pretty good game design track and charges ~$50,000 a year.
Public schools receive government funds from the state to help defray the costs of tuition. If you are a legal resident of the state, you are entitled to the subsidized tuition costs. This can be a substantial amount of money - I went to a public university in California that is currently charging ~$14,000 a year for in-state students and ~$40,000 a year for out-of-state students. The university in the city I’m in right now (top in the state) charges ~$10,000 per year for in-state and ~$35,000 per year for out-of-state. So… keep this in mind - in-state public school is often far cheaper than a trade school.
Post-Graduation - Getting a Job
There is another piece to this puzzle, of course - you need to get a job after you finish school. Most for-profit schools have placement rates - the percentage of graduates who go on to find work in the field. [According to Full Sail], about 38% of their Game Design bachelors’ students go on to get a game designer job, while 70% of their Master’s graduates find jobs. [Digipen has a much higher placement rate of 80%] for game design bachelor’s degrees. Placement rates are harder to find for major universities like USC or MIT.
If you come out of Digipen with $120,000 in debt with a 5.0% interest [Perkins student loan], you’ll have to pay $644 per month for 30 years. For a [6.8% interest Stafford student loan], that number jumps to $782 per month. If you want to be a game designer, you should also consider your earning power - the median salary for an entry level game designer is not very high. Most junior designers only earn from $35,000 to $50,000 per year. If you live in California and start at $50,000, you’ll take home about $3100 a month after taxes. If you pay $1500 monthly for rent, food, and utilities (super cheap for California) and $782 per month for your student loans, that leaves you with $818 a month for everything else - entertainment, household needs, medical expenses, gas, car payment, insurance, etc. In comparison, $40,000 debt from a strong in-state university is much more manageable at $262 per month in student loan repayment (though still for 30 years).
Got a burning question you want answered?