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The Career Coach: Finding the Right School

If you are thinking about continuing your education in animation, or planning to get some additional training, there are many important issues to consider. Like anything else, you'll need to devote some attention and time to make good decisions. Here is a comprehensive checklist for you to use as you research and evaluate different schools and educational programs.

September means starting school for many people in the United States. You may be thinking about continuing your education in animation or planning to get some additional training. When deciding what school to attend, there are other factors besides the degrees offered that you should consider.

Access to facilities: No matter how many people are enrolled, every student should have access to the necessary equipment. If you are learning a computer animation program, you should have a current software package and manual. Check out the hours available in the lab and make sure that you can get enough time on the computer to do what is necessary. Find out how to get more lab time if you need it. There should be enough workstations so that every one can have a hands-on experience.

Equipment including computers, animation desks, cameras, and software should be up-to-date and in good working condition.

Software: If a certain software is important for you to learn be sure they offer it and that it is an up to date package.

System Support

: Computers should function properly. There should be little downtime. System support should be readily available and easy to contact should there be a problem.

Qualifications of staff: Instructors should have some industry experience. They should communicate well and be accessible to the students.

Industry connections: A variety of guest lecturers from the industry helps keep the school informed about industry trends and needs, and indicates interest from companies that may hire grads.

Field trips/industry visits: Are there planned excursions to visit industry work sites?

Industry support: Find out who is on the board of advisors? Who is a donor? Do alumni support the school? What about support from companies? If there are working professionals you admire, find out where they attended school and what they think about their alma mater.

Attend alumni events to make connections and network. Students often overlook the importance of networking and relationships that are established at school. Working alumni often return to their alma maters to recruit people for their company.In AWN's Animation School Directory, Dan Sarto suggests that you ask alumni "If they had the decision to make again, would they choose to attend that school again?"

Outreach: Whether the school is located in a large city or a small town, does it maintain solid relationships with employers in the area?

Portfolio/graduation requirements: Once you graduate, your calling card in the job market is your resume and portfolio or demo reel or finished film. You should be able to complete a demo reel while enrolled at the school. You must have some of your work on video tape to present to possible employers. Instructors should provide early feedback to students on their demo reels.

Career Resources/Career Services: Many students don't think about this until a month or so before they graduate, but this is one of the most important factors to consider other than curriculum. Check out the resources of the placement office. Find out what kinds of relationships the school has with industry. What does the school do to help grads find jobs?

The school prepares its students to work in the industry. A measurement of that success is its placement rate. A school touts its successes with the number of people it places in the industry. Where are their alumni working? Is it somewhere you would want to work?

Check out the internships offered through the placement office. What do those companies do? What kinds of internships do they offer?

What other resources do career services offer? Job postings? Alumni newsletters? A web sites with job postings? What kinds of jobs are posted? What companies are posting their jobs?

Who is invited to do on-campus recruiting? How often do companies visit?

Take advantage of the career services department. They often offer career workshops on how to market yourself, how to write cover letters, resumes, how to interview, etc.

Caveats

Beware of any school that promises you a job when you complete their program. There are no shortcuts or guarantees. A quality education will take time and effort just as your career will also demand time and effort.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter and career coach. Her clients include Macromedia, Walt Disney Feature Animation, Stan Lee Media, Digital Domain, and many others. Thompson advises colleges and universities on establishing animation programs. To find out more about schools, check out these resources:

The AWN School Directory lists schools that offer animation courses. The online database is available free of charge. A printed directory is available for $24.95. Check this site!

The SIGGRAPH web site has a great section on education as well - www.siggraph.org.

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