4. Taking classes out of order.
Transferring classes from other schools definitely had its financial benefits, but it did create some problems as well. The curriculum was laid out with the idea that students would follow a natural progression from one class to another. Even though none of the units I had transferred in were directly related to my major, I had to adjust my schedule to make up the general education classes I had already finished in order to meet my loan's full-time requirement. This meant I would sometimes end up taking classes in a different order than the school envisioned.
Even in classes that did not have requirements in order to enroll in them, the instructors at times assumed exposure to certain material from their earlier classes. In these cases, I'd often find myself struggling to get up to speed with certain concepts and material only to have them explained during the next semester, when I would take the "earlier" class.
5. Not starting career research soon enough.
The whole point of going to college is to provide a launching point for a career. At my school the final two quarters were heavily focused on "exit" classes which were geared towards setting career goals and developing strategies to achieve them, largely through portfolio work. I knew that six months would not be enough time for me to get everything I wanted in my portfolio finished, so I started researching a full year before graduation into how to get my portfolio where I wanted it.
What I had failed to consider was that in doing the research I might be exposed to ideas and advice which, if had I wanted to take advantage of, would require changes to what I had already planned. Sure enough, some of the assumptions that I had about what would best represent me weren't right. So, despite having started earlier than most other students, I was faced with the realization that I wouldn't be able to get everything that I wanted into my portfolio in time for graduation.
There was a lot of good advice I came across, and had I started my research earlier, my portfolio could have been much stronger. Starting even one year out was not enough time to make a lot of major changes considering that I was still maintaining a full load of classes. (Since most classes in the last couple of semesters had little to do with the work for my portfolio, I didn't have the luxury of killing two birds with one stone.
Again, had I looked at the class schedule more closely and realized where the emphasis of work was going to be, I might have anticipated the need to start planning sooner.) The key here is it's never too early to start planning.
The decision to get a degree in game development (whether arts, programming, or design) should be taken seriously. For anyone with plans to get into the industry, then yes, having a degree will almost certainly help but that doesn't mean that the degree has to be specific to gaming.
There are pros and cons of choosing a college of game development over a more traditional school, and each school has distinctive features that separate it from others. It is important that every student evaluate these differences to see realistically what kind of fit it would be for her or him. Though ultimately a lot of this decision will depend on what resources are available locally, it serves students well to spend some time examining not only what potential schools' aims are but how well suited they are to achieving them.
There were things I could have done better and paid closer attention to which would have helped elevate my educational experience. I should have asked more questions and, more importantly, asked a wider variety of people such as administrators and instructors, those questions.
Had I done this, I would have better understood what the staff's direction were and within what time frame they might achieve the goals they had set. I really would have liked the opportunity to have participated in some of the more ambitious projects the school had originally planned.
Would I have decided to go elsewhere if I had known those projects wouldn't be available right away? Probably not, but I might have waited for the school could to work out some of the kinks and get closer to implementing their plans before enrolling. It's also possible that had I addressed these concerns before I enrolled, they may have also been willing to begin incorporating some of their projects sooner as a way to entice potential students into their new program.
For me, going to a school that offered a gaming curriculum provided unique opportunities and was, overall, successful. I may have been somewhat disappointed by some of the choices the school made but, at the same time, it's hard to imagine that a more traditional curriculum would have been as relevant to me. Above everything else, college was exactly what it was suppose to be - a learning experience.
Photos by David Goehring, Josh Parrish, and gadgetdude, used under Creative Commons license.