Journey to an art school full-ride again
How I got my 2nd full scholarship to do graduate studies
“I sent out two messages to the Universe, and if I do not get any responses, then maybe I am meant for bigger things,” I said to my counselor not long after quarantine began in late March 2020. I had been working on getting things together for a promotion at WarnerMedia Studios and at the same time preparing for an interview for an additional scholarship for graduate school. I had always wanted to do graduate studies so I can become a professor or teach at a college-level institution, and I had planned to do that within five years after I finished my BFA in 2019. I was extremely fortunate to get a full-ride scholarship for my undergraduate studies and I could never fathom getting a full-ride again for my graduate studies, but yet it happened. However, this time was not just about luck, but a patient strategy and theory that I had been developing ever since I got my first full scholarship for my undergraduate degree.
This plan started to take root on Christmas Eve 2019, when I was back in my office at WarnerMedia Studios, applying to graduate studies at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). It had only been 6 months since I had graduated, which begs the question: Why am I applying? For me, as an international student, I was applying as a backup plan to stay in the US longer should I not be able to get a sponsored work visa. I knew there was no problem getting accepted into the art school, but it was only a question of how much scholarship funding I would get. I had planted a seed for the future and I wanted to see how far I could take this idea to fruition.
After a month of waiting, I finally got my acceptance letter, but it was not quite the scholarship amount I was looking for. I decided to move on and just focus on my career and life. Everything was going according to plan, and my next move was to take the next two years to gain more experience and skills before reapplying to SCAD to increase my scholarship opportunities. Much like what I did for my BFA application, I deferred my enrollment indefinitely and immersed myself into developing my portfolio, skills, and my After Effects tutorial YouTube channel NoSleepCreative. Later in March, I was prompted about my enrollment status by the school, to which I replied requesting for additional scholarship funding. My information was passed along for the process but I did not hear back from them until early April (8 April), which was around the third week of the work-from-home situation. One morning, I awoke lacklusterly from my sleep and got an email from the school about setting up an interview in twenty days (28th April). At that moment, I felt a surge of nervousness and tension. Twenty days was not a lot of time to update my showreel, resume, website, prepare a presentation, and do a design challenge that the school also issued for the interview.
There was no time to doubt myself, I had to get to work. Over those three weeks, I edited my showreel with new content and sound effects, redid my resume, got a graphic design friend to review my content, revamped the look of my website, and made a presentation highlighting projects that showcased my abilities, as well as completed the creative challenge design. In addition, I did three sessions of mock interviews with my friends over Zoom, and wrote many notes on what to say or answer for the big day. I was more ready than any past interviews I had in my life.
Yet, on the day of the interview, a small crisis emerged. Despite it being an hour-long interview, the main interviewer was only able to connect to the Zoom meeting at about the 40-minute mark, so I only had 20 minutes to present. I breezed through everything I had, as swiftly and succinctly as I could. The decisive moment was when I finished presenting, I mentioned that I wanted to be considered for a full-scholarship. I think that was it; the courage to ask for what I wanted. I had done the same thing when I interviewed for my undergraduate studies 4 years ago, and I reflected countlessly on that time to develop this strategy. In short, the interview went well, and I was told the results would be announced the next day. I felt a sense of relief after finishing the interview; I was not so concerned about being qualified for the scholarship, I think I was more satisfied with the process of spending time and effort to intentionally better my work and life. It did not matter if I did not get what I wanted; what mattered was that I did my best, and I am happy for that. I like to believe everything that happened in my life happens for a reason; if it is meant to be, it will do it by itself and we just need to trust the process and ourselves.
Nonetheless, the next day, I received an email with the results saying that I got the full scholarship. I was utterly bewildered; part of me did not think I would get the success I wanted so fast. It almost felt like a miracle happened for the second time. I suppose the Universe believed that I was meant to learn even more and teach in the future.
Aside from getting the qualification to teach, why go back to school? That is a common question that people often ask me and their argument is that “you just need an amazing portfolio or skills” to teach. I rarely get angry but I find this statement rather infuriating and probably the worst thing a person can say to me.
First of all, I think there is a fallacy that having the ability to make “cool” works or having a great portfolio constitutes a great motion design teacher. However, the best players may not necessarily be the best teachers. There is a difference between an “instructor” and an “educator,” with the latter being what I am interested in so I can help people live better lives.
Secondly, the point of education is not about getting a job, it is about expanding our comfort zone, raising our quality of life, training our critical thinking, developing future-proof skills, and most importantly going through a transformation. I feel that society and culture have goose-stepped us into thinking that the most important thing when you are in college is to be “ready” to work and get a job right after graduation. If you think about it, that sounds like a factory. We are going through a “learning” factory so we can work in another factory when we graduate, and we work for the rest of our lives till we die. If you ever get the chance, do read Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control to learn more about the omnipresent system that controls virtually how we live our lives and think. Jobs are still important but it should not dominate your entire life; I believe people should focus more on developing their intentions on how they want to live their lives in the future and define what is success to them. There are many facets of going to school that are more than just career-related, I feel that I am going back to school to refine the way I think, be exposed to new opportunities, and have the autonomy to do research and develop, or pursue personal projects. I recently completed my first term at graduate school, and I have to say I am happy to be back despite classes being virtual. I realized there was so much more I needed to learn about honing my creative practice by building on the foundations once more but on a higher level.
This amazing opportunity would not have been possible if it weren’t for the following people: Rasita Kartarahardja, Diana Rex, Nestor Tomaselli, Adam Newbold, David Conklin, Sean Co, Adrian Ferma, Raven Chau, and of course everyone who believed in me!
How to prepare for an interview
For those who are curious, as well as my peers, about how I prepared my portfolio and myself for the interview, below is a small guide along with some personal insights.
Having a good portfolio is the minimum you need to have, so the question is: How do you make yourself outstanding? How does one discern great from good? One easy way is to think about how you can niche down within your industry. Say for motion design, you might want to go deeper into 3D design and animation with Cinema 4D, and further down, perhaps particle effects or dynamics. In a way, that sounds like becoming a specialist. Your specialty does not have to be technical but it can also be the type of work you do. Imagine you are a motion designer who does work specifically for clients in tech startups, or maybe concert visualization, or even vegan brands. Pick something that aligns with your personal values or what you love! My advice to you is not about becoming a specialist but rather finding your “element” or your angle. Another way to put it is that we should aim to become specialized generalists; specialists should diversify their skills and generalists should hone in on a skill deeply. Everyone has different sets of skills and talents, find out what works best for you. Like I said, the goal is to become an “outstanding” motion designer; someone who is distinct from the crowd.
To put your best foot forward during an interview, you have to make use of “positioning,” which is the act of creating an image for yourself based on your intended audience. The Futur has excellent videos on “positioning” which I highly recommend everyone to watch if they want to be successful at anything. Personally, I positioned myself as an educator; someone who loves to teach and wants to develop a teaching career in the future. I demonstrate that through:
- Being a peer tutor during my undergraduate studies
- Organizing and running software workshops on my own iniative
- Continuing to run workshops for SCAD even after graduation
- Posting After Effects tutorials on my YouTube channel, NoSleepCreative
In addition, I have photos and documentation of my claims in my interview presentation and that surely boost my credibility. So think about what type of motion designer are you when pitching yourself to clients or potential employers!
Creating value & letting go of ego
Entrepreneur’s mind. Athlete’s body. Artist’s soul. — James Clear
Sometimes I think we as artists get too caught up on “personal expression” or making something “cool” rather than making value for our clients or customers. I feel like it is somewhat a selfish and egoistic way of thinking. There is that myth of how artists will have to do soul-sucking work for clients that they do not like so they can make a living. People think success is doing the work you want and getting paid for it is a success which is true to a certain extent because not all projects that you get are going to be exciting or high-paying. Design is a service after all; being an artist or designer (whatever you want to call it) means having the ability to make people’s businesses better.
I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better. — Abraham Lincoln
Clients are still humans yet some antagonized them as the enemy of creativity. Students should learn about balancing a businessman’s mind and artist’s soul when in school; it is that duality of performing as an artist and thinking about the bigger picture of what the world needs. We need to practice and develop our communication skills to get on the page, eliminate misunderstandings and differences, and ultimately understand one another better. Hence, I believe people need to consider things from the other party’s perspectives.
In my case, it would be: Why should the school invest a full-tuition scholarship in me? How can I demonstrate that you are a good investment? What value can I bring to the school besides the minimum of producing great works and working hard? What makes me so outstanding that SCAD would want me so badly in their program at their own expense?
When I ask some people “what makes you outstanding”, they often answer along the lines of: Diligence, thoughtfulness, intentionality, helpfulness, creativity, great team player, innovation, and so on. That is all good but I often like to reply with “who isn’t?.” Unless you can demonstrate one of those traits effectively and communicate that to your interviewer, listing these traits will not do you any good.
Hard work & Entitlement
I think some people have this idea that they are entitled to rewards or good results if they work hard enough. With that mindset, when people fail after putting in so much effort, they would lament about how working hard does not amount to anything or question why they endeavor in the first place. There is this causality that hard work is equal to results, which is actually a myth. A better mentality to develop is that: “results are incidental because of the amount of time and effort you invest in something.” To give more context, it just so happens you developed six-pack abs because you go to the gym every single day, it just so happens that you lost weight because you stop snacking unhealthily, or it just so happens that you are good at design because you spend an hour every day honing your creative practice. What this means is that you should focus on developing your own systems or a lifestyle that will bring you closer to success rather than goals.
Well, so that is my whole process and narrative of getting the scholarship! I hope it was insightful for you. Do check how I got my first full scholarship in this article if you have not!
Finally, here are a few texts that I highly recommend everyone to read in order to better define themselves and their directions.
- Zag, Marty Neumeier
- Jodi Glickman on Pitching Yourself
- How great leaders inspire action, Simon Sinek
Where you can find me
- Website: http://duitbetter.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thedesmonddu/
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/nosleepcreative
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/desmonddu