Creative Strategist – Jess Willemse


A collection of my wandering thoughts on design, brands, books, music and the like.​

Hustle hard: How to survive your final year of design school.


Its that time. That time of year where city traffic increases, stress levels rise and students stumble back into 8am lectures after a relaxing summer.

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Ahh, the beginning of the university year, something that I have fond memories of now, but probably didn’t think very highly of at the time.
Having just graduated from my Bachelor of Communication Design, I have a very fresh, and probably not entirely objective view on how to get through those final months of design school. Nonetheless, here is my opinion on how to survive, but more importantly win at your final year of study. 


Basic survival tips.

  • Coffee. If you don’t drink it, start. Embrace your inner Gilmore. 
  • Friends: Make friends with people in your course. They get what you’re going through, and are the only ones that will also be awake at 3am the week of a deadline.
  • Plan: This is particularly true for those who study anything design related. We are beginners, and everything takes longer than you think it will. Build in a buffer time for when things go wrong, when InDesign crashes, when the printers muck up your job. You will thank yourself later. 
  • Take a break: Plan a mid-winter road trip, or jet off to the islands, or just be a tourist in your own city. The mid-year break is intended for exactly that – a break! Take the time away from study and work, it will help to distance yourself from your projects, and give you some perspective. 


How to make the most of it.

  • Use your university's facilities: Students often complain about how expensive their fees are, but if you dig deep into the resources your university has to offer, you can easily see how they justify the price. Use the amazing services and facilities they provide - this will be your last chance to do so. Learn how to use the photography studios, the book bindery, the print labs or the 3D labs. Go to the networking events, the CV workshops and the free lectures given by alumni. You'll very quickly get your money’s worth. 
  • Get an internship: It’s your final year, so now is the time to start hustling. Start applying early, email the studios and agencies you want to work with - what’s the worst that can happen? Get some real-world experience and try to get it early on in the year. It gives you a whole new perspective when it comes to the work you create in your graduate project.
  • Start to build your network: Students often don’t think they have much of an opportunity to network, when in reality they actually do. Why? Simply because they are students. Students are learning, eager, and passionate, qualities that industry folks love to engage with and furthermore, share their knowledge with. Start small; with your tutors. Then introduce yourself to the guest speakers from the industry. Then try your using your networking skills at your job or internship. Before you know it, you’ll have ten new contacts before you graduate.
  • Build your portfolio website at the start of the year: I will tell you how it goes. You start the year relatively chilled out, thinking ‘this isn’t that bad, I don’t know what they were on about.’ Then all of a sudden you get caught up in your final project. Several months suddenly go by and then you graduate. The last thing you want to be doing when trying to finish your project is making a portfolio website from scratch. Build a framework at the start of the year, and then all you need to do is upload a couple of photos and a project overview once you’re done.
  • Document and share: Documentation has always been a part of my process, and I just naturally curate this through Instagram, that’s what works for me. But there are so many ways to document and share what you are doing - just pick a platform and stick to it. Facebook, Instagram, Behance, Dribble, the list goes on. Show people your projects, your process, get their feedback and use that in your next steps.

The most important thing though?
 Enjoy it. My last year of uni was the best year of my life (although, this year is certainly giving it a run for its money). Take the time to enjoy the people you meet, the things you learn and the awesome stuff you create. For most of you, this will be the last opportunity to be completely self-indulgent in your learning and creating, so my simple advice is to just enjoy it.

If you’ve got any more questions, feel free to send me a message or leave a comment!  I love to talk about this kind of stuff. I’d also be keen to hear if you guys have any tips on surviving a final year in design school? Let me know!

DesignJess WillemseComment