D&AD: Course notes

Beyond the glossy brochures, how do you decide which college to attend or which course to take? We asked students on some of the country's most popular advertising courses to talk about their own experiences.

LEEDS COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN - Sarah McGill, 3rd-year student, BA Visual Communications

The course covers graphics alongside illustration, film and photography as well as advertising disciplines

When McGill got her place at Leeds, she thought she'd enrolled in a fairly bog-standard graphics course. "It's not all about 'the book' here - we're encouraged to think across all kinds of media to communicate our point," she adds. She's backed by her tutor Graham Tansley, who wants to attract people who want to "change the way things are done conventionally".

McGill has benefited from regional D&AD workshops, and is due to start a placement at Poulter Partners, working one day a week on agency briefs.

"It's a great combination here of experimenting but also being supported," she says.

STOCKPORT COLLEGE OF FURTHER AND HIGHER EDUCATION: Martin Beswick and Natasha Freedman, 3rd-year students, BA Design and Visual Arts, Advertising

Three-year, rounded course, specialising in either advertising or graphics after the first year For the first two years, students work alone, embracing various media and disciplines. Then it's time to replicate the real world, so the duo teamed up in September for their final year and it's working out well.

"It's good to have an honest opinion of your work," Beswick says.

Although they've covered a body of theoretical and practical work on the course, they agree that the final year is when the adrenalin kicks in: "It's when you realise how excited you are to be joining the industry," Beswick says.

The two have already shown their book to Mother, Fallon and TBWA, with more door-knocking planned. "The course is great - and the small class size means you get good support," Freedman says.

SOUTHAMPTON INSTITUTE: Chris Spore and Nick Cooper, 3rd-year students, BA Advertising

A rounded course, with the option of topping up an existing HND qualification

Spore and Cooper joined the course in September 2003 already armed with graphics HNDs from Norwich College of Art. They're part of the "top-up" intake, and can qualify with a BA Hons degree at the end of the year.

About to start a placement with EHS Brann, Spore and Cooper are used to integrated thinking - some of their assignments this year have seen them working with students specialising in strategic planning and account handling instead of creativity.

"The course has taught us about the importance of the idea and how that translates into different ways of talking to an audience," Spore says.

"Doing graphics, it was all too easy to become fixated on one medium - say press or poster," he adds.

They're pleased with the portfolio they've been encouraged to build up, have enjoyed visits to and from London agencies such as Bartle Bogle Hegarty, and don't think being in Southampton is a problem for getting noticed.

"It's up to you, isn't it, to make the effort to get your work seen - being a bit further away is probably good training for the real thing," Spore laughs.

Their only criticism of the Southampton course is the large class sizes - the 35 students means the tutors' time is precious.

CENTRAL ST MARTIN'S: Marie Ronn and Stine Hole 3rd-year students, BA Graphic Design

Good variety and location, but the course is not studio based, making it a better option for independently minded students.

The Swedish Ronn and the Norwegian Hole teamed up on the course after gravitating to London to study graphic design at foundation courses at Camberwell and Maidstone. They are now busy improving their book, meeting as many creative teams as they can and pinning down a job for when they graduate in July.

They were drawn to the course because it can provide a good springboard to creative jobs in London. Both feel that studying in Scandinavia would have been little use for developing an international understanding of creative advertising.

After trying a variety of disciplines, including photography, illustration and graphics, Ronn and Hole decided advertising was the way forward.

"We wanted the creative idea to be serving a purpose - we're just as interested in the strategic message inside," Ronn says.

A combination of live agency briefs and those set by the tutors have kept them busy, and they've not been disappointed by the lack of communal studio facilities. "Working at home is great to develop the concentration you need to crack a brief," Ronn remarks.

The lack of formal placements hasn't been a hindrance either. Both believe it instils the necessary resilience to get out and meet creative directors and teams - and they're hoping to land jobs as soon as possible after leaving.

BUCKINGHAMSHIRE CHILTERNS UNIVERSITY COLLEGE: Steve Hall and Dan Seager, 3rd-year students, BA Graphic Design and Advertising, Media

Pedigree course with good alumni and industry contacts Hall and Seager both had a taste of advertising before they joined the Bucks course - Hall took a foundation course at Suffolk College, and Seager took an HND in graphics at North Oxford College.

Hall, who joined in year one, spent the time getting stuck into many different types of media, teaming up with Seager when he joined in the second year after his HND. The duo settled as a team in the third year, and are busy working on their book, entering as many competitions as possible and making the most of their placements - they recently worked on O2 at Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest.

"The course teaches you to work fast, take criticism and really think," Seager says.

They're full of praise for their tutors and have been impressed with the teaching and the facilities: each year has its own studio. "St Martin's may have kudos and be slap bang in London, but there's no space to work there," Seager observes.

WEST HERTS COLLEGE: Claire Baker and Laura Fisher, Post-graduate Diploma in Art Direction and Copywriting

One-year intensive course focusing entirely on building a portfolio and getting a job

Baker and Fisher teamed up after working with everyone on the course - one of its stipulations is that students learn to work with many different people to encourage versatility.

Baker, 29, took redundancy from a job in online media to realise her dream of becoming a creative, and Fisher, already a graduate of Central St Martin's, had been working as a suit for Leagas Delaney. Both wanted to work intensively for a year, and were recommended the course by contacts in the industry.

As well as thrice-weekly tutorials, they've faced a barrage of briefs from their tutor Tony Cullingham as well as several each week from agencies.

"It's a great way to learn to work hard," Baker says.

They've just handed in their second assessment portfolio, and will spend the rest of the course working up their books, fitting in more placements and going to see teams. "It's incredibly hard work, but great preparation for getting a job - there are no sacred cows," Baker says. Cullingham's reputation in the industry has also helped, she adds. "Most agencies have teams who met at Watford - it makes them less intimidating to approach, although they expect a certain level of work as a result."

Norwich College of Art Chloe Vicary and Sarah Pidgeon

3rd-year students, BA Graphic Design

Massive variety on this course, with the majority of students sticking with graphics

Vicary and Pidgeon are delighted with the course they're due to complete in July this year. As graphics students, they've been given a thorough grounding in all areas of the discipline, including branding, integrated and above-the-line advertising, and corporate identity.

As well as visits from the TBWA\London chairman and executive creative director, Trevor Beattie, and trips to see London agencies, they've done a month's placement at the design agency Turner Duckworth, working on Superdrug and Poppets branding.

Although the pair aren't necessarily looking at jobs in advertising agencies, they'd still recommend the course to those who are. The wide variety of options coupled with a relentless, but supported, workload, makes it a good initiation to the tough world of advertising. "Whatever discipline you specialise in, you come out with a brilliant grasp of what makes a good idea. I don't think leaving to join the real world is going to be a terrible shock," Pidgeon says.

LEEDS METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY: Emily Chicken, 3rd-year student, BA Graphic Arts and Design

Well-equipped studios and competitive to get on, the course offers a wide variety of advertising-related disciplines

Chicken didn't know whether she wanted to be a fine artist or a graphic designer when she started the course at LMU two years ago.

Now about to leave, she's grateful for the opportunities the course has offered, and is planning to pursue a freelance career - putting her skills in illustration and screen-printing to use in a wide variety of media, including advertising.

Chicken, who completed a foundation art course at Wimbledon School of Art, wanted a course that would encourage independent thinking as well as offering a good support. "The emphasis in the first year is on trying lots of different things, which you can then specialise in - I think it's given me a versatility that will be really useful," she says.

She's now working on seven projects for her degree show, including redesigning an exhibition space for the Cube Gallery in Manchester.

FALMOUTH COLLEGE OF ARTS: Jonathan Cockett and Alex Avis, Post-graduate Diploma in Creative Advertising

Intensive one-year course with good industry contacts and beautiful surroundings

Cockett was drawn to Falmouth by the expertise of the teaching staff, the organised placement system and the length of the course - he'd already done a degree and had been working in media sales at Campaign's parent company, Haymarket.

"I liked the agency culture that's fostered here," he says. "Right from the start, you're working under pressure on lots of different briefs - it's very hands-on and incredibly intensive," he adds.

After working with various others, Cockett teamed up with Avis, and the duo are now concentrating on their book until they leave in July. Before that is a placement at Scholz & Friends. Although Falmouth is beautiful, it is far from the hurly burly of London, but Cockett says the intense week of agency visits (Mother, Leo Burnett, Ogilvy & Mather, Mustoes, BBH and Lowe in just five days), plus internet technology, goes some way to shorten that distance. Students also qualify for a £750 grant to cover extra trips to the Big Smoke.

MIAMI AD SCHOOL: Ricardo Distefano and William Custer, 2nd-year students, Creative Advertising

Two-year intensive course taught by wide variety of practising creatives in various hub cities

The 24-year-old team decided to spend part of their course studying in London, and arrived in March to start work in some of the ad school's affiliate agencies.

The duo's art director Distefano is from Curitiba in Brazil, where he studied advertising for four years. Custer studied at the University of Florida, and both realised that they needed something extra to break into creative advertising. "Miami has a great reputation," Distefano says.

"It was important for me to learn more outside Brazil." Both having done long, structured degrees, they are enjoying the relative freedom of the two-year course. The first year is spent studying at one of its main hubs - Miami, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Hamburg or Sao Paulo - with the second year in different parts of the world. Custer and Distefano spent a year in Miami and have just completed an internship at Leo Burnett in Prague, working on Pilsner Urquell and Fiat.

Their stint in London saw them working on briefs set by tutors at agencies such as BBH, TBWA and O&M and constantly critiqued and assessed. They return in June for final assessment in Miami and graduation.

The course is second to none for contact-building, Custer says. "The style of teaching - where we go to the tutors in their agencies - means we get so much contact with the industry. It's a fantastic opportunity." Both recommend the course highly, but it's not cheap - two years' teaching costs a cool $28,000.

UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL LANCASHIRE: Graeme Bowman, 3rd-year student, BA Advertising

A rounded course that seeks to encourage students to experiment before settling on a discipline

Bowman joined UCL after a foundation year at the Cumbria Institute of Art in Carlisle. He's been impressed by the level of tutor support and quality of teaching.

"Before we started on ads, we were encouraged to look beyond the conventional parameters and come up with some great ideas. Even now, the emphasis is more on the ideas we have rather than turning in immaculate work," he says.

Bowman, an art director, has found a partner with whom he occasionally works and has spent the third year honing his portfolio and trekking down to London to meet agencies.

Being so far north can be a pain, he says, although his roots proved to be a handy point of contact for Campbell Doyle Dye's Sean Doyle ("He's from Rochdale, so we had loads to talk about"). He's seen teams at DDB London, TBWA and St Luke's, which taught him the value of tailoring his book to suit different agencies. Bowman is sanguine about the jobs market: "I've had a good start here and hopefully it'll help me get a job."

KINGSTON UNIVERSITY: Tracey Hare, 3rd-year student, BA Hons Graphic Design

Great course for subject variety and teaching support, with good access to design agencies

"The place, the teaching, the other students and the atmosphere - it's all brilliant," Hare raves.

Hare, now knuckling down to complete her final degree show projects, did lots of research during her foundation year at Kent Institute of Art and Design at Canterbury. "I looked at Central St Martin's, which looked great as long as you knew the direction you wanted to take, and Bucks, which was too focused on advertising, before deciding on Kingston," she says, adding that the level of support, coupled with the villagey feel of the campus has made it an ideal learning environment.

"Right from the start, it was all about solving problems through creativity - and whatever medium you chose was supported," she says. "The tutors are always around - it's up to you to take the initiative to pin them down." Hare's done four placements, including a stint at Coley Porter Bell.

She hopes to work in an agency when she leaves. "I don't see graduation as the end of my education - I'd like to keep on experimenting in a job too," she says.

WEST THAMES COLLEGE GORAN MARJAMOVIC: 2nd-year student, HND Graphics and Advertising

"The best thing about this course is the quality of the teaching," Marjamovic asserts.

Marjamovic chose the two-year course at West Thames College after a foundation year at the London Institute on the recommendation of a tutor, and chose to major in advertising in the second year.

The first year is taken up with practical classes in graphics software, graphic design and ideas generation. "We also learn about the nuts and bolts of the business," Marjamovic says.

The first-year briefs are largely set by tutors, but after students have chosen to specialise in either advertising or graphics, they are encouraged to set their own.

The priorities for Marjamovic now are building up his portfolio and seeing agencies, but he's also thinking of topping up his HND qualification with a degree.

UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL ENGLAND: Isobelle Herszenhorn, 3rd-year student, BA Art and Design (by negotiated study)

An unusual course: students devise their own learning

Herszenhorn was attracted to the Central course because she wanted to choose her curriculum. "I looked at lots of courses, and they all wanted to put a label on you after a while," she says.

Herszenhorn found herself working to a rigid, self-imposed plan at first, but is now widening her scope to include corporate branding, fine art and some advertising work as well as learning about the business practicalities of forging a career in design.

Support is there when she needs it, and although she admits the course wouldn't suit everyone, she thinks developing motivation and drive early on is an important preparation for life in the real world. "You have to be self-motivated, because you're setting the work," she reasons.

Assessment is through seminars and a portfolio, and placements are encouraged - last year Herszenhorn worked for an upmarket bar in Birmingham, developing branding and advertising.

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