Things They Don’t Teach You At University

I graduated in 2006 from Coventry University with a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration but i had no idea how to freelance and start up on my own.

It feels like a LONG time ago now but my course was based on lots of seminars, lectures and mostly set projects. It was an amazing place to experiment and learn new techniques, especially since i never took a foundation course. I learnt all sorts from  using most Adobe software and photography to linocut print and etching screen printing.

Although is was an amazing experience, i don’t remember learning HOW to enter the real world, in particular setting up your own business. I understand this wouldn’t be for everyone but it would have been useful to have the option to attend lectures about being self-employed and what it takes.




So, let’s begin on what i personally feel they should include…

How to brand yourself
Branding should be a priority when setting up on your own. It’s important to learn how your brand is perceived and what it says about you and your business. Although we know brand develop and evolve over time, it’s that initial stage that needs to be right to avoid rebranding at a later date.

Creating a portfolio
I vaguely remember shoving a load of my ‘best work’ in a massive black leather zip folders and not giving it much thought. Did my portfolio reflect the type of job i wanted or clients I wanted to attract? Probably not. I feel we should have been given more guidance on tailoring portfolios to the type of job you were looking for. Common sense it may be but back then I didn’t really have a clue.

If you run your own business you will know just how important marketing yourself is. Your marketing skills will show potential customers who you are and what you do therefore needs to be visually appealing. Nope, i did not learn anything about marketing or social media presence on my course at university.

Setting up an online shop / website
There are SO MANY selling platforms available to test out your products/skills, it would have been useful to know how to successfully use them; how to get your imagery right, SEO and how to analyse data from this.



I’m not sure if the points above were because i chose a joint course but i feel they should have been an option. Although University gave me room to spread my wings, it didn’t teach me how to survive the real world. A friend of mine, Harky, put it in the perfect words, ‘they teach us to go straight into a job but don’t give the entrepreneurial mindset’, and i couldn’t agree more. There weren’t any clues on what to expect in interviews or how to set up myself. I left the institution i thought would have me prepared for the big wide world, but it didn’t…

How did I learn these things? After graduating, I successfully landed a job as a magazine designer where i worked for 3 years. I felt i had enough experience to get started on my own but i was wrong, there was still so much to learn. I approached The Prince’s Trust who supported me in starting my own business. Now, the stuff they taught was incredible!!! I cannot thank the programme, supporters and mentors enough even today. I learnt everything from business planning, analysis, marketing, branding, test trading and so much more.

There has been A LOT of struggle, frustration and failure but i’ve persevered and believed in myself and my products. There are a few things which I wish I’d known before i took the plunge but i worked hard on the parts that weren’t so good, and even today, i continue to develop it. After all, a business will always need time and effort put into it for it to flourish, grow and thrive.


So, if you’re at university and thinking to start up on your own, don’t be afraid. Ask tutors lots of questions and research, the internet has plenty of start up resources to get you started!

Check out these sites:


I’d love to know your thoughts, what you feel would have been useful to know or if things have changed.

Dina x

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