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There are many considerations to attending a college, and Fullsail is no exception. Issues such as quality, value, facilities, and staff are all things that should affect where you decide to attend.
So you're ready to consider Fullsail as your next school. Whether through your Fullsalesman (admissions representative) or through attending the monthly "Behind the Scenes Tour," you start getting the big sales pitch.
For the "Behind the Scenes Tour," you will fly to Florida and be taken on a luxurious tour bus from your hotel near the airport, to Fullsail, where a dazzling lightshow awaits you. They play a short introduction video where words materialize on screen and the bass throbs, making your hairs stand on end. Once they have your attention, Gary Jones, president of Fullsail bursts on stage through the smoke.
What follows is a well-structured sales presentation designed to play off of your hopes and dreams, as well as overwhelm your ability to think critically. Some of the selling points they use to part you from your money are:
Follow Your Dreams: So you want to make a career "doing of what you love," what you're "passionate about?" Making music, movies, video games or traveling the country with your favorite rock group is the wet dream of your professional life. You are treated to a video montage of various recording artists' music videos, segments from motion pictures, clips from popular video games, etc., below which the names of Fullsail graduates appear who "made it," in the entertainment industry. They may even parade a couple of graduates up on stage to talk about how they "made their dreams a reality." You start thinking, "Hey, all those guys 'made it,' maybe I can too!"
The fact that it is hard to break into the industry is glossed over and given a positive spin. This is where Fullsail's lies and half-truths begin. You will still be making payments on Fullsail student loans long after you have changed careers and become an accountant, barber or homeless transient. The volatility of the entertainment industry job market, and tendency for shorter-than-average career spans are omitted from the speech.
The Staff and Equipment: Next they tell you how the school has the latest technology and instructors right out of the industry. There are reasons these persons have left the industry. There are several instructors at Fullsail who are clearly underqualified for teaching, and lack the discipline required for their position. Some areas they suffer from are tardiness, lack of preparedness, and outdated curricula that puts graduates at a disadvantage in the real world.
You will be told about million-dollar recording consoles and labs with millions of dollars-worth of gear, and that it is updated on a constant basis. Although the gear is high quality, this is all very deceptive. Equipment is not updated as frequently as they lead you to believe. You can see this yourself during the tour, by simply counting the number of monitors in computer labs that need replacing due to permanently distorted colors. This can be a serious problem for students who need to see color accurately to make their artwork. Fullsail's pattern of behavior is to replace monitors only if they completely cease to function.
Through bulk software licenses, corporate sponsorships, and private investors (who frequently tour the school to see if they want to buy in on this cash cow), Fullsail spends less of your tuition on gear than they lead you to believe. More than likely, much of your tuition goes to pay for the very marketing machine whose gears you are now being churned up in. Fullsail maintains a fleet of small vehicles, busses, and tractor trailers that constantly tour the state of Florida visiting high schools attempting to recruit students. Given today's oil prices you can imagine what they spend on diesel fuel alone. Additionally they run print, radio and online advertisements in/on several of the most popular industry-related periodicals, websites and radio stations.
The School Runs 24/7: They say this because they want you to think this hectic class schedule, where you could have labs as early as 1am-5am, better prepares you for your career in the industry. In reality, it affords Fullsail the opportunity to push through more students (and collect more tuition) per month than if it ran on a more orthodox schedule. The stressful nature of this schedule can lead a student to suffer "Burn out," which exhibits symptoms similar to depression, whereby the sufferer (among other things) may lose interest in their work for a period of weeks or months. This happens to several Fullsail students before they even reach graduation. Unless you believe honestly that you can avoid this condition for 30 years, your career in the industry will be relatively short.
The "Magic Drawer Full of Jobs," Speech: So here's the big bombshell; selling you on their placement department. A woman named Tammy Gilbert, Director of Placement will walk on stage and begin with hitting on the placement rate of Fullsail grads into "the industry," which according to them hovers around 70-80%. That's right, the figure is not independently verified. No one other than my Fullsail Placement Advisor has inquired about my employment status in the years that have passed since my graduation.
First, Fullsail's definition of "the industry," is believed to encompass many different jobs other than just the obvious ones. If you get a job working on a movie set, naturally, you have "placed." However, if you get a job working behind the counter at an AMC theaters, Sam Goody, Electronics Boutique or Blockbuster Video, you may also be considered as placed (and guess which occurs more often). Whatever placement rate they tell you, divide by 4.
Secondly, they may paint you a rosy picture of how the entertainment field is growing, and it probably is. India, New Zealand, China, Australia, the UK, Canada; all these countries are seeing growth. Jobs in animation, video games and motion pictures are going overseas where labor is cheap, while at the same time Fullsail and dozens of other schools like it are churning out armies of graduates here in the United States. Any domestic industry growth is being far eclipsed by the flood of new "talent" entering the workforce, leaving them to compete with industry veterans who have been established for years.
So what is the "Magic drawer full of jobs," speech? Tammy Gilbert will tell you there is no magic drawer full of jobs for you when you graduate. She portrays the struggle to find industry work as some noble, personal quest. She describes the trials you may face, such as working unpaid internships, hoping they offer you a paying job afterward. But what you should take away from this speech is that Fullsail's placement department will not find a job for you, nor can it do much to help you find one for yourself. She says it is up to the individual to make it happen! By their own admission, Fullsail's placement department is worthless! Fullsail graduates a majority of students that lack the skills, attitude and intelligence to work in the entertainment industry, and the industry is catching on. Fullsail instructors have even advised students against putting Fullsail on their resumés, because many of the entertainment venues in the Orlando area have been turned off by their previous experiences with Fullsail graduates.
The given name of "Placement Department," implies that their function is to "place" you with an employer ("magic drawer" scenario). I have had to explain to countless relatives that this is not how it works. This may yet be another deceptive marketing tactic employed by Fullsail. Rather than calling it "Career Assistance," which more accurately implies the department's function, they call it "Placement" to fool parents and students into thinking that a career path will be laid out in front of them upon graduation.
The Grand Tour: After one last round of applause and the light show draws to a close, you tour the school. You will see the building and campus (which as a student I noticed got a thorough cleaning and fresh coat of paint every month just a few days prior... my tuition dollars at work), as well as sit in a few of the classrooms and labs. Throughout the hallways are dancing lights, glowing monitors and the projection of Fullsail's animated logo everywhere. Every other day of the month all of these pretty things are shut off and put away. While sitting in the labs, a resident course director may tell you a little about what goes on in lab and talk about the equipment and software being used. They may even guide the group through a simple tutorial exercise on the gear, a tactic known by car salesmen as getting you to take "mental ownership," i.e. the more you touch the more you think it's yours.
The Close: Once the tour is complete you are taken to an area with food and drinks, where you meet up with your Fullsalesman. After you tell them how much you enjoyed your tour they attempt to close you by saying something innocuous and non-threatening, like "When do you think you might want to start?" At this point you've been pretty heavily stimulated. You have been treated to transportation, food and a show, and all they want is for you to go to school there. You think, "This place is a lot of fun, so why not?"
Do the math and ask yourself: "Do I really want to spend all this money, this fast?" Their most popular degree, the Recording Arts program, which costs $40,995 and lasts for 12 months, divides up into $3416.25 per month for tuition. This monthly cost is greater than a full semeser at the University of Central Florida (just down the road) at the in-state tuition rate. Is the information that Fullsail imparts to its students in this short amount of time really worth such a grossly inflated tuition rate?
Note: Three of Fullsail's Associates of Science degree programs (Film and Video, Digital Media and Computer Animation are now offered as Bachelor of Science degree programs. Click here for More Info.
Tuition, however, is not the only cost of attending Fullsail. Additionally, the costs of relocation, housing, utilities, food, entertainment, incidentals and other various expenses can add upwards of an additional $1000 per month, simply to live within commuting distance of the school if you are not native to the Orlando area. This can mean shelling out anywhere from ~$12,000 - $23,000 or more on top of tuition costs, and easily accumulate over $80,000 in debt.
The website www.finaid.org has a loan calculator that can give you an idea of how much you will owe the bank each month (and other statistics) if you borrow to pay for Fullsail's tuition.
Even if Fullsail graduates are able to "make their dreams a reality," it is unlikely that many of them will be able to earn the kind of income required to pay back their student loans comfortably. Many industry jobs simply do not pay that high. Because most student loans are variable rate, payments will increase if the prime rate, set by the Federal Reserve, climbs higher. It is also unlikely that borrowers will be given loans at the prime rate, even with an excellent credit rating. Even with good credit it is not uncommon to pay prime +1-2%. Try the calculator and see for yourself.
Unlike most colleges, Fullsail does not require applying students to submit an essay for admission. Applicants are often asked, "What are you passionate about doing?" but are not asked to put those thoughts down in written form. Not only does this prevent Fullsail from screening out persons with absolutely no written communication skills, but it's also a ridiculous question that if answered on paper would look excessively trite. They don't ask for it because applicants who read what they write may just realize how foolish they sound.
It is also disturbing to note that Fullsail has absolutely no requirement for portfolio submissions to enter art-related programs. Any art school or university offering a visual arts program requires a portfolio submission to assure the applicant possesses some level of artistic ability. Although Fullsail has seen some talented students, the lack of a portfolio requirement admits far too many students who lack any artistic talent, allowing them to spend vast sums of money working toward a career goal that for them, is unattainable.
Fullsail lacks the requirements of an essay and portfolio for a very good reason; they don't want to turn down nearly $60,000 a head for tuition. Hence why some circles refer to Fullsail as a "Diploma Mill;" because if you have the money, you have a diploma. Not only are many Fullsail graduates unmarketable, but because of this lack of admissions standards, they find they have a degree that is not worth the paper it is printed on.
Although there are some "traditional" art courses in certain programs, Fullsail does not teach one how to be an artist / DJ / director / or web designer. Fullsail is a "button-pushing" school. Like monkeys training to be shot into space, students are shown every menu and button in a particular software program. The flaw in this methodology is that software is always changing, and the software you learn in Fullsail might not be what you end up using out in the real world. Fullsail's training is focused so intensely on only a few software applications, that unless you find a job using that exact same software, much of your time and money spent at Fullsail will have been wasted.
Fullsail asserts that it is an accredited school (ACCSCT #055214), however, credits from Fullsail are not necessarily transferable to any other academic institution. A college can choose to honor Fullsail credits at it's discretion, but Fullsail courses are so compressed and custom-tailored to the entertainment field, that it is debatable they will be accepted. This means once you graduate Fullsail and realize you need to go get a degree from a real school, you may be there for years, drowning in debt while doing so.
Most four-year institutions are held to a higher standard than those of the ACCSCT. Even with these lower standards, Fullsail still barely manages to retain its accreditation due to the lackluster qualifications of it's teaching staff as a whole. Fullsail has been attempting to strengthen it's teaching staff's credentials by insisting that all new hires have at least a Bachelor's degree or equivalent amount of work experience. This sounds like a step in the right direction, but current staff are grandfathered in, thus not being affected by the policy change, and said policy is only being sporadically enforced for new hires. Last month's Fullsail graduate could still be next month's Lab Instructor. Ironic, considering that by Fullsail's standards, a Fullsail graduate is not qualified to work at Fullsail. Even Fullsail will not hire their graduates!
When attending, most classes at Fullsail are one month in duration, and the pace is fast and furious. By the end you should be able to complete the class' final project successfully, but in reality, you only scratch the surface of a subject during this time. Your books for this class will either be bound, photocopied texts written by your course director, or printed books like you would find at the bookstore. At the end of each Fullsail course you will be given a chance to fill out a course evaluation form, which allows you to make comments and express concerns over the course curriculum, course directors, labs and lab instructors.
Whatever you write, chances are it will take a considerable amount of time to be implemented (if it happens at all). The hectic class schedule prevents course directors from being able to update their textbooks, alter the curriculum, or take other measures to react to student input on how to improve their course in a timely manner. This hurts the students because as new technology and techniques emerge in a given discipline, it may be quite some time before the curriculum catches up. In essence, Fullsail will always be one or two steps behind the industry.
It is plain to see that the best option compared to Fullsail is a four-year institution or a full-blown art school. These schools are held to higher standards, and so are the students. They require time, talent, patience, perseverance, and intelligence to be successful. Unlike Fullsail, these schools give you an opportunity to learn and grow, have a social life, and make some lifelong friends. You may have athletic events, extracurricular activities, clubs and organizations on campus; the possibilities are numerous. Most of these aspects of "traditional" college life have been stripped out of the Fullsail experience, because the accelerated courseload does not afford the time for it.
Tim Naylor is a featured graduate on Fullsail's official site, who "made it" in the industry working for Industrial Light + Magic on the Star Wars films. One day, when addressing an audience of Fullsail students he said, ["that work needs to be left in the workplace, and you absolutely need to have your social/personal time."] The irony is that this contradicts Fullsail's philosophy that you should "Eat, sleep, live and breathe" your work. Choke on it, Fullsail.
Fullsail offers something different than a "traditional" college. That's good, because conformity sucks, right? Wrong! The "traditional" college exists for a reason, and employers respect degrees from such colleges for a reason; because they mean something. Graduates of traditional four-year schools are better qualified as a whole, period.
Fullsail merely teaches their students how to push buttons, and little else. As the industry changes, your skills will soon be obsolete and you will either need to learn something new or go back to school to get caught up. A Fullsail degree isn't worth the paper it's printed on, so getting a real degree is a far better choice.
If you are still interested in being in the entertainment industry, look for schooling alternatives. If you don't think you can handle the stress of working in the industry, or of the process of job hunting without suffering burnout in only a few short years, go to a university and get a degree that is more widely marketable than "Recording Arts," or "Game Design."