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I graduated from high school in June 2015. It was a sunny day in the football stadium, no one listened to the commencement speakers, and tearful hugs were met with lies of “Of course we’ll hang out.” It was a grand finale to a horrible four years and long search for the answer to one of life’s biggest questions:
“What the hell am I doing with myself?”
From the fall of junior year to the winter of senior year, I was bombarded with suggestions: “Be a nurse,” said my mother; “Join the Marines!” urged the recruiter; “Just be a damn stripper,” said stress.
Eventually, I narrowed it down to three options:
- Saving money at Montclair State
- Getting the “college experience” at Fairleigh Dickinson
- Entertain absurdity at Full Sail University
I chose absurdity.
For a little 18-year-old girl who rarely stayed out past 9PM, New Jersey to Florida was a big move, but it turned out to be one of my better decisions (next to blocking that guy’s number.)
Of course, recognizing a good decision is pretty easy in hindsight. This is for everyone struggling a bit with foresight.
Full Sail University is a for-profit university geared toward the entertainment industry. I know the phrase “for-profit” is quite the turn-off, but this isn’t one of those beauty schools set up in an abandoned department store.
To the contrary, the campus is aesthetically pleasing, to say the least. Palm trees — the signature of Central Florida — line the roads, the pathways light up in blue at night, and brightly-colored rooms with circular couches make for cozy learning environments. New, sick technology is always at your fingertips. I’m not going to pretend it’s a wonderland — there’s no football stadium, gym, or dorms, and it’s not very big — but the place captures your attention. And for all it lacks, it makes up for it in the random film sets or concerts or famous people you come across.
But all this is surface-level stuff. There are other aspects which more directly contribute to learning.
The instructors make the school. Much of Full Sail’s marketing is centered around its technology, and that’s great, but it wouldn’t mean anything if it weren’t for the mentors you meet along the way. All the instructors I’ve met have had their own teaching style, but none of them failed to create an environment where I was comfortable asking questions and admitting when there was a concept I didn’t fully grasp. In my previous education, I’d attended public schools, private schools, and those weird things called charter schools. Never have I met a community of people both so well-versed in their craft, and so eager to share it with “the next generation of industry leaders.” (It’s cringey or corny or both when you first hear it, and then you realize they really believe in you.)
Full Sail is on a different schedule from the rest of the world. Bachelor’s degrees are earned in twenty months, and master’s degrees in twelve. This means if you step on campus at 18-years-old, like me, you’ll walk off with your bachelor’s degree at age 20. If you choose to pursue your master’s immediately after, as many of my classmates had, you could have it by the time you’re 21. Don’t get starry-eyed just yet, though. This schedule, compared to that of a traditional college, may seem like a sprint compared to a marathon, but it’s really more like sprinting a marathon.
The longest break you get is two weeks for the holiday season. You get one week for spring, one for summer, and a couple days for Thanksgiving. Otherwise, every month you’re in a new class, learning a new subject, constantly digesting, processing, and experimenting with new information until you’re spit out of the meat grinder with new information at the end of your program.
As intense as it is, the school has nothing to apologize for. Every industry they teach for is known for being cutthroat.
Full Sail’s most popular degree programs revolve around the film, music, or gaming industries. They also have technology, business, and communications degrees. I attended the Creative Writing program, which granted me exposure to most of the above. (Script? Press release? NPC dialogue?—I can write it all.)
If this is all appealing, then there’s one more question to face.
Who is Full Sail University right for?
Full Sail University was the right environment for me, but I am not everyone. There a few traits which optimize people for this odd style of learning. I:
- Learn Quickly - I bore even faster. The unique schedule of being immersed in a new subject every month, with a new instructor in a new classroom and constantly utilizing new information, forced me to rewire my brain non-stop. If this sounds like fun, as it was for me, maybe this is the place to be. Those who would find this stressful, or need more time to dig their heels in to learn, might be more comfortable in a different environment.
- Prioritize - These classes ask a lot of you. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and as the months go on and the classes get more intense, the first thing to go is typically sleep. It was for me, but as I soon learned, this was both the wrong choice and not enough. Giving up social time is hard, especially as a wild-eyed young adult. But if it’s Saturday night and your project is due at 11:59 PM Sunday, if you’re not willing to give up puking on a curb and a one-night stand for the sake of your long-term goals, what are you willing to do?
- Have a Clear Vision - This is a big one. The degree programs at Full Sail are very focused; there’s a reason it’s often referred to as a vocational school. I had the luck of knowing I would wind up as either a writer or a mountain hobo stealing s’mores from innocent campers. It’s not the type of school you attend if you have doubts as to who you want to be in the future.
Full Sail does not give you the typical college experience. Every event hosted by the school — literally every single one — is education-based, from panels to workshops to career fairs. It’s engaging, and it is fun, but not “fun” in the same sense as a homecoming game. There are no frat parties or bonfire rallies. There are just a bunch of crazy, one-track-minded people who have made their craft their lifestyle.
How People Change
Granted, going to any college will change you. The kid who’s handed her high school diploma is going to be far different from the young woman who earns her bachelor’s degree. Full Sail, however, seems to have a unique effect on the people who go through the meat grinder and come out on the other side.
Obviously, I’m better at writing, and I have more technical knowledge. On a deeper level, I’m pickier about my friends, only surrounding myself with motivated, optimistic people, I’m much (MUCH) better with time management, and when crunch time is called, I have the discipline to put my head down and work through it.
However, what I consider to be my alma mater’s real gift to its students is revealing realistic paths to seemingly unattainable goals. The instructors instill a mindset that allows you to be dream big, then give you the tools to work towards it.
Bit of Advice
If this seems like the world you want to be a part of, go for it, but before signing up, there are a few things to understand.
- It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. There’s a reason so many students drop out of Full Sail. People expect fame and fortune for just a few thousand dollars in tuition money. The school gives you a lot, but success on a silver platter isn’t one of them.
- Take criticism with grace. Much of the curriculum is project-based, and instructors are upfront about what will and won’t work in the real world. They’ll start with your attitude.
- Motivate yourself. “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink.” In this analogy, you are the horse. Full Sail lays out a lot of opportunities, outside of the standard daily classes. It’s up to the student to take advantage of them.
I graduated from college in June 2017. It was a bright morning, but we headed indoors to the venue, and paid rapt attention as Full Sail president Garry Jones delivered the commencement speech. I loved my experience at this school, I miss it, and I hope that if you make the same decision I made, you’ll look back on it the same way I do, too.