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Brianna Wodabek, who landed a job in publishing during her time in college, says it’s important to focus on programs that help you make inroads into your chosen field.

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Ask Gill Dawe to pick out a specific moment when she decided to leave university for college several years ago and she insists there was no single “aha” moment – just a growing sense that college would be a better fit.

“I knew that I wanted a more hands-on experience and smaller class sizes,” says Dawe, who graduated from College of the North Atlantic’s film and video production program in 2015. She now lives in St. John’s and works as executive assistant for comedian and actress Mary Walsh.

“I definitely found it better to be one of 12 students, having more one-on-one time and being able to ask more questions.”

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While colleges have long been looked at as the practical postsecondary alternative – a place to study a trade, earn a diploma and get to work – it’s easy to forget they also offer programs that develop a student’s creative side, from animation to theatre, podcasting or publishing.

“Colleges are a great option. They offer quality, affordable, accessible and applied programs,” says Lori Elder, marketing lead for B.C. Colleges in Victoria, B.C., adding that creative careers have more in common with other trades than some might think. After all, animation is about building something too, but in a virtual space.

That’s what new graduate Ty Menchions learned from his video game art and design program at Stephenville, Nfld.-based College of the North Atlantic. The three-year program opened doors to national competitions and helped him network his way into his first virtual reality job in St. John’s – no huge student debt required.

Other arts programs offered at colleges also tend to merge the creative with the practical. For instance, the music performance program at Cambrian College in Sudbury, Ont., includes a business of music course that covers marketing, promotion and management for musicians. Hamilton’s Mohawk College lists a program that teaches how to fund, brand, launch market and maintain a creative arts business.

Meanwhile, Sheridan College, which is well known for its creative offerings, launched an honours bachelor of creative writing and publishing in 2017 at one of its Mississauga, Ont. campuses.

“Our program is quite rigorous simply because there’s the added applied aspect to it,” says Sheridan program director Owen Percy. Colleges are well equipped to give students a high level of career mentoring and practical training simply because many lecturers tend to work in the industry and have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the real world, he adds.

Hard work led to an industry job in publishing for Brianna Wodabek, a third-year student living in Hamilton, Ont., who landed a part-time job at Mosaic Press in Oakville after one year in the program.

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“I always had this motto that I would never go to school just to go to school,” says Wodabek, who plans to continue working in publishing after she graduates.

“People forget it’s about finding a program that fits your field. [The colleges] make the classes so engaging and topical; it has just fuelled my passion even more so.”

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