The short answer is no, not always, but there are many factors to take into consideration when deciding where to focus your precious time, money and energy. Let' first consider the benefits of getting a degree in graphic arts and the different types of certifications/degrees that are common.  

What company or Industry do you want your graphic design job in?

First of all it depends on where you want to work, because there are many companies that will only consider you for employment if you do have a specific degree.  For example the top paying industry for graphic design in the U.S. In 2013 was the Federal Executive Branch with an average annual wage of $75,570 according to the department of labor.
It is highly likely that the Federal Executive Branch would not require you to have a degree, but they only employ less than 1% of people in the graphic design industry.  So, it is important to think about where it is that you feel you would like to work in this industry.  Other top paying industries are: Amusement Parks and Arcades, Monetary Authorities / Central Banks, Aerospace Products and Parts Manufacturing (you can be pretty sure they want a degree) and then the Motion Picture and Video Industries.  Do you want to work in advertising, web design, gaming, magazines, newspapers or for yourself as a free-lancer?  You may not know until you start to get experience in the industry, however it is important to try and discover where you are most excited and passionate about creating, because that is what will give you long term fulfillment.

Different types of graphic art and design degrees

Masters Degree or MS - Usually takes another 1-2 years of additional studies after your 4 year Bachelor's degree.  This is a high level of education that is not commonly necessary to get started working in the graphic design industry, but may be something to do if your company sponsors it or if you want a very high level of structured learning.

Bachelor's Degree or BS - Usually takes up to 4 years of schooling to complete and generally gives you a comprehensive background in print design, history, marketing/advertising principles, portfolio design, color theory, illustration, some photography insight, software experience with Photoshop, InDesign, Quark Xpress, JavaScript, and other hopefully still relevant software.  A bachelor's degree is definitely considered to be ample enough education to interview for most positions, keep in mind that most of your learning will absolutely be on the job.

Associates Degree - Usually takes about 2 years of schooling to complete and will give you all the background basics in art to get you started in figuring out what area you think would be most interesting to you.  Should be enough to get your foot in the door in a lot of companies as long as you have been developing a portfolio along the way.  Your portfolio will be very important in landing a job and should always be a primary focus of your attention.
Certifications - There are a multitude of software certifications that you can complete in 6 months to 1 year that will focus on a particular area that you want to gain knowledge in.  This may be a good idea if there is a company you are interested in working for that you know uses a particular software and you want to be able to know it in advance.  Becoming proficient in one or two graphic art software programs and then creating your own unique work using them is a great place to start. 
Online Tutorials - You can literally learn almost anything you want to with online tutorials these days.  Many basic ones are free and then there are in depth series that you can pay for when you find a particular software that you know you will want to master.  Generally you would begin with a free trial of some graphic art software that appeals to you, practice with some tutorials, then move on to a full paid version if you like it.  Check out our Resources page for a list of FREE graphic art software that can help get you started.

What Most Companies Really Want From A Graphic Designer.

Most computer graphics companies are looking for talent and or the potential to develop someone who shows promise.  A degree does not substitute for talent, although it may help you to decide which area of digital art you would like to focus on and give you the fundamentals for that area.  A degree does show a company that you are willing to commit to putting in the time, effort and resources necessary to learn.
The most important thing in most company environments is your desire and ability to work with others in a team.  The talented artist who is an impossible jerk is not found to be employed in many companies.  Yes, a company wants talent and they have people who know how to recognize it, but without teamwork it is not useful.  One reason is because you will very likely have to be taught whatever software it is that the company is using.  If you learned 3d graphic art using Blender's free software and the company recognizes your talent, but they use Houdini, the first thing they will do is begin to train you in their software.  You had better be eager to learn and to help others, because that is what makes a successful company and the management knows it.

Let's review several things to consider when choosing whether or not to pursue a degree.

1- Does the particular industry you are interested in require a degree?  Call and ask or find someone online that works in that industry  who is willing to share this information with you.

2- Do you think your time and money would be better spent doing 4 years of schooling that you are paying for, or 4 years as an intern, trainee, junior artist in a studio for anywhere from free to entry level wages where you are gaining real world experience and advancing your career?
3- Which environment will be using the latest technology and relevant software?

4- What type of person are you? Do you need structure or do you like to jump in and figure things out as you go along? Your personality type goes a long way in determining whether or not you should get a degree, don't be afraid to be who you are.  There are many successful people who have taken both routes.

Is a University Degree Necessary to Get a Graphic Designer Job?

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