How to Become an Automobile Designer

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Transportation design courses are relatively rare among schools that teach industrial design, but those classes are exactly where a would-be car designer should start. Considering there are less than two-dozen transportation design schools in the world and that many people aspire careers as car designers, the car design field is very crowded and competitive. In fact, many schools won't consider an applicant who does not already have a design portfolio, so some people are ruled out of consideration almost right away.

Choosing a Transportation Design Course

Schools that teach transportation design are scattered around the globe. The most sensible first-choices for an applicant are the schools that are closest to home. However, a careful examination of a school's reputation might make other options worthy of consideration. Faculty and educational philosophies can also play a part in choosing a transportation design course. Therefore, international study might be necessary.

Some of the most sought-after car design courses are given at schools located near automotive companies. These often have a close tie with the industry and good relations with the nearby automaker. In fact, some of these schools offer apprenticeships and mentoring programs that help students gain firsthand experience in the automotive industry.

Schools that offer car design courses can vary as to how much they emphasize engineering skills versus modeling skills, so prospective students should weigh that information with their own preferences. They also vary as to the amount of equipment available in academic design studios and how often students can access those studios.

Many schools appear at college and career shows, giving prospective students a chance to meet current students and learn more about available programs. Therefore, attending one of these shows is recommended before a student makes any final decisions.


Car design courses require that applicants have talent before even being considered for acceptance. This means that a prospective student must have demonstrable drawing skills and work samples to prove they have a certain amount of ability.

Schools generally want to select applicants with high school design and art experience under their belt as well as solid credentials in mathematics and physics. High school writing credits are also a plus because car designers must have the ability to communicate well on paper. Foreign language experience is also a plus, seeing that the auto industry is globally intertwined. Many graduates will find that their first job after graduation is in a country that speaks a different language.

Length of Study

Students should expect to spend three or four years studying for their undergraduate degree in transportation design. They usually study industrial design for a year before branching out into their specialized courses of study. Advanced degrees are available, which may offer a higher starting salary and greater job security, but not necessarily a better chance for landing a job as a automotive designer.