There is a great article over on theartorder.com about making the most of student work. A must read if you're still in school, or even looking for some sense of ownership working for 'the Man.'
I graduated in 2008 and was the typical naive student of the current education bubble. I optimistically hoped my university degree would magically grant me the skills to be competitive in my dream industry. While I maintain that non of my professors had the chops to exemplify what they were teaching, and am eagerly awaiting the inevitable crash and burn of the current impostor of art-education, I recognize that only much too late did I take ownership of my education to maximize what could have been had from it. It was about a year away from finishing my 8yr stint that I realized I was coming up short, way short.
A lot of students use their education to find out what they want to do, and do a lot of feeling around before coming to a focus on a particular path, usually after they've graduated and asked themselves 'Now what?'. That's fine, and that needs to happen organically. But that wasn't my case, I knew exactly what I wanted. However despite that advantage, I still relied on hoop-jumping to somehow get me there. I took my time and enjoyed myself, but eventually got to the point where I was really pessimistic and felt short-changed by 'the system,' as if it were someone else's fault that I wasn't getting what I wanted out of my education.
The program I was part of put high emphasis on style and expression without laying the groundwork of traditional representational skills. I honed my bullsh!t skills and got A's because that was what the professors wanted, rather than an image that stood by itself without the need of an 'artist statement.' I was disillusioned with the process and frustrated knowing that art-speak wouldn't get me what my portfolio couldn't.
One day I was pondering a quote from Bush II, among other -isms: "C's get degrees." I realized I wasn't running for President, and I would still get my 20K piece of paper even if I forced my own agenda onto the loose parameters of each assignment. I had to engage myself the way I knew I needed to be and force-fed myself industry level expectations far above those of my professors, at the sacrifice of a lousy "A." I didn't have any scholarships to worry about, and "Dean's List Achievement" still hasn't opened doors that my portfolio can't, so what did I have to loose?
Freed from the expectation to please my professors, and invested in the necessity to please myself. I poured into assignments, transforming them into something I enjoyed and was proud of. Not that I just did my own thing regardless of the assignment, I made sure to cover my bases and learned all that was being offered, before foraying deep into what-I-want-to-do-instead land. I abandoned the typical artist-statement of excuses based in medium, technique, style, or esoteric concept, and boiled it down to something like "I wanted to paint a Sasquatch punching a unicorn in the face. Would you believe that I painted this from life?"
To my surprise I didn't get C's. I got A's and a lot praise. And a lot of highly valuable criticism.
I think my professors appreciated the fresh infusion of ownership, I'm sure they get tired of teaching and seeing the same old thing over and over again. I'm not saying that I was good or stand-out, but I learned A LOT. Way more than I had in the previous 7 yrs of hoop-jumping. People started to nit-pick what was on the canvas as I tried to put my ideals there instead of into fluffy rhetoric. I began to learn what I wanted to learn by asking people nail me on what I sucked at. It became a rewarding trial by fire that cleared my head of the clouds put there too many artsy fart-club sessions.
In retrospect I may come across as the disgruntled art student and critical of the real world value of getting an academic education, which I am. But, I wouldn't change my experience. It took me years to come to the conclusions that I did, and while ownership was really the only skill I took away from my program, it was entirely worth it.