Becoming a Graphic Designer without a degree?

This is going to be a lot of text, I know. If you work as a graphic designer I'd really appreciate you reading my story and giving me some advice! I'm a junior at a technical high school for Multimedia Communications and I'm extremely interested in the visual design aspect of that. I have had a... show more This is going to be a lot of text, I know. If you work as a graphic designer I'd really appreciate you reading my story and giving me some advice!

I'm a junior at a technical high school for Multimedia Communications and I'm extremely interested in the visual design aspect of that. I have had a talent for art my entire life and the principles of design came naturally to me when I started learning in school. For the last couple of years I've had my heart set on becoming a graphic designer-it's what I love to do and what I know I am good at. It is possible that next year I will be able to get a co-op job (going to work in a field related to my studies at school during the weeks I would normally spend in my shop). I have a teacher with excellent credentials and connections in the graphic design world who is hoping and working on getting some members of my class apprenticeships at graphic design firms. So that would give me real life experience and a head start.

With that background information out of the way, here is my real situation I have questions on. I have been considering attending a four year institute for Graphic Design, yet the way I was raised, college has never been my goal and it really isn't what I desire. I have other goals in life and college doesn't go along with those. (I do religious volunteer work and it's my first and foremost goal in life, yet I need a job to support myself obviously.) I have made the decision that I will not choose to attend college, with much thought put into it. I've also done a lot of research on the matter of becoming a graphic designer without a degree. While a lot of people say from experience that a degree is not REQUIRED to becoming a designer (although I'm aware that many employers will not hire you if you don't have a bachelors) they admit that it is very beneficial and it definitely helps.

Here is a list of my questions broken down for you (if you are able to answer only a couple of these it helps):
-Should I bother to make the effort to get into the graphic design field without a degree?
-Do you agree that it is more important to develop a strong portfolio than to have an impressive resume and college education background?
-Do employers REALLY care more about talent than credentials? Will they care that my teacher wrote in a recent recommendation letter for me that "the world of visual design needs more people like her"? Will they care that I'm a praised student or will they just want someone who went to college?
-Is an employer likely to hire a person just recently out of high school?
-What kind of difference will it make if I work an apprenticeship at a design firm? Do they even tend to hire apprentices as actual workers eventually?
-Would it be wiser to try and work for a company or put my efforts into freelance if I do not have a degree?
-If you are a Graphic Designer, how did you get into the field? Did you attend college? Did you work as an apprentice? Do you work freelance or under another company? If you could change the way you did it, would you?

I really just need to learn more about the field and any responses I get will help. Thank you for your honest answers in advance!
Update: Just to add this: I'm not concerned with making loads of money. I don't need to be anybody important. I just want to know, basically, if it's worth my time and effort to put myself out there in the field without a degree. I'm aware that I likely wouldn't make as much money as someone with a degree, at least at... show more Just to add this: I'm not concerned with making loads of money. I don't need to be anybody important. I just want to know, basically, if it's worth my time and effort to put myself out there in the field without a degree. I'm aware that I likely wouldn't make as much money as someone with a degree, at least at first. Just wanted to mention that that is not my priority.
6 answers 6