There’s art school, and then there’s…whatever comes next. While not unique to art students, life after college can be a giant question mark for many, particularly those looking to go into a creative field. For artists, there are definite pros and cons to coming from an art school background. In the end, however, artists have more options than they may think when it comes to choosing a direction to take their art post-college—particularly given all the opportunities art school can provide.

Many PNCA students, for example, are already showing their work professionally even while still in school. MFA student Angélica Maria Millán Lazon’s Engendradxs was shown at the Williamson | Knight gallery even before it was shown in PNCA’s MFA presentation. So while art school itself can be a period of safe experimentation, it can also provide professional opportunities and connections that catapult an artist forward into the “real” world.

It can be difficult to get to that point, however, with all the challenges of transmuting education into a creative career. And yet, hundreds of students go on to successful careers in illustration, teaching, art direction, animation, set design, gallery work, and more. So how does that happen?

Writing for The Huffington Post, art professor F. Scott Hess has a few ideas. Location, he says, can have a big impact on an art career. While students don’t have to live in a large city in order to be successful, a more metropolitan area can provide resources like museums, critics, and successful colleagues.

And speaking of colleagues, those connections can be key to building a creative career. Your fellow art students can inspire, motivate, and share resources that will get you going in the career direction you want. It’s never a good idea to ignore either classmates or professors when it comes to building the network needed to support a successful career.

By the way, the idea of the “starving artist” is quickly losing its cultural appeal. Many artists work freelance these days, often in multiple jobs. Self-promotion, especially on social media, is key to generating creative work. And a solid portfolio will take you far—farther than your grades. A Guardian article pointed to a conversation between the author and a director at a graphic design company who actually said he’d rather hire someone with hobbies and and an interesting portfolio than someone whose main source of fame comes from a high-powered degree. “They might be really boring,” the director lamented.

Particularly in today’s gig economy, it’s more possible than ever to build up a solid post-graduation career in art. The trick is to be aware of the available resources both in school and out.