Hearme, I'm in the VFS SD program myself right now and about halfway through it, so there's my bias. Long post incoming!
I don't want to seem too pro-VFS, so I'll start by saying:
You Don't Need It..
As everyone's said, you absolutely don't need the program. No one else in this thread so far has gone here and they're all Sound Designers of a degree; it's totally possible to go it on your own. I know this sounds obvious, but I repeat it only so that you don't get so caught up in the idea of VFS as your next step that you put off starting your career proper.
If you have the drive and the resources and -- most importantly -- the time to make this career switch, you could even do better spending the money you would spend on tuition (if you're still able to get it outside of an academic loan) on a little time off and a lot of gear to get you started. VFS won't provide you with anything gear-wise and you'll need to pick all that up after you graduate, anyways, so you would get a head start in that regard.
Things You Can Do // Get Your Hands Dirty
- Watch the movies everyone lists on this site, analyze what the sound's trying to do emotionally, read and watch everything on Designing Sound and DesigningSound.TV. You won't really learn anything until you get you start trying it for yourself, though..
- Grab royalty-free animations and try to create sounds for them.
- Cut sounds for creatures. Start with your voice and record a bunch of different layers, learn what they're like as they come together. You'll learn a lot about EQing, plugin/sound manipulation and consistency with an exercise like this.
- Cut sci-fi sounds. We still don't know what a laser is supposed to sound like, so start anywhere and enjoy the journey.
- Record you and your friends d8oing voiceover dubs for random movie clips and try to cut them into perfect sync with the clips themselves. Dialogue Editing hurts, respect it.
- Try to recreate all the SFX of a clip doing some homemade Foley in your garage or wherever. This'll teach you some resourcefulness. It's also fun as hell!
- Read any number of articles out there on recording vehicles and grab some audio of your car doing a dozen different things, then try to cut a vehicle scene. Vehicles will make you cry.
- Cut fight scenes.
- Cut robots.
- Cut superpowers.
- Make homemade music videos, try using only the song itself as source material for any special effects moments you'd want to hit in the music video/trailer as well.
I can't advocate pirating software, plugins, library sounds, but do what you need to do to practice. DON'T get too caught up in the plugin, though.. most of the time, most of the work for me is in picking good source sounds. It's tough to polish shit into diamonds.
In terms of a DAW, you'll be using Pro Tools (Mac, sometimes PC) almost exclusively for your linear/post editing in the program, so if you wanted to get a head start, you could start there. Especially easy now that Pro Tools 9 doesn't require you to buy any proprietary Avid hardware to run it. Learn "too much" of PT, though, and you may find your first two months' at VFS a bit of a waste of money, as that's when all the introductory stuff is taught. Not something I'd really consider a problem, but there it is.
Take everyone's advice about self-promotion, networking, asking questions and staying humble as well. You're lucky to have a community like SSD kicking around to help you out, because I've found that some in audio (generally, and on newsgroups etc.) are randomly really elitist about their work and shrug off these "beginner" questions, though they obviously had to be beginners themselves at some point.
And keep believing it will pay off! You probably won't get rich, but if it's what you truly want, there is a career out there waiting for you.
That all said..
Reasons Why You Might Still Want It
Considering all of the above, whether you should attend or not is going to be a really personal thing. In my case, I wanted to make a major career switch, but couldn't find the time or the extreme self-discipline to teach myself it the way I wanted to while still paying rent, having a girlfriend, seeing friends, going out, etc. I wanted to go off the map and just grind sound for a year, take a bit of a risk, see if I could cut it. This has been VFS for me, and I've learned a ton in these past six months considering where I was. But man, is there ever so much to learn.
My attitude in coming here is as someone said above: you get out of a program like this what you put into it. If you're going to work harder than the rest of your class (very difficult in a really motivated class - don't give up if you're not the big fish in a small pond!), ask the best questions and just devote yourself to this stuff, I think it's worth your while. It's not an easy year nor any sort of hand-out. Be prepared to work your ass off.
VFS has some great teachers. Mostly it has good ones, though. The great ones will inspire you, show you things you didn't know, and bring work out of you that you didn't know you were capable of. The good ones might just show you some things you didn't know and give you a little structure (in the form of assignments) within which to teach yourself. If you come here, identify the greats and stick with them. It's what you're paying for.
You will have constant support in the form of up to 15 others going through the same shit as you, day in, day out. If you thrive around people (I do) and don't know if you could pull this off in a year's time in your own basement with some tutorials, this will be super appealing to you. I've found that around 20% of each class really wants to kick the shit out of the program and will help you push yourself to do better work than you would otherwise. Identify these people, friend them, compete with them and ask always for their feedback and you'll be exploiting one of the best parts of the program.
Gear Access. You've got a big playground of mics of all different types and brands, recorders, MIDI controllers and plugin-loaded iLoks here to check out throughout the entire year. The facilities are pretty tops, too. Some of the computers could use upgrading, but it's nice to get to ramp up to speed on a real-deal mixing console in a 5.1 room -- or the ICON -- even if you'll never get to touch one again in your life. Check out and try different types of mics, bunches at a time, record stuff, and find the ones you like, and you'll learn a ton about recording outside of what the courses will teach you. You can't afford to experiment like this without coming to a stocked school or working at a shop that's got this stuff (which would probably require some SD experience), so it's another pro.
Structure. If you're not great at organization and self-discipline and all that, it doesn't mean you can't end up a brilliant sound designer. They're things that can be fixed, and if you weren't born a motivated, blog-posting, constantly experimenting machine, you could at least drop the loan to try to turn yourself into one. I'm willing to bet that most of the sound designers out there were, in fact, normal people at one point who needed a little nudge at some point along the way to get started. There's no shame in wanting to send yourself to boot camp, and trust me - it's a very tough ride, tougher if you make it harder for yourself.
Finally, my blog and some VFS work so far is up at www.lucafusi.com, take a look and see what you'd be getting into. I'm not out in the working world yet, but someday soon I will be, and no matter what happens, I feel good about my choice. Make yours and own it!
Feel free to hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime if you have any more questions about how things run up here, I'm not an advisor or anything, but I spent a while trying to find information on what really happened in this program before coming here and often turned up empty-handed.