Is getting a marketing degree worth it?
I definitely asked that question when switching my major for the third time. (Long story…) Unfortunately, 15 minutes of googling “benefits of a marketing degree” gave me such a plethora of information—most of it conflicting—that it was hard to know for sure what to do.
I had been dabbling in marketing with a couple small businesses, wondering if I really needed the formal training found in a major or if I could just figure it out myself. To some extent, I probably could have done the latter.
But, as I researched marketing career paths, I realized there are some benefits to earning a marketing degree—namely, a foot in the door (and opportunities for advancement). So I decided to change my major to marketing.
After graduating, I got an entry-level job in the Marketing department here at Unbound, where I’ve been able to put to use what I learned during my degree, what I taught myself on my own and the new knowledge I’m getting from hands-on experience every day.
So as someone who both taught myself marketing and got the formal education, I know deciding whether to get a degree or self-teach feels like a huge, scary, life-defining choice with no going back. But that’s not true.
Truth is… you might want to do both.
Realities of getting a marketing degree
Let’s get something out of the way before going any farther: if you choose to earn a marketing degree, most of what you study will be out of date.
That’s the nature of the beast with marketing. It moves really fast. And since textbooks take several years to just get published (and if you’re like me, you always buy them used. Like, very used), what you’re studying is not always relevant to current times.
All that being said, when completing a marketing degree, you will study basic business subjects such as cost tracking, ROI, and market research that are pretty timeless. And as I alluded to before, a lot of jobs require a bachelor’s degree just to get in the door. So even if you have amazing job experience on your resume, if you don’t have that “bachelor’s degree” box checked, you may have a harder time staying in the HR hiring pile.
And while getting through the door is the important first step, you still need to survive the interview process, and that’s where experience comes in.
It’s important to remember a marketing degree doesn’t guarantee experience. While you’ll come out with some good (and some outdated) head knowledge, a lot of marketing is learned by doing and keeping up with current trends.
The best way to avoid knowing only outdated marketing when you graduate? Look at what you’re studying in school as the foundation, and then supplement that foundation with other resources and experiences.
This will help you graduate with a better understanding of marketing than someone who just spent the last 4 years learning out of a textbook. And will hopefully give you a leg-up when job hunting!
How to supplement your marketing degree
Keep an eye on current trends
Marketing is one of those “continuing education” fields where learning doesn’t stop when you get your diploma. It helps to stay up to date on what’s happening in the marketing and business world so you stay in the loop.
The best (and easiest) way to do that is by subscribing to newsletters specific to your interest or which give you a broad look at all things marketing.
Not sure where to start? These are a few I follow regularly:
- Fast Company: everything from design to business to marketing to social news
- Inc.: strong focus on business and marketing trends
- Under Consideration: all about branding and design
- Copyblogger: cover content marketing and copywriting
There are a lot of other ones out there, so keep your eyes open for what peaks your interest.
Read business/marketings books
While I know reading a book after spending all day reading a textbook sounds exhausting, this is still a great way to dig into popular marketing concepts. Marketing and business books give you a look at the author’s point of view about their chosen subject that goes much deeper than a blog post or newsletter.
Of course there are so many online articles out there recommending “must read marketing books” that a quick peek at the list will probably make you want to run for the hills. So here’s a few to get you started:
- The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout
- Purple Cow by Seth Godin
- Linchpin by Seth Godin
- Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller
Recommendations from industry leaders are another great source for book ideas. So if you meet someone in marketing, ask them what books they recommend!
Be data driven
If you want to be successful in marketing, data is your bread and butter.
Now, I know you might be thinking, “wait a minute… isn’t marketing creative and stuff?” And you’re absolutely right, it is very creative.
But if you want to keep your job, you need to prove that your marketing efforts are working. Data is how you do that.
Say you create a campaign to market a new product. You write emails and Facebook posts, create ads, write blogs, maybe some videos, schedule all this out, and start executing. You have high hopes for this campaign. But how will you know whether or not it worked? What metrics are you tracking? What determines success? And how do you prove it to your boss? Or your boss’s boss? How can you replicate and improve success in the future?
That’s why being data driven is so important.
Familiarize yourself with analytics tools like Google Analytics, insights on Facebook, etc. Learn how to track everything.
Learn to love spreadsheets (and other business tools)
So how exactly do you track everything? Spreadsheets.
“Spreadsheets” might sound terrifying, but trust me. With just a little work, they’re going to become your best friend. Spreadsheets let you organize, sort, and filter the data so you can see exactly what you need to make the right decisions.
Knowing your way around Excel and Google Sheets will make you a valuable asset to any marketing team. If you can take a bunch of raw data then manipulate it to understand where it came from and the story it’s telling, you’ll be able to make smart marketing decisions.
You don’t necessarily need to be a spreadsheet power-user, but being able to sort, filter, run formulas to count or lookup data in other sheets and create graphs from that data will be some of your best tools in your spreadsheet toolbox.
Certifications are a great way to boost your resume and learn some more practical marketing skills at the same time. And many of them are free! (Or very, very inexpensive.)
Not only are many of these certifications free, but they’re incredibly convenient too. Hubspot has a library of free certifications you can add right to your LinkedIn profile. And they’re super practical!
(Google Analytics is another practical certification to look into. Having a basic understanding on how it works and being able to show that on a resume will really help you when hunting for jobs.)
Hone your copywriting skills (at least a little bit)
Marketing has changed over the years from being ad-driven to story-driven. This means marketing agencies and teams are focusing on content marketing more than ever before.
And copywriting is a big part of that.
Being able to take an idea and put it into words that connect with your customers and get them to take the action you want (buy a product, sign up for an ebook, etc.) will make you an invaluable member of a marketing team.
Even if you’re not interested in copywriting, being able to recognize good copy will make you a well-rounded marketer.
A good resource to get started is Copyblogger. Their specialty is copywriting and content marketing, so they’re a great place to start exploring those subjects.
Practice what you’re learning
Getting a marketing degree is important. It opens doors and shows that you spent the time to educate yourself. But if you aren’t able to get a job with it, that diploma becomes a really expensive piece of paper.
Marketing is about what you can do, so it’s crucial to start building those skills while you’re in school. Finding a way to combine both studying for a marketing degree and gaining practical experience will start you off on the right foot.
Combining the Degree and Self-Study
I found the happy medium between building those much-needed skills and formal education thanks to Unbound. And you can too!
Getting hands-on experience in college is challenging. You have to juggle class times, homework, group projects, and getting to campus, so trying to add extracurricular activities on top of that like a job or volunteering feels impossible.
Unbound won’t make you choose experience over education. Everything Unbound offers is online. There are no class times, and you can study when you want, from wherever you want. This means you’ll have the freedom to use your time to focus on career skills and still stay on track to graduate in 4 years (or 3 or 2—it’s up to you!)
Throughout my degree, I did a little blogging, ran email campaigns, set up WordPress sites, played with Photoshop, explored Google Analytics, promoted my small business on Social Media, and took as many free seminars as I could find. All while studying for my degree.
Not all of these ventures were successful, but all these little projects helped me learn what I liked about marketing, what I didn’t like, and what I wanted to focus my career on before jumping into the workforce.
If you can demonstrate practical marketing experience when applying for jobs post-graduation, it’ll set you apart from the crowd and show that you’re serious about your career and ready to learn and work hard.
Want to find out if Unbound will help you? Learn more here!
Emily loves business and marketing. To prove it, she graduated Unbound with a marketing BA, joined the Unbound marketing team, and runs a small business on the side! For fun, she likes to cook, ski, and collect vinyls.Read more by Emily