We should be more specific here. Is a bachelor’s degree in marketing worth the cost of time and money in today’s business environment? And, if you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field that’s not marketing, is it worth it to secure another degree? Can you cultivate marketing as a skill right out of college? Do usable skills now take longer to mature? And, if employers are looking for day-one skills and universities/colleges teach abstractions that only apply to those continuing to a master’s degree or doctoral program, does that bachelor’s pay off at all?
Well, it’s complicated. Let’s start by asserting that a bachelor’s degree in anything isn’t the golden ticket to a high-paying job if that’s the goal. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, but pay well, include plumber, sales representative, carpenter, electrician, executive assistant and wind turbine technician. Also, multiple jobs don’t require candidates to have a specific undergraduate degree, but prefer one, as a completed degree shows the ability to finish, persevere, think critically and demonstrate—in most cases—the willingness to hear new ideas.
Let’s also look at the numbers and frame that as job competition. As of 2022, “nearly four-in-ten Americans ages 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree, a share that has grown over the last decade,” according to Pew Research. “As of 2021, 37.9% of adults in this age group held a bachelor’s degree, including 14.3% who also obtained a graduate or professional degree, according to data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.”
Marketing jobs are growing 9% faster than the national average and the average median pay is $124,850 per year for a mid-level marketing manager, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and, according to Entrepreneur magazine, people can succeed in marketing with a bachelor’s degree in other fields, but a marketing degree makes it easier to land an entry-level job and rise in the marketing field faster. The BLS projects job opportunities for marketing managers to grow by 7% from 2019 to 2029, and U.S. News & World Report ranked marketing manager No. 31 out of the 100 best jobs in 2021.
Colleges and universities are bound to have a biased opinion about embracing degrees, but they also have seen the long game—like generations of students—so they might be valuable to consider in any consideration of formal education. For example, Barbara Kahn, the Patty and Jay H. Baker Professor and Director of the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at Penn’s Wharton School has said in interviews that everyone “needs a little bit of marketing.” Kahn has said any business role learns from marketing because understanding marketing means people:
- understand the customer – and the importance of that as a concept.
- understand brand equity how to measure and harness it.
- understand marketing’s role in enhancing the omnichannel experience.
- understand how presentation, design, and branding influence consumers/customers.
But does any of this matter?
The short answer to all these questions is that it depends. Savvy individuals realize that school, no matter how reputable, cannot be responsible for anyone’s education in total. We all know people who received their bachelor’s degree, but it may be questionable if they earned it—or learned much in the process—and few people can stop learning in their fields and remain successful.
The heart of the question(s) morphs into, what is school responsible for and what do individuals owe themselves if they’re looking to work in current-day marketing straight out of college, or continue their marketing education?
Formal Education Provides Structure
A talented individual looking for a marketing job needs to learn the structure of corporate life, particularly the politics that affect the creative in marketing. Marketers must also learn how to market their ideas to decision makers. Where do you learn this? You learn it delivering project presentations to the professor and your peers in class. (Plus, those presentation skills are almost always required in school, so don’t skip on any effort there.) And let’s not neglect the dreaded T-word: teamwork.
“If you’re not into teamwork, you may be surprised to learn that marketing majors spend a lot of time in group projects,” according to an Entrepreneur magazine article about earning a marketing degree. “Many courses try to mimic the atmosphere in the corporate world of collaborative work with group projects. It’s good preparation for your future career, where a solo effort is rarely the case, but can be frustrating for people used to succeeding on their own.”
Ouch. Good to learn in school. Teamwork is, understandably, not easily self-taught.
Formal Education Provides Inspiration
There is nothing better for a student than to be surrounded by like-minded people with the energy to learn. There are plenty of online marketing classes people can take to learn the technical aspects of the martech stack, but it will probably take much longer to learn the material when not surrounded by people reaching for the same goal. (Note that you might learn a B2C marctech stack in school, but a B2C company will have a different martech stack than a B2B company, so individual learning may still be in the cards.)
Individual Education Works For Software
Universities will teach basic software, but only the best schools will have the latest iterations of industry-standard software packages. It is not the school’s job to understand how companies link third party expansion apps to a core program, either. Even though universities have specialty majors, they usually teach to the center and end up educating students as generalists. A good foundation, but for those who want to specialize in SEO, PPC or CRM—or learn different aspects of a martech stack—they may need to augment their general knowledge with certificates or deeper individualized learning. For most companies, martech stacks are a collection of technologies, mostly applications, that share data and functionality to improve marketing outreach. Any mix of hobbled-together systems, legacy software, vendor-provided on-premises solutio, and cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) offerings is going to be tough to learn in a school setting. According to Salesforce, the average marketing organization has deployed 91 tools as part of its marketing stack.
Individual Education Works for Creativity
People must find their own style and apply it in their own process to get jobs right out of college. The best way to do this is to involve yourself in marketing projects outside of school, ideally with a team. You will learn the equally important skills of negotiation and compromise.
Caveat here: Something people don’t always discuss is the subjectivity of creativity. Yes, you can teach yourself how to paint, given a paintbrush, but find a way to be challenged by others’ opinions. Every visual you create and every word you write will not be perfect. Appreciate your process, but don’t fall in love with everything you do. On the flip side, don’t expect people who don’t do what you do to appreciate it with deep critical thought. There’s a reason you do the creative work and others don’t—because you learned how. A formal education can help here, as instructors and other students can mentor and collaborate with you, all based on the same learning principles. Educated and experienced feedback is your friend.
If you didn’t major in marketing in college, you don’t need to return for an undergraduate degree just to get into marketing. A graduate degree in marketing or an MBA can work as a fast track and offer broader career possibilities. Marketing graduate degrees can offer a broad marketing perspective or specialize in one area. But, again, you can educate yourself with certificates and online short courses to gain deeper knowledge. (Refer back to what works for formal education and what works for individuals.)
Perhaps this discussion raises more questions than it answers, but ideally it provides thought and insight. Much depends on individuals and how they process information and individual self-discipline, drive and motivation. Marketing majors—and self-taught marketers—need to know what helps them learn best and pursue that path. It’s no one road.
It depends on various factors, including career goals and individual circumstances. A marketing degree can provide opportunities for entry-level jobs and career growth in the field.
It’s not necessary to get another bachelor’s degree. Consider pursuing a graduate degree in marketing or gaining marketing skills through certificates and online courses.
Yes, marketing skills can be cultivated right after college through hands-on experience, internships, and continuous learning.
Skills development varies for each individual, but continuous learning and practical experience can help skills mature faster.
While a bachelor’s degree in marketing can provide a foundation, employers often value practical skills and experience. It’s important to combine education with hands-on learning.
Yes, formal education can teach the structure of corporate life, including navigating politics and presenting ideas effectively.
Being surrounded by like-minded individuals in a formal education setting can provide inspiration and energy for learning.