Do You Need a College Degree to Become a Digital Marketer?

A Simple “Yes” or “No” Can’t Answer This.

I know my experiences are unique to me, but my hope is that I can at least help shed some light on the digital marketing world so that you can formulate your own game plan.

A little bit about myself:

I graduated from Neshaminy High School in 2012 and was enrolled at Bucks County Community College the following Fall.  Not quite sure about what I wanted to do (as 18-year-olds are prone to do) for the rest of my life, I chose Business Administration as my major.  

The reason behind this was so that I could get a well-rounded degree that taught me a little bit about everything in the business world.  Plus, the credits I earned during my time at BCCC were very easily transferrable.

As a freshman and sophomore in college, I didn’t know a single line of HTML or CSS yet.  I had no idea what WordPress was.  I barely used social media.  And I had certainly never written a blog before.  It wasn’t until after I transferred to Temple University in the Spring of 2014 that I discovered my passion for web design, even though I was an accounting major.  

A few friends of mine encouraged me to learn some coding (one of whom is sitting 10 feet away from me).  So I signed up for a Team Treehouse account after some glowing recommendations.  I stuck with it for a few months and bought my own personal domain to mess around with.

 

Enough about me, let’s focus on the question at hand

If you are reading this blog, I’m willing to bet that you are one of the following types of people:

  1. A high school student looking to make a big college decision
  2. A college student contemplating whether or not you’re in the wrong major
  3. A recent college alum who wants a job in digital marketing but doesn’t have a degree to match

In my opinion, college degrees aren’t only for learning more about your desired field.  College degrees are all about immersing yourself in the culture of your particular university.  They also teach you how to work within groups, present yourself professionally to potential employers, but the only thing that I am counting on is that $60,000 piece of paper that I will hang on my wall.

I am naturally a very shy person so attending social gatherings, university or non-university sponsored, was and still is something I avoid.  It also doesn’t help that I am a commuter that predominantly takes the train to and from school.  If I lived on campus and was afforded the luxury of getting more involved maybe I would have, but I can’t say for sure.   So the social aspect of college never appealed to me.

All that being said, I learned VERY little about digital marketing at the collegiate level.  After I transferred to Temple and realized I didn’t want to be a bean counter my whole life, I thought about getting more into the IT field.  Management Information Systems (my current major) is a perfect hybrid of business administration (which is what my Associate’s Degree was in) and IT (the field of study I wanted to learn more about).  

I genuinely enjoy my major, but I know that I won’t be using 90% of what I learned.  

Unsurprisingly, the two classes during college that I learned the most from are my two non-major electives.   Last semester I took Social Media Advertising, and this past semester I am enrolled in Search Engine Optimization, neither of which are a part of my major.

 

Learning and doing are two different things

If I knew everything I know now, I would not have gone to Temple University.  While I take great pride in being an Owl, I feel like the amount of college debt I’ll be in for the next decade will not reap the benefits I wish they will.  

This is not meant to devalue a college degree, however, it is simply stating that my situation has lead to my current mindset.  90% of what I do on a daily basis was learned during my internships, from countless Lynda videos, Team Treehouse lectures, attending business networking events, reading digital marketing blogs every day, and making sure I wrote or designed something to keep my skills sharp.

I was already too invested in school when I came to the conclusion.  I was closer to the end than the beginning and plus, it is a personal motivator for me to accomplish this because members of my family are alumni.

Prison Mike
While this isn’t my graduation cap, mine will be similar!

My Advice

To high schoolers –  If you are given the option, consider going to a technical high school as opposed to your district’s high school.  A few of my closest friends all went to a technical high school and started down the path to digital marketing when they were 16 years old.  I didn’t start until I was about 20.  Plus, I feel like my high school didn’t prepare me at all to be competent in any one field of study.  

It’s also important to get your small, character-building jobs out of the way.  Don’t be afraid to go work at Wawa for three years (like I did).  Don’t be afraid to do tree work for a few summers when you’re young.  Doing that kind of work has made me appreciate having a consistent office job around which I can plan my social events.  (Plus, it was pretty cool getting to eat free Wawa several days a week!)  

But no matter what you do, keep creating.  No one expects an 18-year-old to have a fully stacked portfolio.  One or two good projects will make you a good candidate for any digital marketing position (whether it be web design, graphics, copywriting, etc) than 10 poor ones.

To college students contemplating whether or not they’re in the wrong major – Go set up a meeting with your advisor right now.  It is their job to help you.  If you are questioning your major, they can help you come to the best possible decision quickly.  They might even have some insight on student professional organizations that would further help you.  

Don’t make the same mistake that I made by not getting involved with like-minded young people.

To a recent college alum who wants a job in digital marketing – Get your LinkedIn profile updated and start networking.  Your cousin’s friend’s uncle’s co-worker might be that one connection away from reaching the job of your dream.  While you do have a degree in your hand, that isn’t enough.  By now I’m assuming that you have at least a little bit of a disposable income.  

If that’s the case, buy your own personal domain, start a blog or create some other content, and be the person that you want to be.  If you’re looking to work locally at a small company, Google something like, “SEO agencies near me,” and reach out to them.  Cast a wide net and hope that your work outside of the classroom will make you desirable.

 

The Takeaway

Digital marketing is definitely an industry that can be associated with the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” but only to a certain extent.  Had a few of my best friends not started a web design company, I can say with 100% certainty that I wouldn’t be in this industry.  

A college degree helps you GET a job, but what you learn outside of the office and classroom is what help you SUCCEED at your job.

And if I may steal a quote from the great Ronald Ulysses Swanson:

Ron Swanson Quote
Yes, this poster is actually hanging next to my desk!

Spreading yourself too thin won’t allow you to focus on the things you truly want to accomplish.

 

To Be Updated!

This was written during my senior year of college.  I will revisit this after graduation to let you know if my experiences have changed!

 



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