What Is the Future of Ad Schools?

As programs adapt to a virtual learning environment, students, too, try to find a way forward

University, Coin Bank, Security System, Education, Loan
Like most colleges and universities, ad schools have found themselves going virtual in recent months because of the pandemic. Getty Images

Key insight:

Whether or not ad school is a worthy investment has long been a debate in the industry.

On the one hand, costs can be pricey. Miami Ad School’s two-year portfolio program costs $38,800, while The Creative Circus charges $45,012 for eight quarters. On the other, it gives students the chance to learn the ropes of the industry, network and create a portfolio. Like most colleges and universities, ad schools have found themselves going virtual in recent months because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

However, students soon graduating from these programs are facing a job market rife with layoffs, hiring freezes and canceled internships, and some students are taking it upon themselves to find opportunities. 

New offerings

Denver Ad School opened its doors last year. The 14-month program, which costs $16,000, bills itself as a cheaper, quicker alternative to other ad schools. Its 18 full-time students are slowly beginning to attend in-person classes again after spending the past few months learning virtually. 

In response to the pandemic, Jesse Alkire, founder of the Denver Ad School, said he and the school’s director Heather Vanisko started rolling out online-only courses in early May for anyone interested in enhancing their skills without committing to the program full-time. 

“We were hearing from tons of college seniors who had their last semester cut short, so we decided this was a way for us to offer some immediate assistance,” he said. 

According to Alkire, nearly 50 students have enrolled for the various courses, which are $1,000 a pop. They range from four to eight weeks, and each covers a different topic, from portfolio building to strategic planning, and are taught by agency employees and freelancers.

Alkire said if these courses continue to garner interest, he would be “more than happy” to continue doing them.

Taking initiative

A group of students at VCU Brandcenter recently collaborated to form Carriage House, a student-run creative co-op, in response to the lack of summer internships. The group will provide pro bono creative services to a handful of local businesses and nonprofits.

“We’re supporting them with this idea because it’s fantastic,” Vann Graves, executive director at VCU Brandcenter, said. “It’s creative problem-solving.”

Aaron Marshall, a copywriting student at The Creative Circus, recently applied to the Growth (Giving Real Opportunity With Talent and Heart) Initiative, an eight-week virtual agency program designed for multicultural college students, after hearing about it from his roommate. The program was created by Keni Thacker, founder of 100 Roses From Concrete, a network for Black male professionals in advertising and marketing.

In addition to learning from 100 Roses From Concrete members, he’ll spend part of the summer working on a brief for a nonprofit. 

Marshall said The Creative Circus’ director of career services has been helpful but there’s “only so much” she can do in this environment. As a result, he’s largely resorted to networking on his own and turning to resources such as We Are Next, a platform that helps young people in advertising jump-start their careers via mentorships and weekly newsletters. 

Weighing the value

Overall, Marshall found his experience at The Creative Circus worthwhile, despite the bumps along the way. Coming from a sports journalism background, he said the program helped him become a better copywriter and creative. 

Even so, ad school is far from a necessity for aspiring creatives. Much of ad school hinges on what an individual makes of it. Ray Smiling, creative director at Johannes Leonardo, said an ad school degree is not a “primary or necessary” factor for him when he’s evaluating potential candidates. 

“Whether the person is coming from ad school or some nontraditional background, I’m always looking for uniqueness of thought and fleshed out, considered ideas,” he said. “You can get that from a spec project done in ad school or a social media campaign for a mom and pop restaurant no one has ever heard of.” 

This story first appeared in the June 8, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@Minda_Smiley minda.smiley@adweek.com Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.
@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.