Why a College Education Isn't a Necessity to Work in Advertising

Often taking an entry-level job and growing in an agency works best

I was raised in a family where the only thing that mattered was intelligence. Education was king and not going to university was not an option.

I look around at my colleagues now and think about the wonderful misfits that advertising welcomes. While some of them are ivy league graduates, there are many that started out differently. A global network CEO that dropped out and started in the post room. A founder that started in the print studio at the age of 16. An executive creative director that didn’t finish her English degree. So, is it education or determination that helps us succeed in the industry today?

Those of us that work in creative agencies know that there’s a hefty dose of subjectivity, feeling and intuition in what we do. Often everyone is right. That’s not to say we don’t structure compelling arguments that academia teaches, but rather that you need more than a textbook education to succeed.

Couple this with the fact that the cost of education is rising under the U.K. government, and in the United States it has always been eye-wateringly expensive with a college education costing in the ball park of $250,000. It begs the question of if it’s all actually worth it.

If you are looking to join our industry, ask yourself if you have true grit and determination to succeed.

Of course, there are the compelling correlations between those who have a university degree and a higher earning potential. The New York Times states that American workers with a college degree are, on average, paid 74 percent more than those with only a high school degree. However, there’s also a view in the U.K. that a university degree is no longer valuable. Everyone has one, so they are no longer a differentiator and they leave you with a lot of debt.

Furthermore, there are a number of self-made billionaires that made it with no college education and had a head start on those that went to university. Take Richard Branson, for example. He started his first business at 16 and is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time.

As Branson himself puts it, “It’s not a case of trying to make sure everyone heads off to university. For some people that’s fine, but for a great many, including yours truly, it’s just not the right fit.”

Where does that leave the next generation who are keen to join the industry?

Given I rarely look at the education section of a CV, not going to university isn’t an issue for me. And I am not alone. The WSJ wrote, “The college diplomas of the nation’s top executives tell an intriguing story: Getting to the corner office has more to do with leadership talent and a drive for success than it does with having an undergraduate degree from a prestigious university.”

If you are looking to join our industry, ask yourself if you have true grit and determination to succeed. How you prove this is also worth considering.

Of course, you can intern, but I personally think showing your potential as an intern in less than six months is tricky, as it takes three months for you to understand what is going on and another three months to add some value.

It is worth considering if you would be willing to start in the post room or on reception or as a personal assistant? These are all ways to get in and show your potential and unwavering determination while getting exposed to more decision makers. Four of my past assistants left me to move into account management and TV production, and I have no idea if any of them had a degree.

I personally wasn’t as big on academia as my family. However, I did love university. For me, it was never about what I was studying but rather a few great years of running at life and finding my people. I’m sure having a degree was the safer route to go, too. The chances of employment after getting a degree back then was higher. However, if you can’t afford university or simply choose not to go that doesn’t mean our industry should be ruled out.