What Education Do You Need for an Advertising Career?

How To Choose the Best Education for the Job.

Education and Advertising
Education and Advertising. Getty Images

There are many different and varied roles in advertising, and all of them usually require some kind of related educational background as an entry point. It was not always the case. In the 1960s, even through to the early 1980s, advertising was often a career people stumbled into by chance. But now, competition is fierce, and if you want to succeed, you should follow a particular proven path based on the current state of the industry.

 

Beginning your career in advertising may feel overwhelming at first. The education, the personality, even trying to get the interview can quickly discourage you. These are some of the most common concerns anyone with an interest in the ad industry has. Having a degree under your belt always helps you get off to the right start. But however you proceed, here is some advice to follow. 
 

Education for a Creative Role in Advertising

If you're looking to be a copywriter, there are two routes available to you...a writing education, or a creative education. There are many successful copywriters who hold a degree in English. You'll also find a large number of ad pros with a degree in Communications. Even a decade ago, the writing education was still a possibility, but to be honest, these days you'll have a hard time breaking into a major advertising agency. Copywriters are expected to think visually, and should know how to work hand-in-hand with an art director or designer.

So, while a major in English or some other kind of writing course may give you a good start, you'll need more. Plus, it's worth noting that most copywriters break a lot of the rules of the language they write in anyway.

Therefore, if you want to be a copywriter, designer, or art director, you should definitely look at an education in the areas of advertising, design, public relations and marketing.

 Not every university offers degrees in Advertising, Marketing or Public Relations. However, if you specifically want to be trained in these areas while in college, you can take a look at the list of colleges and universities offering these programs.

You're not limited to a career in copywriting if you hold your degree in English. However, as a Communications major, you are exposed to a wide variety of courses that give you insight into a lot of different aspects of a career in advertising, journalism, marketing and public relations. Since you have to take specific courses to fulfill your degree requirements, you'll find a lot of the courses you need to take fall right in line with the career you're pursuing.
 

Education for an Account Role in Advertising

If you're more interested in the account management side of things, you have far more options open to you. Account managers often have a degree in marketing or sales, and hold a BSc rather than a BA. If you have an aptitude for lateral thinking, organization, presentation, and are good at persuasiveness, this could be the right approach for you. Anything from English and Communications, to Psychology and Business Management are great entry points into the career.

Of course, you need to pair them with relevant experience, so getting an internship is vital. 
 

Education for Other Ad Agency Roles

Like so many business models out there, advertising has seen a great deal of change over the last 20-30 years. The impact of data and digital cannot be emphasized enough, and agencies have had to grow and change to accommodate the new landscape. 

If you are not into the acount side or creative side of the business, but would still like to work in the fast-paced world of advertising, you still have many options open to you. Here are some other ways you can get into the ad agency family:

Technology. Make no mistake, tech is as big in advertising as it is in every other industry. Agencies want to be at the forefront of technical innovation, and will often employ tech-savvy people to steer campaigns into a more digital world.

Tech experts are also needed to help build, run, and maintain the IT and communications networks, and may need to be on call at the craziest hours. For this kind of career, a degree in computer science or a related field will be necessary.

Administration. Every ad agency relies on organized people that can help the office run smoothly. From reception and filing to office supplies and paperwork, administrative staff are always going to find work in advertising agencies. A degree is not necessary for this, but you will need to show a resume that shows you can do the job. 

Finance and law. Ad agencies large and small will always need help with the books and budgets. Smaller agencies will usually see an accountant that has multiple small business clients. The bigger agencies will usually have accountants and financial experts on staff to crunch the numbers. Larger firms will also have at least one lawyer on staff to assist with all kinds of possible legal issues. For both roles, a degree in a related field is essential.

Data, Research and Analytics. The facts and figures are everything these days. Data is huge. Research is massive. Analysing them to get results is a big deal. With so much data now available, agencies rely on experts to help them weed through the many gigabites of information to get to meaningful directions. A degree in this field, or something similar (like an actuary) will help you get your foot in the door. Your ability to turn data into success will keep it there. 
 

Other Ways To Get Into the Industry

Another way to get that exposure to the industry is to intern. You want to get the most out of your internship and it can be a great foot in the door when you're out of college or if you find a part-time agency job while you're still in school. A lot of agencies are looking to fill certain positions with select interns so take it as serious as you would a 9-5 job that paid six figures.

As for other sources of information, the Balance is a good place to start, and Getting Started in Advertising should be your first stop. There are a lot of articles that show you exactly how to get started in the field, no matter what your experience level. The Career Source section is another area you will definitely want to visit.

If you're serious about a career in advertising, though, you can get started without a degree. How far up the ladder you go without a degree will depend on a number of things, including your own career goals but you can have a successful career in advertising without holding a bachelor's degree.

With that said, know that whether you pursue a degree in either English or Communications, with a degree to your credit you will have an advantage when going after your first job in advertising. But nothing can replace the ideas and creativity that should be in your portfolio. Agencies want talent, and you have to prove you can do the job.