Do You Need a Digital Marketing Degree To Start a Career in the Field?

Rosie Allabarton, contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

If you’re thinking about a career in marketing, you may be wondering if you need a digital marketing degree in order to get started. Fortunately, that’s not the case—as long as you master certain skills and demonstrate them effectively, you’ll be able to get your foot in the marketing door.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at the skills you need to launch a digital marketing career, and the options available to you to learn them. Once you’ve got a clear idea of what’s available in terms of training, you can decide which route is the best one for you, be it via a degree, an online course, or simply by refreshing some of the skills you already have.

By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to ensure you’re the very best candidate for the position you’re hoping to land, and have some concrete steps to get there. 

Here’s what we’ll cover: 

  1. What skills do you need to work in digital marketing?
  2. Do you need a digital marketing degree to start a career in the field?
  3. What training or qualifications can you undertake instead of a digital marketing degree?
  4. How to decide between a digital marketing degree and an alternative route
  5. Starting your career in digital marketing: Next steps

Got your notebook ready? Then let’s get started. 

1. What skills do you need to work in digital marketing?

Digital marketing is a hot topic right now, with a broad spectrum of roles in the field opening up in every conceivable industry. With consumers spending more time in front of their screens than ever before, companies are increasingly realizing the impact a strong digital marketing presence has on branding, sales, and overall growth. 

One of the great things about digital marketing is the variety of roles available. If you’re a strategic thinker with an eye on the bigger picture, there are content strategy and digital marketing management roles. For those with a passion for words, film, or visuals, there are all kinds of exciting content creation positions. And, for those who like to dig deep into research, results, and user behavior, there’s SEO, data analysis, and UX. You can learn more about some of the most rewarding digital marketing jobs in this round-up.

However, irrespective of the specific role you want to land, and regardless of whether or not you have a digital marketing degree, employers will want to see evidence of the following skills:

  • Great time management and ability to prioritize tasks
  • Genuine interest in learning new tools 
  • Desire to learn about the latest trends 
  • Collaborative spirit and ability to work with a team
  • Delegation skills 
  • Talent for verbal and written communication 
  • Attention to detail
  • Analytical mindset
  • Curiosity about human behaviour
  • Ability to work independently

As you can see, many of the skills we’ve listed are transferable; the chances are, you’ve already honed some of them. In addition to those core soft skills, you’ll also need to be familiar with the various digital marketing channels and learn about what it takes to plan and execute a marketing campaign. This is where courses and formal learning paths can come in really useful. Which brings us to our big question: Do you need a digital marketing degree to work in digital marketing? 

A digital marketing degree student sitting on a step outside, holding a cup of coffee and looking at a laptop

2. Do you need a digital marketing degree to start a career in the field?

It’s easy to assume that, due to the range of skills required for a role in digital marketing, a degree is a necessity to landing a top job. However, although holding a degree definitely won’t hurt your application, it’s not a must-have when applying for your first position. 

Here’s why you don’t need a digital marketing degree to start your career in the field

Times have changed, and a traditional college degree is no longer the only way to learn new skills. Especially in a field like digital marketing, which is evolving all the time and requires continuous learning, employers are more concerned with your demonstrable skills than your paper qualifications.

If you’re not in a position (financially or otherwise) to get a full-blown degree, or you simply want a more flexible way to learn digital marketing skills, there are alternative routes you can take. And yes, these alternative routes (which are no longer so alternative!) will be viewed just as favorably by employers. 

If you’re still in doubt, bear in mind that:

  • Skills, tools, and trends change rapidly in the tech industry. A digital marketing degree will give you a good foundation, but the most successful people in the field are those who stay curious and continue to learn on their own initiative.
  • Alternative course providers may offer a more up-to-date curriculum. By nature, online courses and bootcamps are “leaner” and will likely be making regular updates to their syllabus in line with how the industry is moving. With traditional colleges and institutions, it’s unlikely that the curriculum will be updated as regularly.
  • How companies hire is changing. Good companies don’t want to hire a whole team of people who have the same background. Good companies know that diverse teams are key to success—and this includes looking beyond things like educational background. Our point being: good companies aren’t fussed about whether or not you have a digital marketing degree. They just want to see that you’ll bring value to the role.
  • Digital marketing relies on hands-on skills. The tech industry is all about doing; getting hands-on and making an impact. Employers will be most interested in your applicable knowledge, as demonstrated by a strong marketing portfolio—a portfolio you can build with or without a digital marketing degree to your name. Learn more about building a winning digital marketing portfolio in this guide.

As you can see, a digital marketing degree is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to starting a career in the field.

What is important, however, is demonstrating your commitment to learning about digital marketing (and to keep learning!) and to hone the transferable skills you already have. If you want your application to stand out from the rest, showing how excited you are by developments in the field, and what you are actively doing to stay ahead of the curve, will be key. 

You can do this by:

  • Reading relevant blog posts from digital marketing experts
  • Taking a short course specific to the role you are hoping to land
  • Teaching yourself some relevant digital marketing tools (many of which offer free trials), e.g.:

  • Asking to take on tasks and responsibilities in your current role that could help you transfer to digital marketing—e.g. project management or copywriting
  • Speaking to someone who is already doing the job and asking them what’s crucial to know
  • Shadowing someone who has your dream role
  • Building a portfolio of projects you’ve worked on in your own time
  • Attending meetups and events relevant to digital marketing 

In addition to all of these things, you may still want to structure your learning—especially if you plan to land a job in the field. So what are your options if you can’t or don’t want to study for a full-blown digital marketing degree?

A group of digital marketing degree students sitting around a desk, watching a lecturer draw on a whiteboard

3. What training or qualifications can you undertake instead of a digital marketing degree?

Although a degree in digital marketing will certainly help you dig deep into every aspect of digital marketing, there are numerous other ways you can learn about this exciting field. We previously outlined some options for building on your current skills and experience, but take a look at these educational tools and training options for concrete learning routes you might follow. 

Digital marketing bootcamps

Online bootcamps are generally short, intensive training programs that provide a great opportunity to learn sought-after tech skills through blended learning; a combination of online educational materials, interaction with teachers and other students, and traditional offline learning methods. 

The benefits of this ‘crash course’ approach to learning include:

  • Speed of learning: You’ll gain a thorough understanding of digital marketing in a fast, streamlined way 
  • Job preparation: Many bootcamps work with candidates on their cover letters and resumes,  and help them prepare for job interviews
  • Job placement: Some bootcamps guarantee candidates their first position in the field
  • You’ll save time: Unlike a degree, a bootcamp will take up a few weeks or months of your life, rather than years
  • You’ll save money: A bootcamp isn’t free, but it’s a fraction of the cost of a three or four year degree. 

If you’d like to explore the bootcamp route, first weigh up if a digital marketing bootcamp is a worthwhile investment for you. Then check out some of the best digital marketing bootcamps available and narrow down your shortlist.

Online digital marketing courses and certification programs

Similar to bootcamps, online courses and certifications offer a great many benefits over a traditional degree when you’re looking for your route into digital marketing. Conducted over the internet, online courses tend to work via a learning management system, in which students can view their course syllabus and academic progress, as well as communicate with their class or tutor. 

Online courses offer flexibility to those with busy lives, as learning can be done around a job, family commitments, or other responsibilities. As they take place online, there’s no commute to a classroom, and online access means students can simply jump into classes when they need to, as well as share work, or chat to the teacher.

While projects will most likely be undertaken alone, online courses offer a social element too, with many providing the opportunity for students to chat to others on the course via chat channels, discussion forums, or Zoom calls. Thanks to an online course, it won’t take long for your professional network to become a global one. 

Finally, a big deciding factor for many is the significantly reduced costs that students can expect from an online course over a degree. You’ll find a guide to the best digital marketing certification programs here.

Digital marketing internships 

If you’re sure you want to get into digital marketing but you’re not sure which role on the team is the right one for you, an internship is a great way of getting a good understanding of what each position involves. As an intern at a company, you’ll likely get the chance to shadow different members of the team, ask them questions about what they enjoy or find challenging, and get specifics about how they got started in their careers. 

An internship is also a great way to educate yourself on what your day-to-day might look like as a professional in digital marketing: you’ll quickly get a feel for which role suits your personality and talents, and learn what you’ll need to do in terms of courses or training to eventually land a job. Another advantage to keep in mind is that if you work hard and demonstrate your desire to learn, you’ll be the first person they think of when a junior position opens up! 

Of course, internships aren’t a feasible or even desirable option for everybody, so it’s important to consider your personal needs and goals before taking one on. We’ve put together this guide to help you decide between a digital marketing internship or a course.

A student sitting at a desk in a library with a laptop, studying for their digital marketing degree

4. Should you do a digital marketing degree? How to decide what’s right for you

So far, we’ve explained why you don’t necessarily need a digital marketing degree to start a career in the field. Ultimately, though, it’s important to consider your own needs, goals, and learning style before choosing (or not choosing) a particular route. If you’re trying to figure out whether you should do a digital marketing degree, ask yourself the following questions:

How quickly do you want to learn digital marketing skills? 

For those who have their eye on launching their digital marketing career as soon as possible, a bootcamp is the obvious choice. While some are location-specific, others are online, meaning you’ll be able to study from pretty much anywhere. However, while these courses tend to be shorter in duration, they often require many hours of commitment during that time, so they’re a great choice for those who are prepared for flexible but intensive learning. If you’d rather commit to two or three years of learning, a digital marketing degree may be a better option.

How much flexibility do you need? 

If you’re someone who has family, work, or social commitments, you might be looking to study in an environment that is focused but flexible. If that’s the case, an online course is a great option. There are numerous different ones to choose from, but unlike a bootcamp, an online course tends to offer more part-time and online learning options, a personal tutor or mentor, and flexibility around when you can complete the course. 

An online course also gives you the time and space to consider what sort of career you want to have, and focus on the areas you’ll need to know about to get it. Many also help you build a professional portfolio throughout the course, and offer certification, so you have something to show future employers when you start landing your first interviews. 

Degrees have traditionally been less flexible, with students required to attend class in person and at certain times, as well as meet deadlines for coursework. Still, in an increasingly remote world, it may be possible to find a digital marketing degree that’s offered online or follows a more flexible structure. 

How important is external recognition or a formal qualification to you? 

Despite being the longest, least flexible, and most expensive route to a qualification of all the options we’ve discussed, if external recognition is important to you, or to the company you’re hoping to work for, then a degree in digital marketing is definitely worth considering. As already mentioned, a degree will certainly give you a solid education in digital marketing, as long as it’s supplemented with plenty of hands-on application. 

Still, it’s worth noting that employers are increasingly recognizing other forms of qualification, too. There are a handful of high-quality programs and bootcamps that offer a certification upon completion, which may serve just the same purpose in terms of recognition as a degree. 

To recap our main points of comparison:

Digital marketing degree vs online course or bootcamp:

  • Speed: With courses and bootcamps, the speed of learning is typically faster with lots of information packed in, while duration of learning is generally short (days, weeks, or months rather than years). Traditional degrees tend to span a few years.
  • Cost: The costs of online courses can vary, ranging from a few hundred dollars to anything up to $10,000 or more depending on the nature and depth of the course. The cost of a degree will depend on your country of study. In the United States, the cost of a digital marketing degree can be as much as $77,000.
  • Flexibility: This really varies from course to course. Some programs will have you attending class at certain times, while others will be completely self-paced. With a traditional degree, you can expect a more rigid schedule with set class times.

If you’re weighing up a digital marketing degree vs. a digital marketing bootcamp, we set out the pros and cons of each here.

5. Starting your career in digital marketing: Next steps

Whether or not you choose to start an online course, pursue an internship, apply for a bootcamp or study for a digital marketing degree, there are already some steps you can take to start your digital marketing career. Speak to someone who works in the field and try to understand more about how they started their own career.

You can also start picking up some key digital marketing knowledge by following people like Neil Patel, Ann Handley, and Lilach Bullock. The most important thing is to pick the best option based on your own situation, requirements, and goals. Everyone has a different learning style, so it’s up to you to find the route that will most likely see you succeed. 

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