Do I need to take marketing classes or can I just learn online?

marketing classes

I received this question from a young follower on LinkedIn:

“You’ve inspired me to pursue a career in marketing. I’m looking into completing university marketing classes to give me a foundation. Do you think it’s worth it? Can I get enough understanding from your books and blog posts or would you recommend taking a course?”

I thought I would share this question today and answer it because it represents a larger issue of keeping up and staying relevant in a fast-changing world, whether you are just starting out or not.

College or no college?

A characteristic of the “Hustle Culture” championed by Gary Vaynerchuk is that college is a horrible waste of time and money. Real-world experience and data suggest otherwise.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the pay gap between those with a four-year degree and those with a high school degree is at a record high. Those with a college degree earn a median weekly salary of $1,137, whereas employees with a high school degree average $678.

The Economic Policy Institute numbers show that the benefits of college don’t just go to graduates of elite colleges, but to all college graduates with a four-year degree. Those with a high school degree face 17.9 percent unemployment versus 5.6 percent for college graduates.

So Gary’s advice worked for him, but it’s not based in reality. He’s an outlier. If you have a chance to get a college degree in a field you love, do it.

One of my biggest frustrations with the hustle mentality is believing you can somehow overcome a lack of education and work experience through endless hours of hard work. That is improbable. There are a lot of problems in the current university system but education still matters.

Continuing education

In my friend’s example she’s suggesting that she already has a career and is thinking of switching to marketing. In that case, should she take marketing classes or simply depend on online resources?

If you’re a highly disciplined and motivated person, it might be possible to turn yourself into a marketing professional by sheer force of will. But for most of us, a formal learning environment provides a framework for a new career.

A concern is that some people will want to be a “social media marketer” without being a marketer in the first place. If you don’t know the fundamentals of marketing, you’ll do a disservice to yourself and your employer if you approach everything as a “social media” problem or a “content marketing” problem.

So, it’s important to get the big picture and learn how to assess competitors, how to price a product, and some of the basics of finance and accounting. These days, some experience with statistics and business analytics is critical too to be a well-rounded marketing professional.

A refresh

Like my friend, maybe you have been in a career for a while, and you need to get up to speed quickly. Or you’ve been in a traditional role and it feels like you’re falling behind.

If you’re looking for a fast and cost-effective way to either start or re-boot your marketing career, there is an obvious solution. Rutgers University offers a one-week digital marketing immersion program that is simply the best in the world.

I’ve taught in this program for nearly 10 years now. I don’t want this to come across as an ad, but I see a lot of training programs out there and sincerely, there is nothing close to this program for the money. You’ll experience some of the finest marketing educators in the world and in one week, you’ll have a confident digital marketing perspective.

There’s also an online option if you want to take the class from the comfort of your home. (If you use the codeword “grow” in the application, you can save 10% on the class, courtesy of me!)


If you’re looking to transition to marketing, get as much real-world experience as you can.

“Doing stuff” is more powerful than “reading stuff.”

Take the time to gain as much experience as you can. I still practice this myself. Even though I primarily teach, consult, and speak, I still take on diverse small clients regularly to stay in touch with real-world marketing issues.

If you want to make a move into marketing, find some meaningful experience, eve if it is in a volunteer role at a favorite charity.

Staying fresh

Being an effective marketer today means continuous learning. Here are a few of the best resources to follow changes in the field.

  • For tactical tricks that work right now, there is no better source than Social Media Examiner.
  • The AdAge digital newsletter keeps me up on trends with the ad business, influencer marketing, and other vital changes in the agency world.
  • I never miss a daily update from Brandchannel. This is the best source to get nuggets of excellence representing current marketing best practices and trends.
  • All the developments in the digital world can be found in one insanely interesting newsletter, The Full Monty. Consultant Scott Monty and his team cobble together the most important breaking news and trends.
  • To gain a perspective on the biggest and boldest digital trends on the planet, I recommend subscribing to The Exponential View, a free weekly newsletter curated by the brilliant Azeem Azhar.
  • There are other newsletters I subscribe to for inspiration about design, data, journalism, advertising and more but these  resources represent a broad, strong toolset for rapid new relevance. My favorite conference for trend-setting inspiration is SXSW (see you there?). My favorite podcast is Six Pixels of Separation hosted by Mitch Joel.

I also hope you’ll stay with me here on the {grow} blog, Marketing Companion podcast and Luminaries podcast on digital transformation.

Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak at your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram.

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