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Working with room full of PPCers, I can tell you that we have an extraordinary group of people, each with a unique background. I can also tell you that with the exception of myself, no one in my office, current or past, has PPC training in the form of an Internet Marketing Degree. I am frequently asked if earning my degree was worth it and if I would recommend others go out and do the same. My default response is yes, it was worth it for me but if you can crack into the industry without it, go that route. Allow me to explain.

While working in the audio/visual industry, I decided I wanted to make a career change and jump into Internet Marketing. I’m far more passionate about computers and the Internet than I ever have been about speakers and music. Learning to program didn’t sound like fun to me and I was very interested in the marketing side of the web. I had been speaking with several of my friends in advertising, specifically folks who worked at web shops. After speaking with some industry insiders, I decided to give it a shot. I was single at the time and lived close enough to Chicago, an Internet Marketing hub, that a move to the big city would have been easy. The trouble is, even with good referrals from within some of the major agencies in Chicago, my experience didn’t match up to what companies were looking for. I had very good grades through school, won my school’s business plan competition along with a host of other individual awards (two specific to marketing), heck I even had perfect attendance through college. What I didn’t have was any experience with advertising or the Internet. My 4 years of experience since those collegiate accolades had nothing to do with the industry I intended on entering. I had a few conversations/interviews with several agencies but no offers came.

After that experience, I tucked my tail and went back to doing what I know. About a year later, I got an email from my alumni network at Full Sail, where I earned my undergraduate degrees. The email was announcing a new Graduate Degree in Internet Marketing. I knew right away that I was going to do it but took a couple months to really commit. I you aren’t familiar with Full Sail, the school is amazing but it’s also expensive. They’re highly respected in their appropriate creative and technical industries but I’ve found they aren’t particularly respected in the general business world. I’d imagine this hurt me upon my initial attempt to crack the industry. It can be hard to be taken seriously when your school is named after a boat sailing term, even with outstanding educational accolades. The price and the reputation were the main things holding me back but in the end I felt like this would give me the best opportunity to work in the industry I wanted to so I enrolled.

The curriculum was outstanding. While I don’t have a basis for comparison, I would venture to say you won’t find a better program anywhere else. It’s 100% focused on Internet Marketing and covers things from an advanced perspective. The curriculum is challenging and the capstone project is one that truly takes dedication and commitment to complete and pairs you with an actual company to build your marketing plan around. When I entered the workforce, I felt 100% comfortable in my theory and process, I just needed to know how to actually push the buttons and make the interface do what my brain wanted it to. This is the trickiest part of learning something like PPC or SEO online; you actually need a real life company to follow-through on the teachings. The resources of their capstone company limit what you can actually test during the program. I happened to be in that boat so part of my capstone was purely theoretical.

When I got to Hanapin I was extremely prepared. I did my training in half the time of my peers and hit the ground running with my own accounts and side projects almost immediately. The learning curve is steep here but I was as prepared for this job as any other I have started. I didn’t have the first day nerves that typically come with a new position. I was ready.

Hanapin Marketing was my #1 target company. I started the interview process about six months before graduating but was not given an opportunity to come down and interview in person until just a couple months prior to graduating. I received my offer several weeks before my graduation date. The takeaway from this is that my degree enabled me to achieve my target job and did so without a lag in employment or a gap between school and work. I don’t think I’d be sitting here in a leadership role at Hanapin Marketing or writing for PPC Hero without it. This is why I feel strongly that the degree was worth it to me. I also feel confident that had I not accepted this position, I would have had many opportunities elsewhere.

Every classmate I keep in contact with has a great job in the industry and several are running their own agencies or added Internet services to their existing offerings. Some of my classmates had their degrees paid for by their current employers to add an additional skill set to their companies. All of my graduating peers were extremely intelligent. The one thing I’ll say is that the attrition rate for graduates was high. I believe my class started with around 35 and only graduated around 12. I believe this to be a testament to the high performance of the folks who actually earn the degree. I finished with a 4.0 GPA and wasn’t even in the top 2 graduates.  All of my peers at graduation were extremely intelligent and driven. If your agency ever has a Full Sail grad apply, hire them.

In addition to having some really smart peers, the staff at Full Sail was amazing. The backgrounds of my professors were impressive. Most of them continue to freelance within the industry while teaching, which contradicts the adage “those who can’t do teach.” It was a pleasure learning from my teachers and being involved in intense learning for a year is going to blow away any training program you’ll get from a company. My company training was outstanding but it was nowhere near as comprehensive as my education. And to be honest, it would be nearly impossible to replicate on the job. I was spending 30-40 hours a week on class work when in school. Most companies can’t afford to pay someone full time for a year just to learn.  The other advantage to Full Sail is that the coursework is online and accelerated, which meant I got to continue working my full time career while earning my degree and the sacrifice was only a year rather than two or more for most traditional graduate schools. It all ads up to a great experience and one that has been extremely rewarding for me personally.

So with all the great things I have to say about my education and what it has provided me, you’re probably wondering why I tell people to avoid it if they can crack the industry without it. The main reason is price. School is expensive and my student loans are weighing me down. My salary is such that it was worth it but without these loans, I’m sure I could be retiring a few years earlier than I will be. Even still, I’m ahead of where I was prior to the degree, both personally and financially.

I know with hard work and a degree in Internet Marketing, you can find a great job. I also think it’s possible to find a great job in the industry without it. It’s probably harder to do so now than in the past. I mean, 10 years ago the applicant pool for someone with 3-5 years of AdWords experience was zero. With the right drive and a business or marketing background, it was easier to sell yourself into the industry, even just five years ago. I know several folks who did so back in the early days with no relevant experience whatsoever, and at really great agencies to boot.

Today, the applicant pool is much more saturated. With that said, finding directly experienced local talent here in Bloomington, IN is still a challenge. We tend to hire smart folks with backgrounds in traditional marketing or recent graduates with degrees in marketing or related fields. If you fit that mold, my recommendation is to go after a position in the industry before you commit to a year or more of school and the high cost of admission. Try to find an agency with an outstanding training program if you can and one that typically hires recent graduates. If you find you aren’t learning at the pace you’d like, you can always enroll in a program while working in your new position. Some companies might even pay for it through tuition reimbursement down the road.

If you do get a position without the degree, even if you don’t land your dream job in your first attempt, you’ll be working in the industry and gaining valuable experience without incurring all the extra cost of school to get the same result, a job. I think for someone like me, with a background that wasn’t related to business or marketing at all, I needed the degree to jump-start my career and if you’re in that boat, I highly recommend Full Sail’s degree programs (both undergrad and graduate). If you’ve got the background to hit the ground running and earn a position without the education, you’ll be better served to make an appropriate choice by letting your experience guide your future decisions. Remember, the point of going to school for most people is to get a job. If you can get that same job without it, what’s holding you back? If a degree is what you seek, know that mine has been tremendous for my career and that I can’t recommend Full Sail enough.

[EDIT: Comments that include profanity, link dropping, or general trolling will be deleted. Enjoy the article and keep it clean in the comments.]