Don’t Get a Social Media Marketing Degree: They are Worthless

Are you passionate about social media and considering going to University for a four-year social media marketing degree?

Perhaps you’ve applied to dozens of social media jobs and haven’t received so much as a call back. Perhaps you’ve noticed that many of these jobs require a four-year degree, and so you’re considering going back to school to get a leg up.

Unfortunately, I have some bad news: a social media degree is worthless.

Your social media degree is worthless

So why, in 2016, does the company advertising your social media dream job require a University degree? For two reasons, and admittedly, one of them is quite reasonable.

The good reason is that a university degree mostly proves that you are capable of doing work on time, mostly correctly, and committing to something for multiple years and then following through on that goal. That’s valuable, to be sure.

The dumb reason is that they require a degree for all positions. It’s simply a heuristic; They want to ensure that you are a competent individual and this is the simplest way of ruling out people who aren’t. Requiring a university degree has replaced requiring a high school diploma. This is the equivalent of a “you must be this tall to ride” sign for a job. Making it a company-wide policy is a good way to prevent your hiring manager from making a poor bet on an incompetent employee. Unfortunately, while this does rule out a lot of poor candidates, it also makes the error of ruling out many competent candidates who simply don’t have a degree!

If, however, you were able to prove your competence without having a degree, and able to overcome the bureaucracy of the organization, then this will no longer be a factor in their decision making.

Why not get a degree? Because they are very, very expensive. Let’s break down the true cost of University.

The cost of the degree, taken at face value.

Let’s assume you are considering a four-year program and will be paying $20,000 per year. Over four years, that will add up to $80,000.

The other costs involved, which are never obvious up-front.

Conservatively, we can estimate that you will spend an additional $20,000 over the same four-year period on required books, and increased rent due to needing to live closer to campus. Most books cost about $10 on amazon, but for some innocent reason the academic textbooks published by a company that pays the dean of your school “consulting fees” typically cost hundreds of dollars and you need to buy a new edition every year, never mind that Newtonian physics hasn’t changed since Newton’s day and that O’reilly’s 2016 Guide to Social Media was out-of-date two weeks after it was printed.

The real cost of the money spent on the above two costs.

If you don’t have $100,000 laying around, you’ll probably utilize some form of debt in order to cover at least some of these costs. Let’s assume you are able to work while studying and only need to use debt to cover half the cost, and that you qualify for a relatively fair government loan with a 6% interest rate.

National data on average repayment periods among US graduates show us that someone making a typical social media salary will pay roughly an additional $25,000 in interest in addition to the $50,000 in borrowed principal.

How much will you actually pay for $30K in student loans?

The opportunity cost of working in the meantime.

Assume you currently make $40,000 per year and manage to squirrel away $10,000 per year in savings. Over four years, that’s $160,000 in total earnings and $40,000 USD in savings.

The numbers simply don’t add up.

Using our above figures, our degree cost us $125,000 and, additionally, we lost $160,000 by not working during the same period. That’s a total loss of $285,000. Now let’s optimistically assume that as a result of our degree, we earn $10,000 more per year than we otherwise would have, and that there was no other way to attain this pay increase (not true). Let’s neglect the fact that in a job market where seemingly every job requires a college degree, 51% of college graduates are currently working in jobs which do not a degree at all. Lastly, let’s ignore the fact that starting University is no guarantee that you will graduate (less than two-thirds of freshmen will graduate, and if you drop out, this money is very much wasted).

Assuming these numbers, it will take 28.5 years to make back the true cost of your university.

The opportunity cost of educating yourself in the meantime.

Universities used to be an easy sell.

In an age before blogs, podcasts, and e-books, Universities offered access to information which would have been hard to learn otherwise.

In a time before YouTube videos, and Udemy and Coursera courses, Universities were one of the only ways to learn from an expert in the field you are interested in.

But today, there are other ways to become educated. In addition to the above, there are intensive training and certificate programs specifically about social media marketing.

What do you really need Universities for now?

Four years is a lot of time to learn a skill. You could spend the same period learning on your own, or as an apprentice under an expert, and build up a portfolio which would separate you from the ocean of college graduates with little real-life experience four years down the line.

The choice that feels risky is actually much safer

At the end of the day, businesses make decisions that benefit their bottom line. Businesses do things that make them more money. If hiring a college dropout will benefit them, they will do it. Results matter more than anything else.

Doctors and engineers who will be building bridges need to be certified. But doing a bad job at social media isn’t a fatal error (well, actually, sometimes social media can be disastrous). It’s not at all obvious that you need a degree to work in social media, or that there’s any correlation between social media degrees and expertise or results.

Further, the social media landscape is changing so quickly that there are no traditional programs which will adequately prepare you for it, and companies who are hiring social media experts know this. If you are convinced that you want to attend a four-year institution and convinced that you want to work in social media, you are better off majoring in something else entirely and then simply looking for a social media job after graduation.

It’s also less obvious that you need a job (in the traditional sense) at all. More and more social media experts are choosing to work for themselves, by becoming independent contractors. Getting a few different small business to pay you a few hundred or a few thousand dollars a month each is not terribly difficult, and allows you to create your own well-paid, location-independent job with greater job security than offered by traditional employeeship.

The author of this article can attest to the fact that, when working as a marketing contractor, he has never had a client ask him about his university degree when considering working with him. Further, when running businesses, he has never cared about the degrees held by job applications. Which, brings us to our last point…

Attention Hirers: Stop Requiring a College Degree!

The real lesson here is for those who are posting the job ads and participating in the hiring and recruiting process: Stop requiring a college degree. Open your mind to the millions of qualified candidates who don’t have a college degree, and your company will benefit from being able to poach talent undervalued by your competition.