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Is a Marketing Degree Hard?

Most colleges offer marketing programs, often under the larger business category, which is one of the most popular college majors in the United States. In 2019, American universities and colleges awarded over 49,000 marketing degrees. But is a marketing degree hard to come by (source)?

A marketing degree is not hard for most people. It is a broad field of study and is constantly being updated as the industry rapidly evolves, which may be challenging to keep up with. In contrast, marketing has also been perceived as easy enough to learn even outside of formal schooling.

How difficult you’ll find the study of marketing depends on several factors, such as your existing skills, your interest in the subject, and the work you’re willing to put in. To give you a more specific idea about what goes into marketing programs, I’ll go over the typical coursework and present a general comparison with other business degrees. I’ll also discuss the question of whether a degree in marketing is relevant in this day and age. 

How difficult is a degree in Marketing?

What Do Marketing Majors Study?

Marketing majors study the principles of marketing, advertising, pricing, retailing, digital marketing, consumer behavior, marketing research and strategy, and the related fields of communications, business, and economics. 

It generally takes about 120 credits, typically completed in four years, to earn a bachelor’s degree in the United States. Like all college students, marketing majors start out with general education courses before focusing on their major (source). 

Marketing is the process of developing, promoting, and selling products and services. From billboards and TV ads to the posts of Instagram “influencers,” marketing is everywhere and is virtually inescapable. 

It is also massive, as the global marketing industry could now be worth over a trillion dollars (source).

Marketing is so ubiquitous that there is an entire field of study devoted to it for those who want to make a career out of acting as the bridge between people who make and sell products and the people they intend to reach.

Basically, marketing students can expect to learn how to develop products and services and then promote or sell them to their target audiences, both at the conceptual and practical levels.

A note to the math-averse: a marketing program will have a fair bit of studying numbers, as they usually come with marketing research courses. These involve looking at data to, say, determine whether a particular strategy is working. 

Let’s take a look at the curricula of a few of the highest-ranking marketing schools in the US, which will hopefully help you decide whether a marketing program is something you’d be interested in.

University of Pennsylvania

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania’s marketing program ranked first in college ranking site College Factual’s list of best marketing bachelor’s degree schools (source).

UPenn’s marketing concentration students are required to take Marketing 101, a class on consumer behavior, and one of the following courses: 

  • Data and analysis for marketing decisions 
  • Models for marketing strategy 
  • Applied probability models in marketing
  • Experiments for business decision making, OR
  • A couple of Ph.D.-level courses they need to secure permission to attend 

They can also choose from a range of electives, including ones focusing on advertising management, retailing principles, marketing and e-commerce, and marketing for social impact.

Indiana University 

Indiana University’s marketing program placed third in US News’ list of top marketing schools.

The university’s core marketing curriculum includes marketing research, analysis of marketing data, and creativity and communication, which focuses on marketing communication strategies. 

The capstone course is on marketing strategy, which is all about the application of critical concepts through case studies or a computer game simulation, according to the university website. 

Students must take electives such as: 

  • Consultative selling 
  • Retail merchandising 
  • International marketing
  • Advertising and integrated marketing communications
  • Sales management

Bentley University 

Bentley University, located in Waltham, Mass., is the top marketing school in the latest ranking by Design Rush, a B2B marketplace connecting brands with agencies (source). 

Aside from marketing research, marketing management, and additional degree requirements for business majors, Bentley marketing students must complete four marketing electives and two other marketing-related electives.

Marketing majors can select electives such as: 

  • Consumer behavior
  • Marketing research
  • New product development and marketing
  • Advertising
  • Retailing
  • Intermediate courses on price theory, economics, and several others, which each have their pre-requisites. 

How Do Marketing Programs Fare Compared to Other Business Degrees?

Marketing can either be more specific or broader than other business degrees in terms of the scope of the study. In choosing a major, you’ll need to think about whether you’re more interested in specializing in one niche or being a sort of jack-of-all-trades in the world of business. 

In a list by CollegeVine, a college guidance company, ranking business majors based on general reputation, coursework, and study time, marketing is among the “easiest” majors, alongside human resources, organizational leadership, international business, and business administration and management. They describe marketing as “a multi-faceted field that is both creative and non-technical.”

The “hardest” business majors, on the other hand, are accounting, management science, finance, and entrepreneurial studies, according to the list. 

While this is not an exhaustive list, it is indicative of how marketing programs are perceived in comparison with other business majors. 

At the same time, some have also commented that marketing is one of the more difficult majors because, for one, it involves a lot of data collection and analysis for strategy assessment. 

College Values Online, another college ranking platform, fleshes this out further, saying that a general business degree is broader in the sense that it will cover several more specific business basics, one of which is marketing (source).

Instead of a curriculum focused on developing a product and then getting it to an audience, a general business program will be concerned with matters like accounting, human resources, and finance, according to the site. 

You may have also seen marketing being used interchangeably with advertising. 

Though both terms generally refer to promoting products to consumers, advertising, in fact, belongs under the umbrella category of marketing. Advertising is taught in marketing programs, but several colleges also offer advertising degrees, if that’s what you’d rather focus on. 

What Do Marketing Majors and Graduates Say About Their Degree?

The best people to ask all about marketing programs, from the difficulty level to their usefulness in the job marketplace, are those who went through them. 

Some graduates and majors say that marketing degrees are essential for a career in marketing because they will equip you with the right tools you’ll need for a great start. Others say they are a waste of time and tuition money. 

Let’s unpack that a little bit. Emily Moore, a marketing professional with a marketing degree, wrote that while you’ll learn timeless basics like market research and return on investment or ROI, much of what you’ll pick up in school will be outdated (source).

Moore attributes this to the fast pace at which the marketing industry moves, which means trends are constantly changing. But before you think that a degree must be completely worthless, Moore reminds us that most hiring departments require a bachelor’s degree. 

That said, it’s not enough to stuff your head with knowledge. 

Moore suggests keeping up with marketing trends on your own, practicing what you learn, and getting relevant work experience. 

Another marketing graduate, in a more strongly worded blog post, expressed frustration at what he said was his marketing program’s lack of practical courses. He said that classes tended to be repetitive and predictable and failed to equip students with the skills they would need in the workforce (source).

Daniel Palmer said his degree did not properly teach many topics that would have been relevant in any standard marketing job, most notably search engine optimization, or the process of making websites perform better on search engines. 

For him, frustration set in as the lessons fell behind industry requirements. In situations like this, graduates will quickly have to catch up on their own to be able to find work opportunities. 

Of course, no one college experience is the same, and marketing curricula vary from department to department. Still, these two types of comments should give you an idea of what marketing majors and graduates think about their degrees. 

Is Studying Marketing Right for You?

It could be overwhelming choosing a degree, knowing that may heavily influence the career path you’ll take for the beginning, if not the entirety, of your professional life. Now that you have an idea of the common coursework for marketing programs, ask yourself: Is that something you see yourself enjoying studying? 

Are you going to be interested in learning how to brand products and services and communicate their value to potential consumers, spotting and analyzing trends in this massive industry, and keeping up with and eventually joining this fast-paced field? 

Studying marking might be right for you if you are creative, analytical, and enthusiastic about keeping up with a changing field. Communicators who can highlight the value of something, and those willing to learn a large part of what makes good business, may find marketing interesting to study. 

Is Marketing a Useless Degree? 

With the increasing availability of marketing training courses and certifications, free online resources, and a full view of successful marketing campaigns as they happen, some wonder if marketing has to be studied in a classroom at all. 

After all, don’t marketing trends and methods change so often that textbooks are hard-pressed to keep up? Business Insider even named marketing a “useless” graduate degree. 

Marketing degrees are not useless as they are a form of institutional proof that an individual knows the essentials and can help an organization effectively get its products to customers. However, a degree has to be supplemented with experience and a sharp eye for industry changes. 

All companies across all industries need great marketing to thrive, especially in the digital age where “content is king,” which makes marketing professionals highly in demand (source).

Job titles include: 

  • Advertising manager
  • Content strategist
  • Copywriter
  • Social media manager
  • Market research analyst

Closely studying marketing will give you a head start on vital marketing lessons, especially considering that your professors will likely have valuable marketing experience and will be able to share what they learned from their time in the field.

That said, a college education remains extremely costly, as American student debt had ballooned to $1.73 trillion as of the second quarter of 2021. So many may think that they could skip the degree, learn on their own, and still make a comfortable living. 

With or without a degree, experience is crucial in landing a job. 

Other than accomplishing internships required by their colleges, students can try their hand at managing the social media pages of a friend’s or family member’s small business or band. They can also try to find branding and content creation work on freelance job platforms to build a portfolio for hiring managers to consider. 

In studying marketing, you will learn principles that have stood the test of time while also finding out that many textbook examples will no longer apply in the digital-first era we live in. 

That means it’s important to stay updated on current trends and emerging practices and constantly improve your marketing knowledge and skills.

Final Thoughts

Marketing degrees cover the entire process of getting products and services from development to the hands of consumers through various methods. As a marketing major, you’ll learn about promoting and selling, creating and maintaining brands, figuring out how consumers think and behave, as well as the many other facets of this broad field. 

While perceived by some as “easier” than other business degrees, marketing involves courses on research, data collection and analysis, and a lot of creative and collaborative work. However, classes and topics will differ in scope and difficulty from program to program.