Six Things I Learned From A Marketing Degree

Yesterday I stepped out of my last exam thus completing a Bachelor of Business (Management/Marketing) from Monash University. Well technically I still have a piece of assessment due in March but let’s not talk about that. Looking back, in a concluding sort of manner, here’s the six lessons I take away from my time as an undergraduate.
1) Play the game
University is about playing the game. Once you learn how to work the system, achieving good grades is easy. I worked it out towards the end of my second year, and my grades were consistently better from there on out. It’s not about saying the right thing but giving the teachers what the want to hear.

Students aren’t encouraged to apply themselves, they’re told what to write, do “research” (read: plagarise off a journal article) and any form of creative execution goes unrewarded. Instead you play the game to get the grades.

2) It’s important where you sit
For some reason universities are far too keen on group work. Which I don’t have a problem with because that’s the way it should be done in the grown up world. However if you’re caught in a shit group, it’s too bad. Upon raising concerns with teachers about said group you’ll be told that it’s too bad, in the real world you don’t get to choose who you work with. Except in the real world people who are shit don’t get employed. And if they don’t do anything they lose their job.

In some cases I single handedly carried useless groups to HDs (arrogant but true). The best way to overcome this is to make sure you attend in Week 1 and sit next to “good” people and try and get into a group with them.

3) Be loud
Being the loud arrogant kid in class isn’t all bad. Opinionated students never receive anything but full marks for class participation and presentations. Even if what you’re saying is rubbish the fact that you’re saying it gets you points. Especially when you sit in a class full of people unable to speak up in front of others.

4) Rote learning is for winners
Studying the night before an exam trying to think of stupid acronyms to help you remember a list of six items that you forget on the way out of the exam got me through my degree. Likewise for when a tutor tells you that you can’t do an assignment the night before it’s due. Challenge accepted and you prove them wrong when you smash it.

5) Drink beer with your lecturers
Well, the cool ones anyway. It makes a massive difference when you can rock up to Week 1 and the tutor or lecturer already knows you because you’ve met them through other staff members. Can’t state enough how helpful this is, especially beyond academic performance.

6) Uni teaches you to learn
Most importantly; I will finish on the the biggest point. Uni helped me realise my career interest. I wouldn’t say it taught me a lot about it, perhaps a few basics, but it did teach me to get off my ass if I wanted to follow it and go out on my own to learn it.

In many ways, it taught me that university couldn’t teach me what I needed to know. It got me interested in marketing and ultimately advertising, which made me realise I needed to learn on my own by reading books not on the text list, start a blog, meet people in the industry, do internships and ultimately score a gig.

I suppose that’s a rather negative take on the past four years of my life, one that will no doubt change as I look back on it in the future. There are certainly a few teachers who do good things and I would like to thank them.

And I suppose because of that last point alone the ridiculous HECS debt and the piece of paper I receive when I graduate will be worth it.

  • Daniel Oyston
    Posted at November 11, 2010 8:10am, 11 November Reply

    Interesting. I was just debating point 2 with my father-in-law last night who is a university lecture.

    Not sure I agree with shit people don’t get employed. Fact is they do (especially in an employment market where the unemployment rate is low) – and they have skills to ensure that they don’t look shit to the boss. In fairness they often bring other skills to the business beyond being a good team player. Pretty hard to find the perfect employee as most of us have pros and cons.

    What working in shit groups has probably taught you, which people like me haven’t figured out until their 30s, is how to manage people in a group situation. It’s usually something you can’t figure out until you have failed at it many times!

  • Josh Strawczynski
    Posted at November 11, 2010 9:04am, 11 November Reply

    All of that is true, but the most important lesson at University is to be involved outside the class room. Fundamentals about business are how to play the politics, how to resolve conflict and how to hold yourself out as a leader.

    In my experience, being part of the student union taught me 50 times the actual learnings that my marketing course did. In my experience since then, the grads that have an active social life, travel and have a good time are 1000 times better than those who scores HD's by memorising the text book.

  • Zac Martin
    Posted at November 11, 2010 9:25am, 11 November Reply

    I should point out, it was the best four years of my life. Well, except maybe my first year when I was only 17.

    And agreed Josh, what I learned outside of the degree itself has been more than useful.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at November 11, 2010 9:29am, 11 November Reply

    Great article, very accurate insight!

    You have pinpointed the stark reality of the educational system. I hate saying it but it's true, 'many', and I do stress many not all, of those who can't do, teach [in uni's that is].

    All many of them know is what it says in the books, they are removed from reality or have been away from it for too long to understand things have changes and some theories simply don't stack up anymore.

    To understand where the problems starts you only have to look at the dynamics of a faculty. It's a bit like me trying to tell you how to kick a goal and make it curve or bowl a flipper without having set foot onto a pitch – but I did read the Idiot's Guide version! Ha Ha

    A pet hate of mine is the dreaded 'research findings' from universities. Now I know some of it is good and worthwhile, like a break through in how to cure cancer or anything to do with improving safety, not why drug companies should be stopped from advertising to doctors in professional journals. I truly believe their research is more heavily weighted towards self-gratification, a personal vendetta, to justify the the continuation of funding they receive and to protect their existence. There are some papers that are absolute rubbish, I have on occasion thought n must = all their mates who agree with their hypothesis and will give them some cred.

    There are plenty who love the spotlight, like all the ones who love being quoted in the news or in mags, worse still are the ones who love the live interview on TV or radio.

    God forbid you may have a creative opinion. It might actually conflict with their research or in fact shoot holes through it.

    Here's my question to them, where does the stuff in the books come from? The experience of those that are doing it every bloody day.

    There are some great student minds out there and I am involved in marketing/advertising and if I had a dollar for every new grad I have worked with that 'honestly' thinks they know about marketing/advertising by regurgitating 'Buzz Words' or subject topics I would be a trillion – bad maths I know but you get the point. Have an opinion, put your case forward but spend more time being like a sponge. I still try and take on the sponge persona, you learn more that way.

    I graduated over 20 years ago but there are many people in my age bracket [40+] that don't have degrees but are very savvy, creative marketers and where did they get their experience and skill from? The real world and from real people with real experience. I have always been a strong believer that getting a degree is not a must, but you have to be a certain type of person to survive without one and unfortunately nowadays every man, woman and child has a degree if not a Masters and MBA and don't get me started on MBAs, so a degree today is the equivalent of ensuring you finish year 12 in my day and not leave in year 10. I can't say I've used a great deal from my uni days other than learning how to hold my grog, although I am a bit of a teetotaler these days.

    Your closing comments are probably the most relevant and realistic. The degree will tick the necessary boxes but may not be enough to get you through the door, but your attitude and application to the task will give you the leg up. I have no doubt you will find a job, if not create your own. It's all about how you can add real value to a business or a team.

    Keep blogging, while you still have the time!

    I do have an identity but the advertising industry as you will learn is actually quite a small and incestuous, so I will remain under my cloak of anonymity.

  • Jason Tsitsopoulos
    Posted at November 11, 2010 12:53pm, 11 November Reply

    My GOD! Anonymous thats a huge post you have there. So just going on the same thought process as you are you saying that I shouldn't have studied at uni at all and that 4 years of my life, which I just finished, has gone to waste? Should I have been a Richard Branson and leave when I was in year 10…. Because sometimes I feel like that, that I now have a pointless double degree under my belt but I don't have a fucking job so yeah…

    Anyway, onto your comments Zac. Yeah totally agree with sucking up to the profs… You know who I'm referring to. HAHAHA. And loud, well thats my middle name. I cannot tell you how many people recognise me at uni and I have no fucking clue who they are… But yeah as for getting HD's I reckon that does require a bit of work. But settling on C's and D's is piss easy.

    Anyway onto the real world.

    For the tweeters

  • Colin Jevons
    Posted at November 11, 2010 3:43pm, 11 November Reply

    Hi Zac. You're a bit naive in saying "in the real world people who are shit don't get employed" – you'll learn better in time, sadly. And I don't think you get this right "Even if what you're saying is rubbish the fact that you're saying it gets you points" – by voicing the 'rubbish' you have the chance to be challenged and develop/improve your own thinking, which the quiet mice don't. This works well in a formal educational setting, but you need to be a bit more careful as you establish your personal brand in the workplace!

    I've been a fan of your way of thinking since Wags first introduced us, and I look forward to watching your career progress. Best wishes for a stellar future!

  • Wags
    Posted at November 11, 2010 4:42pm, 11 November Reply

    Try this… read Zac's post again, but replace the words "A Marketing degree" with "Life". Six Things I Learned From Life. Works well, huh?

    Ancora Imparo!

    Cheers Zac.


  • Zac Martin
    Posted at November 11, 2010 4:45pm, 11 November Reply

    Well played Wags.

    This might appear as a diss towards uni, but in fact it's the opposite. It's not a perfect system, but I learned a shit load during my time there, even if it wasn't the course content.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at November 14, 2010 11:34am, 14 November Reply

    A quick response to Jason, your double degree is not a waste of time and I would never discourage education. My point is some believe they are better than others if they have more letters after their name. An education is an awesome grounding if used as a building block and not the entire frame work. But it doesn't mean you can't achieve without the degrees.

  • Jason Tsitsopoulos
    Posted at November 15, 2010 11:54am, 15 November Reply

    Cheers Anonymous… I have nothing insightful to add

  • Stan Lee
    Posted at November 15, 2010 4:53pm, 15 November Reply

    So often we seek to silence or condemn the anonymous commenter.
    Not in this case.
    Well said Anon. i couldn't have put it better myself.

  • a atkinson
    Posted at November 18, 2010 12:01pm, 18 November Reply

    congrats on finishing (almost?)!

    i miss uni, and you are totally right about it being all about playing the game.

  • Pablo Edwards
    Posted at November 25, 2010 3:23am, 25 November Reply

    I love the encouragement for beer drinking with the profs. This paid off big time when I was in school and it continues to work well with clients and colleagues.

  • Dennis
    Posted at November 29, 2010 6:55pm, 29 November Reply

    So, Uni IS after the all the fountain of wisdom where students learn to (ahem) drink?

  • Anonymous
    Posted at December 3, 2010 2:04pm, 03 December Reply

    Love this post. I actually feel the same way – I'm doing a Marketing major, but don't really think the course is all that good. I'm not even sure I will head into Marketing for a career.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at December 11, 2010 10:42am, 11 December Reply

    Good post Zac, I agree with the above sentiment that the 6th item is spot on. Whilst you think uni is about learnings in your chosen field, (and I'm sure may be more the case with science degrees) more often than not in business/marketing it teaches academic discipline, focus and self motivation that ultimately makes us successful graduates.


  • L A U R E N
    Posted at March 4, 2011 10:05pm, 04 March Reply

    I really enjoyed this post – thanks!

  • Tony Richardson
    Posted at March 21, 2011 4:39pm, 21 March Reply

    Sad but I'm sure true. You can use most of these tips in an actual job too.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at July 8, 2011 10:04am, 08 July Reply

    Marketing = Biggest joke major ever. Rote a few concepts, blurt out some random garbage then apply and you're set.

  • Michael Bian
    Posted at October 17, 2013 7:07pm, 17 October Reply

    Salient, well said…

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