To degree or disagree – why university isn’t always the key to your success


That’s how much it’ll cost you to study and live at university for 3 years in the UK.


That’s how much it’ll cost you to study and live at university for 3 years in London.

Scary right?

I mean, for that kind of money you could get a deposit on a house flat in London.

But the big question is, is your degree worth it? And more importantly does it lead to you being successful? 

So we did some research…

6-12 months.

That’s the average length of time you’ll spend on placement after uni to get a job.

That’s right, you’re very unlikely to walk out of university and straight into a job.

But you knew that.


Yep, thousands of students graduate from an advertising related degree every year.

So you’re in a verrrrry long queue knocking on exactly the same doors.

Exhausting right?

But what’s the most important thing a creative needs when knocking on these doors? A degree? Or a portfolio?

We asked some friends of the YCC…

…and there’s no surprise that every single person we asked said:


But surely they care that you’ve got a degree too right?


2/3 of people said they weren’t bothered if you’ve got a degree, as long as you’ve got a good portfolio.

So hold on a minute you’ve just spent 40 grand for something no one cares about – is it time to panic?

Hold on.

We spoke to some recent graduates to find out what they thought…

“I found it was more beneficial to get myself down to London with my book and meet as many creative teams as possible”

“I wish my degree gave me more insight into how to set myself up as a freelancer and self- employed”

“Briefs/timescales are unrealistic so do not prepare you for the real-world unless you are a more pro-active student”

“I have gained more valuable skills since working in the industry for 3 years than the three years at uni” 

“I think tutors are out of date. Why you have to have one book to get a degree and one book to get a job something is wrong with the system” 

We can clearly see that where the creative industry is evolving so rapidly, universities just can’t keep up.

Sometimes the tutors are out of date.

Sometimes the course is.

And sometimes, unfortunately they both are.

I remember 7 years ago for our final major project myself and my art director came up with an augmented reality idea for Sharpie.

We thought it was great.

We even taught ourselves how to use After Effects and everything.

But when we presented it to our lecturer he just didn’t get it and we scraped through with a pass.

And that’s because he just didn’t understand it.

Augmented reality wasn’t around whilst he was smoking his pack of King’s in Saatchi back in the ‘80s.

Or maybe the idea was just shit.


Now, more than ever before education isn’t fixed to the lecture theatre.

With more and more initiatives being set up to help you get your foot in that door.

SheSays, Creative Equals, Creative Social, Glug, Digify, School of thought, Go think big, Nicer Tuesdays, Advertising Week, D&ad Shift, The Girl Hood, to name a few.

All of these offer training, talks or workshops with real industry experts and are open to everyone. 

Not just students.

And you know what.

Even the best degrees are becoming the ones that aren’t.

With Watford (an MA) and SCA (which isn’t even technically a degree) producing some of the best creatives.

Even the most prestigious student awards D&ad and Cream don’t require a degree to enter.

In fact, anyone between the ages of 18-23 can enter D&ad New Blood as of 2017.

The only requirement for both is SHIT. HOT. IDEAS.


There’s more to this story.

A whole other side.

Every single person we asked had actually been to uni.

Hell, even I’ve been to uni and I’m pretty sure nearly all the other members of the YCC have too.

And when we asked if the fees were worth it the majority of them said…



So we asked why…

“How else will they learn enough to be of any use to an agency? No agency has the time or energy to devote to training kids on an apprenticeship basis.”

“Nothing can replace the experience and value of going to university – you live away from home for the first time, make friends for life, learn from people in the industry – you grow up a lot!”

“I studied for an MA and felt that the university pathway suited me. I’m very aware that it depends on the individual when deciding to study for a degree or not. There’s no one size fits all.”

“You can’t work in the US without a degree (in advertising), before learning that I would have said don’t bother with university”

“There are endless ways into the advertising world, but studying advertising at a university/ college level is still the most accepted way in. Anyone can have an idea, but it takes training to harness them into something that answers a brief.”

And they’re right.

Ultimately uni is what you make of it.

Don’t just think that going to uni and getting a degree ensures a job.

It all comes down to YOU in the end.

Now here’s a tip to skip that long queue.

A wise man once said,

“Do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you”

And his name was John Hegarty.

It’s no good walking into an agency with a portfolio full of university work and your degree certificate in a frame.

You’ve got to do more than that to stand out.

Something like this perhaps.

and where are Marc & Callum now.

Working for John Hegarty that’s where.

So what can we as an industry do to help?

Caroline Paris the creative director of Brave got us thinking…

“I don’t regret doing my degree at all. But I think it has changed. I have seen some really lazy ‘advertising’ degrees out there now. They are taught/lead by people who haven’t worked in the industry in years and are so out of touch. More industry connected and forward, diverse courses I believe are the best way to get into ad land now”

We know some tutors are out of date.

And a shit load of universities are too.

But we can really help here.

By giving an hour, just 60 minutes of our time to visit our local universities, colleges, even schools to inspire and ultimately bridge this gap between industry and education.

And what about you guys? 

Whether you’re a student or you’re not…

…if you want to get your foot firmly through the front door of an agency it’s your portfolio that’s going to wedge it open. Not your degree.