It’s no secret that the advertising industry is a competitive field where setting yourself apart from the crowd is key. Some creatives with aspirations of working for some of the top agencies in the world choose to stand out by while others spend their college and graduate school years interning for agencies or taking on freelance clients.
There truly is no one path to achieving your advertising career goals, but if you’re wondering if portfolio school is right for you, here are some things to consider.
How much money you’re willing and able to spend to continue your education is definitely something that should be factored into if portfolio school is for you. Many of the top portfolio schools—The Creative Circus, Miami Ad School, VCU Brandcenter—have tuition costs that start at $30,000 for a two-year program, which doesn’t include living expenses like food, housing, health insurance or transportation.
Most advertising schools are two-year programs. These programs are almost exclusively for those interested in pursuing a career as a creative, such as graphic designers, web designers, art directors or copywriters. Unlike undergraduate or graduate programs, these are often year-round and can even function as a full-time job, with clients and projects that have strict deadlines. This is a great way to get a taste of the industry before entering it completely.
Perhaps you’re sold on creative work but don’t know if you want to do it in an agency setting for the rest of your career. If this sounds like you, consider undergraduate programs in strategic communications or graphic design and business at a school with professors who have worked in the industry. Even if you’ve already gotten your bachelor’s, many schools will offer classes to people interested in getting more experience in a particular area.
Additionally, there are opportunities online and across the country that aim to improve an aspiring creative’s graphic design and copywriting skills. For example, BrainCo is an online and in-person creative education hub that offers weekend and four-week courses that allow prospective students to see if a long-term program would be a fit for them.
Agency track record
Think about your dream agency, and then get googling. Look up the senior copywriters and vice presidents of creative and see what their career paths were like. Do most creative executives have a degree from an advertising school, or did they all start out as interns and work their way up? If you’re in undergrad (or even younger), look into what companies and agencies your university’s business, communication and journalism schools partner with. Agencies like R/GA, 72andSunny and Wieden + Kennedy have all launched university partnerships or fellowships to recruit talent straight out of college.
How you work
Going to portfolio school allows students to leave with contacts in the industry, a great body of work and possibly hands-on experience for a recognizable brand, but it’s impossible to get those things without going to portfolio school. Larger cities where agencies thrive are always hosting networking events, and small businesses and entrepreneurs are often looking for freelance design and copywriting help. If you’re the type of person to jump at these opportunities and use them as a stepping stone, the price and time of an advertising program may not make sense. Ultimately, your drive, talent and willingness to work are what will land you at the agency of your dreams.