Beyond the Course Load: How to Think About Marketing While in College
By: Gisselle Criollo
After four and a half years of college, my marketing degree from Rutgers University hangs proudly in my living room. The framed piece of paper adds volume to the history of my family name as a first-generation Latina business student.
As much as I would like to say, “I had it all planned out from the very start,” and, “It all went my way,” I can’t.
Life comes at you fast, from switching majors to a new environment to the pandemic — suddenly, everything becomes a learning experience.
Growing up, I heard a bachelor’s degree was enough to make a difference, especially in an immigrant household. A bachelor’s degree was a hopeful sign of a better family future. But as many students know today, a degree is not enough,not without those connections, experience, and skills.
For some background, my marketing degree consisted of basic liberal arts classes, general business courses, and only eight marketing classes, three of which were electives. Yet none of these classes gave the skills a beginner marketer would need. Instead, we were taught general marketing plans and concepts unhelpful without real-world experience.
After four and a half years of college and three months of job searching and interviews, I want to share some advice on what college students and any aspiring marketers should consider if they want to pursue a career in marketing.
You don’t need a degree in marketing to have a successful career in the industry
When it comes to picking a college major, it can feel like a heavy decision. But you do NOT need a degree in marketing to build a successful marketing career. Marketing is an all-encompassing field with people who have unique backgrounds and skill sets. No matter your field of study, you can apply your learnings to whatever path you take in marketing.
Here are some examples of women in marketing who have unique undergraduate majors:
- Meghan Keaney Anderson (BA, English)
- Lisa Njambi (BS, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology)
- Danielle Aihini (BA, Journalism)
- Cecilia Lu (BA, Economics, with a minor in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies)
- Crystal Martin (BA, Motion Graphic Design)
- Gabrielle Dalvet (BA, French Literature)
In fact, Gabrielle Dalvet, Co-Founder of MKTG WMN, shares why she majored in French literature during her time at Boston University: “My parents always told us to study liberal arts — learn how to think and then apply those critical thinking skills to whatever career path we chose. A business degree was never on the table for me. I studied French literature and art history instead. Years later, when I dug into my first marketing job, I was shocked at how much transferred over from my French and art history classes. Examining text and imagery is exactly what we do in marketing. At the core of the practice, I had all the analytical skills to dig deep into my work.”
You can leverage your involvement in university clubs & student organizations as opportunities to gain marketing experience
Being in a college environment can feel challenging at times. Students, like myself, feel like the odd one out and compare themselves to others who seem to have their lives all planned. How should students think about work experience, on top of managing a full course load and general life in college? Experience can come from anywhere. You don’t need to be president of a club and you’re not limited to summer internships. Experience is what you make of it. You can find different experiences on your own campus or forge your own opportunities.
Many universities and colleges have clubs to fit every interest, and these are all great places to gain experience related to corporate marketing. Join a club committee or board, or take whichever volunteer position you can to get the most out of it. These roles will help show your leadership and collaboration skills.
Depending on your interest within the club, you can take on a different position tailored to you. Some positions I have seen:
- Social Media: Create content, schedule posts, interact with followers, and drive engagement
- Graphic Design: Design digital posters and social media graphics
- Webmaster/Website: Learn how to keep a newly updated website post about resources and events
- Events: Brainstorm and execute possible events for the student body
- Community Outreach: Plan out and participate in volunteering and fundraising events for students
- PR: Develop relationships with outside businesses and people to promote the organization
- Content: Write blog posts or articles for clubs as well as copy for social media and websites
Natalie Cantave, Co-Founder of MKTG WMN, highlighted her experience as a photographer and photo editor of her college newspaper: “One of my main activities during undergrad was my involvement in The Dartmouth as both a photographer and a photo editor. I learned how to manage a team of photographers when I was a photo editor, which translated to how I later managed a team of interns. I also learned how important creative work (photography/videography) is to storytelling, which is such a big component of marketing and branding.”
You can volunteer for initiatives that you are passionate about, which can be added to your resume
If you are anything like me, volunteering gives you a sense of pride. No matter how big or small, a single action makes a difference in the world. Any position can offer you different skills like showmanship, teamwork, responsibility, etc. Then if given a chance to speak to your roles as a volunteer, you can talk about pride, and that’s not something everyone can do.
I volunteered with NJPIRG (New Jersey Public Interest Research Group), where I learned to carry out numerous social justice campaigns. While volunteering, I was allowed the opportunity to connect with my community and give back through our initiatives. A specific initiative involved traveling to different high schools and passing out resources, and lecturing students about the importance of voting.
You can learn about marketing through your classes or electives.
So many courses to choose from, but which one is right for you? Being picky with your classes can be a real game-changer for your college experience. To truly understand what you will get out of a course, it is essential to review the syllabus.
The syllabus mentions which projects and platforms will be used during the semester. Viewing the syllabus is an excellent opportunity to take a course that teaches specific skills that can be added to your resume.
Most marketing courses center around learning broad topics, like doing a SWOT analysis, writing a business proposal, and doing case studies. Although these are great and informative courses, these topics don’t help teach the necessary tech skills to land an entry-level position.
Even courses that don’t directly relate to marketing are great for personal and professional growth. Such as graphic design and video production classes can help land a production-heavy marketing position.
Marketing can be found everywhere, which is why it’s such a versatile field to study. Some members of the MKTG WMN community highlighted their favorite non-marketing courses from college and shared why they enjoyed them:
Danielle Aihini: “I really enjoyed all of the philosophy courses I took because 1) I was surrounded by incredibly smart people, 2) they were different than any other courses available, 3) they make you think deeply about the world and give you a new perspective, and 4) they were very challenging! So when certain ideas finally click, it’s the most satisfying feeling.”
Jenna Hasenkampf: “I didn’t take any marketing courses in college and was an English major with a focus on gender and sexuality in literature. I think it helped my marketing brain because so much of it was questioning everything, looking beneath the obvious, seeking to understand other perspectives and experiences, lots of writing experience, and research research research”
Danielle Livy: “Journalism courses (I majored in journalism and ended up with a career in marketing). Concise writing is critical, especially in the digital age. It also helped train me in interviewing and pulling ideas out of peers and leadership.”
University can bring sleepless nights, looming deadlines, and stressful exams. That ongoing challenge is what makes it such a rewarding experience. With every misstep or redirection, you learn a valuable lesson that only pushes you to be better. If considering a career in marketing, remember that there are no set rules or tests to pass to become successful. Whether marketing was always the goal or joining two years into your college experience (aka me), it is never too late to begin learning and working on your skills set. What’s most important is to know your worth, strength, and values because marketing is what you make of it.
About the Author
Gisselle Criollo identifies as Ecuadorian-American and currently lives in central New Jersey. She graduated from Rutgers Business School in 2022 with a marketing major and a minor in graphic design. Outside of work, Gisselle enjoys reading, painting, and traveling.
About MKTG WMN
MKTG WMN is a networking group that grows with you, as you jump from ladder to ladder and shatter ceiling-after-ceiling. We cost nothing and pay dividends through a community of women across roles, regions, and industries. Working out of a LinkedIn group and Slack, we exchange ideas, produce tactical content, and host events with a community vibe.