“Too Old” for Advertising School? Think Again.
From the outside looking in, advertising is a young person’s game. It’s a “Peter Pan industry” where 23-year-olds play beer pong on conference room tables and 30-somethings are teased for not knowing the latest memes.
In reality, advertising agencies are filled with people of all ages and it’s not uncommon to spot creative interns in their 30s who know more about Billie Eilish and Lil Pump than those a decade younger than them. In other words, advertising’s youthful sheen is a bit of a myth.
But unfortunately, it’s a myth that prevents many people from going back to school to carve out a new career in advertising. On the contrary, going back to school in your 20s or 30s is the best career move you can make. So whether you’re a 25-year-old stuck in a boring desk job or a 32-year-old graphic designer who craves something more, we’ll break down exactly why you’re never too old for ad school and a career in advertising.
Caleb McMullen – Copywriter
However, when you go back to school in your late 20s or early 30s, that desire to skip an 8AM lecture in favor of a pub crawl is virtually gone. For hands-on programs like advertising school, this ability to prioritize what really matters is especially useful. A more mature outlook gives you an intense level of focus that makes it easier to tackle time-consuming projects such as building a portfolio or entering creative competitions like The One Club’s Young Guns challenge.
Just ask Miami Ad School Toronto Copywriting student Caleb McMullen. Having been through not one, but two academic programs before enrolling in ad school at age 30, Caleb’s laser focus on sharpening his copywriting skills landed him a coveted position at ReThink’s Toronto office.
“I eventually realized that going back to school wasn’t a sign of failure. It was a very adult choice to do what needs to be done to get myself to where I need to be. It was the hardest, but best choice I’ve ever made.” – Caleb McMullen
On the other hand, having a couple of jobs under your belt before attending ad school can be a major advantage. Real-world career experience can give you a leg up on some of the basics, so you don’t find yourself struggling to save Photoshop files three weeks into classes. This was the case for Art Direction grad Jeremy Pedro, who came to Miami Ad School Toronto at age 25 with more than four years of graphic design experience behind him. For Jeremy, already having a solid set of design skills allowed him to spend more time on the skills he hadn’t yet mastered and ultimately land jobs at agencies in New York, Berlin, and Toronto.
“Before Miami Ad School, I already had four years of experience working as a designer. So coming into my first class, I thought I knew everything I needed to know about being an Art Director. But as soon as we started, I quickly found out I was wrong in the best way possible.” – Jeremy Pedro
Of course, not everyone who starts ad school in their 20s and 30s has previous experience in advertising. Even if your last job involved more data analysis than creative design, a few years at any job will teach you the kind of soft skills that no undergraduate program can prepare you for. Whether it’s learning how to collaborate with a “difficult” co-worker, or interpreting vague directions from an eccentric client, on-the-job experience gives you a leg up for a future career in the fast-paced world of advertising.
“Adidas Wait Training” Art Directed by Jeremy Pedro – Awarded ADCC Silver
Jeremy Pedro – Art Director
In other words, the best ads are usually made by those who have a keen understanding of the target audience. Just like you wouldn’t want a group of only men writing a tampon commercial, you probably don’t want a team of 22-year-olds creating print ads for denture cream.
Therefore, agencies rely on creatives of all ages to ensure they’re capturing the right insights. In fact, some clients are even starting to request having older employees work on certain accounts to ensure that the creative steers clear of typical ageist tropes and stereotypes. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck on a life insurance account just because you’re over 30, but it does mean that your perspective is a hot commodity for agencies with clients whose audiences span generations. In fact, AdAge points out that “by 2025, one of every five Americans will be 65 or older,” and agencies are well aware of these changing demographics.
For a handful of talented creatives, it is possible to land a creative position without stepping foot in a post-secondary classroom. But while you may be able to get a foot in the door on charisma alone, moving up could be a bit of a problem.
In other words, a little training goes a long way in the advertising world. Even just a two-year diploma program in Art Direction or Copywriting can ensure that you’re equipped with the technical skills that agencies demand. Down the line, this formal training often translates into a more fulfilling career (the dream job that you wanted) and a higher salary for creatives.
On average, Art Directors make around $78,000, but a diploma program helps you get there faster by giving you agency experience, portfolio development, and the industry connections you need so that you can skip the internship grind. In other words, going back to school and adding an extra diploma to your resume can quite literally pay off.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are or how much work you might have done already, the experience and opportunities that you will get from a portfolio program will elevate your skills beyond what you ever thought you were capable of.” – Jeremy Pedro
We won’t pretend that going back to school isn’t a tough decision. It is. But if you’re considering advertising school at age 26, or even in your 30-40s, know that your maturity, previous experience, and unique perspective are an advantage, not a hindrance, when it comes to carving out a successful career in advertising.