Is a Master's Degree in Marketing Worth It?
March 10, 2021
Marketers often consider an MBA to advance their careers—but that’s not their only option. A master's degree in marketing is a highly specialized degree that’s great for anyone who wants to dive deep into this evolving discipline.
If your dream is to manage a marketing department—and to eventually step into the role of CMO—you should consider pursuing a Master of Science in Marketing. The MS marketing master’s degree (or MSM) is for students who want to learn more about not only the theories and principles of marketing, but also the profession's most up-to-date best practices and strategies. The best Master of Science in Marketing programs also have a technology component, because so much of marketing today is digital and analytics-based.
When you pursue this degree, you’ll take classes in subjects like:
- Marketing strategy
- Consumer behavior
- Digital media
- Market research
You’ll also have a chance to network with other marketers, undertake project work in a real-world setting, and earn beneficial graduate certificates or certifications. Depending on which Master of Science in Marketing program you choose, you may end up picking a concentration like product management, digital marketing, consumer insights, or branding.
Keep reading for a comprehensive guide to a Master of Science in Marketing, from prerequisites to graduation requirements. In this article, we’ll cover:
- Possible fields and career paths for a Master of Science in Marketing
- Prerequisites for a Master of Science in Marketing
- The commitment required for a Master of Science in Marketing
- What MSM students study
- Exams and certifications to complete a Master of Science in Marketing
- Is a master's degree in marketing worth it?
Possible fields and career paths for a Master of Science in Marketing
Marketing is a big field that continues to grow, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Between 2018 and 2028, the profession is poised to add nearly 22,000 jobs, increasing the ranks of marketing managers to over 300,000. That shouldn't be surprising. Every company, small business, non-profit, and community organization depends on visibility to succeed, and so there are always jobs for those who have skills in:
- Product development
- Public relations
You’ll study all of these you pursue an MSM, and that should pay off. Graduates from the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business’ Master of Science in Marketing program, for example, have gone on to work at companies like Netflix, ESPN, LinkedIn, Disney, and Hyundai.
Here are some job titles that Master of Science in Marketing degree holders are qualified to fill:
Marketing managers are responsible for developing marketing strategies and overseeing the marketing department. They:
- Determine the best markets for products and services
- Help set prices
- Monitor marketing trends
- Research competitors
- Assist as needed on campaign creation while also hiring, training, and supporting staff
A marketing manager might specialize in one area, such as brand development or digital marketing, but marketing managers need to be familiar with all aspects of modern marketing when developing strategies. As a marketing manager, you can expect to earn about $132,620 per year, or more than $60 per hour if you work as a consultant.
Market research analysts
Market research analysts look closely at market conditions and take a data-driven approach to such tasks as estimating potential sales figures or finding the right area in which to launch a service. They help companies determine:
- What customers want
- Where those customers are
- How much they’re willing to pay
- What advertising channels they’ll respond to
They also measure the effectiveness of campaigns, strategize new ways to analyze audiences, and measure the ROI of existing strategies. Market research analysts earn at last $63,120 per year, though you’ll likely earn more after you’ve earned your master’s degree.
Advertising managers perform general managerial tasks (like hiring employees and creating budgets). They also work on traditional advertising campaigns. At marketing firms, media organizations, and companies large enough to have their own advertising and marketing teams, they often serve as a bridge between departments.
The advertising manager will work closely with creatives, finance, sales, and other departments to create campaigns that will appear on or in TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, radio, billboards, and the internet; the role varies from one company to another. According to Payscale.com, advertising managers earn an average income of $62,000 per year, not including bonuses ($4,300), commissions ($3,900), and profit-sharing income ($4,200).
Promotion managers have the same goals as marketing managers and advertising managers, but they’re focused less on driving awareness and more on getting people to take specific action through incentive programs involving coupons, contests, rebate programs, and sales. In collaboration with the marketing department, promotion managers help their teams develop and launch promotions and giveaways designed to get consumers to:
- Try a new product
- Switch brands
- Use a product for the first time
- Spend more
Salary.com reports an average salary for promotion managers of $87,600, plus incentives.
PR managers are responsible for crafting a company or organization’s public image through curated communications. Unlike marketers, PR managers don’t necessarily have to demonstrate that their campaigns result in boosted sales figures or increased awareness. That doesn't mean data don't come into play; we're in the big data age, after all. PR managers have to do a lot of research and polling to show that communications campaigns are having the desired effect.
PR managers also need to think ahead and create strategies for not just maintaining, but also enhancing an employer’s public image. Sometimes that involves spreading information or promoting ideas that benefit the organization via media interviews, speeches, press releases, events, and published articles. A PR manager earns about $114,800 per year.
Prerequisites for a Master of Science in Marketing
Each university has its own requirements that applicants to MSM programs must meet, and these can vary significantly. Always read program requirements carefully to make sure you qualify.
Most people work a few years after earning their bachelor's degree before pursuing a master's in marketing. Many schools expect—and often require—students to have some real-world work experience before entering their programs. There are programs specifically designed for students who have no professional experience, so it is possible to pursue this master's immediately after earning a bachelor's degree. Conventional wisdom is that some work experience will give your graduate work necessary context.
Nearly all master’s degree programs require applicants to have earned a bachelor’s degree. Many—like Florida International University—don’t specify a required undergraduate degree major. The students in the Master of Marketing class of 2020 at Vanderbilt University majored in:
- Educational studies
- Fashion merchandising
- Food science and technology
- Public policy
- Public relations
As you can see, it's not necessary to major in business or marketing to get into a marketing master's program (not even as one as competitive as Vanderbilt's).
To apply for MSM programs, you’ll also typically need:
- Letters of recommendation (from colleagues or managers if you have work experience, from professors if you don’t)
- Up-to-date transcripts
- A résumé
- Recent Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores
Always be sure you read each university’s admissions requirements carefully before submitting any applications.
The commitment required for a Master of Science in Marketing
Master of Science in Marketing programs generally require two to three years to complete. There are accelerated programs that can be completed in as little as 12 months of full-time study, as well as self-paced online master’s degree options. The University of Texas at Austin and the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, for example, both offer 10-month programs. Part-time marketing MS and flex programs take the longest to complete.
It's best to think of the commitment required for a Master of Science in Marketing in credit hours rather than in months or years. MSM programs typically require students to complete 30 or more credit hours of work. Whether you attend full-time or part-time will impact the duration of your studies, as will your willingness to attend classes in the summer.
What MSM students study
The average Master of Science in Marketing program curriculum consists of classes in core subjects like:
- Brand management
- Consumer insights
- Market intelligence
- Social media strategy
- Customer analysis
- Customer relationship marketing
Most programs offer a wide variety of electives, though some schools offer more than others. In year one, the focus of coursework may be mainly on the basics of marketing and management. In year two, you’ll spend the majority of your time immersed in specialized marketing theory and practice.
University of Southern California Marshall School of Business has a particularly rich menu of electives for its master’s of marketing graduate students, including:
- Advertising and Promotions
- Luxury and Lifestyle Marketing
- Branding Strategy
- New Product Development
- Data Warehousing
- Business Intelligence
- Data Mining
- Statistical Computing and Data Visualization
- Technology Commercialization
- Business Models for Digital Platforms
- Marketing Channels
- Data Analytics Driven Dynamic Strategy and Execution
Most MSM programs give students the opportunity to take part in:
- Team-based projects
- Networking events
- Hands-on experiential learning projects
- Capstone projects
Some programs require a master’s thesis, typically on field work completed as part of the curriculum. As you think about which master’s degree programs to apply to, give priority to those that will let you conduct research in real world settings and build a portfolio before graduation.
Exams and certifications to complete a Master of Science in Marketing
While no specialty exams and certifications beyond classroom examinations are typically required to complete a Master of Science in Marketing, there are many certifications for marketing professionals—nearly all of which can be completed while students are still in school. As busy as you’ll be pursuing your degree (possibly while continuing to work full time), it’s worth completing at least a few skill-based certification exams. These will look great on your resume, and many marketing certification exams cost little or nothing to take.
Digital marketers may want to earn the Google Analytics Individual Qualification or the Google AdWords Certification. Social media marketers can go to Twitter Flight School or become a Facebook Blueprint certified professional. HubSpot has many certification options for marketers, including:
- HubSpot Inbound Certification
- HubSpot Content Marketing Certification
- HubSpot Email Marketing Certification
- Hootsuite Social Marketing Certification
Various professional organizations offer certifications and learning opportunities for marketers. The American Marketing Association (AMA) is one of the oldest organizations for marketers in the US. It hosts networking and educational events, and offers the two-track American Marketing Association Professional Certified Marketer program. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) offers four certification programs: Digital Marketing, Sales Management, Content Marketing, and Marketing Management.
None of these certifications will ever be more valuable than your master’s degree, but having earned them demonstrates your commitment to growing as a professional—and that alone may be enough to impress some hiring managers.
Is a master's degree in marketing worth it?
To answer that, consider your long term plans. The coursework in Master of Science in Marketing programs is highly specialized and the networking you’ll do in an MSM program will be largely with other professionals in the field. If connecting consumers to products and services gives you a real rush and you can’t imagine spending your career anywhere other than in the marketing department, then definitely consider pursuing a marketing MS.
But if you think you might want to change careers one day, or you’re dreaming of transitioning from CMO to CEO, a marketing MBA might be the better choice. You’ll still learn a lot about marketing, but that degree will give you a stronger leadership foundation and a better understanding of core business concepts that will be useful to you in other fields and in the c-suite.
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