Do you need an event planning degree to be a fantastic planner? Well, the answer is mostly no, with a little bit of yes.
I’ve asked over fifty event planners how they found their way into their career as event professionals. And yes, a few of them did pursue their dreams by getting a college degree in event planning. But many more did not. And yes, it’s still not that binary. See, a non-trivial number of planners got their start in event planning in college, even though it wasn’t their major (or minor). But let’s take it step by step.
How Do You Get Into The Event Industry?
Every time I speak to an event professional, I always ask the same question. How did you become an event planner (or florist, or photographer, etc.)? And while there is many a twist and turn in each planner’s career path, the following entry points seem to come up time and time again.
So, before we can answer the question, do you need an event planning degree, let’s look at how people become inspired to take the leap.
Planning Your Own Events
I’m going to guess, anecdotally speaking, that this is the most common stepping stone into a wedding planning career. But it’s uncommon in the corporate space, but more on that later.
Out of the two and a half million weddings each year, some people discover something about themselves. The stress, the intensity, the creativity, and the pressures of organizing a large event become a calling. People learn that they’re actually very good at it, and have all the characteristics that turn event planning into a lifestyle. In many, many cases, planning one’s own wedding is an eye-opening experience. I mean, sure, weddings are supposed to be life-changing, but for some, it has an added dimension of changing careers too.
While we’ll touch on the event planning degree stuff shortly, many wedding planners forgo it. They move from their wedding to that of friends and family. And then word-of-mouth marketing does the rest.
What About Wedding Planning Certificates?
But throughout this process of forming a wedding planning business, many planners choose to get an online certificate. Frankly, in my psych 101 perspective, it’s more to reassure oneself of legitimacy than to learn. It’s a self-confidence thing, and that’s perfectly okay. I’d encourage it.
There are some excellent certificate programs out there. But be wary. There are also certificate programs that aren’t worth the pixels they’re printed on. I won’t list the best certificate courses here, but my advice is this. Talk to other wedding planners about their online courses. See what they learned and whether they felt it was worthwhile.
But most new event planners get their start from their personal network. Then, sites like The Knot or Wedding Wire. Certificates don’t play nearly as big a role in launching a career as do styled shoots and elbow grease.
The Marketing Pathway
This route surprised me, but it’s quite common, especially when it comes to event marketing. For companies, big and small, hosting events is a major marketing channel.
One company I know hosts social mixers every month. They’re small affairs but take some effort to set up, source and invite attendees, set up presentations, book venues, etc. And all this work falls under the marketing department. Now, this same company has expanded into hosting conferences with between 100 and 200 attendees. Their marketers are event planners in every sense of the word.
I’ve known a few planners who experienced this career path and then struck out on their own as event planners (or joined event planning agencies).
Like above with wedding planners, rather than spending four years getting an event planning degree, they opted for a certificate. But, unlike wedding planning courses, I do have a program I’d recommend. I’ve heard fantastic things about The Event Design Collective’s Event Design Certificate Program. Amanda Larson, who went through the training, wrote about it here.
So, do you need an event planning degree? Well, if you’re an event marketer, my answer leans toward a no. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the best training out there.
The Hospitality Management Degree
Finally, we’re at the career path that begins at college. Many event planners fell in love with event planning early on and opted for a college degree. The Hospitality degree often focuses on hotel management, with varied career opportunities like hotel administration, brand management, event management, tourism sector careers, and hospitality marketing.
If you’re curious, here’s what you’d learn at Cornell’s Hotel School.
So if your event planning vision includes the hospitality and hotel industry, including meetings, incentives, conferencing, and exhibitions (MICE), then a college degree might be a great fit. For what it’s worth, here are thirty well-ranked schools offering hospitality degrees.
It’s All About The Internship Opportunities
Regardless of whether you’re planning on becoming an event planner, the most critical element of any college degree is the internship opportunities. So, you absolutely ought to check whether your event management degree includes internship placement. But there’s a twist. Listen to this:
I want to introduce Angela Garcia of Perfectly Bubbly Events.
Angela was born and raised in the San Fransisco Bay area, where she graduated from Cal State East Bay. Initially, she’d planned on training to be a nurse, but when her best friend encouraged her to join the Disney College Program, Angela fell in love with events and the hospitality industry.
“My mom is a nurse,” Angela says, “so I tried to follow after my mom, but I also have the same mindset as my dad, who is an entrepreneur.”
Angela was doing the school’s red carpet events, orientation parties. “The Director of Hospitality said I had a knack for logistics and design. It prompted my interest in doing larger-scale events.”
You can read more of Angela’s story here, but the point is that even if you’re not pursuing an event planning degree, there are pathways into the event industry through college programs.
Planning Extra-Curricular Events In College
A quick note about college events in general: you don’t need to be an event planning major to get your event fix. Most colleges offer event planning services and support. Regardless of your actual degree, you can flex your event planning skills and learn whether you’ve found your calling.
Working At A Venue
We know an event planner who manages the private events for a venue collective. Some months, they can put on over 40 events. Meet Jenna Phillips, the Director of Private Events for 16 on Center in Chicago.
Her pathway to event planning came from her work at a venue. She worked her way up from service staff to event coordinator and, eventually, directorship.
Jenna says, “A good planner is someone who can be creative when working with hurdles. In every situation, you need to be able to make things work with what you’ve got.”
And you don’t need an event planning degree for that – just grit, persistence, and determination.
Other Ways To Become An Event Planner Without A Degree
Now, this section isn’t to say you don’t need a degree. That’s not what the message of this article is at all. I want to stress that an event planning degree is absolutely the right fit for some people. But it’s not the only path to an event industry career. Here are some other ways that I’ve seen people get their foot in the door.
High School Events
This was a surprisingly common start for many event planners. They got involved in events while in high school and discovered a knack for it. While some went on to get the event planning degree, others took the apprenticeship route instead (more on that later).
Religious communities proved to be another common entry point into the world of planning, especially weddings. I spoke to a church in Kansas last week, and they had three volunteer event planners on staff. They helped coordinate weddings and funerals in their community.
This obviously is an excellent way to build experience and build a portfolio. It also helps build a network in the local event professional community. You’ll meet florists, caterers, photographers, and others. And every planner needs a network of vendors.
Volunteering At A Non-Profit
Well, you don’t have to be a volunteer. We know people who work for the non-profit and plan fundraising events, but, frankly, that latter pathway is almost identical to the event marketers pathway above.
Fundraising events play a large role in how charities, well, raise funds. Non-profit events include galas, mixers, golf days, and more, and some planners specialize in the non-profit event space. They started as a volunteer and just got involved.
Mentorship and Apprenticeship
Whether you go to college and get a degree in event planning, or find your way into the industry through the winding road of life, the real learning happens through mentorship.
Em, a luxury wedding planning in Newport, Rhode Island, and founder of Em Devaud Events, believes in the apprenticeship model, and she still keeps in touch with her mentor to this day. “She was an inspiration,” Em says. “She was such a real person, but she also pulled off these amazing, high-end events and absolutely helped me understand that it’s important to be myself, to be authentic. I want to help share that message with others. That’s why I’m very enthusiastic about taking on interns. I want to share everything I know.”
And speaking about the internship, apprenticeship, and mentoring system in the wedding planning field. “That’s so incredibly important,” she attests. “Some universities offer courses, and there’s also online certification for wedding planners. [But] especially for high-end wedding planning, you can’t attend a college class and expect to be taught that grace that you need. That’s just something you have to learn on the job.”
I want to help share that message with others. That’s why I’m very enthusiastic about taking on interns. I want to share everything I know.
It’s Also About Business Advice
Angela of Perfectly Bubbly Events also believes in the apprenticeship process. In 2011, Angela took a position as an assistant to a wedding planner. Angela told me about it. “I thought I have nothing to lose. I didn’t even know if this is the right career path for me. We clicked! She saw me as her little butterfly that was ready to sprout their wings and grow on their own.” The event planner who’d hired Angela as an assistant became a teacher.
And when it came actually to launch her own business, Angela’s mentor played a pivotal role. “I relied on her as my mentor when launching my business. I didn’t learn any of this in school, so jumping on board to being a full-time event planner, I thought, ‘Whoa, this is really scary stuff.’ I relied on my mentors a lot. And I took a lot of rejection too.”
So, Do You Need An Event Planning Degree?
Well, yes. And also, no. It depends on you and what you feel is the right pathway for you. It also depends on the type of events you see yourself planning. But there’s way more to an event planning degree than the actual degree part.
I’ve already mentioned the internship aspect, and I’ll repeat that here. And then there’s the real experience you’ll get throughout the degree program in hosting events.
One fun example is Evley Events. Ellie Wiggins is a Junior Events Professional, studying for a Level 7 Postgraduate Diploma in Events Management accredited by the CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) at The Event Academy in London. Prompted by their professors, Ellie and her partner Yazz set up a virtual events agency. It’s this kind of guidance, encouragement, and, sometimes, requirements that give value to an event planning degree.
Then there’s a network. Your classmates become contacts, colleagues, and industry connections, post-graduation. And there’s a lot to be said for a reliable network, especially if you’re breaking into corporate or large live events like festivals.
Life As An Events Management Student
Meet Nyomi Rose, an aspiring event professional earning her degree in Events Management at the Manchester Metropolitan University. She describes the breadth of topics she’s learned as a student.
In her first two years of university, she’s studied various law for events professionals, human resource management, marketing, business events, event consultancy, accounting, live events, and digital operations.
Nyomi says, “I didn’t want to finish my studies and head down a narrow path with no opportunities to develop my career. I have been able to dabble in all areas of events management, which has contributed tremendously to my development.”
One thing that Nyomi says is vital if you’re getting an event planning degree is to seek out opportunities to get involved. And her university program helps with that. “I reach out to event organizations to see if they need support with any events they have coming up in the area. I’m lucky to have a dedicated events management team at university who connect us with event companies in a range of events to propel our career in events management.”
I have been able to dabble in all areas of events management, which has contributed tremendously to my development.
Nyomi wrote an entire article sharing her advice and experiences as an events management student, but I’ll add one more thought here.
“Life as an events management student is thrilling.”
Do Clients Care About Your Event Planning Degree?
Some do care, but most don’t. And yet, that’s not the full story. If the corporate world, an events degree is an all-but-sure way into the door. The same thing goes with getting started in any event industry except wedding planning.
With wedding planning, it’s all about your portfolio. But let’s move away from the portfolio specifically, and talk about “experience.”
In whatever facet of event planning, clients care first and foremost about your experience and your reputation. Experience, referrals from past clients, and your portfolio are the main drivers when booking new clients.
My advice? Think of your event planning degree as the first step on a journey rather than your events career’s cornerstone. Trust is the foundation of an event industry career. What matters most are your relationships with other event pros, and with venues, past clients, and fellow planners.
But I’ll leave it with one more thought. If you’re thinking of entering the broader hospitality industry, like hotel management, and the like, then yes, a degree is particularly important. Or at least a reputable diploma.
Experience Counts More Than The Event Planning Degree
How you talk to clients, or how you design events, your experience will be your greatest teacher. With experience, your client service and your stress management will stand you in good stead. And it doesn’t matter whether that experience begins while earning an event planning degree or it happens on the job.