Contemplating the Secret Society of 12

Dearest Mister Dickson:

It was serendipitous finding you on the Internet offering advice, as I have a career, business, artistic and big life decision to discuss with you, and I think you will be the perfect person to answer. Don’t worry, it really boils down to one main question.

First a little about me, so you understand where I’m coming from. I just turned 31, and I have two young, rad daughters and an awesome wife. I’ve done some interesting things in my life, from day trading (when the NASDAQ index was over 5,000) to being a sponsored skateboarder (managing to build a skate park for my Eagle Scout project), a drug dealer, and a published photographer. And that was just in high school. I was the only kid in my affluent town outside of Boston to not go to college. After high school, I continued to make money and partied for a semester, then decided to go to college for philosophy and sociology, but found the classes remedial and not engaging, so I quit after two days.

Next, I built a recording studio and had two record labels with international distribution, ran an art gallery, started a word-of-mouth marketing company for green and organic products, and invested in both residential and commercial real estate. During this time, a good friend of mine and “co-worker” was arrested. Naturally, I became worried, and took the next flight out of Boston. I ended up in Austin, Texas. Here I opened an illegitimate bar which hosted epic after-hours dance parties for several years until the operation was finally shut down by the authorities.

At this point, the Great Recession was in full swing; I was losing money and my properties were underwater. Feeling depressed and uncreative, I decided to buy the nicest video camera Best Buy had on my Best Buy credit card and proceeded to make a documentary about myself maxing out over $100,000 in credit cards (and not paying any bills), while intentionally foreclosing on millions of dollars in real estate. It was the best decision I could have made at the time, and the film is currently in post-production, but… now I’m broke (with an impressively oppressive credit score).

So, Andrew, I find myself at a crossroads. Although it’s nice to finally say I’m “just” an artist, I have a family to support. This is difficult with little “resume-building” experience to land me a “normal” nine-to-five, especially with no college degree. Yet I know I won’t be satisfied unless I’m doing something big… like getting into advertising (which is how I found you)! Advertising is something at which I’m certain I’d be good, as it would keep both the creative and business-minded sides of me active and balanced (with a sprinkle of insanity included).

I’m halfway done Linkedin-stalking the current W+K 12ers, and so far it seems everyone has completed some sort of higher education before entering the program. Should I apply to W+K 12.9, or am I too old and/or undereducated? I feel like one’s array of life experiences has the ability to teach as much, if not more, than college ever could.

What do you think?

Your advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you, sir.

Ineed Advice


First let me say my what an interesting life you’ve led. You’ve packed in far more than your fair share of adventures for having only having had 31 years to squeeze them in.

Before I answer your questions, let me first get my fellow readers up to speed about the WK12 program.

12 is an experimental, creative ad school housed on the 4th floor of advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy’s Portland office. The program lasts roughly a year, and accepts only 13 students out of the hundreds that apply. As it’s a school, there is tuition.

The school is in it’s 8th year, and we’re currently recruiting for the 9th class. In fact, the application site is up, and we’ll be accepting applications until October 20th.

I say we because for the last going on three years I’ve been one of the directors of the program in addition to my copywriting responsibilities.

The basic philosophy of the school is learning by doing. We work with a handful of clients, usually local non-profits, creating ads and branding. Students answer real briefs, present work to real clients, and make real ads. There are also assignments, lectures, and all sorts of left and U turns. Ideally the students, who sit at one huge desk facing each other, function like a creative collective collaborating on art shows, phone apps, fonts, zines and whatever else they want to create.

The school is full-time. The expectation is students are in every morning, Monday through Friday, and work throughout the day to the end of it. There are late nights, and working weekends. Students get out of the program what they put into it. The more the better. Freelance is allowed, but not encouraged.

So as far your specific questions, let’s tackle higher education first.

There is no previous educational requirement. Certainly, a lot of students have college degrees, but not all. We want students who have interesting life experience like yourself. We want students who have critical thinking skills, and problem solving skills and have made awesome things. We want all kinds of different people who bring all kinds of different experiences to the table. That’s what makes it interesting.

As far as age goes, there is an age requirement. Students have be at least 21 years when the program begins, which will be sometime early next year. So you’re fine there. In fact, 31 is by no means old for a 12 student. Last year’s class had 4 students in their late 30s. Again, a mix of ages is nice.

So no worries as far as your education or age. Check and check.

You mentioned you have two daughters.

Kids give me pause. I have kids, and balancing kids and work is tough. And I’m one of the directors. I get to go home at a reasonable time. If the students work all weekend, I field emails, see the work on Monday morning, or come in on Sunday night if we have a Monday client presentation I absolutely have to see the night before.

I think we’ve had students with kids before. But it’s a tough, tough balance. Not impossible, but it’s a busy, busy year where you’re not going to see them as much as you like. So I’d give that some consideration.

The other piece of the puzzle is the tuition. It’s 13k. There is some scholarship money, but no one gets a full ride, much less a half ride. Plus there’s moving expenses and then living expenses like food and rent. So that’s a pretty big consideration too.

I should also point out that there’s no job waiting at the end of the program. A few folks usually get hired on at W+K, but most don’t. That said those who don’t usually end up at a great agency, assuming they’re still interested in advertising at the year’s end.

Really, it’s about having a year unlike you’re liable to have anywhere else doing anything else. It’s an amazing but at times brutal year. At least from what I can tell. After all, I don’t sit at the table, I sit a few yards away. But I can tell you most graduates would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

My advice, have a serious conversation with your wife. If she’s up for this, apply. See how far you get. You don’t get all the way, at least you can say you tried. If you get in, have another serious conversation with your wife, and your daughters. And take it from there.

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One Response to Contemplating the Secret Society of 12

  1. Josh says:

    Andrew: Independent of whether WK12 would be doable for this guy, would WK12 want him in the program? His casual disregard for what many of us view as pretty standard morals (drug dealing? illegal bar? day trading?) and seeming egomania would disqualify him from being an effective participant in many ventures, I would think. WK12, I don’t know either way.

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