How to Decide Whether to Go to Journalism School
For those who want to be journalists, the question of whether to go to journalism school is a big one. And the merits of journalism school is a hotly debated issue among those in the field. Do you need a graduate degree in journalism to be a great journalist? And, more importantly, will getting a graduate degree in journalism really help you land that first journalism job? All questions you need to ask yourself if you're trying to decide whether or not to go to journalism school.
As it turns out there are very few media jobs that require you to have a graduate degree in journalism. In general, there are very few media jobs that require any kind of graduate degree. Unlike medicine, law or even teaching, media jobs rarely require an advanced degree, just certain skill sets. So why go to journalism school? Well, there are pluses and minuses to J-School, as it’s dubbed in the media world. I’ve broken down the pros and cons so you can decide whether it’s the right fit for you.
Some of the biggest perks of journalism school are the connections it offers. While learning invaluable skills about what journalism is and how to craft and report stories, you’ll meet professors who likely have strong ties to the media world. This means a professor could pass your resume on to an old friend who works at The New York Times or simply give you an inside tip that the Times is looking for metro reporters. This is the kind of help that will land you jobs. Additionally, you’ll make connections with fellow students that may also help your career, either right away or down the line.
In short, J-School offers great opportunities for career networking that are hard to get without years in the industry.
The other big plus of J-School is that, while it’s not required for entry-level jobs, many employers nonetheless like seeing it on a resume. If you’re up for a reporter position at a newspaper or hoping to land an editorial assistant job at a magazine, you might edge out a competitor simply by having gone to J-School.
Another advantage of J-School is that it gives you on-the-job experience that’s hard to get anywhere else. Sure, you may have written a few stories for your college newspaper or penned a press release at that internship you had last summer, but J-School will leave you with polished stories. It’s also quite possible that, while you’re in school, you might write a story that gets published in a local paper or magazine. This is important because having stories that demonstrate your writing abilities—clips, as they’re called—is essential to landing jobs.
Often with reporting jobs, employers will ask to see a resume, cover letter, and clips.
The big downside to J-School is its cost. Because entry-level journalism jobs are notoriously low-paying, it’s tough to go into the field with debt, and J-School is expensive. Furthermore, a journalism degree might help you land a job, but it by no means guarantees you one. And, since journalism is a very competitive field, you have to take into account the fact that you might not land a job right after you finish graduate school.
You also won’t be able to use your journalism degree as a bargaining chip for a higher starting salary. If you’re applying for an editorial assistant job that pays $27,000, you’ll make $27,000 whether you went to J-School or not. So, before you decide on journalism school, consider your financial situation. Can you afford it? Can you get a scholarship? Do you already have debt?
If you do decide journalism school is right for you, there are a number of programs you can enter. It’s often said that Columbia and Northwestern (which houses the Medill School of Journalism) have the best programs, but dozens of schools across the country offer graduate degrees in journalism, many of which are very well-respected. Also, most schools have specialty programs—in magazine writing, criticism, TV reporting, etc.—so, if you know the specific area of journalism that interests you, pay attention to what the school offers.
Unlike law schools and business schools, which are exhaustively ranked year after year by magazines like U.S. News & World Report, J-schools are, well, not often ranked. That said, look at Wikipedia for a list of major J-schools: