Why I won’t be going to J-School

30 03 2011

Graduate School of JournalismAlthough America may be out of the economic recession, as a soon-to-be grad, I can say job opportunities pretty much suck. And as a soon to be journalism grad, I can tell you the job market in media sucks even more. Media students are experiencing an even tighter pinch from the one-two punch brought on by the recent economic crisis and the web’s impact on the news industry.

It’s a thought many recent college grads are considering for a long time: since it’s tough to get a job in the field I want, I’ll just go back to school. For me, it was considering graduate schools in journalism.

But after talking with media professionals, people I know currently in J-School and some research, I’ve decided that going into a journalism grad school is not the best option for me. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. In journalism, practical skills trump academia. After talking to a few  recruiters in some of the top news organizations, all of them mentioned practical experience and a firm grasp of multimedia reporting as a top skill to have. If recruiters are looking at a recent grad with a 4.0 GPA with little experience versus a 3.0 GPA student with several under his or her belt, chances are they’ll pick the latter. Why? Because most employers won’t care what grade you got for that one project or paper in your class. They want to know you to know you are capable of doing the job at hand. Not one of them mentioned graduate school. Yes, top graduate-level journalism programs today have a heavy focus on learning practical skills but more on that in the next reason.
  2. What does J-School really buy you? I know a few people currently enrolled in Columbia, arguably the top J-School in the nation. It is also one of the most expensive. Their Master of Science program in journalism is 10-months long with a price tag of about $70,000. If you’re like me, you don’t have mommy or daddy to write Columbia a big fat check to pay for tuition. For most people, money is a big issue. I’d like to wager (and some media professionals I talked to agree) that the $70,000 is going more into Columbia’s social capital than in the actual course academics. Fact is, most of the courses listed in many J-Schools are things you can learn outside the school setting – and most importantly – you could be actually getting paid to do them, instead of the other way around (although one former Columbia journalism grad begs to differ on the worth of her degree, despite being on her ninth internship). Columbia has prestige, influential people and many contacts in the city with the largest media market in America.
  3. A possible better alternative. All this is to say, I still want to go to grad school – just not likely at a J-School. After talking to a senior writer at Newsweek, I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that graduate school in a specific area of study is the best option for me. Interested in health issues? Consider doing a program on public health policy. Foreign policy you say? Why not a program in international relations? Some journalism schools offer tailored programs that couples the practical skills of reporting with a concentration, which is great. But for now, I’ll be looking into getting several years of professional experience before I head back to the world of academia.
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One response

30 03 2011
Samantha Talsky

Great post, Kyle.
I’m in advertising, so I can’t say I’m in the same boat, but I do understand the life questions facing media folks approaching graduation. In my opinion, internships would be a great alternative to J-school. If you can’t find a paid gig in a specific journalism realm, try getting an unpaid internship. (You’ve likely already had many, but a few more won’t hurt.) The idea of being “unpaid” after grad is a bit terrifying, but when you think of it as a learning experience equivalent to one you’d be PAYING FOR at a j-school, it doesn’t seem so bad. Also, some of my journalism friends are doing freelance writing/blogging. The more practice, the better. Plus freelance = $.

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