I wrote this post because about this time last year, I wanted advice from someone who’d been to journalism grad school to tell me if it was worth it. If anyone still has any questions on this topic after reading about my experiences, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them.
On Saturday, I finished my first semester of graduate school at NYU. A year from now, I’ll be graduating with a masters in journalism and a certificate business and economic reporting. Many people, including my parents, have asked me lately whether I made the right choice in going to graduate school for journalism.
My answer? “Absolutely.”
It’s easy, really. I can think of 5 reasons off the top of my head why grad school was the right choice for me. I’ll lay them out below for you, but let me preface by saying that most people will say journalists don’t need to go to grad school. I asked two of my undergraduate professors to write me recommendations for my grad applications, which they happily did, but not before warning me that grad schools like to see journalists with a bit of experience. That most people who go to grad school for journalism are at least 25, if not older.
And a lot of professional journalists I spoke to, from my professors to co-workers, told me it just wasn’t necessary.
Well, I’m 22. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a year ago today. I majored in journalism and mass communications and minored in French. During my last year and a half of college, and then for seven months post-graduation, I interned at QSR and FSR magazines (business-to-business publications that cover the foodservice industry). That was the extent of my professional journalism experience, excluding campus magazines.
My dad encouraged me to apply to graduate school because he says an undergraduate degree isn’t enough for people who want to be competitive in their fields. I’m not sure I completely agree with that, but I took his advice. In the meantime, though, I scavenged the internet looking for advice from fellow journalists: Was grad school worth it?
The only post I found was this impassioned plea to treat journalism grad school like Thanksgiving turkey that’s two weeks old: toss it without regret and don’t look back.
What I really wanted to do at the time I applied was work in magazines. I didn’t care which, but I loved the feel of a completed issue, the shimmer of those glossed pages, the picas behind a beautiful spread, and most of all, seeing my name in print. Not online. Print.
I applied to two schools: New York University and Northwestern. Northwestern’s Medill school of journalism offers four graduate concentrations: reporting, magazine writing/editing, interactive publishing, and videography/broadcast. I didn’t really stretch my limits in here: I applied for the magazine writing/editing program.
NYU has 10 specializations in its graduate journalism institute, including an option in magazine. Look, I could’ve applied for magazine here, too. But I decided to try something new. To push my boundaries. QSR and FSR are business publications. I’d written about sales in the food industry, bankruptcy, marketing, the impact of health care laws, branding. I came to regard numbers and figures as friends, living organisms on balance sheets that urged me to write about them. I felt more accomplished researching global food sales than I did about most of the writing assignments I had in college.
So, I applied to NYU’s specialization in Business & Economic Reporting. Let me say, I have no business background. The worst grade I got in college was a C, and that was in Econ 101. Business has always been a struggle for me. I wanted to be better. I wanted to conquer it. I loved that NYU’s program was interdisciplinary, with half of the credits being earned at the Stern School of Business. And these weren’t the undergrad’s intro to business courses. We’d be taking MBA courses. Scary, but also a challenge.
I got in to both schools. I heard back from NYU first. It was March 13, the same day the publisher at QSR offered me a full-time job there.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t expect to get into grad school at all. I had been looking for jobs as associate editors at magazines in DC and NYC. The pay was going to be about $28,000-36,000. I’d applied to about 50 and heard back from zero.
And suddenly, on March 13, QSR placed exactly such a job in my lap. I didn’t have to apply or relocate. I could stay at a publication I loved with coworkers I loved. On the other hand, NYU offered to whisk me off to Manhattan, pay for part of my education, and give me a competitive advantage only 15 students get a year.
I’m here to say, nine months after I got that acceptance letter, that I made the right choice. I chose grad school. And if you’re even thinking about it a little, if you’re just getting out of college and want to set yourself apart, here’s why you, too, should consider grad school:
- Competitive Advantage
There’s no doubt that having a journalism concentration puts you above the rest. At UNC, my concentration was “reporting.” Pretty vague if you ask me. Reporting on what? Cheese?
Everyone says journalists are in less demand. I’m so tired of hearing that. I’m so tired of being told how publications are downsizing, the online revolution is shoving print newspapers aside, and journalists are about as in-demand as Ron Paul at a GOP debate.
Stop listening to that crap and hear this: employers want good journalists. People who know what they’re talking about. There’s actual, real demand for business journalists right now.
I know not everyone reading this wants to go into business. I totally understand. But I’m telling you that if you have a field you like to report on, whether it’s law or science or sports, go learn about it in school. Because if you know what you’re talking about, you’ll get hired.
We’ve had recruiters come in all semester, from Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, Bloomberg, and Reuters, just to name a few. They all said the same thing: they want to hire people who know how to analyze the stock market. Who know how to look at a balance sheet and report on its numbers with confidence. Who can tell you exactly what the hell a put and call option is and how people use them.
I’ve learned much of that in just a semester at NYU. I know I’ll learn loads more in the next year. So please, if you’re frightened by people who tell you your bachelor’s degree in journalism is worthless, don’t listen. Think about what you really love to report on, or what you want to improve on, and specialize in it.
Ten months ago, I couldn’t get a response back from magazines such as Travel + Leisure and Fitness, and in the four months since I’ve started at NYU, I’ve become an online contributor to Forbes and been offered internships at two prominent business publications. So you tell me who really loses in that scenario. I don’t think it’s grad school.
- You’ll Get Lots of Experience
One gripe journalists have about graduate school is that in our field, experience is more important. It’s better to say you’ve interned or worked at publications A, B, and C rather than throw a line on your resume that says you have a Masters.
Well, what do you think we’re doing while we work toward our masters? Taking field trips to the zoo?
No. Getting your masters is getting experience. You’re writing at least one story a week. And you’re getting to critique, analyze, and improve it with the guidance of your professors. And if you’re smart, you’re publishing it. Maybe it’s on your own blog/website, maybe you shop it around to local publications, and maybe you send it in to big names and see what happens.
Either way, you’re improving your skill in an environment where you get good feedback. You’ll learn how to conduct better interviews, how to find those elusive sources, how to accumulate statistics and data and use that to strengthen your reporting.
Maybe you did just that in your undergrad, or maybe you already do it. That is fantastic. These are great skills to have. But you’ll walk out of your masters with far better clips than the ones you have from your undergrad. So not only will you have extremely solid clips, you’ll set yourself apart from those who have just good clips because you’ll have a masters to go along with it.
Improvement is key, especially as a writer, because our fulfillment comes from the finished essay. The saucy rhetoric, clever turns of phrase, meticulous wording, and harrowing word choices define us. I’m not sure that taking a job right away would’ve resulted in a drastic improvement as a writer. But I’m thinking by the time I leave New York University, I’ll be much better than I was going in—and the intrinsic value of that, coupled with the NYU name, will certainly make the degree worth it.
- The Salary is Better/Networking
I’ve heard that going to graduate school is a waste because you’ll pay a lot for it and come out making the same salary that you’d make with a bachelor’s degree. I tend to disagree.
This is because going to graduate school opens a lot of doors for you. I’m sure you’ve heard that journalism is a lot about networking and who you know. Who do you think has better connections than seasoned journalists in New York, aka my professors? They have hook-ups at every major business publication in the city. They have the capacity to open doors for us, introduce us to people, and help get us hired.
I wasn’t being sought out by Forbes and Inc. magazines this time last year. But I am now. I don’t think I would’ve gotten through to the third round of the internship application at Bloomberg unless I had NYU’s name attached to my application. One of my fellow colleagues at NYU was rejected from Bloomberg—within 24 hours of sending in her application—as an undergraduate last year. She made it to the third round this year. What changed in the interim? Grad school.
Oh, and starting salary at Bloomberg for reporters is about $60,000-80,000, depending on where you are located. The upper bound for reporters there is between $126,000-163,000.
Of course, Bloomberg is at the upper tier of business journalism jobs. But I do believe the average starting salary is at least in the $50,000 range. I’d pay off my NYU degree in under two years and keep making a respectable salary.
- New York!
Obviously, not everyone who goes to journalism grad school comes to NY. Totes understood. But if you’re going to grad school in this field, why not go to a big city? Somewhere journalism is anchored, where you’ll have a lot of opportunities?
In my application process, I started out with the idea to apply to eight different grad programs all over the nation. I thought about UNC, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, and several other big-name journalism schools. But a friend of mine correctly pointed out that if I was going to do grad school right, I needed to go somewhere where journalism thrives.
Not everyone wants to live in New York. But if you do, grad school is the perfect opportunity to do so. You’re not entirely expected to finance yourself, so it’s OK to take out loans and live a little. (I’m not saying be irresponsible and sign yourself up for something you can’t afford, either.) You get the year or two in that big city, be it NYC, Chicago, DC, or anywhere else. You make connections you can’t make from home. You basically are allowed to live and grow and succeed and challenge yourself and meet new people in a new setting. If it sounds like I’m describing college, I don’t mean to. Grad school lets you entertain a better version of yourself as a professional.
If you were to ask me my least and most favorite things about living in NYC, I’d tell you that my least favorite is grocery shopping (lines out the door at Trader Joe’s? No thanks.) and my most favorite is BER, this program at NYU where I’ve met a lot of great people, made very good friends, gotten mentorship from esteemed journalists, tangled with MBA classes at one of the top business schools in the country that I never would’ve thought I was capable of, and fulfilled my passion more in four months than I did in four years as an undergrad.
That’s why I’m glad I went to graduate journalism school.