The great degree debate: journalism undergrad or otherwise?
August 24, 2010 22 Comments
Last Thursday, alongside those waiting for their A-Levels, thousands of 17-year-olds received their AS Level results. This brought back horrible memories of the worry and confusion that followed in the weeks after I was presented with my Year 12 results.
Obviously, if you haven’t done well in your AS Levels it’s tough to deal with and to then to decide where to go from that point. A great deal of emphasis is placed on AS Levels as many schools use them to set predicted A-Level results, which are submitted to universities when students apply to their chosen institutions via UCAS. But even for those who get the results they want, or even better than expected, the aftermath of receiving AS results can be a confusing time in which you are forced to make a big decision about what course you want to pursue.
Often this can be deciding between studying journalism or another subject. I was one such student four years ago who seriously considered journalism at undergraduate level. Knowing that I wanted to be a hack, I researched journalism courses and highlighted the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), Bournemouth and Sheffield as three contenders. Incidentally, all three recently came top of the 2010 National Student Survey of Journalism Undergraduate Courses and are a good place to start if you are considering a journalism degree.
However, I began to read about people questioning journalism courses and whether they were worthwhile. Weeks passed as I battled with my conscience and I began debating between whether to study journalism or English literature (which too has its critics). Eventually, swayed by my English teacher, I opted for the safer option of a well-known literature course at a Redbrick university and pledged to throw myself into the student newspaper. But it wasn’t an easy choice.
Neither is it possible to say that it was the correct decision, only the right one for me. There are many very able students who choose good journalism undergraduate courses (better than the lesser-thought-of media incarnations) and thrive on the mix of practical and relevant skills and the chance to develop your own writing style and editing skills. Such is why UCAS recently reported that they had received 17,485 applications to study journalism for entry in 2010: a rise of 22.8% on 2009.
Unable to comment on journalism undergraduate courses in detail, we tweeted a few better-qualified people to see what they thought the three year courses offered ahead of a degree in a non-journalism subject: Here’s what they said…
Catherine O’Connor (@journochat), the Acting Head of Centre for Journalism BA at Leeds Trinity University College said: ‘A journo degree should mean you are doing more reporting from word go – but it doesn’t give you exclusive rights to jobs/experience. Even if you have a journo degree, you still have to expect to prove yourself against other good candidates. A journo degree can’t be your only journo activity – you have to get out there, get experience and get published/blogging. In one tweet – an editor will always pick best person for job and degree alone will not make you the best.’
Mikey Smith (@mikeysmith), who studies at Sheffield and runs sheffieldpolitics.com, added: ‘For the record, I’d say Sheffield’s undergrad is well worth three years. Plenty of practical experience and room to specialise. [There are many skills:] shorthand, public affairs, investigative and relevant academic modules as well including language/political communications/ethics. Sheffield has NCTJ prelims as part of the course too.’
Laura Oliver (@LauraOliver), editor of journalism news site Journalism.co.uk, said: ‘I did a non-journalism degree and then did a postgraduate. My personal advice would be do an undergrad that interests you and get work/student media on the side.’
Jonathan Bell (@gringo_mariner), a UCLan graduate of 2009 and currently copywriting in Peru said: ‘(Journalism) is not worthy of a three-year course – it should be post-grad only and you need further qualifications just to have a chance [in the industry]. Uni times were the best but if I had my time again, would I play it differently course-wise? Almost definitely. I definitely wouldn’t change going to uni so [I would choose a] journalism post grad.’
Jonny Silcock (@jonnysilcock), also a 2009 graduate of UCLan and is currently working as Media Liaison at Independent Media News, added: ‘I did the same course as Jonathan and would agree to an extent, but not fully… I could have done lots more locally. I thought my blog was the be all and end all. It wasn’t.’
The moral of this story – if you have received your AS results and aren’t sure where to go next – is NOT TO WORRY. I was in a similar situation, unsure what path to choose, and, after considering all the options open to me, eventually came to a decision.
If a journalism undergraduate course is your choice, it will offer you as much chance of making it as a journalist as any other degree. As our tweeters prove, good journalism degrees (and we emphasise good) are suited to some but not to everyone. All you can do is research the courses in detail and make an informed choice based upon what you know. Your success after that point, irrelevant of what course you choose, is down to you.
* Some tweets have been edited for ease of reading