is a degree worth it if you're considering a journalism career?

(34 Posts)
goldengoddess Fri 04-Jan-19 13:57:57

My daughter is interested in pursuing a career in journalism. Not dead set on going to university, nor has she dismissed it out of hand.

Not likely to get great A level grades - and only doing two anyway - but I know you don't need a degree to become a journalist (though looking at the staff on the Observer/Guardian you would think that a first from oxbridge was obligatory). But I digress.

Do you think it's worth ending up 50k in debt for some second rate degree from a second rate uni? Is it worth spending three years doing a journalism/media studies degree? or would it be better just to try and get an apprenticeship with a media outlet such as the BBC.

Alternatively, would it be better to do a general degree in history, for example, and then do a post grad journalism course?

With no set route into journalism it's hard to help her make the right decision, so if anyone has any advice, I'd be really grateful. Thanks!

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goldengoddess Fri 04-Jan-19 13:58:47

ps. she has already started contributing on a regular basis to a few websites, and has had her byline in a few publications, so onto a good start.

OP’s posts: |
Rulerruler Fri 04-Jan-19 13:59:55

When I worked in journalism ( about 15 years ago mind) the course you needed was the NCTJ one. A degree wasn't necessary. She may be able to get a job which will put her through the course - at least that's how it used to work!

SarahAndQuack Fri 04-Jan-19 14:03:03

A couple of my former students have gone into journalism. I can't speak to whether it's worth doing journalism as an undergrad as I don't know the course, but I do know that getting on an MA course with funding is extremely competitive and I doubt you'd do it from a less good degree result/less competitive undergrad path.

BubblesBuddy Fri 04-Jan-19 14:10:05

You shouldn’t look at it as debt. If she earns what most journalists earn, she won’t pay much back. So you should alter your mind set about that. It could almost be free!

Can she do a degree with two A levels? Most journalists have relevant degrees these days (and are DS and DDs of journalists) but, if there are apprenticeships, could she look at that way in? It’s fiercely a competitive career and many articles don’t receive any payment at all. The average pay is around £10,000 a year and many journalists are part time.

I do know two young journalists. A sports journalist with a degre in History from Warwick and a political journalist with a degree in Psychology from Leeds. With the demise of local papers and the rise of blogs and self publicity, journalism has problems and few make it into a well paid job.

LonnyVonnyWilsonFrickett Fri 04-Jan-19 14:17:08

I'd encourage her to think very broadly about writing, what kind of writing she'd like to do, for what kind of publications then look at the rates of pay she'd be likely to get. Local media is dead, the 'cub journalist' training of a couple of decades ago has disappeared.. but people still need writers.

As an example. I can make £50 quid writing a 500 word article for a well-known culture magazine (arts journalism) - two drafts, loads of planning and research, probably a 3 - 4 hour job. I can make £200 writing the same length of feature for an in-house website for a business (internal communications) - two drafts, hardly any planning, all research supplied and probably a 2 hour job.

I'd actually suggest a degree in communications.

NUJ rates for the job site may also be interesting.

Namechangedjourno Fri 04-Jan-19 14:21:03

Named changed for this as I know journalists can take a kicking around here and I don't use it in that capacity, just as a normal person.

I got into journalism with no journo qualifications, but that is quite unusual. It can be done, but generally speaking you'll struggle to get the well-paid secure jobs (I was v. lucky).

The most valuable thing is a good journalism MA. But these are highly competitive and she will need a good degree to get on the course.

The other thing the MA is super helpful with is connections. It means that she'll have far more chance of getting work experience, apprenticeships and jobs.

The other thing I'll say is journalism isn't for everyone. The daily grind of it isn't just writing articles you fancy, and for most it's not terribly well paid. As a result a huge number of journalists move into a new career after a few years. For this, a good degree is really helpful.

In my opinion, the best route is a solid degree from a good uni that isn't a journalism course, followed by a good MA in journalism. If that's achievable it's the best route to a good journo job AND gives options if she changes her mind about the career path.

Of course, many routes are possible (as I said I didn't have journo quals) but that's probably the ideal.

If she doesn't want to go to uni then loads of work experience will help. As will paying for some individual learning courses (e.g. media law).

Hope that helps!


TheWiseWomansFear Fri 04-Jan-19 14:23:30

Hi, journalist for a national here.

Yes, it is worth it to have a degree, however an apprenticeship is very very well received as well and is how I got into journalism (although I already had a degree when I did it).

The NCTJ is the best qualification to have in terms of direct skill behind a Journalism MA so I would go for apprenticeships which provide this.

If she's not likely to do well at A level then the apprenticeship is best.

Also agree with PP, the wages are shit so don't worry about debt.

shpoot Fri 04-Jan-19 14:30:26

I agree with the poster that said to educate yourself about debt. Watch Martin Lewis explaining student loan debt

MarchingFrogs Fri 04-Jan-19 14:57:21

Re the only doing two A levels issue, that may restrict choice of university to those making offers in terms of UCAS points, rather than grades. Unless it's 'Only two A levels, but a suitable BTEC alongside'?

Piggywaspushed Fri 04-Jan-19 15:16:11

Times have moved on and so there are very few 'cub journalists' opportunities any more. Apprenticehsips do exist (eg for Sky/ BBC) They are hugely competitive and skewed towards urban locations.

So many people have degrees these days that you need to put yourself in that market. It need not be a journalism degree but many of them have brilliant built in work experience and links with industry which are hard to come by. In France, all film makers have film degrees. We need to see journalism and film more as academic arts to move away from that 'it's not what you know but who you know' generation.

Your 3rd papragrpah in your OP is a bit ...ummm... inflammatory! These sorts of statements are being lapped up by the likes of my DS who is developeing very negative mindsets towards academic study. FWIW , he would quite like to be a journalist. He gave up on a journalism degree because he is not IT adept and hasn't got any portfolio or relevant experience (the degrees are actually very competitve for entry!). He has applied for IR and Politics.

Piggywaspushed Fri 04-Jan-19 15:19:13

Meant to add, I am a teacher and have taught A levels which were natural progression routes into journalism : one of my ex students works for The Sun (has had a front page story!), one for Enpire magazine, one at Sky Sports (hid DF was a footballer, mind) and a few for the BBC. All did degrees in media/ English/ film /cultural studies various combos of these.

SellFridges Fri 04-Jan-19 15:21:40

I was a broadcast journalist. I have a degree in Communication and Society from a good uni, and an MA in Broadcast Journalism. Many of my course mates are “famous” faces/voices now.

The pay is shit. Really shit. It used to be £50 a shift, freelance for a local station. So there’d be tax etc to pay. Bit more for BBC. And to get any shifts you’d have to have done a lot of unpaid work previously to get known. It was my life long dream and I gave up after a year - it just wasn’t worth it.

Interestingly, as per a poster above, I know work in internal comms and earn a hell of a lot more than £50 a day.

SellFridges Fri 04-Jan-19 15:22:31

Now work. Oh the irony of a spelling mistake 😂

goldengoddess Fri 04-Jan-19 15:57:36

Thanks everyone for all the useful feedback. Yes, I know from personal experience that the rates of pay are shit - I used to be a journo myself, working in women's magazines and it's interesting how rates have barely changed in 20 odd years. I used to get £120 a day working shifts on the features desk of a woman's monthly in the late 1990's and , I would be surprised if the day rate is much more than that now.

Anyway, that's another issue, my daughter is still keen on the industry, despite the fact that it's badly paid, hideously competitive and seemingly dominated by entitled well connected poshos exploiting all their numerous contacts, but she has done some relevant work experience and is writing on a regular basis for various websites as I mentioned. She's doing history and english lit A levels and is realistically expected to get an A and a B. She has already got a B in her EPQ (worth half an A level). So not enough to get into a Russell Group university though she would probably get into some other places such as Liverpool John Moores/Sheffield Hallam/Leeds Trinity to do a journalism/comms degree.

so think best course of action is for her to apply to various university courses, and also apply for some apprenticeships too to keep her options open. And work experience in the summer.

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Piggywaspushed Fri 04-Jan-19 15:59:22

Why is someone so able only doing two A Levels OP?

goldengoddess Fri 04-Jan-19 16:07:30

Hi Piggy, ii don't know whether she is "so able", I'd say she's average academically to be honest, though good at writing However, her A levels have all been a bit of a cock up. Originally she wanted to do Eng Lit, History and PE at A level, but then the school had to pull the PE A level after several pupils dropped out and there weren't sufficient number wanting to do the course.

Then she couldn't make up her mind what to do and agonised for ages and ended up very reluctantly doing Biology. She really struggled with it, doing very badly in internal exams and the school felt the best option would be for her to drop it in year 13 and focus on the two other subjects which she's much stronger in. (Motivated largely, I think, by not wanting their league tables tainted- in fact they did say if she persisted with biology she would have to sit it as a private candidate)

Anyway, this is why she's ended up doing only 2 A levels, though am not sure this is the right decision. I suppose she could go on and do another A level next year if she felt she really needed more UCAS points to get to university.

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TheWiseWomansFear Fri 04-Jan-19 16:19:32

Oh also, be warned that people with degrees can also apply for apprenticeships now (like I did).
Of the 10 apprentices I knew, 8 had a degree or higher. But, this was at a national, most local apprentices are A-levellers

Piggywaspushed Fri 04-Jan-19 16:23:37

That's interesting because most schools worry more about funding at post 16 and full funding only works for 3 full A Levels or equivalents so most students cannot drop without replacing. A student scoring B sand As ...outside of the microcosm of able!

Alsoajourno Fri 04-Jan-19 16:24:58

I’ve also name changed for this. National news journalist here. If I were your daughter, I would spend the next year getting one more A Level while also doing loads of media work experience. So, an A Level in something decent plus working for local newspaper, radio, magazines etc. Then she will have a much better choice of universities.
Sadly, I think you do need a degree (certainly expected on all the national training schemes I know about). If she could get an NCTJ-accredited degree in journalism from somewhere decent like Sheffield, that would stand her in good stead to get on a postgrad training course with a national employer. Her other route is a degree in whatever she’s good at (eg English) followed by an NCTJ postgrad qualification.
I think she should try and get the best grades she can to help her stand out whilst also doing a load of work experience. I got on a national postgrad training scheme with a degree, NCTJ postgrad plus having done years of work ex in holidays etc for national papers and magazines. It meant I had a decent portfolio of bylines to show. In this digital age, your daughter also needs to show she has a social media presence and that she can blog/contribute online.
Yes the pay is rubbish in this profession, but it’s still the best job in the world in my opinion!

Danglingmod Fri 04-Jan-19 16:29:22

Yeah, I think she should take another year to do another full A level - politics? RE? Philosophy? Geography? And then apply to the best Uni she can for a pure subject degree OR do her research and apply to the best journalism/comms course she can find with good industry links.

Alsoajourno Fri 04-Jan-19 16:32:54

Decent A Levels for her to consider would be politics, psychology or a foreign language (would definitely be a plus where I work!)

wtftodo Fri 04-Jan-19 16:43:13

Yes a degree massively helps. I did a post grad / fast track NCTJ which accepted people with very good a levels straight from school, but most of us had decent degrees. As far as I know, none of the people who had “just” done a levels went on to secure journalism positions. The ones who had v good degrees, lots of experience and/or had done other careers for a bit first were more successful. NB the starting salaries were brutal - £8k, 15ish years ago, on local papers and you had to do that before getting onto a national / bigger regional.

I have a friend who was on a local paper for years jn the north west, some of the older journos there had no degree but they didn’t even take work experience people who didn’t have / weren’t doing degrees.

There are always exceptions tho and the biggest thing to consider is how rapidly journalism and papers / magazines / online is changing - so there are probably more ways in now, via online content, that would make a degree less necessary eventually.

It’s only ever likely to be an issue when you’re trying to get your foot in the door..

BubblesBuddy Fri 04-Jan-19 17:05:09

15 years ago isn’t really relevant now. Local newspapers have more or less gone. If apprenticeships take degree holders, then no degree is a disadvantage. I would get the third A level. Politics would be a reasonable suggestion.

Also she has one huge advantage - the Op
is a journalist!

Piggywaspushed Fri 04-Jan-19 17:23:55

well, quite! I think you do know OP that that is a major asset (still) in the creative arts and media. Sad but true. And in your DD's case, not sad because useful! You talk with an insight and confidence about the job which will definitley rub off on DD and give her the confidence to build networks and skills.

Even (which I say advisedly) Sheffield Hallam etc are hard to get into becuase their meida courses are rare and in demand. Check them out because I think they might require points from 3 A levels (but it might be 'at least two') or grades like BBC. There really is no such thing any more of unis with entry requirements below about BCC.

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