Oh, Claire. If only you were born 20 or 30 years earlier.
I am a senior in high school who is currently filling out college applications. I have applied to many places, some more prestigious than others. Ever since I was in middle school, it has been my goal to get into Columbia University and major in something involving writing or journalism.
Well, I’m probably the right guy (or at least one of them) to give you advice, then. Columbia’s journalism program was my dream, too, but for graduate school. It was quite the application process.
They gave me a current events test and an editing test, but it wasn’t on my campus in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Instead, they have (or at least they did back then) Columbia alumni administer the test from their homes, wherever they happen to live. So I had to drive a couple hours into rural Illinois to some old lady’s house and take it in her very country-fied kitchen. It was odd.
Got accepted, actually, but they wanted something like $30,000 for a one-year master’s program, and offered me only $2,000 in financial aid. Couldn’t swing it. Dream denied! As you probably know if you read this site often, I ended up waiting and getting my M.A. at Missouri.
Point is: I’ve been there and I know how you feel!
I am applying to other schools like Northwestern, NYU, Rollins, Emerson (although after reading your last post I’m not sure I want to, haha), and Boston University.
If you’re still going the journalism route after reading this post, ditch all of them except Northwestern. The other ones aren’t good enough to justify the additional cost above UT. More on that in a second, though.
Journalism, I’m sure you’ve heard, is a really, really shitty place to be right now. Job cuts have been the norm for years now, and they’ll continue for many more. Newspapers are a shell of what they once were, and even flagship newsmags like Time and Newsweek are dying a slow death.
Radio news — well, good luck finding a public-radio gig, because there are way more applicants than actual jobs. And TV news is anyone’s guess. Local TV news will always be there, probably, mainly because they can keep paying new-grad reporters $17,000 per year to write, shoot and produce their own stories.
It’s bad times out there, girlfriend. Sorry for the gloom and doom, but it’s necessary to go over that before I give you the second part of my answer.
BECAUSE the outlook is grim, you simply can’t be taking out tons of money in student loans in the hopes of repaying them with well-paying journalism jobs that simply do not exist anymore. And for the ones that do still exist, you’re in competition with every new grad PLUS the thousands of laid-off mid-career workers with tons more experience than you have.
So with all that in mind, follow these two rules:
a) If you’re going to pursue journalism, keep your costs as low as you possibly can. If UT is going to not only pay your way but actually give you so many scholarships that you’ll be *making* money — for the love of God, take it. (I know you have other issues with UT — I’ll address them in a minute).
b) If you decide to skip UT in favor of a better-known program, go as high as you can. Go to Columbia, Mizzou or Northwestern. Those are still the “Big 3” journalism schools, and a degree from there MIGHT let you skip a couple of the lower rungs on the career ladder. MIGHT. Absolutely no guarantees there, though.
There are some above-average schools out there like the ones you mentioned (BU, Emerson, NYU) and also ones you didn’t mention (Indiana, North Carolina). But while they’re good schools, they don’t carry the same reputation as the Big 3 do, and they don’t offer you any cost savings over the best schools. So if you’re gonna spring for an expensive journalism degree, go big or stay home.
Overall, my advice is to take the UT offer. Going to college for free will make an INCREDIBLE difference in your standard of living when you get out of school, and throughout the rest of your life.
I’m guessing that you’ll make roughly the same amount of money with a UT degree as you will with, say, a BU degree. And because you paid nothing for your degree, you’ll have plenty of money with which to enjoy life — because you’ll be free of financial obligations (provided you don’t develop a coke habit or a gambling addiction in college, you know).
On the other hand, come out of BU with, say, even $50,000 of student loan debt (and that might be conservative), and you’re talking about an obligation of $600 or so per month — which will seriously limit your choices, considering the low salary guaranteed you by a J-degree.
I really want to get out of my hometown — Knoxville, TN. If I went to University of TN- Knoxville, which is an okay school, I could possibly MAKE money off of scholarships, but I don’t really want to be close to home. I want to get out and become my own person.
No one supports that idea of getting out and becoming your own person more than I, and this is no exception. Yeah, it’ll be more of the same scenery staying in Knoxville and you’ll be close to your parents, etc. But you can still get out and become your own person.
I mean, you’re already your own person, right? You just want to maybe become more independent, do more things & handle your business on your own? It’s harder, sure, when you have the same people around, your family, etc. — but you can do this. You pretty much just — well, you resolve to jump out on your own and then you do so. 🙂
That may not be so easy to swallow, so listen to this: By going to school for free at UT, you’ll be putting yourself in a *much* better position to be out on your own, independent, your own person. Because — and I mean no disrespect by this — if you come out of an expensive private school with $60-70k of debt and an entry-level journalism job, there’s an excellent chance you’ll be back in Mom & Dad’s house within a year or two.
Or maybe not Mom & Dad’s — maybe someone else’s. Maybe two or three roommmates. Who knows? My point is, if you think it’s a little uncomfortable now to not have the chance to be out on your own — now, with no debt and no obligations/responsibilities — just imagine how it’ll feel when you’re 25 and have crushing debt and you absolutely *can’t* be independent because the money isn’t there.
(Briefly…please understand that I realize you might be really, really good at journalism and am not assuming you’re some sort of failure waiting to happen. My diagnosis here has only to do with the state of the journalism industry and the cost of college — no personal insult intended. 🙂
My family is really pushing UT because of the financial reasons. I get in state, a 25% off discount because my mom is a teacher, and the hope scholarship. This doesn’t include any merit scholarships or need based aid (my family is lower middle class). It would be a lot of money I would be throwing away if I went somewhere else.
Amen. I try to put it this way, because I know it’s a bitch to wrap your mind around the reality of all this debt and job market business when you’re still in high school:
If someone came up to you and said, “I’ll give you $25,000 in cash today if you’ll stay here and do nothing but just go take your college classes every day like a normal student.” Maybe Ed McMahon and the Publisher’s Clearinghouse, if he were still alive. Wait…is Ed McMahon dead or alive? I can’t remember.
Anyway, what would you say? I’d do it in a heartbeat. When you put it that way, almost everyone would say yes.
But that’s essentially what you turn down when you turn down free school — someone dropping $25,000 in your lap every year. And not just for one year, but four years in a row! That’s like winning a game show and staying on as the champion for about a month.
Is it better to throw my idea of going somewhere awesome and expensive away and save money during college to then go to grad school at somewhere like Columbia?
I definitely advise the UT undergrad degree. Whether you go to grad school is another issue altogether. Go do the undergrad program and see if it’s something you want to stay with, given the job outlook, economic climate, etc.
Just know that: a) you definitely don’t *need* a grad degree to get a job writing, and b) getting into the grad programs at those elite schools is tougher than undergrad. When I applied in 1996 (I know, I’m old), I think the acceptance rate was 9%.
Or is it better to go to the dream school (if I get in) or somewhere where the writing program is awesome and face the financial consequences?
It’s really tough for me to tell someone to just throw their dream away, and usually I don’t do that, so understand that I don’t give you this advice without some consideration. Your particular dream is one I understand from experience — right down to the school you’re applying to. What I think is worth pointing out, though, is how the “dream,” quite naturally as it turns out, differs from the reality.
You will not go to any undergrad journalism program — even Columbia — and hop right into a high-profile, high-paying job at an elite, prestigious news organization (take your pick — NY Times, CNN, whatever). It just doesn’t work that way, and I point that out because I think a lot of us who went to top-tier J-schools *perceived* it would be that way.
I’ll take that back — the one chance you have of making that happen is if you’re a minority. The largest and most prestigious new orgs tirelessly seek a racially diverse newsroom, so being an extremely gifted and high-performing black or Native American reporter is just about the only way I know that you can rocket yourself into the highest levels of journalism without a lot of dues-paying years on the journalism bread line.
But even then, it’s ridiculously difficult and competitive. Otherwise, it’s simply impossible.
Anyway — so if you’re OK with that and you understand it, and then Columbia is *still* your dream school and you’re willing to live with a lot of debt and little means — by all means, go for it. I just want you to know what you’re getting into before you leap.
And lest I sound like a complete materialist here, let me end on the note that journalism can be a fascinating career. If you want to get to know your community and truly understand all the great (and awful) things that people in it are doing, then there’s no better job than a journalist.
I’m just saying — it’s easier to enjoy life when you’re not broke, so go Vols. 🙂
— I know you guys must have a lot to say on this one. Plenty of you will disagree, I’m sure. What do you think Claire should do? Let us know in the comments below!