Journalism Grad School vs. Real World: Weighing the pros and cons

By Maria Zamudio

Many journalism students often wonder if a graduate degree will help them advance in their field. As the time to graduate approaches, students must choose whether to enter the working world or pursue a master’s degree.

Jennifer Follis, journalism lecturer and undergraduate adviser for the college of Communications, said that in general students don’t need a master’s degree to work in journalism. Most of the students in the graduate program are non-journalism majors. Overall, most employers want good balance. They want to see good grades and some extra-curricular activities. They want to see that students are able to handle more that just their studies.

Journalism professor John Fountain who worked for the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and the Washington Post believes graduate school is good for journalism students depending on the student’s long terms goals. Fountain said that a master’s degree could be of great benefit, especially for those students who know what they want and for those not ready to enter the intense world of journalism.

“I didn’t feel like I was ready,” Fountain said. In his case the graduate program became a way to enhance his journalism education. “It made me think about issues in journalism such as minority journalist. For me, it was the right thing to do.”

Sheila R. Solomon, senior editor for recruiting at the Chicago Tribune believes students do not necessarily need a graduate degree in journalism.

“I don’t believe a graduate degree is a good substitute for practical experience – working for the campus paper, internships at professional newspapers, etc,” said Solomon.

Tracy Dell’Angela, education writer for the Chicago Tribune agreed with Solomon.

“Frankly, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to pursue a graduate degree in journalism,” Dell’Angela said. She went on to say that a master’s degree is necessary if the student wishes to teach journalism.

“If you want to learn how to be a journalist, go work for a small newspaper or a small market TV or radio station for a year or two. The practical experience, in my humble opinion, teaches you far more about journalism than studying it in school. And it could allow you to pay off student loans, instead of taking out new ones,” Dell’Angela said.

Dell’Angela explained that she encourages students to pursue advanced degrees but added that it may be more beneficial to obtain those degrees in other fields such as business, law, science, the environment, or politics.

“That will allow a journalist to delve deeply into a particular beat or passion,” she said.

“Employers care much more about experience in the field as opposed to another piece of paper hanging on your wall,” said Joe Plahutnik, graduate student.

According to Plahutnik, if someone chooses to pursue a graduate degree in journalism, the University is a great choice in terms of course-content, professors and affordability.

“In today’s world, a master’s degree is the new bachelor’s degree, and it never hurts to get more education,” he said.