I am about to graduate journalism school in a few months, and I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned during this degree. Journalism school will teach you everything from photography to PR skills to audio editing to writing, so it is like a grab bag of storytelling mediums. This is a practical degree and there are a few things I’ve learned about how to get the most out of your time at school so you don’t waste your money.
1. Build your portfolio
You aren’t in journalism school for the diploma. You are there to make an amazing portfolio to show to future employers or to kickstart your freelance career. Focus on doing work that you are proud to show off, build yourself a great website, and get published as much as possible, even if it is just in the school paper. Your work in school will get you further than any diploma or certificate you flash in a job interview.
2. Relationships are more important than the diploma
One word: network. Also: networking means building genuine relationships with both professors and your fellow students. Ask questions in class, talk to the other people in your class, help them out with projects, go to your prof’s office hours. All of these things will help you later if you need a reference letter, or if you need some support after you graduate. It will also make you stand out and keep you top of mind if one of your profs or fellow students is asked for a referral for a great writer or photographer or editor.
Note on networking: just be normal and genuine. Ask questions like “how are you doing with your article?” or ask them for advice on a paragraph you can’t get right or an interview that flopped. Don’t be stiff and talk about how great you are all the time. You don’t need to wear a suit and carry a briefcase to class (please don’t, unless that is your real style- then go ahead). That isn’t going to build your relationships. You are looking for real, here, not uppity.
3. Figure out your lane
Journalism school is a gift because you can experiment with a whole bunch of different storytelling mediums. It is also a place to play around while you find your voice and your lane in terms of topics and style. When you get an assignment, think about how to make it your own. For example, most of my stories in school tended to revolve around spirituality or social justice issues. I also wrote in creative non-fiction style as much as I could, because that is my style. You can’t do this in every assignment, but you can try. Explore topics and voices and see what suits you. Now is the time.
4. You’ll get out of it what you put into it
Challenge yourself. Put real effort into your projects. If you put a measly amount of effort in, journalism school is not going to be worth it, so don’t waste the money. You are there for portfolio building and connections, so act like it.