A Master's in Journalism is Still a Worthwhile Investment

Is obtaining a graduate degree in journalism worth the debt?

It depends on whom you ask. You’ll get a colorful mix of responses. The ones I received ranged from “Are you sh*ting me? ” to the more mild-mannered (albeit, indifferent) “I don’t see why not.” Discouragement came in spades, support in sprinkles. 

And even if a master's in journalism is not up your alley, I’d still suggest asking around for the hell of it. The spectrum of reactions you will more than likely witness is priceless. After nights of soul searching done mostly in cramped coffee shops, I decided that my decision would be a yes. So began my journey in the November of 2012. And in March of 2013, I've met its end. 

It was one wrought with peaks in self-confidence, followed by dark spirals, writing and constant self-questioning. Is this what I really want? Will this investment be worth it? What do I truly wish to accomplish? How will grad school help me get there?

These were serious questions that begged for serious answers. 

When it comes down to it, education is a business partnership — you are given valuable skill sets and tools. In return, you are expected to succeed on behalf of said school's name. Show that their belief (via acceptance) in you was not a waste. In the end, I settled on four American graduate programs. At one point I considered some schools in Europe, but in the end found myself ruling them out despite the initial appeal of a Parisian or London experience. All four schools had excellent programs — some of the most renowned in the overarching field of communications. From more talk and research, I discovered that when it came to the MS/ MA/Ph.D game, there really wasn't any concept of a "safety school" as I was informed during my undergrad quest. Instead, it all came down to a rather vicious game of numbers — grades, GPA, GRE scores, years of experience, program spacing and most important, funding.

"Why don't you take a year off and work instead?" I had been often asked.

Feasible — but not what I wanted. I know myself better than anyone else. Honestly if I were lucky enough to get a job right after graduation this May, my desire to further my education would plummet. Single-minded, I went ahead with applying and hoped that the admission officers who would be viewing my work would see the merit of my worth not just by my stats, but my personal statement. Writing was the one craft I knew could take me places; the same way renowned actors or artists cultivate themselves to fame. I poured myself into those essays — my past, my present, and what I saw for myself in the future. I wanted to write. I wanted to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” in the words of Finley Peter Dunne. I wanted to travel and write about occurrences from far away. I wanted to take pictures, create video, and put together podcasts to tap into a wider audience. 

Fast-forward from last December deadlines to earlier this month.

The first university that got back to me declared that they were suspending their program until next year or so in order to revitalize its offers. Unprecedented and disappointing news, but fair enough. It wasn't a flat out rejection, so I could live with it. The next university that got back in touch with me noted that I had been wait listed. Once again, fair enough — a wait list meant that there was still hope.

Time passed. I started to have frequent nightmares in which I either was trapped in admissions limbo at the last two universities, or even worse, rejected. Every free moment of my life consisted of me refreshing my e-mail or sending text messages to ask if anything in the mail had come for me. I started to think that perhaps I should have applied to more programs. I used my Les Misérables kick to re-lyric songs relevant to my agony, such as One Day More.

One more day ‘til admissions decision, dreams will be nipped in the bud! We'll be ready for these applicants, they will wet themselves with sobs—!”

At last came that fateful Friday — the foreboding Ides of March. In the mail was a single envelope, thin and addressed to me. It was from school number three — a program I fell even more in love with after the interview. I thought it was a rejection and I was devastated before I even found the sense to open it. There laid an acceptance letter — with mention of scholarship money and an admitted students day in April. Hours later I received an e-mail from the final school — I was yet again wait-listed.

All in all, it wasn't a bad admissions cycle for an undergraduate completely new to a realm where even working professionals struggle. 

Newspapers are dying. Broadcast ratings are lowering. Back in the heyday of journalism, reporters had an easier time working their way from the ground up. Investigative journalism was big and Twitter a non-factor. That doesn't mean journalism, as a whole is dead nor is grad school something to rule out entirely — especially if you’re passionate and hard-working. Drive is more than motivational fluff — it's essential. The journalistic landscape is going digital, but the traditional need for experience, accuracy, quality, and networking remains prominent. Journalism grad school will help me perfect these nuances.

Grad school instilled faith in me with one letter. That’s all I need to ensure everything to come within the next few years will be worth any and all risk. 

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Zainab Akande

Born and raised in New York City, Zainab is a University of Delaware alum, currently working on obtaining her M.A. in journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York. http://zainabakande.com/

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