If you want to be a journalist, you might consider becoming a journalism major. A successful writing career doesn’t depend on journalism school – but an education can be helpful! Here’s what to think about when you’re choosing a college major.
I’m not convinced you need to go to college and be a journalism major to become a journalist – but you definitely need to learn how to be a professional writer. Read books like The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. If you don’t learn the tricks of the journalism trade, you put yourself at a disadvantage. Writing as a career has a romantic image, but the truth is that professional writers work extremely hard to be successful. Journalism school – or majoring in journalism in college – can be part of working hard.
If you already know you should be a journalism major, read How to Prepare for College – What You Need to Know.
When I went to university for my first undergrad degree – 20 years ago! – I majored in my passion: psychology. Mistake, because the degree is too general and the jobs too low-paying. Then I went to the University of Alberta (U of A) to get my Education degree. I thought teaching would be a good career for me, but it turns out I was wrong. I taught grade 8 for three years, and discovered that teaching isn’t my thing. I went back to school to get my Master of Social Work (MSW).
I was never a journalism major, but I’ve been making good money as a freelance writer for eight years. If I was interested in working as a journalist, I am 100% convinced I would’ve been successful. Not necessarily because I learned how to write, but because I work hard. And, I know that a successful journalism career requires a professional, business-like, formal mindset.
You might be able to teach yourself to be a journalist by reading articles such as How to Become a Photojournalist. But, you may find that journalism school offers benefits that you won’t get by simply learning on your own.
Choosing a college major sets the tone for the rest of your journalism career – but don’t let this scare you! You can change your major, change your career, and even change your life if you need to. These tips on how to decide if you should be a journalism major will give you something to think about…
How to Decide if You Should Major in Journalism
If you want to be a writer, I think it’s a good idea to take at least one college writing course. You can even take a couple of online journalism university courses, which are less time and energy-consuming than in-person classes.
Take a variety of college courses
Journalists write about everything from peanut allergies to college scandals (unless they specialize in one type of journalism, which usually happens later in the career). If I was interested in being a journalist, I’d take a wide variety of first year college classes.
Taste all the academic offerings and see what you like. The beauty of a general arts or science degree is that your options are quite wide. And, depending on what college you’re attending, you might not even have the option of becoming a journalism major. Know that taking a variety of college courses will help you become a better journalist.
Remember what college is for
Your college experience isn’t just about preparing for a successful career in journalism. It’s about experiencing campus life, opening your mind, connecting with people, networking for the future, learning to communicate, and prepare for life after college.
Deciding if you should be a journalism major is important, but it may be less important than getting the full college experience. If you want to go on to grad school after working as a journalist for a few years, your grad school application will reflect who you are as a person. Being a journalism major may not be as important as being a well-rounded, well-traveled, multi-faceted student of life.
But don’t forget to keep polishing your writing skills! You might think about finding a writing mentor if you decide not to be a journalism major.
Hold your long-term career goals lightly
If I was trying to decide how to choose my college major when I was 19, I would never have dreamed I’d wind up owning my own blogging business! I am an entrepreneur at heart. I LOVE being self-employed, love reading business magazines, love discussing marketing strategies. If you’re struggling to decide if you should be a journalism major, you may not know what your long-term career goals are. And that’s okay!
Start thinking about how you want to spend your days, how much money you want to make, and what you want to dedicate your life to. Most importantly, remember that you can switch tracks after working as a journalist for a few years. Maybe you’ll major in science right now, work as a science reporter or journalist, and go back to college or university for a more specialized career in either science or journalism.
Talk to students who are majoring in different subjects
When I was a psychology student at the University of Alberta, one of my best friends was a chemistry student. I was fascinated by her coursework, labs, experiments, and assignments because they were so different than mine. If you can’t decide if you should major in journalism, connect with students in different faculties. Talk to them about their classes, assignments, interests.
That’s part of being a journalist: doing the investigatory work 🙂
Talk to a college advisor about being a journalism major
I always thought I knew what I was doing when I went into university, but in hindsight I see that I just rushed into psychology without thinking about it. Even if you think you know how to choose a college major, I encourage you to talk to a guidance counsellor or advisor. You may be making an impulse decision based on things you aren’t even aware of, such as a parent telling you that you should go to journalism school.
Don’t be swayed by the media’s opinion on the “best college major”
There are lots of lists of the best and worst college majors in lots of magazines and newspapers – as well as on blogs and websites. I encourage you not to choose a college major based on those recommendations! Last month, I read that dental hygienists are the happiest workers in the world…but that doesn’t mean I’d be happy working as a hygienist.
You may read articles on how to choose a college major that focus on the biggest return on your education investment…but then you might get stuck working in a job you hate for the rest of your life.
If you’re paying your way through college – whether or not you major in journalism – read 10 High Paying Jobs for College Students.
I welcome your thoughts on becoming a journalism major and starting a career as a journalist. May you be blessed with clarity and vision, and a healthy sense of flexibility about whatever choices you make in life.
“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” – Joseph C. Pearce.