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Advice for someone without a degree

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Thunder8671, Jan 5, 2014.

  1. Thunder8671

    Thunder8671 New Member

    I have found this site very interesting and helpful. I am currently writing for an online publication which has been fun and have given me some interesting experiences. I do not have a college degree. However, I would like to make this a full time job. What would be the best route for someone such as myself who is looking to become a writer in a top 10 market? I am a member of the PFWA and the FWAA. Will this be helpful in landing a job? Thank you guys very much for your help.
  2. For a top-10 market...probably going to need to get that pretty little piece of paper that says "Bachelor's Degree" on it unless you have several years of experience (10+ at a minimum probably) with some great clips and also skills that allow for you to be a multidimensional reporter. Professional membership won't really help you much/at all.

    Find a way to get a bachelor's unless, like I said above, you have a very large chunk of experiences and/or know someone.

    Whether a bachelor's degree makes a difference or not in someone's competence as a journalist, it's generally one of the first methods used to eliminate resumes. Some jobs will specifically list a degree as a requirement, others will "consider" those with equivalent experience. I think the figure is like 3-4 years on the job equals one year of college, but don't quote me.
  3. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    I don't have a degree and I've worked for/with plenty of successful journalists who didn't. Only a couple people I've asked about a job over the past 30 years cared enough to ask -- you know, until you do the formality of filling out the application for HR (so don't lie). But by the time I starting reaching out to large markets at 22, I'd been writing and then editing professionally since 16 and my work spoke for me.

    One piece of advice -- the top 10 goal is silly. I can't say I didn't go through the phase of striving for that, and maybe being impressed with myself when I finally got there, but in hindsight nearly any newspaper with 100,000 circulation is going to give you the resources to do good work if you're motivated. There always have been large papers that underachieve and 150,000-circ papers that play way out of their weight class. And good talent and fuckups on almost every staff. Going by the list below, do you think working in Atlanta (No. 8 ) is going to be twice as satisfying as working in Miami (No. 16) and three times better than Charlotte (No. 24)?

  4. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    Not knowing your age or situation (financially, family, etc.), it's hard to be too specific. As others have said, your experience will be your strong suit. If you are remotely close to getting a degree, I would encourage you to do it, even it means going part-time, online, etc.

    Beyond that, try to compile as good of a clip file as possible. That's about all any of us can do.
  5. Double J

    Double J Active Member

    These days it seems like it's all about who you know in this business, whether you have a degree or not.
  6. TrooperBari

    TrooperBari Well-Known Member

    Agreed. There are certain newspaper companies that will not hire people who don't have a four-year degree, and I've been told up front by editors who do the hiring for their paper that lacking a degree would send me to the bottom of the pile. I've still been able to get good jobs despite my not having a four-year degree, but it has cost me a few great opportunities.

    Go get the degree, if for no other reason than it will give you something to fall back on if/when the journalism path no longer works for you. Online courses, especially student-paced ones, work well with a reporter's schedule, even if taking classes part-time while working full-time seems like a long slog. Odds are it will be worth it in the long run.
  7. Schottey

    Schottey Member

    Personally, I would work toward *a* degree—something, anything...start with a few classes and work toward a two-year degree first. See what happens and then go from there. Don't feel forced into a journalism or English degree, but that's obviously a pretty big option. See what the local community college has to offer and dip your toe in.

    That said, just keep working every day to make yourself and your writing better. Write daily. Read daily. Sports TV and sports radio are fun, but if your craft is the written word, immerse yourself in the written word. Teach yourself photoshop or a video editing program. Find local or national networking events and save up to go. A college degree still means a lot, but there's always room for someone who's worked their tail off and has a ton of talent—even without the degree.
  8. Cigar56

    Cigar56 Member

    There are lots of papers willing to substitute experience for the lack of a degree. The real reason for getting a degree is to protect yourself if you ever have to leave newspapers. You'll be better off with the degree if you have to switch to another profession, such as teaching school or corporate communications. That makes getting the degree a no-brainer, even if you never have to rely on it.
  9. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    People who hired me full time:

    1.) Went full time with no degree but eventually got one and left the biz. (1979)

    2.) Went full time with no degree but eventually got one.

    3.) Not a single day of college. (My first major metro, 1984.)

    4.) Degree from small school. Editor of major metro now.

    5.) Degree from small school.

    6.) No degree. Editor of major metro now.

    7.) Degree. Hired me for managing editor job with no degree.

    8.) Degree.

    9.) Degree. Only one on the list from huge state university.
  10. Mira

    Mira Member

    I worked full-time as a sports journalist for about a dozen years without a degree, but that was in the late 90s through 2010. I went back to finish my B.A., but would have to move if I have a chance to stay in the business.

    I think it's a much more competitive market now, so I think it would be tough to get your resume in the ones-to-consider pile without that piece of paper. Clips and experience are fantastic, don't get me wrong, but belonging to a professional organization isn't going to help.

    All the advice being offered on this thread is terrific. So many smart, supportive people who dole out worthy suggestions.
  11. SCEditor

    SCEditor Active Member

    I'm 31 and don't have a degree. I'm sure it's cost me some jobs when applying, but in the 13 years I've been in the business, I've only interviewed, in house, for one job that I didn't get, and the person who got that job was infinitely more qualified for the gig.

    I'm the editor at a 15K daily, but I've worked at papers as big as 45K and done freelance work for much larger papers. The important thing is to get relevant experience and prove you can do the job. A degree will not make you. Your experience, your clips and how you present yourself (cover letter, resume, etc...) are the difference-makers in this business.
  12. KYSportsWriter

    KYSportsWriter Well-Known Member

    Says the guy with 14 posts ...

    I work on a four-man staff. Three of us do not have degrees.
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