Graduates / Journalism degree / NCTJ

Journalism degrees – are they really worth it? By Henry Willis

It seems the amount of jobs in journalism is falling by the day. But while there are fewer jobs available in the industry, are people doing more to break into it?

As a graduate in Sport Journalism of a year-and-a-half and still without a desk job, my outright answer is yes, people are doing too much and in the wrong way. The other night I found myself leaving a friend’s house in the pitch black and fishing my glasses out of the top box from my motorbike in the rain. I inadvertently sighed, and thought, ‘I used to have it all’.

“My outright answer is yes, people are doing too much and in the wrong way.”

Last year, after I graduated from my journalism degree, I did. Expensive fast car, lovely girlfriend, a lavish social life, everything but my own place but I knew this would come. All this came to fruition about only a week after handing in my last final dissertation at university as I became tired of journalism over the three years I had been studying it, slightly disillusioned also as I accepted a job in retail management.

At the start, I enjoyed the job, I had the material possessions and I enjoyed being top dog. But I was living the life of a graduate, not a journalist.

My fear relating to journalism degrees these days is that the ethos is ‘a degree is a degree’, and people go on to do anything. Only five or six out the 60-odd that were in my year and on my course went straight into relevant journalism jobs but they were the stand-out candidates.

Out of the other 55, some have gone into labouring, others building, a few in office admin, recruitment and retail. A handful of others have gone on to further their studies and I am one of them.

After a year in retail management I became disheartened, citing the amount of money I had spent on my degree to make use of it. The grand plan was in my head – I didn’t tell anyone what my plan was as I resigned and took a better-paid job as a postman so to save up for a course in which I could gain a prestigious ‘NCTJ’ certificate.

I was a postman for four months. I loved that job, too, and it was difficult not to get drawn into it, with a degree in journalism and all. Strolling about in the summer, being paid a lot of money to stroke cats while gaining an horrific shirt-and-shorts tan, finishing at 2pm every day.

Come the start of the NCTJ course in September I quit my job and sold my car as the ‘fast-track’ course I am currently studying for has little room for earning money side-by-side. I also bought a motorbike, which is very cheap to run.

And it was then – six weeks into the course – I find myself fishing my glasses out of my top box in the rain. I had it all. But I’m on the rise now as I’ll be NCTJ qualified in February *touch wood*.

The NCTJ qualification is all you need if you’re thinking about a career in journalism. My main point to this feature is not to think about a degree in journalism if you want to succeed.

“The NCTJ qualification is all you need if you’re thinking about a career in journalism.”

Yes, they can work – if you work. It’s difficult to sustain that over three years when you could do more over four months, such as in this current fast-track course. Five or six out of 60 says it all. In the six weeks I’ve been on the NCTJ course I’ve arguably learnt more than in my degree – yes, I’d say I’ve had a head start on everyone else on shorthand, basic reporting skills and other bits but I get the feeling everything that needs to be taught is taught on the fast-track.

In my degree I found myself writing academic essays about the history of leisure and sport and you have to question if you’d rather spend over £20,000 doing this or a tenth of that to do a direct NCTJ course in which you’ll be learning everything you need.

I don’t regret doing my degree, as no doubt it will stand me in good stead one day, but my advice to any other budding journalists is to not even consider it and jump straight into the NCTJ option.

“My advice to any other budding journalists is to not even consider it and jump straight into the NCTJ option.”

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2 thoughts on “Journalism degrees – are they really worth it? By Henry Willis

  1. Hi! I found your article really insteresting and it made me think about my degree choice for university. I want to become a political journlist so I thought about taking Politics and Journalism/Media studies at the university, but I always had doubts about whether or not I should take History and Politics instead of the Journalism option. I’m really into history and politics, and I love writing but as I look all the modules in a Journalism course I get uncertain feelings if all of this is really necessary. Do you think it would be better if I take Politics and History or Languages?

    • Helloo! Thanks for your comment – I showed this comment to Henry (Who wrote this blog post) and he said:

      “I was really into politics when I started my journalism degree and was disappointed with the lack of political syllabus, albeit being force fed public affairs in the second year, which was really basic stuff. It sounds like your Politics and Journalism Studies might be more politically orientated but I remain staunch in my view that journalism can come after studies. Concentrate on getting a good, solid degree and then look at doing a post-grad NCTJ journalism training course. It might sound painful to be looking at even more education after uni but it’s worth it; these courses can be as short as four or five months. I took in more on my fast-track NCTJ course than during my whole degree.It’s easy to get a solid degree and then brush up on journalism after but not the other way around – something I wish I knew when I was in your position. History and Politics is a fantastic degree and most employers will look upon it favourably. It’s broad, but specific enough to show you can retain and thus transmit information. Now I’ve been a full-time journalist for a year, I’d much rather take someone on with a degree like History and Politics PLUS an NCTJ certificate – than someone with just a journalism degree – any day of the week. For the over-achievers (much like Amy) you can always do freelance/voluntary writing/placements alongside a History and Politics degree; you might be a bit sick of journalism if you do odd bits like this alongside a journalism degree.Journalism degrees are good for one thing in that they prepare you for the industry. I took to my NCTJ course very quickly and I’ve taken to full-time writing just as quick but it’s no consolation.”

      Hope this helps! Let me know what you get up to, drop me an email at! xxx

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