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Do You Need a Bachelor's Degree to be a Journalist?

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Do You Need a Bachelor's Degree to be a Journalist?
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Do you need a bachelor's degree to be a journalist?

You've probably heard that, generally speaking, college graduates earn more money and are more likely to be employed than those without college degrees.

But what about journalism in particular?

I've written before about the pros and cons of getting a journalism degree compared to a degree in another field. But I teach at a community college where many students ask me whether they even need a bachelor's degree, or if a two-year associate's degree or certificate is enough.

Now, it's not impossible to get a journalism job without a BA. I've had several students who were able to land reporting jobs at small papers with just an associate's degree. One former student of mine, armed with just a two-year degree, worked his way around the country for about five years, doing reporting gigs at papers in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

But eventually, if you want to move to bigger and more prestigious papers and websites, the lack of a bachelor's degree will start to hurt you. These days, at medium-sized to large news organizations, a bachelor's degree is seen as a minimum requirement. Many reporters are entering the field with master's degrees, either in journalism or a specialized area of interest.

Remember, in a tough economy, in a competitive field like journalism, you want to give yourself every advantage, not saddle yourself with a liability. And the lack of a bachelor's degree will eventually become a liability.

Employment Prospects

Speaking of the economy, a number of studies have shown that college grads generally have much lower unemployment rates than those with just a high school degree.

Indeed, as The New York Times reports, unemployment for recent college graduates in all fields is around 8.9 percent. That may sound pretty bad, but the rate for workers with only a high school degree is nearly three times as high - 22.9 percent. Those figures come from a study by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

The Georgetown study found that average unemployment rate for recent college grads with degrees in journalism or communications was 7.3 percent. Again, that sounds high, but it wasn't too bad compared to the rates for grads in other fields.

The unemployment rate for people with graduate degrees in journalism or communications was much lower, at 4.1 percent.

Make More Money

Income is also also affected by education. A number of studies have found that college grads in any field invariably earn more than those with just a high school degree.

And if you have a master's degree or higher, you can earn even more. The Georgetown study found that the average income for a recent college grad in journalism or communications was $33,000; for graduate degree holders it was $64,000

Across all fields, a master's degree is worth $1.3 million more in lifetime earnings than a high school diploma, according to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Over an adult's working life, high school graduates can expect, on average, to earn $1.2 million; those with a bachelor's degree, $2.1 million; and people with a master's degree, $2.5 million, the Census Bureau report found.

"At most ages, more education equates with higher earnings, and the payoff is most notable at the highest educational levels," said Jennifer Cheeseman Day, co-author of the Census Bureau report.

I know a college degree isn't for everyone. Some of my students can't afford to spend four years in college. Others are just tired of school and can't wait to get started with their careers and adult lives.

But if you're wondering whether a college degree is worth it, the writing is on the wall: The more education you have, the more money you'll make, and the less likely it is that you'll be unemployed.

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