A Career in Publishing: Is Grad School the Right Option?

Students from across the country, some seniors in college, others recent grads, are wondering if they can turn their love of books into a career with an undergraduate degree or is graduate school necessary to move forward?

While virtually all entry-level positions in the publishing industry do not require an advanced degree, it is nearly impossible for students with only an undergraduate degree to get publishing jobs. Last year, I sat on a Publisher’s Weekly panel at Random House on the job market. There were a number of undergrad students in the audience who asked the same question. These were not English majors who were nearing graduation and hadn’t thought about jobs; many of them had several publishing internships on their resumes.

So what do I tell students? I tell them that a graduate degree will be beneficial in two ways: it opens doors (practical knowledge learned & networking) and, from my experience, students get promoted sooner.

If you’re still reading, you are likely wondering about choosing a school. The simple response – there aren’t but a handful, so you won’t have to whittle down a list of 50. So how to choose the right school for you? Grad school isn’t quite like undergrad. I think there are different criteria that come into play when choosing the right program. Let’s start with the word “program” – the program is more important than the school, .so focus on the program and what it offers versus what the college or university as a whole offers. While the general focus of each program is similar, there are differences. There are some clear and rather obvious criteria perspective students should explore: location, size, availability to internships, professors, course offerings, cost, etc., but I think the not-so-obvious criteria are equally as important.

I tell perspective students that grad school is a gift to themselves and it is the opportunity to forge life-long friendships and connections that will one day be beneficial in their career. These types of relationships are forged out of the community built around the program. Thus, it is important to ask about the community: is it an active community, who is involved, is it welcoming, how do people know about it, get involved, etc. Students excel when they are part of a greater community.

Community is just one of the not-so-common criteria. There are a host of others such as where do the other graduate students come from, are there related graduate programs on campus, how involved is the program in the greater community, what type of support is available to graduate students (this could include the counseling center, academic support, etc.), how accessible is the director, are there opportunities to mentor undergraduates, are their volunteer opportunities, and how active is the program in regional and national conferences.

I wish any of you who choose to pursue grad school the very best as you embark upon your journey. I challenge you to think about the standard questions, but also think about how the program will shape you as an editor, designer, content developer, marketer, etc. Who will help you achieve your goals – certainly your professors, but what about your peers? Think about the not-so-common questions as you progress in your search and no doubt – you will make the right decision for you!

Good luck!

Anne Converse Willkomm MFA ’10
Director of the Graduate Publishing Programs
Rosemont College

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