What's it like to study a Communication & Media Studies degree?
Communication is key, but so is knowing what your degree will be like. Find out just what it's like to study a Communication & Media Studies course by reading our success stories.
Click the names below to read their stories, or simply scroll through:
- Laura – Print Journalism at the University of Sheffield
- Jessica – Multimedia Journalism at the University of Sussex
Laura Drysdale was studying for her MA in Print Journalism at the University of Sheffield when we caught up with her. After leaving school and deciding she wanted to write for a living, Laura was drawn to a journalistic career. She shares her experiences of studying in the great city of Sheffield.
What inspired you to study media?
Leaving school, I had an idea I wanted to write for a living but didn't know much about what exactly being a journalist involved, in terms of a day-to-day working routine. I also knew I wanted a job where my workload was quite varied, which is certainly something being a reporter offers.
Throughout my undergraduate degree in English Language and Linguistics, I got as much journalism work experience as I could and through my second and third year worked one day a week as a reporter at a local newspaper, before starting freelance shifts in the summer holidays.
By the time I finished my undergrad, I knew being a journalist was what I wanted to do and whilst I had learnt tonnes on the job, I didn't have any formal training in things like media law, ethics and shorthand, hence the decision to undertake a journalism course.
Why did you choose to study at your university?
I'd done my undergraduate degree at Sheffield and thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the university. I went to speak to the course leaders and did my research on the Sheffield journalism courses to find that they had a great reputation and students went on to establish a whole range of media, PR and journalism careers. It was NCTJ accredited and so meant I could get my preliminary reporting exams, which most print journalism jobs require.
There were still people I knew in the Sheffield area and it wasn't too far from home where I'd already begun to network and build journalism contacts. Plus, my year was the first to do the course in the new departmental school with its swanky facilities, meaning we had access to the technology and software we needed to develop digital journalism and multimedia production.
Sheffield offers MA degrees in print, broadcast and magazine journalism (I chose the print course as I wanted to go into newspaper and web reporting), but it also offers postgraduate diplomas in these same disciplines, a nine month NCTJ-accredited course without the final MA dissertation. Although I didn't realise it when I started, this turned out to be really handy as I took a full-time reporting job in June and so swapped courses from the MA to PGDip.
Why did I choose Sheffield for undergraduate in the first place? It has a brilliant reputation as a Russell Group university. But it was the friendly atmosphere and the fact Sheffield is a busy city with lots going on but has a real community feel (and lots of parks) that swayed me.
Tell us a bit about the application process. How did you ensure yours was successful?
We had to do an application with a personal statement and a sample of stories. I made sure that my personal statement included the experience I had so far and the skills I had gained but also set out why I wanted to do that course specifically, what I wanted to gain from it and what my future career plans were.
I also tried to demonstrate my knowledge of the journalism industry and issues that were prevalent at the time. I asked my news editor at the time for advice on my strongest pieces of work to submit but went for work that covered a range of topics, required different news-gathering skills and demonstrated various writing styles.
What do you like about the course?
It was very digital focused which is important in today's journalism world, but it also gave me traditional journalism skills and knowledge (news writing, ethics, media law, shorthand), setting me up well to pass my NCTJ exams.
It helped me to develop my writing and researching skills through closely looking at news writing and interviewing techniques and through huge amounts of practice in a simulated newsroom environment. And it was a very practical course – from early on we were given a patch of South Yorkshire in which to go out and find, research and write our own stories.
We also ran weekly news days, producing web output to cover stories across the area, and had a live news week on the week of the general election where we again worked as a newsroom to publish web content. It was the luck of the draw that our postgraduate year was general election year but it was a brilliant experience to go to the Sheffield count and generate live coverage. of the course.
What did you dislike about the course?
At times, the workload was very intense. But that does set you up for multiple deadlines coming thick and fast, and the real world!
I would have liked to have spent more time experimenting with different writing styles, once we had grasped the basic news writing principles, and some more one-on-one sessions taking into account individual strengths and weaknesses would have been useful in terms of improving and developing.
What sort of learning methods were employed?
For the modules which involved learning facts and rules and information (such as public administration, media law, ethics and regulation), the teaching was mostly through lectures, with seminars for discussion and to consolidate our understanding. Elements such as news writing, interviews and page production were mostly taught through practical workshops, where we worked on stories and received class feedback to improve together.
There were also skills development sessions in things like using editing software, recording audio, taking photos, producing video, using social media and apps, and on digital storytelling. In terms of assessment, there was a mixture of story portfolios, academic essays, exams and practical assessments.
Tell us about your elective, where did you go, what did you do?
I've mentioned above about the simulated newsroom environment and the regular news days, as well as having our own patches to report on which was all real world journalism experience.
There was also support on the course to find and undertake journalism work placements at various media and PR organisations. This was strongly encouraged so that students left with some experience in a journalism workplace. We were also often encouraged to submit any stories that we found on our patches to local newspapers.
Regular guest lectures given by media professionals also gave us an opportunity to meet and question people working in the industry. We also went on a three-day visit to national newsrooms in London to give us more of an understanding of the newsroom structure and how it works, as well as the different roles and duties of a journalist on a day-to-day basis
What about the social side of things at university. Does an MA student find much time for it?
There were periods of time when the workload was more intense and periods when it was less intense. Because, I, like a lot of people, self-funded my postgraduate degree, there were also periods of time when I had to work to be able to afford my living costs.
When you team that with 8am until 6pm university days (this was not the case for the entire year but there were some weeks, in first semester, when it was), doing your university work and practising shorthand, it can be hard to find time to socialise. But I made lots of friends on my course and we always spent Friday and/or Saturday evenings off and socialising as well as doing other things during the week like going to a beer garden after a day at university.
When we had free periods during the day, we often went for lunch or to the park or just chilled in the common room. I found time to go visit home, see friends and family living elsewhere and to go on holiday for a few days.
Would you recommend studying media at Sheffield?
Jess had just finished studying for her MA in Multimedia Journalism at the University of Sussex when we caught up with her. After leaving her undergrad and deciding she wanted to be a journalist, she was drawn down south. She shares her experiences of studying at one of the top 25 universities in the country.
What made you want to study media?
Media, specifically journalism, is a field I’ve always wanted to get stuck into. The traditional sense of journalism as a public good is something I can really get behind and I find it both interesting and exciting how the industry keeps changing and evolving in its style and output.
Why did you choose Sussex?
I was always set on choosing a masters degree with an NCTJ accreditation (effectively a ‘stamp of approval’ from the industry which I do believe helps you get ahead as it shows employers a certain level of journalistic competence) but I found most universities only offered an accredited course on a specific type of journalism, i.e. Broadcast Journalism or Magazine Journalism.
As Sussex offered a Multimedia Journalism accredited course, I felt this broadened up by options for the future and gave me the opportunity to train in areas of journalism I hadn’t previously considered.
How did you produce a successful application for the course?
I submitted a short personal statement (between 200-400 words) and had to provide proof of meeting the grade requirements. There was no interview process which took some of the pressure away.
What did you like about the course?
I liked that my course was a range and balance between academic and practical study. On the academic university-led side, I enjoyed the discussions I had with lecturers on the challenges and changes journalism has undergone in the digital age.
On the practical NCTJ-led side, I liked practicing interview techniques with working journalists, and creating a local news portfolio from scratch.
What did you dislike about the course?
I would describe the technical training I received on my course as basic and I think I would have benefited from more of it, especially when it comes to shooting footage as this is often done in stressful environments where it’s easy to forget things.
I also think the course could benefit from a greater digital focus, perhaps by teaching students more about how to write for online, or how to code.
What sort of learning methods were employed?
On the University side, there were standard one to two hour lectures and accompanying seminars. On the NCTJ side, there were workshops which could last up to six hours, but these tended to be a lot more informal and were more conversation-led which meant they didn’t seem quite as long as that.
Oh and shorthand classes, which are a whole new learning experience in themselves that feel a bit like going back to the school classroom and learning the alphabet again.
What opportunities were there to gain real world experience?
Brighton Journalist Works, who are also affiliated with the course, are very good at posting job and intern vacancies on their Facebook page which students are invited to join – which is how I spotted an intern vacancy with the Press Association which I was later offered. Sussex has contacts at BBC Scotland which students can follow up if interested – a bit of a hike from Brighton but, from my experience, a really worthwhile avenue to pursue.
Were you able to have much of a social life outside of your MA?
To be honest, my social life was pretty tame for the year I was there compared with my undergraduate degree! But I would put that down to the intensive nature of the course, studying what many students cover over three years, and my determination to take my masters seriously and put the work in.
But don’t get me wrong, there’s so much to do in Brighton that I made sure I took time out at the weekends to relax!
Would you recommend studying media at Sussex?
While there are areas for improvement, I would definitely recommend the course to others. Brighton is a great city for news, with different protests and events happening all the time, meaning you’re never short of a story to practice your new skills on. I feel the degree has given me a great foundation and understanding of the world of journalism and I am confident it will be an advantage to me as I progress in my career.