Mika
July 30, 2019 1:29 pm

When I stepped onto Howard University’s campus, I did not worry if my marketing major would align with my future. I had a general idea of career paths that seemed like good fits, but I was too young to already be committed to just one. Between work and school, I tested the waters through internships, volunteer opportunities, and extracurricular activities. But unlike many of my classmates, I didn’t have a postgrad game plan.

It wasn’t until my senior year that I had my “ah ha” moment. As one of the final requirements for my marketing degree, I enrolled in a social media marketing course. My semester-long project for this particular class would be to create a blog that I would self-publish and promote. I excelled in the course and began thinking about pursuing publishing as a career. For the first time in my college experience, I could see how the course work might be applicable to my future.

I’d made a blog in high school while I stayed up all night once “playing on the internet,” but it never occurred to me that people blogged for a living. Writing had been a lifelong hobby of mine, but it only recently became a main source of income for me. After creating my blog for that social media marketing course, I began pitching to larger sites just for fun. I was shocked when I got a response from an editor who not only accepted my pitch but offered payment for my words; at the time, $25 for something that I would have done for free felt like a dream.

Fast-forward to three years postgrad. Here I am, trying to figure out if obtaining a master’s in publishing would benefit me. Don’t get me wrong, I feel very fortunate to have discovered my passion in college, but I wish I’d figured it out sooner. Had this epiphany come earlier, I would have changed my course of study and applied to internships that would lead to better job prospects. In most cases, better late than never is a philosophy that I live by—but when it involves me digging up tens of thousands of dollars that I don’t have so I can go to grad school? Not so much.

“In most cases, better late than never is a philosophy that I live by—but when it involves me digging up tens of thousands of dollars that I don’t have so I can go to grad school? Not so much.”

As a small fish in the pretty competitive world of journalism, I’m trying to figure out the best way to stand out amongst the crowd. Enrolling in a master’s program, earning a specialized certificate, or even humbly taking on an unpaid internship are just a few of the things I’ve considered. I am blessed to have gotten where I am thus far in my writing career. I’ve made such great strides and connections as a freelance writer, and I’ve figured it out mostly on my own. I’d love to work as a staff writer for a publication, but I know that I may not look as good on paper as those with a “formal” education in journalism. There are some major benefits to freelancing, but it’s not even half as fabulous as Carrie Bradshaw made it seem.

I recently attended an information session for a digital publishing master’s program, and though I received a lot of clarity about how it can help me fulfill journalism dreams, I couldn’t help but ask myself: Is it worth it?

I’ve asked both education and finance experts whether it would be beneficial for me to go to grad school. I received the same responses: Only if my earning potential offsets the cost of tuition. But in a job market that is so fickle and saturated, how does one determine that for sure? The representative from this particular program went into detail about some of the benefits of enrolling into the master’s program, highlighting the hands-on coursework, networking opportunities, internship connections, job opportunities (accessible through networking), and travel opportunities (accessible through networking). This all came at the mere price of $100,000 more student debt, on top of what I already owe from undergrad. I completely understand why networking is essential—I just couldn’t justify going into more debt to do it.

Over 44 million Americans collectively hold $1.5 trillion in student debt. I have every right to question whether receiving a master’s is necessary.

I have been blessed to connect with other writers and editors as a freelancer. Most of them are comfortable with giving me sound advice for my journey. While a good number of these journalists have studied journalism in either undergrad, postgrad or both, many have expressed that they learned mostly on the job. The consensus is that journalism is one of those fields where learning through experience and making great connections may be more valuable than anything you can learn in a classroom.

“Over 44 million Americans collectively hold $1.5 trillion in student debt. I have every right to question whether receiving a masters is necessary.”

Student debt is stopping individuals, like me, from pursuing higher education, and it’s stopping a large number of young Americans from actively participating in the economy. The American Youth Association (AYA) is an organization that lobbies for policies and legislation surrounding student loan debt. AYA founder & CEO Ben Brown told HelloGiggles that student debt has long-term economic effects that many borrowers don’t ever consider:

“The obscene cost of college and the onerous nature of repaying student loans is by far one of the most oppressive obstacles facing young Americans today…Behind mortgage payments, student debt is now the second largest category of consumer debt and is causing young Americans to delay starting families and buying homes, and preventing them from starting their own businesses–crippling their abilities to meaningfully participate in the economy.”

The student debt crisis is a reflection of the capitalist nation we live in. Our society tells us that to be successful, we need to go to school and get a degree. When you graduate from undergrad, job prospects are scarce, and our nation tells us to get a higher degree to give ourselves a competitive advantage. All the while, we’re racking up hella debt, hurting our credit, and spending the rest of our lives scraping by while lenders make a shit ton of money. I often joke around by saying that college is a scam, but in reality, that may not be far from the truth. Nowadays, people are creating businesses and careers from the ground up. I’m confident that skipping out on a master’s degree won’t be the end of the world.

“All the while, we’re racking up hella debt, hurting our credit, and spending the rest of our lives scraping by while loaners make a shit ton of money.”

Slowly but surely, I’m changing my mind about going back to school. I have the utmost respect for those who have pursued degrees of higher learning. However, I don’t think it’s for me. I can’t imagine spending the majority of my life paying off a debt that would stop me from living freely. The anxiety of being in more debt is enough to push me to work my ass off. No piece of paper will determine my worthiness. I will not let skipping out on grad school deter me from flourishing as a writer. Until our nation offers us better ways to receive an education, I’ll be progressing on my own terms.

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