When I was a student nearing the end of my matriculation at small, private and United Methodist Church-based school in Atlanta, Ga., my department chair, Dr. Gloria James, strongly recommended that attend graduate school.
My response: No way.
I financed my undergraduate education at the private institution of Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) with an annually renewable Reader’s Digest essay scholarship, grants, cash and limited student loans. I didn’t want to take on any more debt. Period. Also, my ego was calling most of the shots in 20-year-old mind. I was anxious to begin my career and thereby make my mark upon this world. Yet, my consistent pattern of listening to and following the advice of folk much wiser than me, overruled my lesser reasoning. On top of it all, I received a job offer from the Atlanta Journal/Constitution to serve as a city beat reporter.
The thumbnail outcome of my choices is that graduate education has paid off in many ways for me, including serving as the first female dean of journalism school, serving as the highest-ranking female local government administrator in Georgia, multi-media and award-winning financial journalist, and a myriad of other career and personal highlights. My salaries have typically remained higher than my peers in the industry.
Tip #1: Weigh investment of graduate $ investment v. other factors
As the parent of adult children who matriculated through college and graduate school, I am well aware of the cost-benefit ratio when considering graduate schools. While there are several articles, government studies and other research available to help students and their parents determine if graduate is worth it based on costs alone, I found this document to prove the most useful.
I am upfront in my recognition of the costs factors of graduate education. Yet, I advocate for graduate degrees based on the lifetime benefits of the investment.
Tip #2: Spike Lee told me to ‘do the right thing’
I am delighted to report that I followed Dr. James’ sound advice: A little more than one year after she directed me to this unknown territory, I graduated from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Part of my decision to attend Medill was based on the sage advice of my classmate, Spike Lee, who experienced a similar conversation with Dr. James just a year ahead of me. Spike simply said, “Do what she (Dr. James) said. It is easier that way.” I easily recall what Spike said since it was straight-forward and impactful. Do what she said. It is easier that way.
Spike, a graduate of Morehouse College and New York University, and me, a graduate of Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) and Northwestern University, shared the same undergraduate communications majors’ experiences. At that time, Clark was the home of the mass communications students in the Atlanta University Center. The AUC is the nation’s largest consortium of historically black colleges and universities in the United States. Spike and I also shared a love of producing short, student films and videos and were among the approximate ten students who founded the AUC Newsreel under the watchful leadership of our favorite film professor, Dr. Herbert Eichelberger. The youtube feature about the AUC Newsreel is contained within the tribute by another founder, George Folkes.
Youtube image courtesy of Gentle George Folkes, “A Salute to Dr. E” Dec. 2, 2013
Shifting into high gear: Graduate education
Although Spike and I today appear ‘oh-so-smart’ by graduating from our respective top graduate schools, I moved ahead while often wondering why Dr. James’ recommendation was a better a better option than my-grand and totally uninformed plan to pursue an immediate career in journalism?
Here’s my remarks as a “thought leader” who was asked to share my thoughts about graduate school for communications majors. It was recorded by the National Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation during the largest annual confab of the broadcast industry.
Since I graduated from Medill nearly 40 years ago, it is helpful to get an update on what the complex media industry has in store for today’s and recent grads of communication schools. Here’s a podcast with Gen Z views as captured during a November 2019 broadcast industry meeting in Texas: https://education.nab.org/nab/courses/14945.
Tip #3: Attending graduate schools based on its prestige?
The short answer is yes and no to whether one should attend a graduate school based on its prominence and views in the marketplace.
Tip #4: Determine if the investment will pay off
It’s safe to reveal that the cost of attaining my degree from Northwestern University some 40 years ago is approximately $30,000 less than what it would cost today. Although inflation and the CPI show marked increases in the financing of a graduate education, here are my recommendations. Yet, today, lots of the major universities have the means to finance one’s education in full or in part.
- Consider whether your undergrad degree will “hold up” in the present marketplace. If not, consider graduate education or beneficial certificate programs.
- Plan ahead. Begin to research the graduate school scholarships and grants of which there are plenty. Yet, it requires skilled research skills and networking to achieve desired educational goals.
- Consider graduate schools that offer tuition assistance and/or those institutions willing to pay the full cost — tuition, fees, housing.
- Consider working in a higher-than-average job while matriculating in graduate school.
- Be selective in your graduate degree choice. Often, students in communications will inform me that they wish to attain a MBA degree. I hold a DBA and still I ask whether they wish to gain a master’s degree or a MBA? Their answers illustrate a bigger issue of students not necessarily researching the degree to assist in bright careers.
It is important to reiterate that graduate education is not for everyone. Yet, in one of my typical examples to undergraduate students who wish to specialize in digital media areas such as sports journalism, seek out graduate programs that can advance you into their desired positions.
“Trust no one”
Those words often uttered in the successful “Game of Thrones” HBO series were first crafted by my fellow alum of undergraduate and graduate degrees. That’s right, George R. R. Martin is a dual degree recipient of degrees from Northwestern University. The interpretation of the phrase — “trust no one” — was often uttered among journalism students inside of Fisk Hall. Fisk Hall is the home building of the Medill School in Evanston, Ill. It’s interpretation meant to always complete research on subjects before acting on it.
Ann Wead Kimbrough, DBA is a thought leader, professional journalist, university professor, former government senior official, blogger and author.
She teaches students how to professionally blog, develop podcasts, write with clarity and context and manage large, live events. Ann earned a Doctor of Business Administration degree, International Business, Argosy University; a MS degree specializing in financial journalism, NU Medill School of Journalism; and a BA degree from Clark Atlanta University. website: annweadkimbrough.com; Twitter: @ConnectMom