In a Tough Economic Environment, Do You Need a Master’s Degree to Succeed?
This article was contributed by YPG member Emma Brockway. If you are a YPG member and would like to contribute articles on publishing-related topics for our site, please contact Tara Powers at email@example.com.
Entry-level publishing professionals are many things: determined go-getters, expert multitaskers, and unabashed book lovers. Transitioning from an undergraduate literature major to an assistant in the publishing industry is a challenging yet rewarding process. For some, diving headfirst into the industry is an education unto itself. But for others, a master’s degree in publishing or a related field provides a competitive edge and broad-based knowledge of the ever evolving marketplace. While the decision to pursue a master’s degree holds broad appeal for young publishing professionals (have you ever met an editorial assistant who doesn’t want to go back to school?), the road to an advanced degree is a serious investment of time, money, and energy and may not be the right choice for everyone.
Jesse Feldman, an editor at the New American Library (an imprint of Penguin) who holds a master’s in publishing from Pace University, feels that the program was a “good stepping stone” for her career. As a result of the program, Feldman is “the only editorial assistant at [her] imprint who can Photoshop and use Quark in a pinch.” More importantly, Feldman values how the program connected her to “people who will become [her] colleagues and contemporaries in the industry.”
Professor Jane Kinney-Denning, director of internships and corporate outreach at the Pace University Publishing Program, echoes Feldman’s assessment of the program, noting that “students leave the program very well-connected and knowledgeable about how to apply for and get jobs.” Denning has “seen graduates get promoted very quickly and thinks that this is directly related to their advanced degree and preparedness in the workplace.”
Andrea DeWerd, an editorial/publishing assistant at Gallery Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) and a 2012 graduate of the master’s in publishing program at New York University, is proof that these programs can put young professionals on the fast track. DeWerd credits the NYU program with helping her obtain a full-time job in the industry. “After starting the program in January 2010, I spent my first semester interning at Simon & Schuster and was then hired full-time in the Pocket Books Publishers Office at S&S in May 2010—which was exactly what I was looking for when I decided to go to grad school while job hunting,” says DeWerd.
But not everyone agrees on the usefulness of obtaining a master’s degree in publishing. Caitlin Sweeny, an associate digital marketing manager at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, dropped out of a highly regarded master’s in publishing program after a semester when she considered the cost of the program. Sweeny “decided that what [she] had learned from [her] first semester and what [she] expected to learn in [her] second didn’t justify going into so much debt.” And even without completing the program, she was soon promoted.
As Sweeny demonstrates, incurring student debt is of paramount concern for advanced degree seekers, and the cost of many of these programs can be prohibitive for assistants at the lower end of the publishing pay scale. According to FinAid.org, a website that features comprehensive data on student loans and financial aid, approximately $200 billion in outstanding student loan debt in the United States can be attributed to master’s degrees alone. With cash-strapped young professionals in mind, prospective master’s candidates in any field should carefully weigh what loans they can afford and selectively pursue a degree only when the timing is prudent.
It is worth noting that while master’s degree programs in publishing are a popular choice for entry-level professionals in many facets of the industry, they are certainly not the only option to consider. A quick browse on LinkedIn reveals that many in the publishing industry with higher degrees hold them in literature, communications, business administration, and journalism, to name a few. In addition, houses are oftentimes looking to fill positions with people who have diverse backgrounds and skill sets in every field from law to graphic design to human resources, for whom an advanced degree in publishing would not necessarily be relevant.
Sara Sargent, an assistant editor at Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Children’s Books, obtained a master’s degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and believes that the first step in any master’s degree plan should be to think critically and weigh your options. “I would say this about any higher-education degree: you can always get one; there is no need to rush into it,” says Sargent. “And for heaven’s sake, don’t get a degree just because you aren’t sure what else to do with your life.”
For those seeking to expand their publishing education but who for whatever reason are not looking to commit to a master’s program, there are still plenty of learning opportunities available. Coworkers and publishing executives at your house can be an excellent resource for tips and insights. Many universities and colleges offer affordable mini-courses in marketing, accounting, and copyediting. Alongside a listing of various master’s programs available in publishing, Bookjobs.com provides an extensive list of certificate programs, institutes, and further educational opportunities in the field (click here). And, of course, the Young to Publishing Group offers a wealth of resources to those new to the industry, such as casual networking nights, brown bag lunchtime panels, and discounts to industry events.
Figuring out whether your publishing career will benefit from a master’s degree is a big decision, and a personal one—but it’s certainly one that’s worth thinking about.
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