I just got into a top journalism school, but I want to be an entrepreneur
March 21, 2011 2:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm 24 years old. I graduated in May with no debt from what is, frankly, a terrible college with a bachelor's degree in psychology. From there, I got into a top journalism program that will take 2 years to complete. My debt from that won't be astronomical, but I'm still worried about it. I wrote for my school paper and people really loved my work. My career goal if I were to go down this road is to write feature stories for New York Magazine and Esquire. I'd be satisfied with myself if I did that, even if the money wasn't fantastic. However, I've always dreamed of having my own dress company.

I can sew decently and I think people would buy my designs, but in order to be taken seriously I would want to pursue a one-year associates degree from a reputable fashion school. Starting a business, especially in fashion, will take a lot of time and money, and I don't want to end up being too old and too indebted to bother.

I have virtually no work experience outside copyediting my school paper and volunteering. What I'm really scared of is that in both journalism and fashion, it seems as though you have to be at the top of the ladder or you have nothing. I'm young enough to think I can beat the odds, but time will tell me if I'm right.

Do you all think it would be a good idea to go back to school, or should I try to raise capital for my business idea? I know nothing about money, jobs, debt, or life....please help me.
posted by CorduroyCorset to Education (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Before you get into debt via school or business loans, can you get an entry-level job or internship at a newspaper, magazine, or clothing business? You will likely learn many many lessons including whether or not this is the job for you, AND they may pay YOU to be there.
posted by amicamentis at 2:16 PM on March 21, 2011

First of all, congratulations on getting into a top journalism program. As far as your situation is concerned, it looks like you've got some experience with journalism and writing, and that you know you enjoy it. If your university journalism experience was anything like mine, you've likely written boring copy on stupid crap you don't care about, under intense deadlines (in addition to your academic workload) and then hand it into an editor that takes 7% of your work and scraps the rest. This is the glamorous world of journalism - you've had a taste of it, you're still interested, and you've got the opportunity to pursue it.

As far as the dress making is concerned, do you know if anyone actually would buy your designs? What about the kind of overhead required to run a small-scale design and fabrication shop? Depending on where you live, you may be able to hook up with an independant clothing designer and do a bit of job shadowing. If you're a semi-capable seamstress, volunteer some time to putting together a pattern and see if that appeals to you. From what I've seen from a friend of mine that has her own clothing line, she spends long hours alone in her studio and almost every weekend at some sort of farmer's market or the like selling her wares. She also does the same thing almost every day. As a journalist, I don't put in a lot of overtime but my days vary drastically and I work in a busy office surrounded by people. Both provide a very different lifestyle and work environment so that may be something to consider before making your decisions as well.
posted by owlparliament at 2:21 PM on March 21, 2011

You're in school to get experience. So don't freak out about not having any journalism experience outside your school paper. That's what internships will be for.

Unless you absolutely hate J-school, stay on course there and you can teach yourself what you don't know dress-making on the side. With that sort of thing, the designs speak for themselves, not the school someone went to. If people absolutely love your designs, then you can go from there. Self-taught is possible there.

Just don't get ahead of yourself. You're exactly where everyone who is in your situation is in right now.

Good luck.
posted by inturnaround at 2:23 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

How did you determine that you need an associates degree in fashion to be a designer? Have you considered starting an online shop (etsy, artfire, etc.)?

Where are you geographically? That will have a big effect on your ability to get an internship like amicamentis suggests.
posted by amber_dale at 2:24 PM on March 21, 2011

I don't mean to denigrate your accomplishments, but what exactly is a "top" journalism program? Because frankly, journalism doesn't really strike me as the type of industry that really benefits students in "top" programs any more than a run-of-the-mill program. It's not like law school or medical school where a top program offers significant employment opportunities.

I think employment trends in general are moving towards rewarding those who actually do rather than read-about-doing, which is why I often read about freelancers jumping straight into the fray, catching planes to the 3rd world right out of high school to get the scoops, to build a portfolio, to attract attention, to secure the commissions, to get the jobs. Additionally, you say you want to be an entrepreneur. I don't see how a journalism degree is going to help you.

That said, securing capital for pie-in-the-sky ideas is very difficult unless you've actually gone ahead and made something to show prospective investors. Personally I'd eschew debt as much as humanly possible. See how much of a name you can make for yourself working small and cheap (etsy, local businesses, etc.) and build up from there.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:26 PM on March 21, 2011

A long time ago, on British TV, I saw Bella Freud say that the only thing you really needed to know to be a designer was pattern cutting, and the rest went into running the business. I didn't become a designer, but I did learn pattern cutting. You can do that in an evening class.

I really don't know if fashion is so all-or-nothing. There are plenty of small independent designers at Etsy and eBay level, and I understand that that might not be enough for you, but it would be a way to start at hobby level without needing huge amounts of capital and without needing to give up the day job/school.

You could also start an accompanying blog, since the most successful bloggers are very high profile now. The better you are, the more readers you'll get and the more you'll raise your profile.

A version of your dreams is totally within your grasp already, as far as I can see. Start now. Today! Don't wait! You have nothing to lose, for sure!
posted by tel3path at 2:41 PM on March 21, 2011

I would be worried about accumulating any debt associated with a journalism program. Journalism is currently in great flux at the moment and I wouldn't go near it, but that's just me.

Personally, I think to be an entrepreneur you need to know a little bit of everything (or have the capacity to find out what you don't know) and use those to support a niche. Perhaps there is something in fashion or somehow related to fashion that you could do that doesn't have a tremendous amount of competition.

Added to that - successful people do and they are taken seriously by what they do and how they do it. You will have 100 ideas, try 50, and 49 of them will fail. You don't need to do a program to do that, but you do need to have the personality to cope with that kind of life.
posted by mleigh at 3:19 PM on March 21, 2011

It seems you want to be a psycholo...no, a journal...wait, a dressmaker. Try sticking at something that involves 'money, jobs, debt, or life' for a few years, perhaps studying part time. Save some money, get some experience, make some contacts, then take it from there. Otherwise you'll get to the end of another year of study and find yourself a fully qualified psychologist-journalist-dressmaker with no money and no experience and looking for yet another graduate program.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:49 PM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ex-journalist here. Run, don't walk, away from any thought of writing feature-length essays for magazines. Those days are done.
posted by docgonzo at 4:02 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't mean to denigrate your accomplishments, but what exactly is a "top" journalism program? Because frankly, journalism doesn't really strike me as the type of industry that really benefits students in "top" programs any more than a run-of-the-mill program. It's not like law school or medical school where a top program offers significant employment opportunities.

This is false. As long as you're talking about Columbia or Mizzou, it is a top journalism program. Whether you want to spend money on it is another matter. (It seemed to me that most of the jobs my colleagues got with a masters from Columbia I could also get with a BA in English. If you're resourceful and seem competent, a masters might not be necessary at all.)

I don't really know much about fashion, but I do know things about journalism.

Here is what I would do in your case: I would try to get a job at a small daily paper as a copyeditor. See if you like it. See if you like the people and the atmosphere. See if the depressing state of the industry gets to you (some people don't mind it.) While you're there, get some writing assignments. The pay will be poor, and the hours will likely be weird (copy desks tend to work at night.) But there will be more writing than the editor can pay for, so if you take some writing on in addition to your desk work, many editors would be thrilled.

At the same time, I would start a fashion blog and write about fashion, yours and fashion of the world. Write about what you're designing, and sell clothes on Etsy or whatever, and write about what interests you. This will give you some sense of what it's like to have a freelance life and a regular gig, which will probably be necessary if you want to write magazine pieces.

A couple of scattershot things about journalism:
1) You can't really do it from anywhere. That copyediting job at a small daily? It may be somewhere weird, far from home where you don't know anyone. If you have a firm geography in mind, and it's not New York City, you may have a harder time breaking into the industry. (If you are in NYC, then competition is brutal, so you have a wholly different problem.)
2) Wanting a career writing magazine freelance is, I think, possible, especially if you don't mind low pay. However, you can't just want to write for Esquire and New York. You also need to write for Random Hobby Weekly, any city magazine you can pitch to, magazines you find dumb, magazines you hate, any magazine that will pay you $1.50/word for 50 words at a time. (Do the math there; your return on time investment isn't going to be great if your 50 words includes any reporting at all.)
posted by purpleclover at 4:41 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers!

I would work as a copyeditor, but it's been really hard for me to find jobs doing anything, because I live in an Appalachian hick town and I'm not ready to spend all my savings to move out. If I wasn't going to school, however, I'd feel differently.

I got into Mizzou. I feel like that's a big deal, because I got average grades and unpromising GRE scores, and they still let me in. My family wants me to go and will pick up most of the tab. They won't give me a cent to start a business.

@purpleclover: A fashion blog is a fantastic idea! I have a perfume review blog, on which I post 2x a week, but I can pick up another one too.

I don't know about Etsy. Trade shows/local boutiques sound like a better idea. I think (and correct me if I'm wrong), there's plenty of Mefites who have worked/do work as journalists, but I haven't seen too many posts about fashion. Like journalism, it isn't a "safe" field, there aren't many good schools for it, the pay is low unless you're the best in the field, and you have to suck up to famous people.

I remember being a freshman in college and we all had our lives planned out. Five years later it's nothing like I'd expected. I think the difference between successful people and everyone else is that the former make things happen to them while the latter just wonder what happened.
posted by CorduroyCorset at 6:38 PM on March 21, 2011

Many - maybe even most - journalists did not go to journalism school. Both my husband and I wanted to go to J school after undergrad. We decided to wait and try working and earning some money first. More than six years later, neither of us have gone to J school and neither of us regret that decision.

It seems a little like you're looking to get credentials (master's in journalism, associate's in design) when what you need is experience.

Also, just curious - why no interest in attempting to write at a fashion-focused publication? You could try to get an internship at Elle, Vogue or something along those lines and see whether you like editorial or fashion better.
posted by kat518 at 7:06 PM on March 21, 2011

Another ex-journalist here. Everyone I used to know in the business has been laid off, even the people that I thought would be in forever. I would not recommend going into journalism. Ironically, going into design might be your better bet at this point.

But either way, I wouldn't recommend going into debt for more schooling at this point, because you may never be able to pay it off in this economy. One year of design school would probably be better for you than a "top journalism school" at this point, career-wise, but if you don't HAVE to rack up the debt, then don't. You don't need a top degree from a top school in order to get respect-- you need top designs. If you don't know how to sew or do patternmaking (hopefully this is not the case) then maybe schooling would go well for you, but it doesn't have to be top pedigree. Really. This isn't law school. Go to school for the learning, not the bragging rights.

Can you take classes at a nearby community college in business (or find a CC that has design/clothing classes)? That sounds more like what you need to me more than anything.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:00 PM on March 21, 2011

This might sound harsh, and I'll admit I don't know all that much about J-school (I got my MA in English) but -- if it's a top program why aren't they funding you and giving you benefits?

If you have to take on more than a few thousand dollars worth of debt, it's not worth it.
posted by bardic at 8:41 PM on March 21, 2011

I'm a full-time, paid journalist who didn't go to J school. I didn't get my undergrad degree in journalism. This is my first full-time job out of undergrad. I'm the editor of my section at a small daily. I live with my grandmother to make ends meet.

I would not go to J school at this time if it cost me money to do so.

On the other hand, being able to get credit for an unpaid internship in journalism or fashion or fashion journalism is the only way those internships will be open to you. If you commit to the idea that you aren't going to J school to do well at J school but to obtain and complete several professional internships, then you could probably make it worthwhile.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:50 PM on March 21, 2011

It sounds like you don't know what the heck you want to do.

You should figure this out before you make and expensive mistakes. (ie: School debt.)

Get out into the working world. But know that of the three careers you've talked about, the only one that I would bet on you making money from is the one you already have a bachelors in. Last month I had a New York Times reporter ask me (during an interview, I was the interviewee) for writing work. I also know two incredibly talented and working clothing designers. They work full days at the design house, then one works as a bartender, the other a waitress in the evening. This is to pay bills. They are considered successful.

Get a job. If you don't like it get another. Volunteer. By all means start a blog. Network. Tell people you're a fledgling [writer/fashion designer/astronaut/whatever]. But don't go to school to see if you'd like to do something. It's an expensive lesson and you don't end up knowing if you like that job or not, just if you like learning about it.

As you say, you know nothing about money, jobs, debt, or life. Until you do it's best not to gamble on them. Get some experience doing anything at all (besides school) and then come back in a few years and ask again.
posted by Ookseer at 9:42 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Run, don't walk to fashion incubator and read the blog and then buy the book (giving you access to the FI forums as well) if you are serious about a career in fashion/apparel design.
posted by vespabelle at 10:02 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

One thing that has dawned on me fairly recently is that getting paid for something doesn't make it any more "real" than the things you don't get paid for. We all tend to see our career as what defines us and so there's a lot of pressure to make exactly the right decision about what we do for a job, because it feels like that will be the most important thing about us for EVER (especially when you're 24, and forever seems like a particularly long time).

The word "hobby" is a bit misleading, because it can be taken in the sense of passtime ie., something you do just to kill time, and at which you're less skilled than the professionals. In fact, the world is full of people doing the most amazing things unpaid outside their working hours - creating clothes/websites/plays/charities etc., which are far more exciting and part of who they are than their day job. That's not necessarily a description of a life trapped in the wrong job - more like making full use of the free time you have to do what inspires you without having to worry about whether it'll pay your bills (which, often, inspiring things don't).

So just because you feel like you might want designing clothes (or whatever) to be the most important thing in your life, that doesn't mean you have to start building a career in it and working out how to make it pay. In fact, with something that creative, you might find it more fulfilling if you're not limited by what pays, rather than what you want to make.
posted by penguin pie at 1:31 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

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