How to Get Real-World Journalism Experience as a College Student

Q. I'm a college student majoring in journalism. I work as an editor for my school newspaper but I am looking to get some real experience, maybe doing some freelance. Can you share some suggestions for how to get started? Many jobs explicitly say NO COLLEGE STUDENTS or want people with tons of experience.

Thank you.

Can't Get Started

A. Let's break your question into its components. The first is that you need experience. We'll get to that in a minute. The second part is that you seem to be applying to jobs where you do not meet the qualifications.

If the posting says that the employer wants more experience or won't consider college students, you may still apply, but should not expect to get the job. Those requirements tell you that you should look for smaller publications. You will likely be more competitive at smaller places. Beating your head against the "no students" door won't make the door open; it will give you a headache.

But take heart. Everyone who is now working started without experience, obviously, or all the jobs would be empty. There will be competition at any level, given today's journalism job market, but you have not yet found the right level.

So, how does one get experience while still in college?

There are many ways to do this. I outline half a dozen in my book, "Breaking In: The Guide to Newspaper Internships."

Here are a few:

  • Work for campus publications. Big campuses have several.
  • Freelance for local publications -- or distant ones that are interested in the research or sports news happening on your campus. Look up trade publications via "WritersMarket." Consider every homework assignment for its freelance potential.
  • This is the season for trying to land an internship. Look far, wide -- and small.
  • Write for a Web site. As a last resort, write for one you start.
  • Write, edit, design or do some photography for a nonprofit magazine or Web site.

It is critical that you take these small opportunities so you have something to show as your experience. You do not want to graduate from college without experience, as there will be limited opportunities to get started with after you graduate.

Good luck!

College students: What questions do you have about starting out?

  • Joe Grimm

    Joe Grimm is a visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He runs the JobsPage Website.


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