by Elizabeth Smythe on January 9, 2015

posted on Sector news, Help for jobseekers,

Not a cop-out: the argument for Media Studies

Media Studies is sometimes unfairly branded a ‘Mickey Mouse’ course, with opponents incorrectly assuming that it comprises nothing more than watching TV. However, data published by the Office for National Statistics reveals that after medicine, media studies is the ‘most employable degree’, where the employment rate of media and information studies graduates was recorded at over 90 per cent.

This data, based on 2013 figures, shows that those studying sciences, engineering, technology, business and languages are slightly less employable than those who study media. Is this because media studies has finally received the credit and respect it deserves as a discipline, winning favour with employers? Or is it just that media graduates more commonly diversify into non-industry specific roles?

A little background

Since the 1960s, media studies in one form or another has been taught in colleges. By the 1980s, text books were published on the subject, lending it some academic gravitas. A decade later, higher education establishments had to fight hard to justify the subject’s validity. It was in this same decade that media was acknowledged as important. So much so that UNESCO even took out a five year plan to ‘develop media education throughout the world’.

It’s widely known that misconceptions persist when it comes to the subject. For a start, it was always taught in colleges and polytechnics, rather than ‘high brow’ universities. Fast forward a few years and it’s now offered in Russell Group institutions (respected universities that include Oxford and Cambridge) such as Warwick, Sheffield and Leeds – which are highly-rated.

It remains a popular choice for students. Figures from UCAS, the charity which facilitates the university admission process, show that 13,040 students applied for media-related courses in 2013, compared with 10,674 in 2008. The 11,845 who were actually accepted accounted for 2.4 per cent of all undergrads.

Course content and relevance today

What once was simply ‘Media Studies’ has evolved into numerous configurations, meaning undergrads develop some very different skill sets.  A quick search online returns options for Media Culture and Production, Publishing, Television Post-Production, Computer-generated Imagery, Media and Communication, Film, Media and Performing Arts, Media and Entertainment Technology, to name but a few.

As such, graduates could find themselves in any number of jobs that are specific to the discipline. These roles might include researcher, radio broadcast assistant, TV production runner, advertising media buyer or web content writer. Not to mention circus performer, wardrobe assistant, lighting technician or computer games developer. Then there’s video editor, make-up artist, photographer and stunt performer. Or film director, music promotions manager, screenwriter, sound engineer… the list really is endless.

Media Studies has undoubtedly become more relevant, incorporating the technological advances that have evolved into every day life. The thought of studying digital content writing – for instance – may have seemed far fetched 20 years ago, but is now a useful and worthwhile subject. Plus so many employers still ask for related degrees when hunting for their perfect candidates. For example, live job adverts that ask for related degrees right now include vacancies for a publications and film editor, reporter, online journalist and photographer.

The importance of focusing the subject

While there’s always an argument that any degree is going to boost your job prospects, when it comes to media, focusing on a particular element is vital. Making the courses more specific is definitely deemed beneficial by graduates of older, generic media courses, as it provides students with more direction when contemplating their future careers.

Asking a few media alumni for their thoughts, Amy Squibb, who studied at Sussex, told us via Twitter: “I personally wish I’d specialised (journalism) as I didn’t find the degree that useful; it’s spread too thin. I’m now editor in chief at Imagine Publishing, but I worked my way up through experience.”

The sentiment is shared by fellow graduate, Jo Flynn, who said: “There wasn’t a specific path that was obvious to go down when I came out, but I guess if I’d chosen journalism, for example, as an elective and then pursued that on graduating, then there might. I loved doing the course though.”

Similarly lamenting the broad nature of her media degree, recruiter Tess Orchard commented: “I didn’t really feel it paved the path for my career, but then I didn’t necessarily pursue it! It’s a tricky industry to get into.”

That’s not always the case, of course. Content writer Natalie Gauld said: “The job advert specifically asked for a related degree and I’m sure that helped me get the job. It’s also something my employer tells clients about, positioning my colleagues and I as qualified experts”.

Clearly specialising is an important consideration and any graduates would be well advised to emphasise any electives or units that bear direct relevance to their desired career. “I would think about what your career goal is and do something more directly linked to that,” adds Amy.

Advice for students considering media

Competition for work is fierce, unsurprisingly. Plenty of media graduates, therefore, find themselves in roles that are not specifically media-related  – not because their degree is worthless, but purely because it is such a hard industry to break into. A degree can still open doors and graduates in general are more likely to be employed in more skilled and higher paying roles than non-graduates, but there are steps interested students can take to increase their prospects.

In addition to specialising, any work experience always looks good on the CV and appeals to recruiters. A summer internship at a TV studio, hospital radio or being a runner for a production company can all boost employability and demonstrate a keenness for the profession.

Some good advice dispensed by commissioning editor Tom Hallett is that while any degree is useful, it’s the institution’s reputation which differentiates one applicant from another: “Most jobs require a degree but often don’t specialise what subject. The university probably matters more”. Hence, put as much thought into the university as you do the actual course.

It’s also important to remember that persistence is key. Landing a job in the media might necessitate repeated applications and the development of a thick skin. You’ll also need to bear in mind that starting at the bottom really does mean that, but your effort and media studies expertise can soon elevate you to exciting roles in amazing companies that other graduates and non-graduates wouldn’t be considered for.

Though it may be easy for the uninitiated to dismiss media degree courses as a cop-out, it’s a subject that is only becoming more relevant with each passing year. Hopefully this opinion will be over-turned as increasing numbers of employers expand into media-related ventures, requiring the specific knowledge of – you guessed it – media graduates.