J-School: A Cause for Celebration and Neurotic Questioning

I came home last night to an acceptance letter — to Columbia University’s School of Journalism. And I was floored.

I felt high on the fumes of giddy excitement, but also just…strange.  I didn’t go the straight arrow route of trying to become a journalist. I was always a a poet, a dreamy kid who sort of floated through life. I barely knew what was going on outside of my head.

But at some point along the path of my 20s, I changed — dramatically. I am still a poet and a fiction writer, but I am now fascinated by journalism, in love with reporting, and feel that, if done well and with deep and real care, journalism can affect the course of the human story . It doesn’t let us ignore others’ narratives to simplify our own. It challenges not just the way we think, but the way we live. It makes what’s going on thousands of miles away more urgent than the difficulties of our day.  I dig it. (And in terms of creative writing, it gives you worlds more to write about that the halls of MFA academia ever will.)

So after freelancing for a year, I decided to apply to Columbia, thinking it was a real long shot, thinking the liberal elite, “best-j-school-around” would see that I was smart and had potential, but that I just wasn’t the right “fit,” that I hadn’t done all the right things — run a school newspaper, intern somewhere important, devote the entire trajectory of my life from the age of 6 to journalism. I’m a waitress. I don’t own a car or television. I can’t seem to get the money together to get a decent haircut. I grew up in a family living on the fringe, moving from eviction letter to eviction letter. I live more responsibly than that now, but I am still on that fringe. I’m used to it.

But I am also tired of it. Everyday I wake up dreading having to go the restaurant. I am constantly feeling like I’d give anything for more time to write — and report.

So I applied to Columbia on a lark.

I am thrilled. Very thrilled. I know I want this. But I’m also conflicted. Is it worth it to accrue more debt? Is it silly to pursue journalism right now, given the state of things? Will this screw any future of more travel, or will it open up more opportunities? Should I just keep freelancing and waitressing until something breaks for me? I used to jump into things unthinkingly when I was younger. Let me tell you, I’m a lot more cautious these days. Even afraid.

I’m largely self-taught, so the idea of learning from a veteran New York Times reporter is inspiring. The dream of getting to spend the majority of my time writing and reporting is incredible, unfathomable. But more than anything, Columbia just seems like a door-opener — to a world I’ve always only peered into. From a huge distance. Hell, I don’t even live on the outskirts.

I’m making no decisions until I see that aid letter in April. But I’m still gonna celebrate!

What does everyone think? Please weigh in!

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20 Responses to “J-School: A Cause for Celebration and Neurotic Questioning”


  1. 1 Alexis Grant March 15, 2010 at 12:36 am

    CONGRATS! This is great news. GREAT NEWS! Regardless of whether you decide to go.

    Glad you’re thinking about whether it’s worth accepting. Is it worth going into debt? Is it a good idea to pursue journalism now considering how much it’s changing and how few j-jobs are out there? These are questions I could talk about forever… but I think your personal situation — where you’ve been and where you want to be — really determines the answer.

    For me, j-school was worth it. (I got my master’s from Medill in ’05.) It cemented my love for journalism, gave me solid training and helped me make connections that I’m still using even now as I look to re-enter the work force. It also allowed me to jump right into a top-10 newspaper; I never would have been able to do that without my Medill experiences.

    But it didn’t work out that way for most of my peers. Very few of them are even in journalism anymore — and it’s just five years out. If you’re worried about the debt, I think there are a lot of ways to get where I’ve gotten WITHOUT j-school — it just might take longer.

    Two specific things to consider (like I said, this depends so much on what you want to become):

    — Will you get practical experience at Columbia? Internships? Clips? This is what will help you get a job, not sitting in a classroom talking about ethics.

    — What’s their new media program like? I wouldn’t bother doing a traditional j-track. New media is where it’s at.

    I’m happy to talk more about this if you want: alexiskgrant@yahoo.com.

    Keep me posted!

  2. 2 simonemarie March 15, 2010 at 3:37 am

    Alexis, thank you so much! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your helpful comments. I’ll definitely be emailing you soon.

  3. 3 Julie March 15, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Congratulations- this is so exciting! Agree with Alexis- though everything comes down to your own finances and goals, of course it would be a worthwhile experience. Can’t wait to hear what you decide.

  4. 4 Candice March 15, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    I agree, totally worth the experience! I think it’ll be worth every penny. And you’ll be surprised by how much you’ll learn so quickly.

  5. 5 simonemarie March 15, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Thanks so much for all the support, guys.

  6. 6 simonemarie March 15, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Honestly, hearing what everyone has to say is keeping me sane through this whole process!

  7. 7 Lola March 17, 2010 at 8:17 am

    Super congratulations!! This is fantastic, fantastic news! Others have offered up solid advice. Looking forward to what you decide to do as well.

    Again, congrats!

  8. 8 simonemarie March 17, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Thanks so much, Lola! You know it’s a good thing when fantastic appears twice in a row in one sentence. 😉

  9. 10 Alexis Grant March 22, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Can’t wait to see what happens with this! And no, your blog doesn’t have word verification 🙂

  10. 11 simonemarie March 22, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Thanks, Alexis! I know, I can’t wait to get that aid letter so I can start making some decisions. Being stuck in limbo is driving me mad. I haven’t forgotten your offer, either — I’ll be emailing you soon. I’ve just had a wrist injury, so I’ve really have to ration my typing. And I’m afraid my email to you could turn out to be…a little long. 😉

  11. 12 laurenquinn March 30, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    A good friend got her Masters at Columbia’s j school two years ago. She freelanced for a year, got a high-powered, high-profile job in new media that she ended up hating, and now is going to law school. She told me a ton of her journalist friends are going back to law school right now—no work for writers. So take that for what it’s worth. We can’t really help the things we love, so if it’s calling to you, go for it. Good luck!

  12. 13 Emily on the Southern Prairie April 13, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    DON’T DO IT!

    Seriously, email me your phone #.

  13. 14 simonemarie April 14, 2010 at 2:28 am

    Hey Emily,

    Thanks so much for reaching out. I would LOVE to hear your perspective. Heading to bed, but I’ll send you an email tomorrow.

  14. 15 Richard April 25, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Oh the serendipity of the Internet. I am enrolled in a journ school in South Africa this year. I applied on a whim, wondering about a different life, and took it the moment the opportunity came.

    The job market for traditional journalists is, they have told us as well, very grim. But that it’s also more than a job for some. It’s a calling, a way of living and seeing the world and the stories that need to be told in it.

    Without advocating utter recklessness, if it’s something that you would spend your life wondering ‘what-if’ about, then deep down, you have likely made the choice anyway 🙂

    Hoping for the best for you.

    • 16 littlehousesouthernprairie April 25, 2010 at 9:19 pm

      “But that it’s also more than a job for some. It’s a calling, a way of living and seeing the world and the stories that need to be told in it. ”

      Agreed. BUT — that’s why one needs to be a journalist. You don’t need journalism school to be a journalist.

  15. 18 Diksha July 5, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Hi Simone,

    This sounds a bit like my life.I have been going through the same “neurotic questioning” for the past five months.Imagine stumbling upon this blog post while googling the “worthiness” of Columbia J-school.So are you taking it up?

  16. 19 simonemarie July 7, 2010 at 3:14 am

    Yes, I think a lot of us go through it.

    For a number of reasons, I have decided to go — not least of which is Obama’s new IBR plan repayment option- it really makes going to school worth it, as I won’t have even paid off my undergrad by the time the rest of my loans will be forgiven. And my payments will remain the same.

    But mostly it’s because I’ve come to journalism late, I thrive in school, and Columbia is a wonderful way to jump in full force, work on stories that I love, and meet new people/connections. Also, I got a good grant, and there will be a plethora more to apply for in the coming year. I’m applying to every one possible.

    My impression is that it’s incredibly helpful for people who have little experience, but perhaps not so much for others. But I won’t know what I think of it until I’m there, which is definitely scary. I’m just so excited to be able to work full time on what I love.

    What’s your situation?

  17. 20 Diksha July 10, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    I am from India, so for me it is extremely expensive. But then,it is a chance for me to see a new country. I am going for broadcast, and i do need to do an academic course before any big news channel in India considers me. I just ended up choosing the costliest one..:-(..Most of the times,it seems like a decent investment because the media industry is really growing in Asia. But I still cant shake all the doubts.
    I am all set, for now. But I might just get a severe case of cold feet right before boarding the plane.


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About Simone Gorrindo

Simone Gorrindo is a freelance journalist, poet, and travel writer who can't stay put.

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