Where Should I Go To College?

HarrisStudents frequently ask their television production (TVP) or broadcast journalism (BJ) teachers for a recommendation of which colleges they should apply to in order to major in this field. 

Of course, we all have our favorites, but I always get a bit of a chuckle out of the students’ absolute faith that I am all-knowing of all aspects of all the colleges in the country and can instantly blurt out the perfect school for them to attend considering their ability, interest, and specific field of interest.  Those questions usually start in the late fall which is a great time to launch into a discussion with the students about some of the questions they should consider when choosing a college.  Certainly, they will receive some of the same information from their guidance counselors but these students are in your class right now and they are very receptive of what you’re saying since the subject is the broadcast industry.

There is a problem when using some of the computerized systems available to get a list of schools which offer degrees in the field.  The problem is semantics.  When the students go to input the field they wish to major in, what do they type?  Well, let’s look at some of the choices:  Mass Communications, Communications, Journalism, Broadcast Journalism, Broadcasting, Television Production, Radio-Television Production, Media Production, Media Communications, Film Production, and there are other options as well.  It’s unfortunate that schools across the country can’t all agree on what to call the major.  But then again, the industry can’t seem to agree on one single format for recording video either but that’s another topic…  For the purpose of this article, I’m just going to use the word “broadcasting” as a generic phrase.

Another subject to discuss is the reason to pick one school over another.  What factors should be considered?  Many high school students will not want to admit what is often their biggest reason to choose a particular school – their boyfriend/girlfriend will go there.  Other reasons a lively class discussion will generate: 

• My friends are going there.
• Tuition costs
• Room and board costs
• Distance from home (I need to get far away from home/I want to stay close to home)
• Geographic location of the school (big city, small town, certain part of the country, etc)
• They have a good football team
• Ivy league
• In-state school
• Commuter school (live at home to safe money)
• Public University
• Private College
• “My _______ (dad, mom, uncle, aunt, etc) went there.”
• It’s a party school!

And there are many more reasons obviously.  However, notice how long the discussion goes on before someone finally mentions the actual EDUCATION they’ll receive from the school.  When does the subject come up of the quality/prestige of the broadcasting department? 

If students in your class do not have older siblings, it is likely that they are completely unfamiliar with the idea that a college is a collection of smaller schools.  Generally, there’s the general college for two years and for the third and fourth years the students enter their major and spend most of their classes in the broadcasting school exclusively. 

Students will have undoubtedly seen college brochures and found some which are particularly attractive.  I was shocked to discover how many students will decide on a college based on a brochure!  Choosing a school is an incredibly important decision which impacts the family finances tremendously and immediately as well as the impact on the rest of the life/career of the student.  Yet, some students spend more time deciding on their first new car than they do deciding on which college to attend.  I tell students would you ever buy a car which you don’t at least walk all the way around examining it and taking it for a test drive?

Students should visit the school once they choose a school that MIGHT be the right one for them.  But how many students excitedly attend a “Welcome Weekend” event?  What does this tell them about the school?  The party environment, the pretty buildings which are often locked up on weekends, the athletic team which may be playing at home that weekend, the campus, the cafeterias.  Does this Weekend Welcome event give them anything about the education they will receive?  Not in the slightest.  They should visit during the week and sit in on some classes.  Well, if you say that to the students in your class, they’ll look at you as if you just landed on the planet from Mars!

Years ago I found a book which purported to list all the schools in the country which offered courses in Television and Film Production.  It listed facts about each school and seemed very much like the book used by guidance counselors nationwide called Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges or the on-line Naviance except it was oriented to a specific industry.  The book is no longer in print and is hopelessly outdated now.  But it seemed as if the publishers created a survey and sent it to thousands of schools.  The schools filled it out and sent it back.  The completed survey was then placed in the book with the schools in alphabetical order by state.  I thought this was a valid way to obtain the same information from all schools and could be very useful in helping students weigh one school against another. 

I created a cover letter and created my own survey and now every time students asked me for my recommendations I could pull out the file of completed surveys from a variety of schools and they could make their own decisions.  I sent surveys to the head of the broadcasting school at as many colleges as I could think of as well as to any school mentioned when a student came to me and said, “Mr. Harris, what do you think of __________ University?”  Over time my file of completed surveys became quite large and, of course the larger it became, the more useful it became.  What I liked most about the survey is it evened the playing field by asking ever school the exact same questions thus obtaining data which could be compared to other schools easily.  Click here for a copy of my cover letter and the survey itself.  Feel free to adapt it to your use or create your own.

Check out the book review on Television Production and Broadcast Journalism, Phil's newest book by clicking here.