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J-School Confidential: Second-Guessing The Decision

Prior to starting j-school, our writer wonders if getting married, losing an income, and entering Columbia all in the same month will prove overwhelming

- August 10, 2007
Welcome to our new series, J-School Confidential, filed by media experts in the making. Our rotating cast of emerging journos will take on that great media debate -- to j-school or not to j-school -- while chronicling their tales of learning the craft both in the academic settling and on the ground. They range from a writer who gave up a plum women's magazine editor spot to pursue graduate training she hopes will lead to work as a cultural critic to an overachieving undergrad who breaks TV industry news and has his own news radio show, all on top of the government degree he chose to pursue instead of journalism coursework.

In the second installment, soon-to-be Columbia grad student Beth Braverman tackles the last minute panic that comes from wondering if she made the right decision. She's leaving a "glamorous" job at a jewelry and fashion trade that allows her to cover fashion week and attend parties at the city's coolest joints, to attend school and rack up debt. But will this ultimately make her happier?

The second thoughts started two nights ago.

I sat staring at my bank statement, realizing that after Friday, my steady income will disappear. I have worked as a full-time journalist for the past five years, and suddenly the decision to return to J-School for a second degree in a field in which I am already employed seemed foolhardy.

A year ago, I convinced myself Columbia Journalism School was among the best in the country, worth the $20,000 in loans I would incur by attending. The school's new M.A. program only required me to leave the "working world" for nine months. When I graduated, I reasoned, I could skip a few rungs on the career ladder and the pay scale. Of course, I didn't get into journalism to get rich, and I'm acutely aware that the rungs on said pay scale remain pretty close together.

When I received the acceptance letter, accolades from friends and family poured in. Relatives boasted I'd be the "first Braverman to hit the Ivies." I returned the required paperwork immediately and basked for months at the thought of returning to school. Then -- exactly two nights ago -- reality hit. My fiancé and I have spent the past year preparing ourselves financially for my return to school and our transition into a one-income family. In two weeks, we'll move from Manhattan to Queens, reducing our rent by 25 percent. We're hoping the wedding gifts we receive in September will also help alleviate the loss of my salary.

This means in the next 30 days, I'll quit my job, move, enter graduate school, and marry -- all good things. But that's a lot of life changes. I wondered: Is it too much too quickly?

My nerves and doubts remained through a fitful night. I flashed back to my days as an undergraduate newspaper student at Syracuse University where professors told me my education would prepare me so thoroughly I would not need a master's.

At the daily newspaper where I worked as an education reporter for two years before moving from Pennsylvania hardly anyone held graduate degrees. My colleagues there resolutely believed that on-the-job training represented the best way to get ahead in journalism. How could I have forgotten this?

I regularly attend launch parties for jewelry at the hottest spots in the city and leave at precisely 5 p.m. almost every day. My friends and family marvel constantly at my glamorous job.

I awoke the next morning thoroughly convinced I'd made a mistake. I spent my entire commute wondering what National Jeweler, my current employer, would say if I told them I had changed my mind and wanted to stay.

Then I arrived at the office and distracted myself with my work. For the past three years I have served as a fashion and news editor at National Jeweler. The fashion portion requires me to assemble fashion pages for the monthly trade publication, chronicling the latest fashion trends, profiling designers, and creating market forecasts. The news portion involves coverage of financial and legal stories involving major players, international business trends, and the effects of gem and metal prices. I also compose several Web briefs for our site daily, contribute regularly to our blog and -- since there are only two fulltime writers at the magazine -- do a little bit of everything else.

The job has offered me many perks: I attended and covered New York Fashion Week each season for the past three years, and I covered jewelry tradeshows throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. I regularly attend launch parties for jewelry at the hottest spots in the city and leave at precisely 5 p.m. almost every day. My friends and family marvel constantly at my glamorous job.

But, while I have always followed fashion, I would never qualify as a fashionista. Sometimes I have trouble objectively reviewing a necklace carrying a price tag that would pay off my loans, cover my rent for a year, and buy me a car. I find writing legal stories far more intriguing than writing about the return of hoop earrings, and I would sooner peruse Businessweek than Vogue.

My doubts about graduate school began dissipating throughout the day, as I worked on stories about floral-inspired jewelry and the merits of yellow gold versus white. In my three years here, I have gained an appreciation for fashion and luxury, but I have become far more intrigued with the business aspect of the industry. I fear I may have also pigeonholed myself as a fashion writer.

I selected the M.A. Business Reporting program at Columbia because it will give me the background in accounting and corporate finance I need to transition into business reporting at a consumer magazine or newspaper.

Yes, returning to school represents an adjustment both mentally and financially, and it offers no guarantees about my future career. But I am determined to get the most I can out of the experience -- I am the geek that already bought all the books on by my professors and switched my daily reading from the Times to the Journal. By the start of school August 30, I'll be ready.

I just hope the workload on the first weekend is not too great. My fiancé has been amazingly supportive of my plans for j-school, but I don't think his vision of our wedding night includes homework.

Beth Braverman is a freelance writer and graduate student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in Astoria, N.Y.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: We'd love to add more voices to this series. If you'd like to share your take on pursuing journalism in and out of school, email us.]

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