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J-School Confidential: Forsaking the Grade

Our writer realizes that straight-A's alone won't land her a job and decides to trade grades for experience

By Meghan Louttit - September 7, 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 sixth installment, Ohio University senior Meghan Louttit discusses the importance of journalism experience. She realizes that potential employers are more interested in what she's done than the grades she has received, and alters her schedule accordingly.


I am one of those freaks who has known practically her entire life that she wanted to write. At the age of four I was writing my own books -- three pages stapled backwards about my bike and my imaginary pet bunny. I spent 13 years in school with that goal in the back of my mind. However, my schooling was mostly an endless pursuit of academic perfection: the A. This was my immediate concern, and honestly, it wasn't too difficult.

But the desire to write eventually pushed its way into the forefront of my brain, and by my sophomore year of high school, I decided that journalism was the best way to combine my love of writing with my increasing desire to make an impact.

In 2004 I graduated from Springfield Local High School in Ohio with a 4.2 GPA. I didn't expect college to be much different.

The type of journalist I become isn't going to be decided by text books or lectures, but largely by the amount and quality of my experiences in the field.

I chose Ohio University mainly because its journalism program had been consistently ranked in the top 10 in the country. That fall I left my family and friends, and moved to school practically alone, excited to explore my newfound independence and my chosen career. Everything was going fine until the middle of my sophomore year. Two things happened: I started fulfilling my dreaded economics requirements, which proved to be even worse than I had expected, and I was appointed a managing editor of the online magazine I had helped start a year prior.

All things considered, it probably shouldn't have been a surprise to me when that summer, while I was interning with FoodNetwork.com in New York City, I received a phone call telling me that I had lost my scholarship. This meant that my GPA had fallen below a 3.3 -- miserable by my standards.

It was clear that the time had long passed when I paid strict attention to my grades. This amounted to a cataclysmic shift in my way of thinking. Somewhere along the line, Speakeasy, my internships, networking and my weekend travels had become more important than the "A". It wasn't a conscious shift, or even that I had lost interest in my classes. Without considering it, I was devoting more and more "free time" to Speakeasy, and where there was no time, I made it.

I suppose after losing my scholarship I could have panicked, dropped my outside activities, and spent every waking moment on schoolwork. Maybe I'm too stubborn. Instead, I began devoting even more time to Speakeasy. I was too passionate and too excited to concern myself with the consequences of my choices.

I have not regretted that decision for even the shortest of moments and I frequently encounter situations that affirm it. During interviews with FoodNetwork.com, The Columbus Dispatch, mediabistro.com, American Express Publishing, and the Scoop08.com, my Speakeasy experience impressed potential employers more than anything else I included on my résumé.

To be fair, I did end up paying more attention to my grades, and through that -- and not having anymore economics classes -- I've been able to regain my scholarship for my senior year. I will also be advising Speakeasy and I have been diving headfirst, as usual, into the Scoop08.

But perhaps the best reassurance is that I am not alone. During an online journalism seminar last year the class was discussing issues on campus that hadn't been covered by student media. Some argued that student media is a difficult creature because students have so many things on their plates already, and that asking them to spend every waking moment on research for one story isn't a fair expectation. A friend of mine immediately spoke up and said that that's true, but in order to be a good journalism student, you have to be willing to let your GPA slip a little. Most of the class agreed, as did I, smiling at what the high school version of me would have thought.

Ironically, the best thing that the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism has taught me is that my education isn't based solely on the time I spend in the classroom, and the type of journalist I become isn't going to be decided by text books or lectures, but by the amount and quality of my experiences in the field.

So begins my senior year -- starting off with two scholarships, 16 credit hours, a part-time job, Speakeasy, and my Scoop08 duties.

I guess I should learn to shower every now and again, too.


Meghan Louttit is a journalism student at Ohio University and is a former intern at American Express Publishing and mediabistro.com.

[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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