‘How do I become a journalist without a degree?’

I was fifteen when I decided I wanted to be a journalist. I bloody loved the news. I would wake up at 5:30 most mornings to watch it with my dad before school. I also had a fascination for documentaries. Louis Theroux was my icon and I longed to tell stories the way he did it, with empathy and curiosity for everyone he spoke to. It was my mum who taught me that everyone has a story. Since becoming a journalist, no truer word has been said. My passion is for story-telling and for people. 

I didn’t know if I was ever going to get here. I wasn’t traditionally academic in school and I don’t think many of my teachers thought I’d make anything of myself. I was the quiet and slightly strange girl at the back of the classroom who’d rather daydream whilst looking out of the window than read another chapter of ‘An Inspector Calls’.

The truth is, I didn’t really ‘fit in’. I wasn’t even one of those teenagers who’d say they were ‘misfits’ but were actually really cool and mysterious with their box-dyed hair and facial piercings. I was actually painfully uncool.

I wasn’t smart enough to hang out with the nerds and I wasn’t bad enough to hang out with the rebellious kids. I was a wallflower, and not of my own choosing. I’d learned it was better to keep quiet and be ‘undetectable’ as not to draw too much attention. Children can be cruel sometimes and I learned the hard way in middle school. 

I didn’t do well in my GCSEs. Unfortunately, my high school would often nurture highly gifted children. You know, the ones who were going to sail through their exams regardless of how many extra hours of tuition they received in after school club.

Children like me were encouraged less and so, we spent much of our school years wondering if we were actually any good at anything or if we had talents at all.

I scraped just enough passes to go to the sixth form, and although it was a bit more independent in comparison to school, it still felt like I was in the same system, my knowledge, and understanding of the world questioned in an exam hall, compared against hundreds of other young people who didn’t learn the same way I did. 

I was quite disruptive and argumentative during my first year of A levels. My teachers would often write home with words of warning, informing my parents that I had a bad attitude to learning or was too opinionated during classes. I was actually just finding my voice after years of feeling unconfident and awkward, blending into the background.

And surprise, I failed my A Levels. At that point, I’d written myself off as being awful at exams. Nobody has encouraged me to be better. I didn’t consider myself to be academic or ‘smart’. I just couldn’t do it, or so I thought.

Looking back, it was actually a blessing in disguise. I started searching for journalism courses in local colleges, still determined to get to where I wanted to be. I found a creative media course which offered journalism as a unit. For the first time in a long time, I was excited about education. This was probably the first time I remember a teacher seeing real potential in me (apart from my Maths teacher Mr. Coleman from middle school and my form tutor Mrs.Ewing who were both proper Gs). I felt like I’d finally found something I was really good at. I felt like I had a purpose. 

In those two years, I was inspired to learn about the industry and encouraged to achieve more than I’d thought myself capable of. I still remember the day my tutor turned to me and said; “Georgia, if anyone can do it, you can” (Big up Jonathan). I still think about that moment when I’m full of doubt and imposter syndrome creeps in like some shadowy menace hanging over my shoulder. I learned a lot from that place. I learned to film productions and take professional photos. I learned to write and script articles. I even became one of the editors for the college magazine. It wasn’t long before I was being encouraged to apply for universities and take the next step, an option I thought I’d never have when I looked at those A-Level exam results the previous year. 

Sadly, in my last few months of college, the worst thing happened. My younger brother Elliot died suddenly and unexpectedly. It tore my life apart in an instant. Everything took a back seat and I didn’t know if I’d survive the year, let alone go to university.

Although I’d passed my college course with the grades I needed to get into Salford, my chosen university, I wasn’t in the right mindset to live away from home. I could barely get on a bus without having a panic attack at this point.

In hindsight, I should have taken a year out but I felt a pressure to go, thinking it was what people expected of me. I had it in my head it was the only way I could become a journalist.

I pushed myself on to a course at a local university so I could still live at home and be near my family. The course hours were sporadic and the entire experience was lonely as most of the people on my course had met during freshers week or lived on campus, so had seen each other around. It felt like school all over again. I needed routine, support, and stability. I also needed to be around people, to talk to other human beings on a regular basis.

I dropped out of the course a few months later and I felt like such a failure. I’d been placing all my hopes for the future on this one opportunity, and it had come crashing down on my head like a tonne of bricks. I felt my vision for the future slip from my grasp and felt I had to let it go. I was never going to become a journalist without a degree.

The next year or so, I got some odd jobs doing social media marketing for small, local businesses, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do in the long term. It was all about the money and the creativity was limited. During that time I decided I didn’t want to give up on becoming a journalist. I set up this small blog, writing a few articles on a weekly basis which focused on mental health, grief, and wellbeing. 

It wasn’t long before I was writing articles for Huffington Post and my blog posts were picked up by local newspapers and eventually, the local BBC radio station Three Counties. The lunchtime presenter, Nick Coffer, invited me for an interview on his show to talk about my writing as well as my experience with grief. Whilst I was there, he encouraged me to sign up for work experience. Nick could see I was knowledgable and passionate about the local community, so he put me in touch with the news editor who told me how to apply online. 

I spent two weeks at the radio station in 2016, getting to know the newsroom and the different teams on the shows and I loved it from the moment I stepped in the door. I knew this was where I belonged.

After my two weeks had come to an end, I was told I should sign up to the freelance pool as a Broadcast Assistant as it was nearing the summer holidays and lots of the staff needed cover. I freelanced for a few months, working as a BA on the afternoon and mid-morning shows.

Whilst I was there, the BBC’s Digital Journalist Apprenticeship was advertised. It meant I could get my journalism qualification and train with the BBC. I submitted my application knowing hundreds of people would be applying for the same opportunity, but I wanted it so badly I was willing to work my ass off to get there. I became a dog with a bone I wasn’t going to let go. I was going to do it all off my own back, no matter what.

I remember the day I got one of the seven places available. After the phone call, I asked myself ‘is this really happening? Am I really going to get a job working for the BBC?’. It was a real ‘pinch me’ moment and it seemed a long way from the memory of thinking I’d have to say goodbye to the career I’d always hoped for. I’d somehow overcome the obstacles.

I trained up for 22 months in local radio, studying for my NCTJ exams (the ones I thought I could never do) and got a gold standard certificate at the end of my course. During that time I made hours of digital and radio content, learning from some of the best journalists in the industry who taught me so much and supported me through my studies. My confidence grew. I went from someone who couldn’t leave the house to traveling around the country and interviewing strangers on the street about their lucky pants.

Since then, I’ve worked for Radio 4’s Today programme, getting a daily podcast commissioned as well as reporting and producing episodes for the award-nominated Beyond Today. I’m currently a producer on a BBC News podcast for youth audiences, and I work in London, a statement I never thought I’d say a few years ago.

I’m from a working-class background. I went to a mainstream comprehensive school. I wasn’t privately educated and none of my family were either. I didn’t know if journalism was for people like me, but it is. The industry needs people like us, people who can speak for working-class communities and shine a light on issues which are sometimes overlooked. It needs people who come from deprived areas or places with a bad press because we have the ability to change perceptions, to gain people’s trust and tell their stories. We grew up in those communities. 

So, if you’re reading this and you want to become a journalist, don’t give up because you think it ‘isn’t for you’. Don’t ever think you don’t deserve to be here or it’s too late to try. As long as you’re passionate and determined to get there, you’ll succeed. 

Don’t get me wrong, some days I still doubt myself and wonder if I’m good enough, but doesn’t everyone? I just have to remind myself how far I’ve come.

Just remember, you’ve got this!

If Uni just isn’t for you! (Alternatives to University)

You are in your last year of sixth form or your college course. You’ve raced to finish your final projects or are revising furiously for your end of years exams, all while trying to figure out what exactly it is you want to do for the rest of your life. Then someone throws a spanner in the works.

SO, which University are you going to?’

Obviously, if you’ve even considered going to University, you’ll have already started the laborious (not to put you off or anything) task of submitting your UCA’s application. You’ll have written your personal statement, a page worth of basically bigging yourself up to the point of borderline pretentiousness, and entered your whole educational history, which is always a sad moment if your GCSE results were shockingly rubbish! (OK, mind weren’t that bad but they weren’t the best!)

ATTENTION KIDS, revise for your GSCE’s because no matter how smart your are, you can’t ‘wing’ an exam. Which is totally not what I did… at all…

After submitting your completed application to UCA’s you could be waiting for as long as two months to hear back as to whether you have a conditional place on the courses you’ve chosen.

It’s a bit like X Factor really, expect Simon Cowell probably isn’t judging your applications. That would be too easy.

It can be a very worrisome and stressful time for some young people while waiting to hear back from University choices as to whether you have a conditional/unconditional place. This, as well as other factors, can put many people off.

Yet University is still the main option and popular for the next step in further education.

There is a lot of emphasis on the fact that a degree will allow you better career prospects. And a lot of the time it will. But University isn’t always for everyone.

Costly tuition fees, living expenses and being away from home are just some of many reasons people turn down university in search for a more suitable alternative.

Always make the decision that’s best for you and your future. The older generation often never got the the chance to go to University so may push the idea of taking this path. As much as University is a lot more accessible, the lifestyle that comes with it will not suit every individual.

I rushed into going to University thinking it was what everyone else expected from me. Everyone I knew was going and I felt I’d be looked down on for not extending my knowledge from my college course.

Turns out, Uni life really wasn’t for me. The binge drinking, night owl way of life was really not for this little home bird who much prefers sitting in front of the box then dropping some shapes in the club  (and by shapes I mean slightly bending the knees to the beat of the music, I can’t dance, get over it)

There are a number of alternatives to University depending on the career path you wish to take. Here are suggestions for just a few options you could take and how they could help you.


Take a Gap Year

If you need some more time to think about your options, you can always apply to UCA’s for the year after and take a year out. When I say Gap Year I don’t necessarily mean travelling to Cambodia like a private school kid who wants to know how ‘the other people’ live. You can spend your year volunteering or find a part time job to get you a little extra money for if/when you do attend university. Either way, this is a great way to build work experience and makes for a stronger CV.

Go Part Time or Open

If you like the idea of continuing your studies but want it to be more felxible, especially if you have a job on the side, you could consider taking a part time course up (this is usually out of work hours) or an Open University course, which could mean you are only attending University once every two weeks, allowing you to studying at home in your own time.

Apprenticeships

In my personal opinion, this is probably the best alternative to anyone who enjoys studying but is put off by length and expensive courses. Apprenticeships allow you to ‘learn on the job’ as well as gain a qualification in your chosen subject, which is paid for by the Government/Employer. Work experience is invaluable and you can make money at the same time as studying. I will do a separate blog post all about apprenticeships!

WERK

If you are more interested in experience and earning money you can find a job that does not require qualifications in further education. Some businesses even offer programs that will allow you to gain management positions so there is always an opportunity to move up within a company depending on the sector.

There are lots of different options rather then university that will be equally as rewarding in the long run and can allow you to find an amazing career. Make sure you look carefully at all your options and know you are happy. Not going to Uni or even dropping out if it doesn’t work out isn’t that big of a deal.

You’ll find what you are passionate about and love to do, even if it takes some time.

Georgia

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