Getting a second degree in New Media. Worth it?

I have a BA in English and an MA in British and American Literature. The plan was to get a PhD and enter academia, but after my MA, I realized that academia was not the life for me. Since then, I’ve been working as an adjunct writing instructor and struggling to be a professional writer. On the plus side, I’m earning about 20,000/year as a writer, and I’m working hard to make that money higher, but it’s not enough to support me. My husband doesn’t make much more than that at his full time job. And I really, really, really don’t want to be an adjunct for the rest of my life.

But last night, I think I found something that actually interests me. A BA in Communications with an emphasis in New Media. What is New Media?

Students learn the theory and practice of various forms of digital communication. Courses introduce students to the complexities of design, programming and production, as well as the social and psychological impact of new media on society.
I would take courses in writing, web design, and either video production or digital imaging, with a few theory courses thrown in for good measure. Since I spend all my time on the Internet, this seems like a good move for me. It would certainly give me more marketable skills that will also be personally helpful (since I do all my promotion and publishing online too). So I’ve been trying to break these down. Additional suggestions pros and cons always welcome.

First the pros.

  1. Marketable skills.
  2. While in school full time I won’t have to pay my student loans.
  3. That additional $300/month put towards one of my CC balances for a year will completely pay off that card.
  4. Tuition is affordable because my husband works at the U. A 12 unit semester is 2,084, but due to tuition reduction, my fees would be half that. I probably could do this without taking out another loan.
  5. Due to the degree requirements, I could probably finish in 2-3 semesters. All of my previous gen ed courses will likely carry over, so I can just focus on the degree.
  6. I’m genuinely interested in the courses offered and the skills I’d learn.
    Now the cons.
  7. Time. If I submit my application by 4/15, I can be enrolled in the fall. I’m also teaching 3 classes this fall. That on top of a full credit load will make me a very busy girl. I also have several writing obligations that I simply cannot break.
  8. This will still be about a $3500 investment with no guarantee that anything will come of it.
  9. I actually can’t think of another one. Like all things in life, it comes down to time and money.
    Ideally, I’d be taking these courses:
    1500, Intro to Mass Comm
    3550, Prin. of Visual Comm
    5300, Mass Comm Law (1500)
    5540, Media & Diversity (DV)
    3510, Intro to Web Design (3550)
    3560, Video Production I (3550)
    3640, Writing for New Media (WTG 2010)
    4550, Dev. in New Media (1500)
    3500, Writing for Entertain. Media (CW)
    4560, Video Production II (3560)
    5510, Adv Web Design (3510)

My biggest fear is going back to school for two years and in the end having what is so charmingly referred to as “another useless degree.” I don’t feel like it would be useless, because I’m genuinely interested in these courses and developing these skills. But I was genuinely interested in my previous BA and MA, too, so I guess that might not be the best yardstick.

If you’re genuinely interested in it not just as an educational subject, but as the basis of a future profession, then I think that’s definitely a step in the right direction.

The questions you need to ask yourself are

  1. Can I excel in this subject matter? and
    2a) Will people who are reading my resume even know what the heck “new media” is? or
    2b ([sub]or not 2b[/sub]) will the skills I’m developing translate into something I can convince future employers is needed and useful?

My suggestion would be to determine what area you’d like to go into and actually set up some informational interviews with potential employers, sit down with the course guide and ask them what they think.

A few things:

  • The quality of the faculty matters a lot. New Media is a rapidly evolving field and academia is not exactly known for it’s progressive hiring policies. You might end up being stuck with tenured professors who barely know how to turn on a PC and web development classes which haven’t evolved from static HTML pages.
  • New Media does not put much stock on credentialism and many of the people in it are self taught. Only at the biggest & most clueless of companies will your actual degree count much. If you’re a highly self-driven person, it could well be cheaper learning by doing rather than a packaged degree. If you need more structure, realized the value of the degree lies solely in the specific skills you’re learning and not the piece of paper you get at the end of it.
  • New Media, like old media, is becoming rapidly commoditized and amateurized. Read about companies like Demand Media and the business model they are based on. There’s still plenty of room for highly skilled, specialized people to thrive but the gold rush is well over. Be wary of anyone promising the moon (especially faculty).

The warning does make sense, but I would be very surprised if that were the case at the U. I mean, I haven’t been in that particular department, but I have a lot of experience with the school, and I don’t think that’s going to be a serious concern.

I do need more structure, actually. I learn better in a lecture/classroom environment. But ultimately, I am looking to learn the specific skills. I figure that these additional skills with my other degrees would help flesh out my CV and make me more well-rounded.

Yeah, I understand that. But there are more employers looking for people with the skills I’d learn in this program than there are for people with just a degree in English. I graduated with my BA 5 years ago, and it always felt like the jobs I was really interested in were just out of reach because being a good writer just wasn’t quite enough.

I also just found out that due to being an adjunct, I can take 10 of the 30 required units for free at the community college and transfer them.

Frankly, the first 4 classes sound like fluff. You said it in your description of new media: “Courses introduce students…”. Introduction doesn’t mean you’ll get a usable skill.

Since you already have a college degree(s), if you want to branch out in “new media” I would suggest just taking courses in actual graphic and/or web design programs used in the design industry–Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver in addition to video.

Anyone hiring you would want to see a portfolio representing how well you can design solutions to the problem at hand. Before you take the computer design classes you might want to take some traditional art classes so you understand basic art, design and color theory before you try to design using computer programs.