This section answers some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about studying media, communication and cultural studies at university in the UK
Will a mainly academic degree disadvantage me in getting a job when I leave university?
Degree programmes in this field vary in the mix of theoretical and practical curriculum they provide. Some are almost entirely professional or vocational in focus, some are primarily or entirely rooted in arts and humanities, or social science approaches to study of the media. Which suits you best will depend on your interests. All these courses provide qualifications that lead to employment, more so than for almost any other university courses. This is as true for more academic and theoretical programmes as for more practice oriented ones. Many employers prefer to give skills based training on the job after graduation, others value a more vocational degree. Graduates from programmes in this field move into a wide range of careers, as well as those in the media industries, and for this reason a broader background is often an advantage. The final choice must be yours, shaped by your interests and inclinations, but whichever you choose you will be entering a university programme leading to very good employment prospects.
Which school or college subjects are the best preparation for a media degree?
Media degrees combine a variety of critical approaches so most programmes do not require specific subjects and you do not need to have studied film, journalism or media studies before embarking on a degree course in those topics, although doing media or film studies will help you decide whether these are subjects you would enjoy at university level. Those courses that include practical production will usually enable you to learn from scratch, although art degrees and some other specialist degrees may require a portfolio of previous work to ensure you can meet the required standards.
Are media degrees all the same?
No, you need to look specifically at the course offered by a particular degree programme. There is no national curriculum for universities and so you need to check out the programmes you are interested to find out what their overall approach is and what they cover. You can find this in the prospectus or website of the universities that you are considering.
What will a media degree offer that more traditional degrees tend not to?
More team-work and experience in project planning and delivery, and a focus on creative industries and cultural phenomena that are themselves evolving very fast. Many of the jobs you will go into once you have finished your degree have not yet been invented. Academically, the field offers a combination of arts and social science approaches.
What is the difference between doing film studies and media studies?
A degree in film studies will concentrate on film (or on film and television) rather than taking in social media and the internet, journalism, radio, the press, publishing, videogames and other kinds of media activity. Film studies may also indicate an approach which foregrounds the formal qualities of films alongside the historical development of cinema. Both may include practical production of various kinds. But courses can vary widely, so do check out what each university is offering before you apply.
What is cultural studies and what has it got to do with the media?
Cultural studies is an interdisciplinary field that researches our everyday cultural experiences, and not just the ‘high’ culture of, for example, art, theatre, literature or classical music. It investigates the symbolic meanings reproduced in everyday activities such as shopping, social media, living in modern cosmopolitan cities, and how our bodies, minds and emotions are engaged by these cultural practices. The media are a central element in these everyday cultural experiences and are also closely tied into the political economy through their ownership and the laws that govern their operations. We investigate how these personal experiences tie us into political and economic systems such as the nation state or multinational capitalism and what role culture can play in resisting and changing these established structures of power. Cultural studies has developed a range of theories to try to understand these complex relations which draw on, amongst others, sociology, economics, psychology, political theory and aesthetics.
What is the value of doing a practice-based media degree, rather than one that concentrates on a more academic understanding of media and society?
Both are valuable in their own ways. The practice-based degree (one that clearly states that a significant percentage of time is spent on practical work) is likely to teach the subject through doing as well as reflecting. The degree that concentrates on media or cultural theories is likely to consider more ways of understanding the media, through the viewpoints of different thinkers. Both will extend and deepen your knowledge and understanding of the media. Neither is intrinsically better than the other when getting a job, although acquiring certain skills (such as familiarity with editing software) can occasionally help in some specific jobs. However, employers are much more likely to consider the final level of your degree and your ability to produce high quality research, to analyse sociological trends, to work effectively with people, to organise events, to think creatively and to write well, when deciding whether or not to employ you.
What sort of media studies degree will help me to be a journalist?
There are some degree courses that specialise in journalism or offer it as one strand in a more general programme. Alternatively, you can do journalism as a joint degree with other subjects such as politics, economics, international relations, law or cultural studies, which has the advantage that you develop in-depth knowledge of an area that you might want to write about in the future. Some of these courses offer accredited vocational training which provides a recognised qualification within the industry. Others are more academic and aim to develop your understanding of journalism alongside a critical evaluation of its role within modern societies. Views differ on which of these alternatives make a better foundation for a journalistic career. It is the case, however, that most of the elite jobs in journalism go to high-achieving academic graduates in subjects that have nothing to do with journalism, but which have developed their literacy skills and knowledge about the world. This provides the intellectual foundation for a successful career. The vocational training needed to do the job can then be completed as a short diploma or more extended masters course designed specifically to prepare you for one of the many specialist areas in journalism, in magazines, broadcast, print or online. There are also some opportunities to train as a photojournalist.
Is doing a practice television course essential for working in television?
Not necessarily. It depends what you want to do but in many media posts the ability to produce high quality research, to analyse sociological trends, to work effectively with people, to organise events, to think creatively and to write well is more important as companies provide on the job training in technical procedures.
Will doing a media degree help me get a job as a TV presenter?
Probably not, although the more you know about the television industry and how it works the more likely you are to understand what any one job within it involves. Studying for a degree should improve your communication skills, develop your research skills and give you experience of working on your own and as part of a team. Some experience of performing in front of the camera may form part of a degree programme and could help you find out if you have any talent for this. You may also get the chance to meet people who are already working in the media which might help you fulfil your ambition. But remember deciding what you want to do too early can actually limit your ambitions and an open and flexible approach is often the most effective so that you can take advantage of the opportunities that arise.
WIll there be any opportunity to have work experience in the media industries?
All universities will encourage you to undertake work experience in the area that you are considering for a career. The majority will expect you to arrange this for yourself even if they help you with initial contact details. Competition for work experience in the media industries is very intense and you have to be single-minded and persistent to secure it. But these are qualities you will need to succeed in these industries anyway. A very few courses include work experience as part of the degree. If this is important to you then you should find out which they are before you apply to UCAS.
Will people who work in the media be involved in the teaching?
It is very common for universities to employ part-time lecturers who also work as freelance workers in the media industries.
What is the difference between a BA or BSc in media and a postgraduate diploma or Masters’ degree? Do I need both?
You can apply to do a postgraduate diploma or masters’ degree after you have finished your undergraduate degree. They usually take at least a year full-time to complete and will offer more specialist training in academic research or other vocational areas. The advantage they give is that you can choose a course that relates directly to your career ambitions having experienced a broader range of activities in your undergraduate work. This means that you can develop to a higher standard in a particular field.
Why does media studies get so much negative publicity?
This negative publicity is often associated with the fact that the study of the media often involves studying things which are generally seen as entertaining but trivial. Topics that come under scrutiny can include social media, popular music, tabloid journalism, magazines, videogames or reality television. In fact, all these things can be studied as social phenomena as well as complex and often creative activities. Rather ironically, also, media studies courses are criticised for making things too complicated by using complicated theoretical language to analyse the media. We don’t defend the use of complicated jargon but we do believe that in the modern world theories from communication, aesthetics and social sciences can help us to understand how different media produce pleasure and knowledge.