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Extracurricular Ideas for the Aspiring Journalist
If you’re a high school student who is also an aspiring journalist, there are a number of opportunities available for you to pursue your interests. You might be involved with your school newspaper, or you may be considering a job at a local news organization.
But what opportunities are available to young journalists such as yourself that aren’t so immediately obvious? What if your school doesn’t have a school newspaper, or your local news team isn’t interested in any help from a high school student?
Niche interests such as journalism might seem difficult to pursue in high school at first glance. It’s easy to think that if you aren’t producing and publishing newsworthy material on a regular basis that you’re not working towards your goal, but this is definitely not the case.
There are many opportunities to pursue journalism directly and indirectly. Some can happen through your school, while others are independent pursuits. To learn more about how and why you should pursue your interests in journalism, read on.
Why Pursue Journalism?
In general, strong extracurriculars are always a bonus on a college application. They can serve to strengthen your academic profile, highlight interests not otherwise obvious through traditional school or classwork, and provide you with valuable, real-world experience.
Journalism is one extracurricular that is fairly closely tied with your traditional academic coursework. In some cases it may even be a partial requirement of some of your English classes. Pursuing journalism outside of class exemplifies your dedication to the craft and gives you some insight into the broader idea of writing as a possible career path.
It might be easy to think of journalism as a pipe dream, since in reality only the very top journalists will see their work published nationally and achieve the high end of the pay scale. But in reality many careers exist in which strong writing skills are highly valuable, be they journalistic or not. By pursuing journalism, you train for a career as not only a journalist, but also a number of other options. We’ll discuss these more in depth at the end of this post.
Opportunities to Pursue Journalism
This is the most obvious option for students who are interested in journalism. Many schools already have a school newspaper, and getting involved is as simple as talking to the editor or faculty adviser.
Most school newspapers produce printed or online editions on a regular basis. The more often your school publishes a paper, the more writers they will generally need to keep their work flowing.
You may have to start in an entry level role taking assigned stories, but you can think of this as good training for an actual career in journalism, when you’ll likely start out similarly. Over time you may be able to work towards a leadership position or at least start to source and pitch your own stories.
If your school does not have a student newspaper, you might be able to start one. Start by gathering a group of interested and skilled students. Choose a teacher as a potential faculty adviser. This should be someone who has taught you in the past and who has some kind of expertise in writing or publishing. Meet with that teacher to request advice and guidance.
Then, create a proposal for your school. Include any operating costs and how you plan to raise the funds necessary to run the paper. While printing actual hard copies can be the most expensive part of operations, publishing online is now a legitimate and less expensive alternative. Starting a student newspaper will allow you to pursue your interests while demonstrating your initiative and leadership skills.
Volunteer Your Writing Skills
Newspapers aren’t the only outlet for journalistic skills. Any organization that produces written communications has a need for strong writing. Consider reaching out to local charities like animal shelters or food pantries. You could also contact retirement homes, community centers, youth groups, or your local church.
These types of nonprofit organizations generally welcome any publicity they can get and would be happy to have you volunteer your services. Offer to write a newsletter outlining recent changes or developments in the organization. Ask leaders for stories they would like to see highlighted or propose your own if you’re already familiar with the organization.
Volunteering your writing services is a good way to get your work in print and begin to build a portfolio. As you progress to more professional roles, you’ll always be asked for samples of your work. Be sure to keep hard copies of everything you’ve written, especially when it has been formatted and printed as a part of any professional copy.
Enter A Writing Contest
There is a huge variety of writing contests available for high school students. If you want to gain some recognition or win cash or scholarship prizes, this is definitely a good choice for you. Some writing contests even focus explicitly on journalistic writing.
For a complete list of some of the most respected writing contests open to high schoolers, check out The CollegeVine Ultimate Guide to High School Writing Contests.
Along these same lines, you can also submit your work to be published at existing publications. Many newspapers or online news sites rely on submissions from freelance writers. Even if they don’t specifically seek work from high school students, they won’t necessarily know your age when you submit a piece of writing.
Be sure to do your homework before submitting anything to a new publication. You should be aware of the specific types of writing that they are interested in and the correct submissions address to send your work.
At some publications you will only get one chance to be considered seriously. If you submit something that is off target or not polished and fully edited, they are unlikely to take your submissions seriously in the future.
Instead, seek out publications that publish exactly the type of piece you’re submitting. Proofread carefully and get constructive criticism from a teacher or peer before sending in your work. Consider submitting to smaller, local or regional publications first. Or, consider submitting your work online.
Browse this list of online publications for some ideas of where to submit. Be sure to select carefully and keep in mind that publications that pay for submissions are likely to be more competitive and hold you to overall higher standards.
Enroll in a Summer Program
Academic and extracurricular summer programs are becoming a more and more common way to pass the summer break. Many opportunities exist for students interested in pursuing journalism. In these programs you can expect to develop your journalistic skills, build important connections, and gain a better understanding of the field of journalism.
Some of the best known programs include:
Many of these programs have need-based financial aid or scholarships, so if finances are a concern for you, be sure to research these options well before dismissing them.
You should also consider summer journalism programs available at colleges or universities. These programs can help you to network with faculty and students who might ultimately be able to help you with the application process. Some popular college programs include:
Start Your Own Online Publication
This is an easy way to start publishing your own work. Use a blog platform and choose an angle to focus your writing on. Some examples might be local news, politics, or opinion pieces. Try to publish something on a regular basis by creating a content schedule in advance. Try mapping out one topic per week for the month ahead and stick to it.
This is a great way to share your writing on a public platform, and it can act as an informal portfolio of your work. It also helps to hold you accountable to a larger audience. You can start a blog for free on many different platforms, including WordPress, Blogger, LiveJournal, or Weebly.
Once your blog is up and running, send out a group email to let friends and family know about it. If you are on social media, share a link there as well. As with any other time that you add to your online presence, be sure to discuss your plans with a parent or guardian beforehand. It’s also a good idea to limit commenting on your posts in order to filter out spam or unwanted attention.
Career Paths for the Aspiring Journalist
It’s easy to think of journalism as a career path in and of itself, but you’d be selling yourself short if you limited your vision in this way. Journalistic skills actually prepare you for a number of potential career paths—essentially, any career that incorporates strong writing abilities. These skills are particularly valuable in the fields of:
Developing your skills as a journalist not only prepares you for a career in journalism, but also develops valuable skills that can be applied broadly depending on your other skills and interests.
If you’re interested in learning more about writing programs in college and the possible career paths they afford, check out CollegeVine’s Mentoring Program, which provides practical advice on topics from high school activities and college applications to career aspirations, all from successful college students who have been in your shoes.