This question has come up more than once in my conversations with career seekers. I’m sure my answer confused them even further: “No…and yes.”
The truth is that you do not need a master’s degree to get your first job in publishing. Only a handful of people I know in the business have them. A random sampling of entry-level editorial jobs confirms this: Most specify a BA (usually in English) as the educational qualification. As further proof, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook also lists a bachelor’s degree as the required education for writers and editors.
However, in general, the minimum educational level for many jobs is creeping up. My parents didn’t have college degrees (until my mom went back recently and got hers). Now my generation considers a bachelor’s degree as the key to a professional career. But maybe for the millennial generation, a master’s will become de rigueur?
And here’s something else that will surprise you: If I got a master’s degree, it wouldn’t be in English. I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but an MBA would be more appropriate. Why? As you progress in your publishing career, you’ll become more aware of the bigger picture, which is this: Publishing is a business. To attain higher roles, you need to have a grasp of budgeting, forecasting, contract negotiation, sales, marketing, general economics, and other such skill areas.
And here’s a wonderful option for people in New York: NYU has a Master of Science in Publishing degree. The description of this program is very informative.
So, the bottom line? Go ahead and get your first job in publishing after you finish your BA (unless, of course, your parents are paying; in that case, go ahead and get the master’s degree). Then if you decide you want it, you can earn your master’s while you work. Some employers will even pay for it.