Graduate School, CliffNotes Style

As graduation day slowly but surely approaches, many seniors (along with those more farsighted juniors — and the bigger worriers of grades below, too) are faced with the age-old conundrum that has plagued the minds of fresh-faced liberal arts graduates ever since the dawn of time: “Shall I apply to graduate school so I can spend a few more years with pencils and books, or will I boldly go forth to seek a ‘grown-up’ job out there in ‘the real world’?”

But if your career interests lie in publishing — of magazines, books or online — you might not have to make that choice after all. The Columbia Publishing Course is a six-week summer program covering all the ins and outs of the publishing industry that is, according to the course’s official pamphlet, “aimed primarily at recent college graduates.” Calling all members of the class of 2013!

As she recounted in an information session last Tuesday evening in Coffee Grounds, former Editor in Chief Jazmine Hughes ’12 was one of those brand new graduates when she was accepted into and attended the course last summer. Now, less than a year later, she’s living the quintessential New York life that so many college students eagerly dream of — she works at New York Magazine as a fact-checker and lives in Brooklyn: an incredibly hip combination of life circumstances, as David Shanfield ’14 was quick to point out. And, she says, her success story is not unusual: “I would say about ninety-seven percent of my friends from the course have a job or internship.”

That statistic, however approximated, can sound dangerously close to a dream come true in the context of this recession, when young job-seekers’ qualifications strongly outweigh their immediate job prospects. So why aren’t visions of copy editing dancing in the heads of soon-to-be liberal arts graduates across the country?

For starters, the Columbia Publishing Course makes for an incredibly intense way to spend six weeks of your summer. The course is split into two three-week sections, the first focused on book publishing and the second geared towards magazines and online publications. Both of these sections are further divided into, first, two weeks of thrice-daily lectures by guest speakers, followed by a seven-day “workshop” during which, as the pamphlet describes, students form small groups and assume individual roles (think editor, public relations guru, illustrator, et cetera) to undertake the real-life workload and deadlines of a publishing house, magazine or website: “giving students a chance to apply what they’ve learned and to gain hands-on experience.”

While this all sounds basically innocuous and beneficial, Hughes says participants in the course will get their money’s worth, as measured by the professional criticism that faculty members constantly, erm, offer to students. Hughes recalls that she “did cry once. Everybody cries. It’s intense!” Still, these high expectations may be a boon to highly motivated students, especially considering the program’s impressive reputation for job placements. Besides, criticism, even of the constructive kind, may hurt — but when that harsh truth comes from a publishing-world celebrity like David Remnick (Editor-in-Chief of The New Yorker magazine and the magazine workshop’s keynote speaker the summer that Hughes took the course), it might just behoove you to listen up and take note.

On a few different levels, Hughes feels that Connecticut College was instrumental in preparing her for the Columbia Publishing Course and her ultimate goal — to get a job in publishing. She jokingly described the particularly grueling evenings of the course as “the longest days of my entire life — not including days spent in the Voice office.” Coincidentally, the food at Columbia was “Harris-level.” But Hughes had only glowing words for Conn’s faculty members, especially Professor Blanche Boyd of the English department, advising attendees of the information session to take “any class with Blanche” that they could.

In fact, Hughes had first learned about the course from Professor Boyd, who is good friends with its director. Ah, yet another example of the ancient cliché: In the world of work, it’s all about whom you know. Well, if Hughes is any example, the contacts you gain at Connecticut College plus those accrued in a quick sojourn to graduate school with the Columbia Publishing Course can create a winning combination — and, hey, the all-nighters you pull as an undergrad will be great practice for the times when, like Hughes, you’re in the office “until four in the morning.”