The best degree subjects for careers in media production, design and photography

student on photography degree
Fancy a career as a photographer or media designer? How about a job in TV or radio as a producer, director, sound engineer or lighting technician? Find out the best university subjects to study.

The media is full of jobs that creatively, organisationally or technically bring a broadcast, website or publication alive. You don’t necessarily need to go to university to get into them, but below we take you through the most relevant degree subjects if you want to do so.

Keep in mind that quite a lot of people who do these jobs work freelance, which means getting paid to do different tasks for different organisations as and when they need the work done, rather than having a regular job with one employer. So paying off your student loan may take some time.

Degrees for media careers in photography

There are two main types of media career for photographers. Firstly, there are fashion photographers, photographers who take wedding and family photos, and photographers who take shots of products that appear in magazines and websites. These photographers are either freelance or work for photographic agencies and are hired by media organisations. Relevant degrees for this type of career are photography or fashion photography. With these degrees you learn about the history of photography and photographic technique, and build up a portfolio.

The second type of career is as a photojournalist. You’re likely to work as a freelancer, although the largest news companies may have some permanently employed photojournalists. The appropriate degree for this is in photojournalism, in which you learn about story-telling using a camera, photographic technique and media law.

Can I become a photographer without a photography degree?

It is possible to start a career as either of the two main types of media photographer without having taken a photography degree but it is unusual. If you have any other type of degree or other qualification you will need to demonstrate that photography is something of an obsession for you – and have an outstanding portfolio.

Alternatively you could do an undergraduate degree in a different subject, then take an MA in photography before starting work. Universities offering these courses often state that they prefer you to have studied a related subject as an undergraduate – for example fine art or graphic design. However, if you have a great portfolio of work and relevant work experience, some universities will still consider you whatever subject you studied as an undergraduate.

Degrees for design careers in the media

Most design degrees place an emphasis upon digital work but it’s still commonplace for media groups to employ designers who can work for all of the following formats:

  • print
  • digital
  • animation
  • web.

Courses such as a BA or BSc in graphic design and multimedia will help you develop the skills to work on a wide range of products. Degrees in digital design, multimedia, or interactive media focus more on digital media but won’t exclude you from getting a job working on print products.

If you don’t want to study graphic design as an undergraduate, you could do so as a postgraduate. You will usually need a degree in a related subject, so look at visual arts undergraduate degrees. A few universities may be willing to consider you with an unrelated degree if you have a strong portfolio of relevant work.

Degrees for careers in TV and radio broadcast production and direction

There are various routes into TV and radio production. See our advice on how to get a job as a broadcast production trainee or a runner for more detail.

If you want to study for a relevant degree before applying for jobs, look for courses in TV and radio broadcast production or ones that cover both TV and cinema production and cinematography. If the programmes you want to produce are news or current-affairs based, broadcast journalism degrees are very relevant – though you may need to start your career as a journalist and work your way up.

You could choose to study for an undergraduate degree in a completely different subject and then take broadcast production as a masters. You might not be eligible to apply for all relevant masters degrees but a number will consider you, especially if you have relevant work experience on your CV.

Degrees for technical careers in broadcast media

Directing and producing require some technical awareness. But other careers are more technically specialist, such as lighting crew or sound engineer. Depending upon which role you’re seeking, you’ll either want to study for a degree in broadcasting (to gain a technical overview) or a more specialist degree in broadcast technology/broadcast systems engineering. The latter is very detailed and you study topics such as signals and sources, engineering physics and communication signal processing. Keep in mind though that you don’t have to go to university to get into these careers.

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