Ask Serena: Should I write for school publications or freelance?

Recently, prospective first years in the class of ‘25 have been reaching out to me with questions about navigating Yale/college, and I realized that might be helpful to expand the Forthcoming series to answer these questions. Obviously, there is more than one right answer. These are just my thoughts (which are subject to change and should be taken with a grain of salt). I hope this blog continues to grow with me as I learn more, and I’m happy to share my journey with others. If I can’t answer your question, I’ll interview someone who can. 

If you have questions, please submit them via the contact form.

The first question is about how to invest one’s time writing while at Yale. I’ve spent the last year doing both, so I often get some version of this:

How do I decide if I should write for school publications or freelance? 

This is a false dichotomy, and people can do both. But people tend to focus on one or the other, and everyone has to strike a balance for themselves. For me, I have certain pet projects on campus that I give my time to because I believe in the mission/story I’m producing, but I’m a lot less involved in publications like the Yale Daily News (YDN) than other people who don’t freelance. As you go about making that decision, I’d think hard about 3 considerations:

  • Passion/pay/prestige triage
  • Long term goals
  • Networking

Passion, Pay, Prestige?

In the Writer’s Co-op podcast, they often talk about their decision making process when deciding what projects to take on through the lenses of passion, pay, and prestige. Their rule is that any assignment they do needs to fulfill two of those requirements. Yale publications such as the YDN, the New Journal, and others have a fairly prestigious reputation which is easy to forget once you’re steeped in it. But of course, mainstream publications like the New York Times or the Washington Post are at a different level.

Publications at school generally don’t pay (though YDN does have a stipend if you’re on staff and receive financial aid). But, there are a ton of publications that have niches that you might want to try out. Maybe you get really into science writing or want to write a huge feature story and don’t have the clips to pitch big pubs in that niche. Or maybe you’ve never written before. Writing for a school publication to hone those skills and pursue the stories you’re passionate about could be worth it then even if it doesn’t pay. I’ve met people I’ve sourced for freelance stories later on while on assignment for the YDN. I’ve also gotten interviews that I would not have gotten because I was with a school publication and alumni are generally more willing to help students than full time journalists.

That being said, I think big publications really need student voices, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, and I would be remiss not to encourage you to try to place your piece as high as you can. You never know who might give you a shot. 

What are your Goals? 

What are your long term aspirations? Where do you want this to go? Are you planning on applying to journalism internships? How interested are you in different kinds of journalism? Those are big questions, and you definitely don’t need to have answers right now. But if, for example, you know you want to be an op-ed columnist in the future, you want to be writing op-eds regularly. Time is money, and pitching is unpaid labor. Having a more stable gig writing the op-eds you want and then freelancing the bigger stuff you write/want to is definitely an option that has its upsides.

But if your goal is to be full-time freelance after college or you don’t really have an interest in journalism as a full-time profession, then it might not make sense to invest so much time in a staff position at a school magazine/publication. There are lots of reasons to do both and your answer to the question “How much freelancing do I want to do?” can change! It’s not either-or, and you can always get more involved with either later on if you want to. 


The final consideration is networking. Someday, I’ll write a whole essay about that aspect of journalism, but let’s just assume it’s a necessary evil to this and many other careers. When I was trying to make a decision about freelancing and school pubs for myself, my career advisor told me that the main benefit school pubs give you is the opportunity to horizontally network with your peers who are also into journalism.

Having some of those people in your corner and able to vouch for your work 5-10 years down the line could be invaluable and will likely be helpful even before then. My career counselor also told me that when students apply to internships, people look for an investment in your community (ie: Yale/New Haven). So even if you have cool clips from national pubs, hiring managers might still have lingering questions like “But what are they doing at Yale?” “How have they invested in their community there?” Regardless of your decision, if you take a journalism class at Yale, you’ll likely write something that is more New Haven centric which you can get published in a Yale publication. I will say though that this process is generally a lot easier if you already know the editors. 

Final verdict

All this to say, every situation is different, and I can’t tell you what’s best for your individual situation. But I hope you chase the stories you’re passionate about while setting yourself up for the stories you’ll want to do in the future. And remember, regardless of your choice, student journalists are already real journalists. You don’t have to wait to “arrive.”

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