Media Studies as a subject varies enormously from institution to institution. It comes in many different guises, but most of the courses in and around the subject fit into one of three groups.
The first are practical media production courses. These are usually called things like "Radio Production", "Film and Television Production", "Film and Video", "Audio Visual Media", are usually largely vocational and as such are generally offered by former polytechnics. Be aware that as well as production work, which is usually done in groups, you will often have to take theory modules too, so don't think of this as a way of avoiding essays.
The second and third groups of courses both take a more academic approach to the study of film. However, the difference is in the approach. Courses such as Media and Cultural Studies at the University of West England look at Media and it's many forms and formats from a Media and Cultural angle whilst also giving you important key Cultural and Sociological study alongside your study of Media. Some courses, such as "Film with Television Studies" at the University of Warwick, study film and television with approaches more grounded in literature studies, looking at film aesthetics and history more so than audience and reception studies.
Which of these routes you choose to take will obviously depend on where your interest lies. If you are looking to learn more about operating cameras and finding your way around an edit suite, one of the practical courses would seem like a good choice. If you are looking at this as a way to break into tv, it might be worth checking if your desired course and institution are accredited by Skillset, the media skills body. If you are thinking about postgraduate study, or a career in film criticism, then one of the academic courses might be a better option. Or you can sit on the fence completely and do a course that is mostly theory with a few practical modules thrown in.
What this highlights more than anything is just how vitally important it is that you read the course details very carefully before applying to any media degree, or you may find yourself stuck in the library when you expected to be on location, or standing in the freezing cold holding a boom mic when you wanted to be crafting a thesis on "masculinity and film noir".
As a final note, I feel I should probably address this here: Media Studies and the like are relatively new subjects and there is some prejudice surrounding them. If you are embarking upon life as a media student, be prepared to have to defend your choice of degree. If you are doing it for the right reasons, then other people's ignorance shouldn't stand in your way, whatever you want to do with your degree.
Equally, don't go into a media/film degree thinking that it's going to be a doss and you can sit around watching films all day and call it work. Yes, there is a bit of that, but you will have to watch films in the same way that you would read a novel for an English Literature course; over and over again and in the most minute detail. As a general guide, when analysing a film it takes around one hour to watch, analyse and make notes on five minutes of film. Couple this with the same amount of reading as with any other arts course, and then add on the time that you'll be spending on production work (scripting, planning, recceing locations, getting permissions, health and safety, auditions, filming, production meetings, watching rushes, editing - read: a lot). Like any other degree, media studies is not to be entered into lightly.
UCAS Form & Personal Statement
Different Media-Related Degrees - By Those Taking Them
As stated above, there are a wide variety of media-related courses available; each one completely different - so it's very important, before applying, to think carefully about what you want to do, and where you want to be in the future. If you choose a vocational path, be aware that there's a great deal of focus, and that you're degree will not be so useful in any career other than within the media; whereas theoretical courses can perhaps offer a more flexible future.
In order to get a better idea about each different course, have a look below at the explanations from current/graduate students:
BA (Hons) Media and Communication Degree's - Coventry University
The Department of Media and Communication offers you contemporary courses designed for today’s communication, media and cultural industries. The practical work includes the use of digital as well as traditional media, and our study of theory and criticism looks closely at contemporary ideas and debates.
The following Undergraduate Media and Communication degrees are available from the Media and Communication department at Coventry University. The department is based within the University's long established School of Art and Design.
BA (Hons) Media and Communication - Birmingham City University
Media and Communication at Birmingham City University offers a roughly equal balance of practical and theory work. There are eight pathways of the degree that cover seven different specialisms: Journalism, Media Photography, Music Industries, Public Relations, Radio, Television and Video, and Web and New Media. Alternatively, students may opt for the "broad" unnamed pathway, which allows them a wider spectrum of choice for modules according to their own interests. Modules covering visual and graphic design are also available. In their final year, students on all pathways are required to complete a dissertation and a major production project, which they will then get to exhibit at an annual degree show.
Students in the first year can pick four production modules and one theory module:
- Journalism in Practice
- Media Relations
- Media Photography Skills
- Music Industries Skills
- Radio Production
- Television Production
- Visual Design for Media
- Web Design
- Film, Television and Video Media
- Journalism and Public Relations
- Photography and Web & New Media
- Radio and Popular Music
Second year students can pick four production modules and two theory modules, depending on modules passed in the first year:
- Broadcast Journalism
- Magazine Production
- News and Feature Writing
- Online Journalism
- Editorial and Commercial Photography
- Photography in Design
- Music Online
- Music Programming
- Music Promotion and PR
- Public Relations Techniques
- Interactive and Online Promotion
- Commercial Production for Radio
- Live Radio
- Radio Documentaries
- Music Television and Promo Production
- Television Drama Production
- Television Documentaries and Features
- Television Magazines and Talk Shows
- Web and Alternative Media Production
- Interactive Cultures
- Issues and Representations
- Journalism in Context
- Media Cultures
- The Music Business
- Photography and Visual Culture
- Public Relations in Context
- Radio Studies
- Reality Media
- Television Studies
Final year students can choose one production module and one theory module, and a third choice of production or theory:
- Professional Journalism
- Creative Camera in Practice
- Music Industries Enterprise
- Communications Management
- Radio Station
- Independent Television Production Company
- Live Television Studio Channel
- Web and New Media Practice
- Design for Production
- Creativity in the Media
- Film and Television Rhetoric
- Media Law and Regulation
- Popular Music Culture
- Promotional Culture
Throughout the course there is a significant emphasis on professional studies, through which students learn how to write CVs and covering letters for media organisations, and hone skills for research, interviews and networking. Undergraduates are required to complete 75 hours (two weeks) of work experience in the first year, and 120 hours (three weeks) in the second year. The university's School of Media offers an annual scholarship in partnership with BSkyB for three students to embark on two weeks' paid work experience at their studios in London.
The university is an accredited Skillset Media Academy for its provision of practical education in television and interactive media, and is also a partner in the Avid Mentor Program for video post-production. The Public Relations pathway of the degree is approved by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).
BSc (Hons) Television Production - University of Central Lancashire
As a vocational science degree, TV Production at UCLan is very much a practical and technical course. During the first year, the students are generally faced with a 50/50 practical/theory structure; with modules on studio work, outside broadcast, film production, career paths, web-design, animation, history of television and audience theory - there is freedom to choose from a large selection of modules, as well as an elective which doesn't have to be course-related at all. In the second and third years, students tend to specialise more, and are given much more freedom to select modules relating to their future career paths; essentially, these years can be used to either wipe theory out of the course almost completely, or focus in on the theory side much more (although in this case practical work will still be required). With close links to media companies in the North, and with all of the lecturers experienced in their given fields, the level of support provided throughout the course is outstanding; the facilities are also surplus to requirement, due to the brand new Media Factory (Oct 2007) with full industry-standard equipment. Editing in the first year is done on PCs with Premiere Pro, and in later years with Final Cut Pro on Macs. On average, timetabled hours consist of around 10-15 hours a week - a mixture of lectures, seminars and practical sessions. Outside of timetabled hours though - essay writing, as well as all aspects of practical production, can take up a large number of hours.
BA (Hons) Screen Studies - Liverpool John Moores University
UCAS Institution Code name: LJM
UCAS Institution Code: L51
This degree combines the traditional academic study of film history and theory (approximately 75%) with modules in practical digital production. It is part of the Liverpool Screen School, which has recently been named a Skillset Academy. Screen Studies can only be taken as part of a joint honours degree, but at Level Two and Three students have the option to go Single Honours Screen or continue with their joint degree. UCAS codes are as follows:
- Screen Studies and American Studies – TW76 BA/AMSS
- Screen Studies and Imaginative Writing – WW69 BA/IWSS
- Screen Studies and Media and Cultural Studies – PW36 BA/MCSSS
- Screen Studies and Drama – WW64 BA/SSDr
- Applicants normally require five GCSE passes (or equivalent) including English Language and English Literature at grade C or above, and one of the following:
- A’ Levels/Vocational A’ Levels: grades BB in arts/humanities subjects, preferably from the following: Media Studies, Communication Studies, Film Studies, English Literature, English Language & Literature, English Language, Sociology, or History. Offers exclude General Studies.
- BTEC National Diploma (18-unit award): overall grade of Distinction, Merit, Merit in a relevant subject.
- Irish Leaving Certificate: grades BBBCC in relevant subjects.
- Scottish Highers: grades BBBC in relevant subjects.
- Scottish Advanced Highers: grades BB in relevant subjects.
- International Baccalaureate: 28 points including 5 at Higher level in a relevant subject.
- Access: QAA approved Access certificate – pass in an appropriate area.
- In addition to formal qualifications, applicants are encouraged to demonstrate on their application forms that they already have some practical skill in digital film production or in a related field, e.g. photography, hospital radio, scriptwriting, music-making, technical theatre or stage performance.
Once the admissions tutors have reviewed applications, promising students will be sent details of a postal project. This is usually sent out in January. The task that I was given was to write no more than 200 words about a film that was important to me. If this is completed successfully and the admissions tutors like it, you will be called for an interview. Way back in 2005, when I applied, the interview consisted of sitting in a room with about 20 other students, being given a talk by Screen Studies staff, and then having an individual interview with one of the tutors. This lasts about 10-15 minutes. If you have a showreel or portfolio, bring it along to the interview to increase your chances. The course is highly competitive; in 2004 there were 9 places available for joint Screen Studies and Imaginative Writing and over 70 applicants.
Level One in Screen Studies is a foundation year which introduces the study of film and television for those who might not have studied it at A-level. Core modules are:
- Film Language - an introduction to the critical study of film. Assessed by class test (50%) and 1500 word essay (50%)
- Understanding Television - an introduction to television theory. Assessed by class test (50%) and 1500 word essay (50%)
- Production Practice - a year long module introducing students to digital filmmaking techniques. Assessed by group presentation and production (60%) and accompanying production dossier (40%)
Option modules include:
- Early Cinema - a study of early film history and theory. Assessed by a presentation (30%) and 2000 word essay (70%)
- Hollywood in the Studio Era - covers the so-called "Golden Age" of Hollywood. Assessed by a 3000 word essay.
You will also be taking modules from the other half of your degree programme.
As mentioned above, at Level Two you have the option of becoming a single honours Screen Studies student or continuing with your joint degree. Approximately 80% of my class became single honours Screen students at this point. In the second year, you will continue the study of film history and learn to apply the theories and concepts introduced to you in the first year through the exploration of different types of cinema.
- Contemporary Hollywood: US Cinema Since 1948 - a year long module studying Hollywood from the breakdown of the studio system to the present day. Assessed by 3000 word essay (50%) and an exam (50%)
- Introduction to Film Criticism - a detailed study of the various approaches to film analysis that have been adopted over the years and application of these. Not a course in film reviewing! Assessed by two 1500 word essays worth 50% each.
- Production Practice - involves the creation of a short dramatic scene and a short film from a given script. Assessed in three stages: practical project 1 (20%), practical project 2 (60%) and a production dossier (20%)
- Work Based Learning - students must undertake a work placement for around 80 hours. Assessed by 6000 word report.
- Independent Study - students must produce a report about a media company or organisation of their own choice. Assessed by 6000 word report.
- Persuasion and Propaganda - a study of documentary and non-fiction film. Assessed by two 1500 word essays worth 50% each
- Blacks in Film - a study of the representation and participation of African-Americans in contemporary mainstream and independent film. Assessed via presentation (20%) and 2000 word essay (80%)
Level Three offers students the option of doing a dissertation, as well as two major practical projects.
- Theories of Spectatorship - an examination of the different approaches to looking at audiences and how people watch and understand films. Assessed by presentation (20%) and 2500 word essay (80%)
- Aesthetics of World Cinema - a study of the film industry in countries outside of Hollywood and Europe. Assessed by one 3000 word essay.
- Independent American Cinema - a study of the history of independent film in the US. Assessed by presentation (30%) and an exam (70%)
- Interpretation in Film and Television - this module evaluates through application various theories that have been developed in relation to the study of film and television. Assessed by one 3000 word essay.
- Advanced Film and Television Research Project - this module involves students researching for and delivering seminars based on research into film and television. Assessed by presentation (20%) and 2500 word essay (80%)
- Dissertation - an 8000 word dissertation on an approved topic
- Work Based Learning - as Level Two
- Independent Study - as Level Two
During the first year, contact hours are relatively high for an arts course - around 18 hours a week. This decreases year on year. Third year students have around 10 hours of timetabled classes a week. Time spent on reading, research and essay writing will obviously vary from student to student. Production work is very time-consuming (and often physically exhausing!) at all stages.
Academic modules within Screen Studies are currently taught at the Dean Walters building, in the city centre next to the Anglican Cathedral, and practical modules live in the Liverpool Digital building on Edge Lane. A new Arts school building is scheduled to open in 2008, so Screen Studies will be moving house!
This year we've had new HD cameras and tripods, as well as the new building with bigger edit suites. Editing is done on Macs using Avid Express Pro.
The Aldham Robarts Learning Resource Centre has a large selection of film books and journals, as well as a video and DVD collection which can be loaned overnight or viewed on site.
Being a relatively small department, there is a very friendly atmosphere and a real sense of "family" among staff and students. Course socials are organised around twice a semester and often involve screenings of work of current and past students. All of the staff are very approachable, and are usually willing to help above and beyond the call of duty.