How do I get into newspaper journalism? And can I change track with a classics degree?

'Independent' thinking

Q. I am a Year 12 student studying English literature, French, geography and art. I was wondering what The Independent looks for in an employee, and what would be the best way to get a job at the paper. I want to discontinue one of my subjects next year. Which would you advise?

A. English and a language should be useful in journalism, and you could choose between the other two depending on whether you think you might want to specialise. Do you want to be an art critic, for instance? Generally, it's best to give up what you enjoy least - grades will matter and people do best at subjects they enjoy. The Independent, like other national papers, will be looking, of course, for the candidate with that perfect mix of character and writing ability. They need someone whose writing has a spark, and who has the ability to make potentially complex subjects interesting and simple. Confidence, the ability to get on with anyone and insatiable curiosity are important.

Most journalists now are graduates, but the subject you study is less important than the grade you get; your performance at a good, often postgraduate, training course (see; and any work experience you can devise. Many start at local level, though there are union concerns about low pay and job cuts on regional papers. Some do manage to find a job - often unpaid at first - at national level. Contacts will be crucial, so make them wherever you can; student newspapers are a good start.

An academic debate

Q. After five years wanting to be an academic, I've realised it's not for me. I've nearly finished a Masters, but don't like the way higher education seems to be going and I don't have any other plans. I've got a great degree in classics (a first), but that doesn't help me decide. I feel worn down now my plan has gone belly up, and embarrassed about telling family and friends I'm stuck.

A. There is absolutely nothing wrong in having a change of heart about your career. Better that than condemn yourself to a life sentence of doing something you don't find satisfying. I am sure your family and friends would prefer you to switch to something that brings you greater happiness.

You are not writing off years of hard work, nor your considerable achievements. They will be used as building blocks in whatever you do. The next step is to look up career agencies and find one that suits you. There are various tools designed to help individuals to clarify career directions that advisers are trained to use, including psychometric tests.

You can also sit down yourself and draw up a list of the skills and knowledge you have. Then make another list of the things you would like to find in your ideal job (and those you would not). This will help you - and the adviser - to identify areas to consider.

It is important that you remain upbeat, concentrate on your achievements and dismiss any thoughts of being embarrassed. A first in classics has considerable currency with employers, especially if you can demonstrate other skills you've gained. The career-change bible (by an American, but the principles are the same) is still, after many years, What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard N Bolles. It might provide you with food for thought.

Careers adviser: Carl Gilleard, chief executive, the Association of Graduate Recruiters

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to