- You don’t know anything
Yes, I know you’ve done three or four years on your student newspaper, you might even have been a chief editor, but I can tell you with complete and total certainty, you know nothing. Well, that isn’t strictly true. The likelihood is that you’ll have a very good understanding of a certain type of journalism, be it sport, local news, maybe even Freedom of Information related stories. But until you do one of these courses or go into your first job you won’t have any idea quite how much you don’t know.
- Shorthand is the judge, jury, and executioner.
Shorthand weeds out the weak and the unwilling. It destroys confidence and turns otherwise affable people into competitive, transcription-based monsters. It will also be how you spend most of your time in the first few weeks of a course like the fast-track course at the Press Association. It is pointless for anyone to go onto one of these courses without understanding how important and difficult shorthand is. It’s not just a way of writing, it’s a brand new skill and essentially a foreign language. If you practice though, you will get through it (says the man who can barely write at 40 words per minute…).
- Everything is hands on
On of the great frustrations of University or college for many is the intellectualisation of subjects or topics that, while interesting once you are philosophising about them, do not truly have that much of an intellectual spin. In stark contrast, everything is hands-on in an NCTJ fast-track. You’re being trained to pass exams to get a diploma while becoming a better, more rounded journalist in the process, and to do that, they will get you to do everything you discuss. It is a blessing and improves your skills as you learn. You won’t make the same mistake more than once or twice on these courses.
- Everyone is lovely
The tutors are lovely, your fellow students are lovely, even the shorthand tutors who may or may not use an aerobics microphone to bark dictations at you from behind your right ear are lovely. All the tutors want is for you to do well, while all your fellow students are in exactly the same boat as you, trying to stumble through it.
- It will be the hardest you’ve ever worked
Forget your dissertation, forget A-levels, forget GCSEs and definitely forget that part-time job you had trying to sell bus tickets for an overpriced ghost tour. A fast-track course is a lesson in how to manage your time, how to prioritise, and how to go from zero to a hundred in 14 weeks (literally, in the case of shorthand). It’s difficult, it’s stressful, and it will mean you have little to no social life, but it will be worth it. After all, you have paid for it…