Emerson College: Practical Career Foundations in the Artistic World

I had heard of Emerson before. One of my favorite students of all time – Eric Helfman – recently graduated from there, and everything I saw in his college curriculum differed from my experience at Southwestern. This college may have a liberal arts component, but it is NOT a liberal arts college (even though technically it is). Note that Eric never had to take a math or science class, and every one of his humanities courses dealt with film or art in some way – hardly the typical liberal arts pathway. I was intrigued – so many of my students could benefit by attending a more hands-on, career-oriented college.

Emerson specializes in artistic, communication, and media majors, so you won’t find a basic business or engineering major here. Instead, you will find top-notch industry equipment for budding journalists and cinematographers, high-end technology for future animators and sound editors, and Broadway-quality theaters for aspiring stage managers and set designers. And, its location complements this no-nonsense environment; it’s wedged right into the city, facing Boston Common. Students here are living and breathing the working world, even as they gain the skills to join it.

Behind-the-scenes production room 


Journalism Room – set up to mimic real-life


We were very impressed by the career immersion Emerson offers. For instance, filmmakers get to work with real SAG actors on location, which is cool and exciting, but they also have to deal with the less glamorous parts of filming, like requesting permits from the city – an important insight into bureaucracy from the very beginning. Similarly, the writing program at Emerson broadens its curricular focus to incorporate the complicated publishing process, giving students an understanding of the business world of writing. It’s just not a cotton-candy fantasy land at Emerson; they want their students to be able to work when they graduate… and I frankly wish more schools shared their mission.

Emerson's Castle in the Netherlands for Study Abroad

I know this is getting long, but I do want to mention two really cool programs at Emerson. Since the school is so career-focused, studying abroad can be difficult. That’s why the school has designed two of its own programs: the semester in LA and the Castle Program. The LA Semester is an internship-based program that takes advantage of the huge Emerson LA alumni network. Emerson is really sending its grads off to work in the media world, and as a result, it can offer over 1,000 different internship opportunities to its students in the heart of the entertainment industry. While the LA Semester is very career-intensive, the Castle Program is more of a general educational experience. The school owns a castle in the Netherlands, where sophomores can live and study for a semester, spending their weekends cavorting around Europe and soaking up the multitude of cultural attitudes that only Europe can peacefully intertwine.

Okay, so we’re clearly fans of Emerson, but that doesn’t mean that we believe everyone should apply to this school or that it’s even appropriate for the majority of applicants. Emerson is for motivated, driven kids, who are actively pursuing careers in very specific industries. As such, they are looking beyond applicants’ numbers to see their potential contribution to the school. Emerson wants the entrepreneurial, out-of-the-box spirit. They want the guy who started the film club or created a quirky blog; they aren’t as interested in the leader of the powder puff team as they are in the director of the school play. In truth, I would not have succeeded at Emerson (I’m saddened to admit that fact – I’m just not creative enough), but my husband would have excelled there.

What’s cool about Emerson is it reminds you that there really is something for everyone, and it’s great that a school can look seriously at the entertainment industry and groom its students to succeed in such a competitive field. Emerson proudly claims that it reaches the midway point between a conservatory and a college. If you think that might be where you belong, then you have to check this school out.