After that point, you should start seriously considering Plan B. Plan B need not be anything more concrete at the moment than "If this journalism thing doesn't work out, I'll look into corporate communications or tech writing," Jansen said. But, she explained, if Plan A blows up in your face, having a backup can be a great comfort.
It is for Justine, who this fall will start graduate school with the hopes of earning her Ph.D. in English and eventually a coveted academic faculty slot.
"If I don't make it, I should be able to land a job as a high school English teacher. Maybe I'll even go back to social media," she said. "For me, failure is worth the risk to do what I love."
"Cecilia," a recent college grad and hopeful science journalist in Washington, D.C., shares that sentiment.
"I'm still too much in the infatuated puppy love stage of my relationship with journalism. We only just met, I can't leave now," Besides, the recovering science major said, "This is already Plan B."
Although like the rest of us media optimists, Cecilia's hopeful that the need for journalists will endure, she hasn't ruled out writing for a public information office at a university or an institution like NASA or the American Physical Society.
"That would definitely be a decent Plan C," she said.
Picture an office building with a row of four to six doors at the entrance. Most people who want into that building will bottleneck around one doorway instead of taking the time to open one of the unused doors themselves. (Admit it; you know you've seen this real-life scene a thousand times.)
Like lemmings, we're conditioned to do what everyone who's gone before us has done. My advice to those entering an already saturated profession: don't be the career lemming.
Patrice Williams, a management consultant in Vallejo, Calif., seconds that. She recently finished law school and is taking the California Bar exam this summer, despite the fact that big firm jobs are scarce and the burnout rate is high.
Unlike many of her former classmates, Williams has no intention of banging down the big firms' doors once she passes the bar.
"Instead, I will add a legal division to my current management consulting business," she said. "I also belong to a tight network of property management professional and will be able to obtain legal contract work."
Shane Arman, a journalism student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, also plans to bypass the beaten path. Rather than entering the overcrowded media market, he's heading straight for public relations (where many laid-off journalists have recently wound up).
"I never had the intention of going into print journalism, in part because of the status of the industry," he said. "After taking a few PR classes, I knew it's what I wanted to do."
If you want to stand out from all the other sardines in the job hunting can, you'll need to be better, stronger, faster than the competition. For starters, you'll need to offer employers something all the other candidates don't.
Cecilia, the hopeful journalist in Washington, said she knows that her science background distinguishes her from the crowd. But she's not resting on her astronomy laurels.