Graduate school or the real world? The relative merits of each path are often debated, especially in the realm of professional and technical programs, and the decision is one faced by many undergraduates with dreams of a career in publishing and those just entering the industry’s workforce. As a response, publishing institutes are more and more blurring the line between professional and academic experiences.

Interviews with representatives at many of the major universities that offer a masters in publishing found that they are devoting increasing amounts of time and resources to pulling students out of the classroom and bringing a real-world view to the curriculum.

“From our point of view, we’ve always believed in continuing the learning environment outside the classroom,” says Andrea Chambers, director, Center for Publishing, Digital and Print Media at New York University. “While classroom work is critical, you do need to give students a sense of the real world.”

One way programs are building on classroom work is by tapping publishing executives for visits, lectures, and q&as. Within the classrooms at NYU, professors, who are themselves industry professionals, are encouraged to bring in executives from outside his or her company as guest speakers to supplement the curriculum by providing perspectives from a variety of houses. Off campus, the university organizes site visits to traditional houses like Hachette and Scholastic, as well as with the digital book team at Google. “We try to do it differently each semester to achieve different learning goals,” she says.

“What I’m interested in is having the program reflect what is going on in the industry, as well as getting students to think about what may go on in the industry,” says Anne Willkomm, director of the graduate publishing program at Rosemont College in Rosemont, Pa.. At the beginning of November, Rosemont hosted its third-annual “PubHub,” a networking event at the university’s Center City location in Philadelphia. “It’s a reality check for them,” says Willkomm. “Because I can tell them that this is a state of flux until I’m blue in the face, but when they physically see it, it proves to them that people can succeed and still be passionate.”

In February 2013, Portland State University, in Portland, Ore., launched a conversation series called Transmit Culture, which brings in professionals on a quarterly basis to discuss issues in the industry. “Portland is an incredible literary town, but there’s not a lot of conversation about publishing” says Dr. Per Henningsgaard, director of publishing at Portland State. “We wanted to foster that conversation.” There are two branches of the program: A Series of Conversations about Publishing, hosted off campus and available to the public, and the Living Room Lecture Series on campus open only to PSU writing and publishing students. The first speaker in the series was Eli Horowitz, former managing editor and publisher of McSweeney’s.

Pace University’s philosophy is to mix the educational foundation provided by classroom work with the energy from getting involved with the industry, says Jane Kinney-Denning, executive director of internships and corporate outreach at Pace’s graduate publishing program in New York City. “It’s very practical in the classroom. The fundamentals are being taught in the classroom, and that experience coupled with real-world connectivity is what makes our students successful,” she says.

At Pace, a “capstone experience” of the program is a graduate thesis paper on a certain aspect of the industry. “It forces them to get out there and do some first-person interviews,” says Kinney-Denning. “They really develop expertise in an aspect of the business.” Recent theses have included trends in YA fiction, the history of African-Americans in publishing, and how social media is utilized to market trade books.

Each year, the university also names one industry professional as the David Pecker Distinguished Visiting Professor of Publishing, availing notable executives throughout publishing to the graduate students.

Arthur Levine, of Arthur Levine Books, and Michael Healy of the Book Registry have held the professorship. This year’s visiting professor is Cevin Bryerman, publisher and v-p of Publishers Weekly.

Getting students involved with major industry conferences and events is another way schools are bringing students together with professionals.

“We are committed to our students connecting and networking,” says Sherman Raskin, who serves as director of the publishing program at Pace. “The program is only good because it’s an academic experiential program.”

“It’s just incredibly valuable,” adds Kinney-Denning of students volunteering at industry events. “I think in the publishing industry, as a student or a publishing professional in this digital age, you need to be continually learning.” In addition to the educational experiences afforded by this kind of industry exposure, student volunteers are also introduced to executives in a networking environment, giving them a strong foothold in the industry. “New York is a big city,” says Kinney-Denning. “But it’s a very small town when it comes to publishing.”

As president of the New York chapter of the Women’s Book Association, Kinney-Denning encourages involvement from the students in events sponsored by the WBA. Pace also sends students to the Book Industry Study Group’s annual meeting, Folio MediaNext, and each year funds passes for about 15 students to attend BookExpo America.

NYU also makes a concerted effort to get its students to industry conferences throughout the year, including the BEA. “They particularly love BEA,” says Chambers. “To a student, it is a microcosm and a macrocosm of the publishing industry. It’s an extraordinary learning experience.” The university has sent up to 50 students to the Javits Center, where they volunteer at author signings and other conference programming. NYU also dispatches graduate student volunteers to the annual BISG and Digital Book World conferences.

And now, NYU is taking the idea of student industry immersion global. This fall, students traveled to the United Arab Emirates to volunteer at the 32nd annual Sharjah International Book Fair. Their roles at the fair extended into rights matchmaking—pairing publishers and agents to discuss, and perhaps sell, projects. Her students have also volunteered at the Frankfurt Book Fair, staying in hostels with book fair staff and attending industry events in the evenings. “They came home with a very broad understanding of international publishing issues,” says Chambers.

“To see what they’re publishing and their philosophy, and to be a Frankfurt insider, was highly beneficial. It’s an integral part of our program now, to expand student horizons,” she adds.

Over the past year, Emerson College in Boston has upped its commitment to exposing students to the working industry. In 2013, Emerson sent, for the first time, students to New York to volunteer at BEA. The graduate students generally volunteer in the Boston area, especially at events like the Boston Book Festival. “Part of the big push is to give them a view into the professional world before they’re out in the professional world,” says John Rodzvilla, electronic-publisher-in-residence at Emerson, adding that even after securing a job post-graduation, it would probably be several years before a new employee would have the opportunity to attend BEA.

Additionally, this fall, Emerson launched Emerson Next, an official program devoted to site visits to publishing houses and literary agents. Though these kinds of tours have been taking place for over five years, increased interest prompted the university to rebrand the program, giving it dedicated focus. “More and more students have been participating,” says Rodzvilla. “They saw how useful it is and wanted more. We thought, we’re going to need to dedicate resources to the undertaking.”

According to the program directors PW spoke with, internships are still as important as ever. In fact, many of the publishing programs, including those at NYU and Emerson, have created courses around graduate internships, assessing a student’s performance in his or her real-world experience through metrics like final papers and supervisor evaluations.

“Our philosophy is that students should be exposed to the publishing industry soon after they come into the program,” explains Chambers. “The internship is very important in helping students get a better understanding of the industry outside the classroom, but also in getting hired.” She adds that, each term, one-third of the NYU students take internships at major houses in New York City, with many beginning in the first semester of study. “They see firsthand what’s going on in the workplace,” says Rosemont’s Willkomm about internships. “They see the professionals, junior level to senior level, struggling with issues that are before them.”

New York is not the only city the can offer internships. Emerson students take advantage of the proximity of large houses like HMH and several university presses to gain experience in academic and trade publishing. Students at Emerson also work as social media interns for Ploughshares, a literary magazine based at the university. Graduate students are also helping to convert the magazine’s entire backlist to the ePub format.

At Portland State, all of the graduate students put in time at the university’s own Ooligan Press, the student-staffed publishing house overseen by a group of professionals integrated with the educational program, which began in 2001. “[It’s] basically a built-in internship for our students,” says Henningsgaard. “It doesn’t take them outside of the program, but it takes them outside of the classroom.”

The students at NYU act as the social media committee for World Book Night, which takes place next year on April 23 as a part of the organization’s third-annual campaign to promote giving and reading. Each member of the group takes on a platform such as Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter, and is overseen by Laura Peraza, social media manager for World Book Night and a graduate of the NYU program.

In Emerson’s digital publishing class, students are required to create an e-book, but the project itself still pulls students out of the classroom— over the past two falls, the graduate students have worked with employees at Adams Media to package the titles. Rodzvilla calls the project “open ended,” as the student is responsible for finding the content, often in the public domain, and then editing, designing, and coding it, just as digital experts at major houses are consistently doing with vast catalogues of backlists. It’s this forward-thinking mentality that students will need to succeed, according to Rodzvilla.

“It’s not so much the same old trade houses or academic houses or educational houses just doing the same thing,” says Rodzvilla. “It’s become more and more of an entrepreneurial spirit out there…. That’s what the future publishing professionals are going to need to be aware of, not just going through the same old motions.”

*This article has been corrected. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified David Healy of the Book Registry. It is Michael Healy.