Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University

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“‘START OVER’ ARE two words many of us hear a lot,” says student Lana Shahmoradian, referring to Brandcenter’sprofessors. On paper, students graduating from Brand-center get a master’s degree in mass communication with

a concentration in art direction, copywriting, communications strategy, creative brand management, or creative technology. In practice, students experience an extremely intensive program centered on teamwork and tough critiques. The objective here is to show students how to extract the most innovation possible from their ideas. “Concepts are the most important thing,” says Shahmoradian. She continues, “As one of our professors says, ‘You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit.’ ” Student Melissa Cabral says, “We’re encouraged to have a point of view that translates to different mediums,” and she describes the atmosphere in the student lounge as “one part concrete jungle, one part madhouse.” She adds, “You get credit for taking risks. I heard a professor say, ‘If you’re going to go down, go down in flames.’ ”

During the summer, the school helps place students in internships at advertising agencies, and second-year students are matched with mentors in the industry. By graduation, students have résumés that include significant work experience, which gives them a leg up in the tough job market. Alumni and current students strongly endorse the rigorous program, with many reporting that they had learned more about their fields in one semester than in four years of undergraduate study.