Wouldn’t it be interesting to be someone who makes history? You don’t have to be a politician or discover a new planet to be a part of history-making events. The men and women who are preserving history every day are just like you with one big difference: They are stenographers.

The history of stenography is fascinating in itself. The basic tenets of stenography have not changed, even though its origins date back to ancient Greece: The goal of stenography, then and now, is to record information that is important enough to be protected throughout the ages. In order to re-create and process that information more quickly, a technique of writing called “shorthand” was developed; its origins date back to 400 B.C!

In U.S. history, stenographers have been court reporters, trained professionals who were critical to the legal process and who could keep a secret – sometimes the goings-on inside the courtroom are about scandalous incidences or have life-threatening consequences for witnesses. Today’s stenographers can keep secrets, too. Homeland Security meetings and international conferences are recorded by stenographers, who are privy to information that impacts millions of lives.

How to become a stenographer

How to become a stenographer is no secret. Here are some step-by-step instructions; this guide could be called “How to Become a Stenographer for Dummies,” but anyone who is smart enough to consider a career as a stenographer is no dummy!

1. Earn a high school diploma

A high school diploma is required to enroll in an undergraduate school program for stenography. Good colleges and universities accept a General Education Diploma if you did not complete high school.

2. Appraise your current skills

You can learn the necessary competencies to become a stenographer, but it’s important to have aptitudes and qualities that lend themselves to being a good stenographer. For example, being a fast reader will help you when asked to repeat what you have just written. Don’t worry if you are a hunt-and-peck typist; speed is built with practice and you will be using a non-standard keyboard, anyway. The ability to keep an expressionless face and “keep secrets” will be an important quality as a stenographer.

3. Research your state’s requirements

Some states may require completion of a stenographer (court reporter) program at an accredited school, certification from the NCRA, or both. Some states will not allow convicted felons to be court reporters. New York requirements are:

  • Associate’s degree or certificate.
  • Certificate verifying 225 wpm (words per minute).
  • Pass the Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR) or the notary public exam.
  • Pass the civil service exam (only for judicial court reporters).

Additional certifications

In addition to a degree, you may need certification for other stenographer fields; Certified Real Time Reporting (CRR), Certified Broadcast Captioners (CBC) and Certified CART Providers (CCP).

4. Equipment

Stenographers require a stenotype machine and a computer system for transcription. Your equipment cost can be about $1,775 for a steno machine and tripod, and the good news is, you can buy used or rent. If you buy used or rent, you may be able to save money. Wait until you’ve discussed options with an admissions advisor before you invest in any equipment.

5. Research stenography schools

You have many factors to consider: campus location, the school’s reputation for good student services and internship or mentoring programs. Your college or university should be approved by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). The NCRA says it is not an accrediting agency; However,  “all NCRA-certified programs are accredited by agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.” Your classes should include legal and medical terminology, courtroom procedures and how to use stenography and transcription machines.

6. Meet with a financial advisor

Getting your AOS (Associate in Occupational Studies) degree is an investment in your future, and the stenography school you consider should offer several options for tuition payments. One of those options will work with your budget. Be aware of all additional fees, the costs of books and supplies and ask your financial advisor about grants and scholarships for which you are eligible (especially if you’re active military or a veteran).

7. Enroll!

You’ve researched your state’s requirements, schools, training, equipment and costs; now it’s time to put your plan into action. Enroll in your school’s stenographer training program.

8. Career preparedness

Yes, you’ll have general, professional and elective classes and coursework to do, but the time will fly, so the best advice to any stenographic student is this: Practice, practice, practice! Even if you’re a straight-A student, the best stenographers have built their speed and accuracy through hours of daily practice. If you live and work in New York, you could complete your degree and begin to earn one of the highest stenographer salaries in the U.S. in as soon as two years!

9. Take the CSR test and get your license

Licensing is not required in New York, but it is strongly recommended to give you an edge in a competitive marketplace. After passing the test, submit your application with the license fee to the NY Department of Education.

The Adventure Begins

You’re a stenographer! You have many choices about what you want to do and the companies or courts with whom you want to work. You can work full-time, part-time or all the time from your home office. All of your choices are good. With your AOS degree and certification, you can work at:

  • Attorneys’ offices
  • Corporate meetings
  • Courtrooms
  • Emergency broadcasts
  • Entertainment and sporting events
  • Government offices
  • Non-courtroom settings for legal stenography (depositions)
  • Political gatherings, congressional hearings and debates
  • Television stations
  • Web and internet development companies

The writer Virginia Woolf said, “Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded.” What an amazing contribution you will be able to make to recorded history when you have mastered the ancient skill of stenography!

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