Grad School: From the Source’s Mouth
By Stephanie Forshee
For just about every journalist, there comes a time in his or her career when it’s only natural to question whether grad school could be the next step. And almost just as surely, many simply wonder: Why? Why should I go to grad school? Is it worth the money? Would I be better off trying to find a job instead? Will I be guaranteed legitimate employment in the field upon graduation?
As those December deadlines quickly approach, it will be helpful to browse this run down of what the admissions teams at some of the top journalism graduate programs have to say.
Participants include Elizabeth Weinreb Fishman, associate dean for communications with Columbia University in New York City; Allyson G. Hill, associate dean of admissions at University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in Los Angeles; Andrea Tang, academic operations coordinator, and Marianne Barrett, senior associate dean for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University; and Colleen Marshall, director of admissions at City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
Even if a journalist is considering applying for grad school, the bigger picture usually revolves around pinning down the right timing. So, when is the best time for someone to consider pursuing a Master’s in journalism?
CUNY: Do they feel confident with their skill set after college to find a journalism job in the real world? If not, they may need to consider grad school. For those students who do work for a few years in the field before grad school, they come in knowing exactly which skills they need to hone and have a clear vision of their reasons for pursuing a Master’s degree. We also have career changers who have worked in a different industry for most of their life and feel it is about time for them to make their passion their profession.
Columbia: The appropriate choice, an individual one, depends on where an applicant is in his or her career and what skills and knowledge they’d like to add to their resumes.
Our M.S. program is the foundational program of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Designed to train multimedia journalists who are at the beginning of a career in journalism, the M.S. teaches the rigors of reporting, writing, the use of images, sound, and social media from the ground up. It offers specializations in investigative, data and documentary journalism. There are also dual degree programs with the schools of Engineering (computer science), International and Public Affairs, Arts and Sciences (religion), Law and Business.
Our MA program is for journalists with three to fifteen years of full-time professional experience who want to deepen their knowledge in one of four subject areas: politics, arts & culture, science, or business.
(Sorry, there’s never a magic bullet on that one).
What can students expect upon graduation in terms of job prospects?
Columbia: Our graduates are in demand worldwide: In 2014, 75 percent of our graduates had employment plans within a month of graduation. Employers recognize that they can rely upon a Columbia Journalism credential.
USC: In our 2012 survey of May 2012 graduates, 96 percent of the graduates had jobs in mid-sized markets, big media companies and new media.
ASU: What really distinguishes us is that we’ve really been on the cutting edge of what’s happening in journalism education. That’s why we have such a high placement rate (95 percent). We have a number of partnerships with media organizations and major stations here locally, all the way to the Washington Post and The New York Times.
CUNY: On average, 75 percent of students find a job in journalism within four to six months after graduation. However, this past year it’s been over 85 percent. Some students are working at major media organizations such as NBC News, The New York Times, Bloomberg News and Sports Illustrated. Others have chosen to work for younger organizations such as Buzzfeed and DNAInfo.
How has graduate school for journalists changed from, say, five to 10 years ago?
USC: Twelve years ago, Annenberg began teaching “convergence journalism.” Four years ago, we eliminated the distinct degree program names since students are expected to function across platforms. Last year, we closed the two-year degree program and created a 9.5-month program that was more intensive and required professional or internship experience as a condition of admission.
What is the worst thing, in your opinion, that a potential student can do when applying to grad school?
ASU: The most common thing we see is a student will apply to one school and use it as a template for their application to schools across the board. The lack of attention of detail can really be a disadvantage to an applicant.
CUNY: We read hundreds of applications each year and can tell when a student’s personal statement was probably used for other schools and wasn’t tailored to that program or institution. There have even been times when a student would forget to change the name of the school at the bottom of their personal statement. Wow! That shows a lot in the eyes of the admissions committee.
Students should really ask themselves why they are interested in that specific field and why they are applying to that specific school and, therefore, they can fine turn their personal statement with those things in mind. This is the opportunity for the student to stand out and show a side of them that we can’t see in their transcripts or test scores.
Columbia: Think about the application as a story – one of the most important profiles you will write in your life – your own. Take advantage of each section to tell us your story – who you are and why you want to be a journalist. Each section of the application is important. Use them as building blocks. Make your argument. Read the application instructions for the program to which you are applying carefully for hints. Review the information about the program to which you are applying and be sure that you make it clear to us why you are a good fit for the program – and how the program will enable you to accomplish your educational goals.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, a student is accepted to more than one program. Why should he or she choose to attend your school?
Columbia: As the opportunities for close mentoring in the workplace have diminished, the intensive instruction we offer in our M.S. and M.A. programs is increasingly valuable. Our faculty work in small groups, and often one-on-one with students, editing their copy and guiding them in learning the reporting, writing and multimedia skills that are fundamental to journalism. Of course, young journalists can acquire these through years of professional experience. But at Columbia Journalism School, it takes only nine or 10 months – and you study with the very best journalists in the country.
Columbia Journalism School is also the home of two Centers dedicated to digital journalism and media innovation:
The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, which opened in fall 2010, is dedicated to advancing and creating new forms of digital media.
The Brown Institute for Media Innovation, established in 2012, is a collaboration between Columbia Journalism School and Stanford’s School of Engineering, designed to cultivate new endeavors in media innovation.
USC: We have the new Wallis Annenberg Hall, the Media Center, award-winning media outlets, professional faculty, comprehensive school (communication, journalism, public diplomacy and public relations taught in the same school), rich reporting opportunities in the No. 2 media market, plus, optional paid internships or study abroad opportunities.
ASU: One of the highlights of our curriculum is that students complete their last semester of the program working in one of our professional program experiences. Students complete the program with a portfolio of their work and the necessary skills and practical experiences needed to pursue a career in journalism and mass communication. The Cronkite School also offers networking opportunities. Our students work and learn alongside award-winning professional journalists and scholars, and the school regularly hosts events that bring in prominent journalism and media professionals. Located in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, the Cronkite School is close to major news operations of all types that provide additional opportunities for our students.
CUNY: We are not a stale program and have revised our curriculum since we opened the school (which was only eight years ago) in order to make sure our program reflects these changes in journalism.
We have an Entrepreneurial Journalism program where the goal is to help shape the future of journalism by having our students become entrepreneurs and develop their own startups, or create innovative projects within traditional media companies. We just launched a new Master’s degree in Social Journalism where the goal is to help students reshape journalism as a service that helps communities meet their goals and solve problems with skills involving relationship-building, data, social media, and business.
CUNY also has a paid summer internship program. We guarantee a $3,000 stipend to each student over the summer during his or her internship. We don’t know of any other school that does that.
Finally, we are a small and intimate school so students won’t get lost in the crowd.
Are there any myths out there you’d like to clear up, as they relate to graduate school for journalism?
Columbia: People wonder whether it is worth the money to go to graduate school to study journalism. There is no question about it – a year at Columbia Journalism School is an investment that will reap a lifetime of professional and personal rewards. Yes, it is worth the time and money.
USC: Myth: It’s better to get a job in journalism than to go to J-school. Reality: Cross-platform and digital skills needed in news organizations are not taught on the job because the necessary skill set is not present. Students educated and trained in hands-on, professional graduate journalism programs, such as USC Annenberg, bring the talent, modern perspective, ethics, outstanding writing, and entrepreneurial mindset to all organizations.
ASU: When researching graduate schools for journalism, it’s not all about the name or numbers. Students should search for programs that will give them professional experience, offer them the opportunity to build their portfolios, and provide opportunities to grow their professional networks.
CUNY: Some myths about journalism are that it’s dying and there are no jobs out there. Frankly, that’s not the case. Journalism is evolving due to the expansion of the Internet and technology and the way people get their news has changed. Not too long ago, people would read the newspaper at breakfast or on their way to work and at the end of the day, families would sit down and watch the evening news.
Today, with the growth of the Internet and smart phones, everyone has immediate access to news, minute by minute via social media and news apps. If you’re a journalist, this means you need to have the multimedia skills to deliver the news on a variety of platforms, be active on social media and constantly add to your journalist toolbox to keep up with the changing industry.
That leads me into a myth about graduate school for journalism: that you don’t need a Master’s degree to be a journalist. I would say yes, that’s true. The actual degree isn’t going to land you a job in journalism, but the skills you received while in grad school will. People go back to school to develop technical skills, improve their writing, find network opportunities, learn from professionals and to make their mistakes in school, rather than in the real world.
These interviews were edited for length and clarity.
Other notable journalism graduate programs worth investigating:
New York University
University of California, Berkeley
University of Missouri