How to Choose a Journalism School

So you’re thinking of going to journalism school…  Ideally you’d like to enroll in a journalism degree program at the best possible school. Does this mean the longest established? The one with the most journalism students? The one with the most awards? A J-School at an ivy league university?

“…the best schools are changing. The best professors are adapting. The best deans are reimagining. Their students are getting their money’s worth. We should honor the good journalism schools by measuring their reforms.”

In his PBS Media Shift article “The Best Journalism School in America Is…” Eric Newton states, “Diagnosing the health of a journalism or communications school requires a lot of vital statistics, not just a few,” meaning a journalism’s school quality can not solely be defined by a limited number of ranking systems nor its prominence. Newton adds, “…the best schools are changing. The best professors are adapting. The best deans are reimagining. Their students are getting their money’s worth. We should honor the good journalism schools by measuring their reforms.”

Tony Rogers, About.com’s journalism expert, notes that you don’t have to go to an expensive and “prestigious j-school” to have a successful career after graduation. “Plenty of journalists have attended smaller or less-well-known schools and done just fine, career-wise,” Rogers wrote.

The question should be, which journalism school is the best one for YOU. As follows are some points to ponder.

Professors/Faculty

Find out about the journalism school’s professors and instructors. Ideally, the faculty should be made up of experienced journalists—that is they have actually worked in the field and possibly still do. You can learn first hand from their experiences as they teach you the basics and advanced skills, mentor you and give you pointers on how to network, land internships and jobs in the real world of journalism.

Areas of Interest

Before even beginning your degree you might already have an idea of what area of journalism you are keen on entering. It makes sense then to ensure the program offers courses and even tracks or concentrations in that area, whether it’s magazine writing, photojournalism, investigative reporting, online media…or whether it’s sports, health, arts, politics…

It is also important to choose a program that will expose you to a variety of journalism media and genres, allowing you to receive a well-rounded education and possibly discover your niche.

You might also want to find out whether you can double major or minor in another subject to further reflect your interests and goals, such as complementing your Journalism major with Business Administration, Public Relations, Criminology, International Studies, Political Science, Multimedia…
workspace in the office

Internships

Completing an internship for a newspaper, magazine, broadcast station, online publication and other journalism employers is extremely valuable, whether it is required or not to graduate from a journalism program. Finding out how much emphasis your prospective J-School puts on internships is important. You’ll want to find out whether they help students land internships and where.

10 Creative School Newspaper NAMES

  • The Flor-Ala (University of North Alabama)
  •  The Whalesong  (University of Alaska Southeast)
  •  The Arka Tech (Arkansas Tech University)
  • Talon Marks (Cerritos College)
  • The Gadfly (St. John’s College)
  • Wheaton Wire (Wheaton College)
  • The Cross Examiner  (Seton Hall University’s School of Law)
  • The Round Up (New Mexico State University)
  • The Signpost (Weber State University)
  • The Pendulum (Elon University)

Campus Opportunities

In addition to gaining relevant experience at an internship, you can also build your portfolio right on campus. If you are keen to write stories for traditional or online publications, find out whether the journalism school has its own newspaper or magazine (print or online) and how you can get involved. The same thing goes for the possibility of a campus radio or TV station if you’re leaning towards broadcasting.

Technology and Equipment

Evaluating how journalism schools are embracing the digital age and technological advancements is key. Does the curriculum include courses on online journalism, design, social media and mobility? Does the school’s facilities, from computer labs to broadcast stations, have up-to-date software and hardware? Even if you do not see yourself focusing solely in the digital world, the line between traditional and new media is becoming ever more blurred.

Graduate Success

It’s also a good idea to find out where the J-School’s graduates go on to work, and the success rate for landing a job. Perhaps graduates from one school are going on to employment that appeals to you more than those from another.

Accreditation

There is much debate on whether a journalism school should be accredited through the ACEJMC (Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications).

According to Newton, only about 20% of journalism and mass communication programs are accredited in the U.S. In fact some of the top-ranked schools for journalism majors (such as those journalism schools ranked by College Factual/USA Today and College Media Matters) are not accredited.

“Unlike some other departments whose very existence hinges on successful reaccreditation—education and health care, for example—journalism departments that lose (or never seek) accreditation can do just fine,” stated  Bill Reader in his The Chronicle of Higher Education article from September 25, 2011.

On the other hand, then editor at The Oregonian and now professor at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and member of the ACEJMC accreditation council,  Peter Bathia (as quoted by The Oracle, March 18, 2013) stated: “There is a huge advantage to students who come out of accredited schools when it comes to hiring. Although I couldn’t tell you that 100 percent of the people we hire are from accredited programs, the majority are, because we know that students who have come out of accredited programs have had a level of academic rigor and training to be successful, particularly in today’s multimedia workplace.”

ACEJMC-accreditation does signify a program meets certain quality standards and encourages an ongoing commitment to upgrade and enhance. It does not necessarily mean though that an unaccredited school does not offer a quality program.

Ask journalism professionals and prospective journalism schools their take on accreditation, and make an informed decision.

Talk to Primary Sources

Talk to current students, alumni and instructors, professors and faculty of the J-school(s) you are researching. They can share details that delve deeper than the information presented on the university’s website or journalism program brochure.

Ultimately, you need to pick a program that reflects YOUR interests and journalism career goals (keeping in mind that your aspirations can evolve and change as your learn more about the field during your journalism studies).

Tap into your inner journalist to conduct thorough research on prospective journalism programs!

Meet the Author

Michelle - Contributing Editor

Michelle Brunet is a freelance writer who contributes to numerous print and online publications, including JournalismDegree.com. She holds a B.Sc. in Environmental Studies/Biology and a B.Ed. Prior to writing, Michelle spent time teaching (in Canada and South Korea), volunteering on an organic farm in Ontario, camp counseling in Hong Kong, and a range of other short term gigs, from waitressing at a resort to separating recyclables on a conveyor belt. She loves meeting new people and is constantly fascinated by their unique stories.