Six Things to Look For When Evaluating a Journalism Program


So you’ve decided you want to major in journalism in college, and are in the process of finding a program that’s right for you. That’s not necessarily an easy task, since there are dozens if not hundreds of journalism programs in colleges and universities across the U.S.

But by prioritizing the things that are most important to you, you can certainly make the process easier. I have both undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism and have been a journalism professor for nearly 20 years, so here are six things I think any prospective student should look for.

Experienced professors: this seems obvious, but let me explain why this is important. In recent years many journalism programs, especially those at larger universities, have made it mandatory for all full-time faculty to have Ph.Ds.

Now there’s nothing wrong with this per se, but the problem is there aren’t a lot of people out there who have both extensive journalism experience and a doctorate. So many journalism programs have hired journalism faculty who are primarily academics rather than journalists, people who have Ph.Ds but little in the way of newsroom experience. But if you’re going to journalism school to become a journalist, you want to learn from someone who has practical experience in the field, not someone who’s spent their entire career in an ivory tower.

So when evaluating a journalism school, look closely at the faculty bios on the program’s website. Do most of the professors have real-world experience in print, online or broadcast journalism? Or are they primarily academics who’ve spent most of their time writing articles for obscure scholarly journals? Go for the program that has more of the former rather than the latter.

State-of-the-art technology: again, this may seem obvious, but journalism in the 21st century is all about using the tools of the digital age, especially if you are working in online or broadcast news. So make sure the program you’re looking at has up-to-date technology and facilities where you can learn to use those tools.

A really good student newspaper: most journalism students will tell you they learned at least as much from working on a college newspaper as they did in class. So make sure the program you’re looking at has a really strong student paper, especially if you’re majoring in print or online journalism. If you’re a broadcast major, find out if the program has student radio station or TV news show. Getting lots of experience in these kinds of extracurricular activities can make a big difference when you’re applying for jobs after graduation.

A strong internship program: a journalism internship, usually done during a student’s junior or senior year, is another important step in getting practical experience. So check out the internship program at the school you’re thinking about. Are lots of students being placed in internships at reputable media outlets? If so, that’s the kind of place you want to be.

Partnerships with local news outlets: in recent years some journalism programs have teamed up with local media outlets to have students help cover news in the local community. Not every journalism school is doing this yet, but the ones that are tend to be top-notch programs.

A commitment to teaching practical skills: there’s nothing wrong with college programs that focus on all things theoretical and abstract, especially if you want to pursue an academic career. But as I said earlier, journalism isn’t about being ensconced in an ivory tower. It’s about getting out into the community and talking to everyday people about real-world concerns. And a good journalism program should primarily focus on training you in the skills needed to do this.

So once you’ve looked at the various factors I’ve outlined here, step back and think about the journalism program you’re considering. Is the school’s emphasis on training reporters and editors to work in professional newsrooms? Or is it a program that seems out of touch with such concerns, a place whose faculty are mostly academics?

If you’re asking me, I’d pick the program with the emphasis on practical skills, every time.

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