There are dozens if not hundreds of journalism programs at colleges and universities nationwide, so choosing the one that’s right for you can be a dizzying prospect. Here are some tips to help you find the right journalism school.
Pick Your ProfessorsIf you want to pursue a career as a working journalist, you’re going to want to study under professors who have spent years as reporters or editors. Unfortunately, many j-schools are increasingly staffed by academics who have Ph.Ds but little real journalism experience.
Go to the websites of the j-schools you’re considering and check the bios of the journalism faculty. Do the professors have experience in print, broadcast or online journalism? Or have they spent their careers writing dissertations and articles for obscure journals? An academic is fine if you're taking a theory course. But for practical journalism courses, go for the profs with real-world experience.
Match Your InterestsWhether you want to major in magazine journalism or train to become a sportswriter, find the program that matches your interests. Some j-schools are strong in print while others excel in broadcast. Again, scan the websites and talk to faculty to find out the strengths and weaknesses of each school.
Check the Tech SpecsMake sure the school you’re considering has state-of-the-art technology and facilities. This is especially important if you want to go into broadcast or online journalism. Great professors are important, but if you’re studying broadcast journalism at a college with 30-year-old equipment, you’re not getting the training you need.
Look Beyond AcademicsRemember, you won’t just be taking classes. See what extra-curricular activities and opportunities the college has to offer.
For instance, if you’re a print major, check out the college’s student newspaper. Is it a weekly or a daily? Is it a vibrant, hard-hitting publication, or a sleepy, dull-as-ditchwater rag? What about its website?
Likewise, if you plan to major in broadcast, does the college have a student radio or TV station? Those extracurricular extras can make all the difference.
Urban vs. Rural CollegesIf you’re aiming for a career in a big city, then look for journalism programs in major urban areas. Studying the farm beat at the University of Montana won’t prepare you for covering the South Bronx or east Los Angeles.
Generally, urban areas tend to be richer environments for aspiring reporters. But if it’s the agriculture beat you covet, then by all means find a college out in the country.
Don’t Spend Big $$ on Big NamesGoing to a prestigious j-school is fine if you have unlimited funds. But if, like most college students, you’re on a tight budget, then don’t worry about big-name schools. Plenty of journalists have attended smaller or less-well-known schools and done just fine, career-wise.
And don’t overlook the possibility of starting your academic career at a two-year community college, then transferring to a four-year university. You can save tens of thousands of dollars taking this route.
One example: After high school Steve Capus spent several years studying journalism at Bucks County Community College outside Philadelphia. He transferred to Temple University, a relatively inexpensive institution in Philly, where he got his bachelor’s degree.
Neither Bucks nor Temple were exactly big-name schools. So where is Capus now? He’s the president of NBC News.