Journalism schools, or J-schools as they are more often called, are often the target of stinging criticism from workaday journalists with no formal education in the field. Many of them majored in English or P.R. in college, started out as copy boys or copy girls, and worked their way up the ladder. They have little respect for the mundane journalism methodology most J-schools teach, and it is to a certain extent understandable.
However, if you are interested in journalism as a career, I fully recommend that you consider attending J-school. Remember, just as the professional is the critic of the scholar, the scholar is just as often the critic of the professional. Just be sure that you participate in as many journalism related activities as you can while in high school or college. A professional internship is always a good idea if you can get one, as it will greatly enhance your application for J-school admission.
Once you’ve made the decision to attend J-school, you must decide where. Several attempts have been made to put together a list of the top journalism schools in the country, most notably by U.S. News and World Report. The problem is that journalism is ever-changing, possibly more so than any other profession. Thus, what must be taught in J-schools must also adapt to fit the changes in the professional arena.
The best way to narrow down your choices is to decide if you are comfortable attending a large, state university or if you would prefer a smaller, more intimate setting for your studies. Some like to make their choices based on geography, which is also an effective approach, since most areas of the country have at least one or two exemplary J-schools.
If you are an East Coast junkie, two schools should be right at the top of your list.
1. Columbia University, home to the Pulitzer Prize and the Columbia Journalism Review is almost without question the top J-school in the country. However, it offers journalism only as a graduate major, so if you’ve always dreamed about studying at Columbia, attend a top undergraduate institution, major in something interesting, and get good grades.
2. Syracuse University. The Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse is one of the most underrated J-schools in the country. Although rarely mentioned in the same breath as Columbia, is good in both print and broadcast instruction, which is rare for J-schools, as sacrifices must often be made in one area to be great in another.
For Midwesterners, the choices are many:
University of Missouri (Columbia), the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Indiana University all appeared in U.S. News and World Report’s Top 10 J-schools list. If the East Coast isn’t your thing (or even if it is), it would be tough to get a much better J-school education than at these three institutions. The University of Kansas and the University of Nebraska are excellent fallback choices.
The south offers two newer, state of the art programs at the University of Florida and UNC Chapel Hill. Both programs are much newer than any of the others already mentioned (Florida’s was started within the past fifty years), and both offer an excellent international flavor. Anyone planning on pursuing a career as an international journalist or foreign correspondent should have these two schools at or near the top of their list.
Away out west, your top three choices, undoubtedly, are USC, UC-Berkeley, and Arizona State University. You cannot go wrong in choosing either of the three, although Berkeley, like Columbia, offers journalism only as a graduate major. USC’s Annenberg School of Communications boasts an incredibly high number of graduates working for major networks and newspapers in and around Washington, D.C.
If you are intimidated by huge schools and would prefer a smaller program, Kent State University and Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism are your best bets. Both MAC schools, they are significantly smaller than USC, Berkeley, or any of the larger midwestern schools. Ohio University was also listed in U.S. News and World Report’s Top 10. Drake University in Des Moines has a first class faculty and would be a nice secondary choice, too.