The Masters Program in Journalism at the University of Illinois

For those looking to learn what it takes to become a successful professional journalist, Illinois’ journalism graduate program is for you. Those looking for in-depth study of media issues or for a good Ph.D program preparation might want to avoid it.

Here are the pros and cons of the print sequence program based on my own personal experiences.

Advantages

1. Financial aid – The program accepts very few students, but all of those it does accept are awarded a full tuition waiver plus a monthly stipend varying by amount depending on if it is a research or teaching assistantship. I was responsible only for the cost of my books (fairly considerable) and a semester fee of around $460. It’s hard to find a better deal financially.

2. Professional professors – Most, if not all, of the faculty in the journalism graduate program have been highly successful as professional journalists (very few of them have Ph.Ds) and take a very professional approach to the curriculum. If you’re serious about a career as a professional journalist, these professors are some of the best to learn from.

3. Challenging reporting classes – Reporting 1 and 2, or J-400 and 415, are very challenging and fun, taught by top of the line reporters. Reporting 2 culminates in a 3 to 6 part 24-page series drawn out of a beat cultivated throughout the semester. It is like working in a real newsroom, minus the paper everywhere.

4. Resources available – The university’s library is one of the largest in the nation and its resources are almost unparalleled. For journalists really committed to doing serious research for their reporting, this is the place.

5. Geography – Champaign is 3 hours from Chicago, 2.5 hours from Indy, 3.5 from St. Louis, for those that need the big city fix and just an hour from Springfield. Bus and Amtrak lines run directly to and from Chicago, making it easy to visit friends for the weekend or attend a conference.

Disadvantages

1. Grad/undergrad ratio – Graduate students in this program often have to take classes with undergraduates (this is especially true in classes with both lecture and lab components). Many graduate students don’t care to have their work critiqued by an undergraduate, which sometimes happens in this program. Also, grad students may feel like they’re getting an undergraduate degree that says “Master’s” on it.

2. Graphics & design class – Brutal workload and much of the assigned work cannot be done outside of one particular computer lab in a particular building because such projects cannot be done correctly without the correct presets for a certain program. I once spent 36 hours in a week on one particular project for this class alone.

3. Lack of electives – Not so much availability, but what the schedule will not allow. Print sequence students will only be allowed to take one elective for the entire duration of the program (with the exception of students who are able to waive Reporting 1), and some classes are not offered every semester.

4. No clips – It is difficult to get “clips” without writing for the Daily Illini or the Buzz (a campus magazine publication). There is no paper specifically written and released by students in the journalism department that allows students to get a few easy clips, like at Mizzou or Kansas. Students wanting to publish work they have done for classes are really on their own to do so.

5. Geography – Desite being in a centralized location, not a lot goes on in Champaign outside of the university, so networking opportunities for journalism students are fairly limited.