How to Decide if an Undergraduate Journalism Program is Right for You

For most students, picking a major is a process. Yes, you write about one in your application, but you have at least a semester or two, and normally until your sophomore year, to really decide what you want to focus on. Even then, it isn’t rare for a college student to change majors as they gain a better understanding of themselves and what they want in life. A pre-med student might end up in the English department, and an English student might wind up majoring in computer engineering. After all, most students pick a school based on its overall credentials, not because of one specific major. But if you are thinking about pursuing a pre-professional journalism program, this does not apply to you.

Four-year pre-professional journalism programs are not common. They are not like a history major or a math degree. They aren’t at every school and most schools don’t have them, so if you are thinking about majoring in journalism you need to think about whether it is really what you want to do.

Here is a checklist to help you decide if a journalism program may be right for you. If you can answer yes at least one of the five questions on this list, you should consider applying to a school with the specific intention of joining their journalism program. If you can’t answer yes to any of the items on this list, don’t even think about it. Writing in a personal journal or reading the paper doesn’t make you a journalist. You have to be up for putting in the hours.

The Checklist

  • Have you worked for your school newspaper for more than one year?
  • Have you taken on leadership roles within school publications including a paper, literary mag, or yearbook?
  • Have you interned with a publication?
  • Have you done any work on-camera or behind-the-scenes for a school, local, or online news program?
  • Do you have a news-centric blog, website, or YouTube channel that has significant viewership?

There are some major pros to studying journalism as an undergraduate. You get to do what you love right from the beginning, you get to start producing news right away, often in professional-quality digs, and you are able to jump into the workforce immediately after college with a stamp of journalistic approval. However, not majoring in journalism above doesn’t mean you can’t become a journalist. That’s the thing about journalism. You don’t need a degree in it to do it and you can always go to graduate school for journalism later.

One of the drawbacks of undergraduate journalism programs is that, like any pre-professional program, it’s restrictive. Changing your course of study mid-program may be tough and you won’t have as much room to explore. Some of the best schools for writing in the world don’t offer an undergraduate journalism degree, so you may also have to sacrifice the overall caliber of school for the availability of the program.

There are exceptions to every rule and undergraduate journalism programs are perfect for some, but we want our students to have options. 17 is a young age to be making big career decisions that you can’t pivot away from easily without losing time and/or money, so we encourage our students to pick programs and institutions that offer the maximum flexibility, and journalism programs often don’t fit the bill.

If you do meet at least one of the criteria and you want to learn more, check out our list of top undergraduate journalism programs then send us a note. We’d love to help you pursue your dream.