A guide to choosing the right journalism school or program

If you are interested in studying journalism in Canada, this is a good starting point. There are dozens of journalism programs at colleges and universities across Canada. The links in this section will provide you with some information about each of those programs, as well as links directly to the school sites for more details.


If you are interested in studying journalism in Canada, this is a good starting point. There are dozens of journalism programs at colleges and universities across Canada. The links in this section will provide you with some information about each of those programs, as well as links directly to the school sites for more details.


But your overriding question is probably “Which j-school is the best one?”


It’s the question we, as journalism educators, are asked most often when meeting with students and/or their parents. There’s no universal answer. Each of us who teach journalism could make a persuasive case for the benefits of our own programs. In the end, you will have to decide which program is right for you.


To help you do that, here’s a guide to some of the things you should consider when researching j-schools and programs.

Does the program stream students into print or broadcast journalism courses, or does it provide a wide range of print, broadcast and online skills to all students?


Some programs teach students core skills in either print or broadcast journalism, but not both. These days newsrooms are changing and employers often want reporters to have skills in print, audio, video and online journalism. Many j-programs offer multimedia skills courses. The question is, do you seek more depth in one field or a wider introduction to various media?


What does the program offer besides skills-based courses in journalism? Does it allow students to combine a major in journalism with a major in another field?


Some programs focus primarily on teaching core journalism skills. University-based programs combine skills courses with other academic courses, and the balance between the two types of course varies from school to school. Some even allow students to combine a major in journalism with either a major or a minor in another discipline. If you decide journalism is not for you, or if you choose to go on to graduate school, you may benefit from having taken advanced, non-journalism courses. As well, some employers like to see evidence of wide-ranging interests.


Does the program offer internships/apprenticeships for students?

Most schools offer opportunities for students to do short-term placements in newsrooms and other work places to build on their skills and make professional contacts. But these programs can vary a lot. Find out what’s available at any school you are considering.


What opportunities will students have to get their work published in print, on radio, on television and online while they are at school?

Most programs provide students with opportunities to get their work published in such things as community newspapers, online news publications, radio and television newscasts and shows. Such opportunities will allow you to build a portfolio. Check out the publications online at school websites.


How many students are in the program? How many students are in the skills-based journalism courses?


Some programs are very small. Others have hundreds of students in them. But what may be more important is the size of the skills-based courses. Most people think writing; editing and production skills are best taught in small, hands-on workshops with lots of opportunity for interaction between instructors and students. Find out how big the workshop classes are at programs you are considering.


How experienced are the faculty?


School websites should provide you with the background experience of their journalism instructors.


How high do my high school grades have to be?


Journalism programs usually have limited spaces for practical reasons and often receive more applications than they have spaces available. So they may choose students with the highest averages or the best transcripts. Find out what the grade expectations are for any program you are considering. 


What kind of a portfolio do I need, if any?


Some, but not all, programs require students to submit a portfolio of stories from high school newspapers or other published work. Get details on what’s required and accepted.


If you are applying for a graduate program in journalism, you will most certainly be required to submit a portfolio and samples of your writing or broadcast work. Get details on what is required and acceptable.


What kind of degree/diploma will I earn at the end of the program?


Some programs offer two year diplomas; some offer traditional four-year degrees; others offer something in between. If you ever decide to go on to graduate school, you will need to be sure that whatever undergraduate qualification you earn will be acceptable for admission to a graduate program. Don’t just assume it will. Find out from universities with graduate programs.


How long is the program?


Some college programs are one or two years long. Undergraduate university programs are generally four years long.


At the graduate level, some programs can be completed in a year; others are two years long. Get details about what makes the difference.


I read on the Internet that j-school x is better than j-school y.


Every student has their own unique experience in any post-secondary program. Some will have good experiences and recommend their school or their program. Others won’t, for a variety of reasons. Do the kind of research a journalist would. Avoid relying on one source, even if it’s published online. Do lots of research. Ask questions. Talk to, or read, a variety of sources.


Do I really need a journalism degree or diploma to be a journalist?


No. There is no formal accreditation required to be a journalist and there are lots of journalists in Canada without any formal journalism training. They may have degrees in other fields or life experiences that led them to land a first job in a newsroom, where they developed their skills on the job. But there are also many, many journalists in Canada with formal journalism training and degrees and lots of employers who come looking for recruits at j-schools. J-schools will teach you basic skills, provide you with opportunities and contacts that would otherwise be difficult to find and help you determine if journalism is the right field for you, and if so, which kind of journalism you prefer.


And finally….

You should understand that while school websites and online calendars provide helpful information, it is a good idea to talk personally to someone at any of the schools you may be considering to be sure you understand the details of that school’s program. Better still, visit the school and talk to faculty and students there, if at all possible.


The list above is just a starting point. I would invite other journalism educators to email me any suggestions for additions or amendments or offer comments below.