How to negotiate the best j-school offer

Rebecca CheungRebecca Cheung offers tips for students faced with competing offers from graduate j-schools. (And you thought applying was difficult.)

The hundreds of students who applied to graduate programs in journalism this year might think the hard part is over. However, as the offers come in, they’ll soon be faced with a set of difficult decisions.  

Fortunately, according to faculty at Canada’s top journalism schools, there are ways students can negotiate for the best graduate school experience.

Let schools know about competing offers

Every journalism school operates on a different admissions schedule. Some send out decisions as early as November, while others let their applicants know in mid-March. With a limited time period to respond to offers, staggered decisions can be frustrating for students.

One way applicants can speed up a school’s decision is by informing them of competing offers.

Catherine McKercher, graduate supervisor at Carleton University’s school of journalism, said that her school occasionally fields calls like these. Sometimes, if a caller has a strong application, the school will try to inform the candidate earlier.

“If we are in the midst of doing this and we have a sense that the student is someone we are really, really going to want…we may say ‘well, give us a couple of days, and we’ll get back to you’,” she said.

Call schools about matching scholarship offers

If one program has offered an applicant an entrance award, it’s worthwhile for that student to inform other schools about this.

Gene Allen, graduate program director at Ryerson University’s school of journalism, said that he has previously looked for ways of matching a prospective student’s scholarship offer from another school.

“On occasion I will beat the bushes and see if we can find a TA [teaching assistant] position or something like that,” Allen said.

Negotiate for more time, if needed

Schools typically give students two to three weeks to respond to an offer. However, if an applicant is still waiting on other decisions, schools could be willing to extend this time period.

Mary Lynn Young, director of the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) school of journalism said that her school is usually willing to give students extra time if they call.

“We’ll extend it if the student asks,” she said. “Students need time. They are legitimately comparing location and schools.”

Research schools before accepting an offer

Because Canadian graduate journalism programs differ in terms of teaching styles and curricula, students should do their research before responding to an offer.  

Faculty at Carleton, Ryerson, UBC and the University of Western Ontario (UWO) unanimously agreed that students should consider the teaching faculty at each school, what previous graduates have gone on to do, and whether the school’s programs are consistent with their career goals.

“Students should be thinking about fit. They should be thinking about ‘what is the best educational environment to get me what I need to get’,” said Young.

Ask for advice before re-applying

Students who didn’t get accepted into any programs this year should not be discouraged. The next intake cycle is months away, giving aspiring journalism students plenty to time to strengthen their portfolio. In fact, many schools are open to reviewing unsuccessful applications and providing specific feedback and advice.

“I have long conversations with people about that,” said Paul Benedetti, coordinator for the MA in journalism program at UWO.  “I see their applications the next year. It’s not uncommon for them to get accepted the second time.”
Don’t be shy

Applicants shouldn’t be shy about making these calls. Schools know that applicants apply to multiple schools and want advice.   They expect to hear from students.

“We absolutely understand that people shop around and apply to a bunch of places and try to trade up,” McKercher said. “Students need to be assertive about their future.”

Rebecca Cheung is a student in the Masters of Journalism program at the University of British Columbia.