Letters of recommendation are one of the most important parts of a graduate school application, no matter what subject you plan to study. When you’re applying for a master’s in journalism program, you may question what, ideally, these letters of recommendation should say about you. Prospective students often wonder whether they should ask recommenders – like their editors and editorial managers, professors, internship supervisors and colleagues serving on school newspapers or magazines – to focus on their writing abilities in general or their journalism skills more specifically. There isn’t one rigid answer to this question because it depends on the strengths and specialization of the applicant and what the recommender knows about them.
Letters of Recommendation That Highlight Your Talents
Your letters of recommendation should always speak to your strengths. This means that whether the recommendation highlights writing skills or journalistic potential more should depend on the applicant, as well as the qualifications of the person recommending them to speak to a certain skill. The focus of your letter of recommendation doesn’t have to be an either-or decision. Writing skills and journalism work tend to go hand in hand, so it wouldn’t be a stretch for one person to write you a letter of recommendation that speaks to both of these abilities.
For example, imagine that the person you ask to write you a letter of recommendation has firsthand knowledge of your writing skills but little direct knowledge of your journalism expertise. A letter of recommendation that honestly and effusively praises your wring skills is likely to make a bigger and better impression than a recommendation that less enthusiastically touches upon your potential as a journalist. Alternatively, if you held a non-writing role like editorial assistant and asked your boss to write you a letter of recommendation, the letter would likely be more effective if it discussed your experience and specific job duties and contributions in the newsroom than if it attempted to talk about your writing skills.
If you don’t already have a lot of work experience in journalism, it may be easier for the person from whom you are seeking a recommendation to focus on your writing skills more generally. However, they don’t have to limit their recommendation to your writing skills. Depending on the type of work they have witnessed you doing, they might be able to speak to other skills and qualities that would make you a good candidate for a journalism degree program, like your diligence in research, your capacity for critical thinking and your willingness to explore both sides of a story.
Some of the most important qualities for journalists, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), are persistence, interpersonal skills, communication skills and computer skills. Recommendation letters can also highlight these qualities.
When you ask someone to write you a letter of recommendation for graduate school, it’s okay – and even helpful – to tell them what skills you feel they are qualified to speak to. Consider sharing with them your personal essay, so they know your goals and career plans.
Letters of Recommendations and Journalism Specializations
IMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, public domain
What you want your letter of recommendation to say may also depend on any specializations you want to pursue within your degree. If you’re more interested in broadcast, digital or multimedia journalism than in written formats of storytelling, it might not make sense to emphasize your writing skills. Instead, you might prefer to seek letters of recommendation from a professional contact who can speak to your skills in photojournalism, videography, design or programming of interactive media experiences. Of course, this type of letter of recommendation might not be the right fit for a program that is very traditional, but it might be an excellent choice when applying to a school that emphasizes new media in journalism.
Some career changers want to get into journalistic pursuits in the field in which they were already an established professional, like a healthcare professional getting into health reporting or a teacher breaking into education reporting. In this situation, you might want a letter of recommendation from someone who can speak to your interests in journalism and your expertise in your area of focus.
Don’t assume that the admissions team knows you are planning to specialize in multimedia journalism or in a certain subject or discipline. Your statement of purpose or personal essay should discuss these plans and pull together your entire application package.