In your application for graduate school in the field of journalism, one factor that admissions personnel may consider is work experience. Prospective students often wonder what work counts as journalism experience and how much experience they need to have to get into a program. Different journalism schools have different requirements and expectations, but generally, any type of experience that involved working in a journalistic capacity should count toward experience to some degree, even if your work was unpaid or part of an internship completed for college credit only. Having experience can help you get accepted into a master’s degree program in journalism, but you may be able to get in even without formal journalism experience.
Types of Journalism Experience for Graduate School Applicants
In the constantly evolving field of journalism, there is a broad spectrum of what constitutes experience. Traditional full-time, paid work as a staff reporter for a newspaper may be an ideal form of professional experience, but it isn’t the only kind of experience that counts. Your work experience may be as a part-timer or a freelancer. You might have worked for a major national news organization, or local publication or an exclusively online news source. In addition to print media, you might have contributed to digital television or radio news broadcasts or to digital publications.
Perhaps your work was unpaid, as part of an internship experience for college credit or volunteer work for a school or nonprofit newspaper or magazine. This sort of experience is a common place to start your journalism career. Working on the school newspaper often gives student journalists their first deadlines, their first bylines and their first real taste of what the career field will be like. Through your work on the school newspaper, you can also make connections with fellow students (including older students) and alumni, who can in turn serve as valuable professional connections after you graduate.
What generally matters more than the type of experience you have is the skills that experience helped you to cultivate. In any of these roles, functions and occupations, your contributions required you to undertake investigative research and put together stories about real people, places and events. This work requires you to sharpen your storytelling skills, regardless of whether you serve as a writer, photojournalist, videographer or multimedia content creator.
Any of these types of experience can also provide you with clips and articles that you can submit as part of your portfolio or your writing samples for your graduate school application package.
How Much Experience Do You Need for a Master’s in Journalism Program?
Many master’s in journalism degree programs don’t specify a required number of years of work experience in the field. Still, the students admitted into these programs are often experienced journalism professionals. The typical path to a journalism career is to earn your bachelor’s degree, gain work experience and then consider graduate school, so working journalists typically have at least a couple of years of work experience by the time they start applying to graduate school.
There is no magic number of years of experience at which journalists should go back to school – or at which they have “too much” experience to go back to school. Some master’s in journalism programs that are meant for experienced professionals tend to mostly admit students with anywhere from three to 15 years of work experience. However, students pursuing a graduate degree may have decades of experience before they decide that a master’s degree will open new doors for them professionally, such as the opportunity to advance to upper management roles.
Keep in mind that different master’s in journalism programs have different expectations regarding students’ amount of journalism experience. There are programs intended for professionals with years of experience in the field, programs for newcomers and programs for career changers, as well as master’s degree programs that accept students in all of the above categories. Look for a program that meets your needs, wherever you are on your journalism career path, in terms of the types and amount of experience expected of students.
You can be a strong candidate even if you’re not an experienced journalist. In recognition of that, some programs consider a portfolio optional, and others accept writing samples that demonstrate general writing skills rather than requiring works of journalistic writing.