The M.A. Curriculum
During the nine-month academic year, M.A. students take an assortment of required courses at the Journalism School and electives around Columbia University.
- Graduate Seminar
- Master's Thesis
- Evidence and Inference
- A History of Journalism for Journalists
- Digital Media
- Outside Courses
The seminar in a chosen concentration (arts & culture; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program in Health and Science Journalism; business & economics; or politics), taken in both the fall and the spring semesters, is the most intensive part of the M.A. degree. Taught by members of the Journalism School faculty and subject-area experts from Columbia and beyond, the seminars combine course readings, case studies, field trips and visits with experts to provide expertise in the student’s chosen concentration. Learn more.
The thesis is an integral part of the M.A. year, intended to give students the opportunity to explore a topic in depth and synthesize what they learn in a sophisticated manner. The end product is a work of long-form journalism (8,000-10,000 words for a print story, or the equivalent in another medium).
Ideally, the M.A. thesis balances the demands of writing for a general audience with the need for thorough and nuanced journalism about complex issues. For this reason, the thesis is advised both by a journalism professor and by a professor (or other expert) with a deep background in the subject covered by the thesis.
The subject-area expert (or “outside adviser”) offers guidance and criticism relating to content. For instance, an outside adviser might suggest potential sources of information for the piece, including background reading and people to interview. This person might point out flaws or weaknesses in the student’s evolving argument or identify problems with the interpretation or analysis of information.
With the help of these two advisers, the M.A. student sets out to set out to complete the sort of work that an educated reader (or viewer, or listener) would consume with pleasure and that an expert in the field would deem informed and thoughtful.
Evidence & Inference is a one-semester course that teaches advanced research techniques for journalists — skills in gathering and assessing information, often adapted from other areas of the university, that most working journalists don’t have but that are highly useful in journalistic work. These include statistical literacy, rigorous interviewing techniques, understanding the work of experts, and locating material in historical archives and data bases. The course also teaches a disciplined “journalistic method” of testing assumptions and hypotheses, recognizing ways stories can distort the truth, and making sure that reporting firmly proves its points. A distinguished group of leading Columbia faculty from outside the Journalism School help teach the course.
Respected experts from Columbia and elsewhere are often brought in to guest-teach in the M.A. classes. Recent guests have included dociologist Sudhir Venkatesh; psychologist Tory Higgins; oral historian Mary Marshall Clark; SIPA professor Kenneth Prewitt; and biostatistician Jessica Ancker.
A History of Journalism for Journalists provides an overview of American journalism from Colonial days to the present. It emphasizes the relationship of journalism to other institutions in a democracy, examining how the role of the press emerged, how it has changed, and how this role is similar or different from that in other democracies.
Digital media courses are offered as part of the M.A. curriculum. All students may enroll in a digital skills class during the fall semester where they learn audio production, photography, Photoshop and Final Cut Pro.
Each M.A. student takes three electives over the course of the academic year: one in the fall and two in the spring. Students may enroll in almost any graduate-level course throughout Columbia University, including the other professional schools, provided it will deepen their understanding of the chosen area of study.
Visit the University's Academic Programs page to see what courses are offered outside the Journalism School. M.A. journalism students are required to take graduate-level electives. Learn more about cross registration.
The M.A. Outside Course List will give you a taste of some of the courses students have selected in the past. For instance, Arts and Culture students have taken Modern Drama, Planning the New New York City, Jazz and American Culture, and Victorian Poetry. Business students typically take accounting and corporate finance, along with courses such as Value Investing, Debt Markets, and Mergers and Acquisitions. In previous years, students in the Politics concentration have enrolled in SIPA's Intelligence and Foreign Policy, The Sociology of Urban Education at Teacher's College, Transportation Planning, and Global Urbanism. Students in the Science concentration have taken Restoration Ecology, The Carbon Cycle, History of Medicine, The Changing American Family, and Environmental Law.