FAQ: Before You Arrive
A successful year of study at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism is an important step to launching or elevating your journalism career. Here are some Frequently Asked Questions to help you get most out of your year at Columbia.
How well you prepared you are before arriving at Columbia can be crucial to your academic and job-hunting success. The biggest factor in your success will be your skill as a strong reporter and clean writer. But many other factors, like your geographic preferences, media platform, size of market, subject area, expected salary, your legal work authorization will also affect your job prospects after graduation. The Journalism School does not guarantee employment after graduation, but many alumni have achieved great success in many types of jobs.
To heighten the chances of finding a job after graduation, what steps can a prospective student take prior to attending Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism?
First, you need to read, report and write. Our curriculum is designed to vastly improve your journalism skills and prepare you to work in the news media industry in multiple platforms. Students who have done reporting and writing before entering Columbia are likely to leave with more advanced skills. They will also have a stronger writing portfolio that will provide an advantage in applying for post-graduate jobs, particularly among the competitive summer internship programs with Fall deadlines. You should expect that most media employers will require previous journalism experience; all employers will gauge your abilities by your reporting and writing samples.
To begin, think broadly about where you might gain experience, such as getting published in local newspapers, magazines, websites, or working to produce multimedia content like news videos or slideshows for local news web pages. If you have very few clips, don't concern yourself with brand-name publications: you'll have the chance later to aim high! Study websites in which you have an interest, watch and listen to a broad range of newscasts, follow key bloggers and news media websites and develop story ideas that fit those companies. Your writing should be journalistic – meaning stories that are thoroughly reported - and not just first-person essays, opinionated blog posts and reviews. Employers put little stock in single-source stories -- they want to see work that shows you can report with complexity and write with precision, concisely and with authority.
Know as much as possible about the news around you, locally and globally, by absorbing news in all formats. This means studying the industry and how it is changing: it is far more than just newspapers, national newsweekly magazines and network TV news, and it’s more than just the newest blogs that focus on the latest, narrow trends. The successful beginning journalist will be one who is nimble and able to work in nearly all platforms. Today's media business is made up of blogs, webzines, community access broadcasters, 24/7 local cable news systems, alternative weekly newspapers and regional magazines, and even sites that exist only on social media platforms like Facebook. A reporter increasingly needs the ability to shoot video from the scene of a breaking story, report the news, edit in the field, transmit that back to the newsroom for uploading ASAP and then follow with the story text to keep up with competitors. And that scenario might be at a newspaper, an online site, a wire service, a TV or radio station and even a magazine.
Magazines that once published only month or weekly now break news every day, including through blogs, with staff writers who once were accustomed only to writing long-form narrative pieces. So in your first jobs, this is what is reasonable to expect from this constantly evolving news media industry.
Become proficient in multimedia technology used in building and producing content for and maintaining news websites. Learn to use programs such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Flash, HTML, how to retrieve, analyze, build databases, and how to visually present material to readers. Learn to shoot and edit audio and video, whether with a cell phone, a mini-digital video camera or even more expensive higher quality cameras. Become skilled at editing audio and video material using even very basic software like Soundslides or Audacity and try to become proficient with programs that the industry uses like Avid, FinalCut Pro or ProTools.
It is all but a requirement that you are not only comfortable with but that you have a good ability to use social media as a reporting tool to find sources, promote you work and that of your company, and to interact with as well as engage your readers/audiences. Employers will assess how well you understand what makes a good Facebook interface and the value of Twitter as a newsroom tool. This is expected in all platforms, not just digital media companies.
Once enrolled, does the journalism school assist students with finding jobs during school or after graduation?
Yes. Our Career Services office has a full-time professional staff with Julie Hartenstein as Assistant Dean, Gina Boubion as Associate Director, Anusha Shrivastava as Assistant Director, Elena Cabral as Assistant Director of Student Services and Jacqueline DeLaFuente as Program Administrator. We are former journalists who with broad experience across all platforms.
Columbia Journalism School is expensive. Can I find a job once I arrive to help pay my bills? You must have your finances in order and lined up by the time you arrive at Columbia. If you are a part-time student because you have to work, you will probably be better off if you keep your job rather than find a new one. The reason we don't recommend that you find a new job once you arrive is that new employers usually want 110-percent of your time and effort. Full-time students are very strongly discouraged from working during their year for the simple reason that the full-time courseload is crushing. You will not have the time to devote to outside employment while simultaneously throwing your heart and soul into your studies. In the second semester, some students venture into academic-year internships, but again we caution you against taking a job just for money. If you find that you have free time in the spring semester, you will be much better served doing an unpaid journalism internship that will help you land a job post-graduation.
What kind of help will I get from the Office of Career Services?
Career Services advises students on how to write cover letters and resumes, prepare applications, conduct themselves during an interview and plan a job hunt. We direct students to companies and media that suit their skill level and interests. We also organize workshops and roundtables with professionals who visit to discuss opportunities at their companies, offer career advice and conduct one-on-one interviews. Career Services also maintains daily job and internship listings called JobNews, and our many online guides are constantly updated to provide new information. For students who cannot attend some sessions, we record workshops and archive the audio and video streams online. We also constantly network extensively with editors and recruiters here and abroad to build contacts, develop internships, and find opportunities exclusively for our students.
In the spring, students can look forward to participating in the Career Expo. The Expo, which takes place in the spring, is the biggest journalism career fair in the United States. The 2013 Expo was attended by 275 newsroom hiring professionals from 140 companies. See the list of here.
What are the job prospects after graduation, especially with so many cutbacks in the newspaper industry and elsewhere?
They remain encouraging, but there is never any guarantee of immediate employment. That holds true for grads seeking work in any medium - print, broadcast, and online. Yet, at graduation time in May 2012, just under 75 percent of our students had post-graduation employment plans. In recent years, the biggest single block of graduates found jobs in digital media with newspapers close behind, followed by magazines, television and radio, wire services, and alternative weeklies. These jobs ranged from short internships and long-term fellowships to full-time jobs, part time and freelance with a small handful going on to another educational or degree program. The number of employed graduates increases with each passing month post-graduation.
I’ve heard the refrain, “To get a job, leave New York!” So where do grads find jobs, and where are the best prospects?
Everywhere! Our graduates have recently landed jobs in major cities other than New York like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Miami and smaller markets such as Columbus, Ohio, Bend, Ore., Jackson Hole, Wyo., Fort Bend, Ind., Durango, Col., and Biloxi, Miss. Students also found jobs in Germany, Japan, Dubai, Lebanon, Thailand, Israel, Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, Russia, Turkey, England, Thailand, Canada, India and more.
New York City is the nation’s most competitive market offering many opportunities. However, like all the major metro areas, it is crowded and media employers in those markets require not just determination, but demand excellent reporting and writing skills of applicants. Each year, some students land jobs at companies like Slate.com, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, ABC News, CNN, Reuters, BusinessWeek, Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, NPR, and other companies in big cities, but they are not the majority. It is no secret that the fastest way to New York is to distinguish yourself as a journalist in a well-regarded regional publication or station outside New York where you can get great editing and perfect your craft. Smaller markets have long offered great journalism opportunities across all platforms, and those who do well can eventually find their way to the bigger markets. It might be a long-shot for a new grad to land at a glossy magazine, but it’s a doable long-term goal; Columbia graduates occupy editing and writing posts at most major magazines in New York, across the country and the world.
What kinds of companies hire recent Columbia graduates?
Students find full-time jobs, long- and short-term internships, fellowships and temporary assignments in large and small markets, in new launches and in legacy companies. See a list of where our recent grads landed.
How long does it take, typically, for new graduates to find a job?
There is no set time and no guarantee of a job at graduation. Some students with previous experience and the best skills line up internships months before graduation at the major media companies. Most students will have some form of job by graduation. Others find jobs in the weeks following graduation and through the summer, while some, looking for specific positions in narrow geographic areas, may take longer. The more restrictive your job search criteria, the fewer opportunities will be available and the longer it may take to find the job you seek. Some students might still be looking by year’s end for the job they prefer.
As a part-time student, what kinds of job opportunities are available to me?
Most part-time students are employed in full-time jobs as they undertake the M.S. program. However, in the two-year period it takes these students to earn the degree, they may be eligible for opportunities to gain more journalism experience, particularly if they are switching careers and looking to boost their resumes. For example, part-time students can take advantage of fall internships at media outlets that full-time students cannot undertake because of their heavy courseloads. Some of these opportunities may be just one or two days a week. Many of these internships, however, are unpaid. In addition, part-timers should keep an eye out for freelance or other part-time opportunities posted year-round on Job News.
Part-time students can participate in just one Career Expo, the one closest to their date of graduation. It is important that students begin preparing for this event with an early consultation to review their resumes with a Career Services staff member.
I’m in the Master of Arts program, so how would my job search differ from that of a Master of Science student?
Like every graduate, you will need to demonstrate to employers a high capability to report and write. To be clear, students in the MA program and the MS program compete for many of the same positions, so often the job searches are sometimes similar.
Our MA students are expected to have already attained a level of competency in reporting and writing, though, and generally they seek to find full-time, permanent jobs that will allow them to focus mostly on working in the specialty area they came to study at Columbia Journalism School. Such specialty positions can be difficult to find in some markets, but having the additional expertise and training at Columbia provides at least a running start. Some have pursued book contracts to write within their area of expertise. Many MAs were hired at places like Foreign Affairs, Christian Science Monitor, Time, PBS NewsHour, USA Today, Reuters, CNN, Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post and Bloomberg News. Some MA grads choose to do just freelancing or fellowships of various durations in the U.S. or abroad while few have taken adjunct teaching positions. Some MA grads, who had less experience, took jobs at small news media organizations as interns or fulltimers where they could at least get a start. Again: flexibility can mean more opportunities. Like the MS students, MAs without extensive experience levels must at least consider internships, especially if the work would involve reporting on their specialty because many employers consider such positions as tryouts for candidates for full-time positions. Many internships have turned into full-time permanent jobs at summer’s end.
I want to pursue magazine writing. What are my employment prospects in that field?
That remains the most challenging area to break into. Many graduates find their way into these publications over time, though. Magazines, especially the monthlies, hire very few, if any, staff writers. So the best prospects for immediately writing for a magazine is often through freelancing, fact-checking, or staff writing positions at regional and city magazines or at alternative weekly newspapers. The regionals and alt-weeklies welcome candidates and have launched many journalists seeking to write for magazines in larger markets.
There are thousands of magazines worldwide that cover virtually any subject, so graduates have nearly unlimited outlets to pursue. Both in the United States and abroad, there are conglomerates that each publish dozens of print and digital websites about an unlimited range of topics. Writers who develop a niche are likely to find a publication with similar interests. Graduates who freelance have told us that specializing helps them find stories and sell them to editors. Beginners can make as little as 50 cents a word, with some writers expected to contribute free content to websites. We don't advocate working for free. Typical rates for moderately successful freelancers range from $1-2 a word. A rookie journalist can make freelancing work, but usually will have to juggle many assignments in a variety of genres simultaneously. The freelance life takes a certain kind of personality because of the uncertainty. That said, well-known magazine writers who've been at their craft for many years can be paid very well per story or on a contract basis. Seasoned freelancers with lucrative magazine contracts can make in the six figures, but the number of writers in that echelon is small. At Columbia, we hold a series of talks in the spring on freelancing.
Have any students been hired at the major national radio and TV networks after graduation? What options are available to me?
The broadcast industry is changing rapidly as it increasingly builds audiences through digital presence. Every year a few grads are hired for a wide variety of full-time jobs with various divisions and shows at the major broadcast organizations: Fox, CNN, the BBC, etc. In radio, people go on to work at places like National Public Radio and Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media. Without substantive previous experience in broadcast news, you can expect to begin in an entry-level production position such as desk or news assistant. With previous experience, some grads will be lucky enough to land production associate or researcher positions, but that is rare. Our grads generally do very well in these entry-level jobs and rise quickly. Now that there are fewer union restrictions at the networks, graduates can also do much more hands-on production in these positions than in years past. In radio, it is a similar story. If you want to work at NPR in D.C., or the largest affiliates like WNYC in New York, you can expect to begin as a broadcast assistant or do booking and research work. But there are also reporting positions at the networks that are more oriented towards web and print journalism than broadcasting. For example, on the TV network web sites, if you are an experienced print reporter, you can break in as a writer/reporter particularly if you have expertise in covering a beat. Copy editor or assignment desk positions are also frequently available. There are also terrific post-graduate fellowships exclusively available to our graduates. If you want to be a producer for a local news station and are willing to leave the East and West Coast corridors, you will have lots of opportunities. Show producers are always in demand, and this is another route to eventually getting into production or management at the networks.
Again, the overwhelming skills broadcasters seek are outstanding reporting and writing, and digital skills like social media engagement, analysis of data, use of multimedia production tools and other web skills.
If I’m hired at a major network after graduation, how likely is it I can get a position doing on-air work?
Unless you have already had several years of on-air reporting experience, or a very special expertise and have broken important stories in print or radio, expect it an impossibility to go straight to the television network. To the best of our knowledge, none of our graduates have ever gone directly from J-school to an on-air position at a network – even in their broadband or digital operations. That is completely unrealistic. Most of our broadcast grads seeking to be on-air reporters go the traditional route, which is to small market local stations (DMA’s ranging from 100 and more realistically 150 and higher) all over the country to get their training and then work their way up to larger stations. The skilled reporters in these markets can sometimes move to larger markets in as little as 15 to 18 months – often with the help of their bosses, who appreciate good work and want them to succeed.
Alternatively, grads try to land their first on-air jobs at smaller cable outlets, including some in the Northeast like at Comcast, Cablevision systems, Time Warner, etc. Others with experience have landed at other venues: a recent grad was immediately hired to anchor daily newscasts on Forbes.com. After 18 months she was then hired to anchor broadcasts at Bloomberg News. Another was hired to report and anchor in Gainesville, Fla., another in Little Rock, and another in Augusta, Ga.
The path into radio is similar. If you want to go on air, don’t expect to land a reporting position at NPR, MPR/APM or major affiliates straight from J-school without experience. With the exception of a couple of highly competitive special fellowship opportunities, you will need to pay your dues in production or do lots of freelance reporting to launch your career. However, if you are willing to relocate and go to a smaller market station, you can hit the ground running and be out in the field reporting right out of J-school.
How should international students prepare?
Everything that we recommend above applies to international students, but in particular, your English speaking skills must be impeccable to succeed in our programs and to land a job with an American news media company. You must excel at reading, writing and speaking English to be able to handle the course readings, conduct story interviews for your class assignments and to compose your stories – including your master’s project or thesis. Many U.S.-based media companies will require writing tests of candidates, and at that time, you will need to demonstrate your high proficiency in written English. As with others, having exposure to journalism prior to enrolling is helpful, especially with media that publish in English because U.S.-based employers will require you to submit a work portfolio that contains stories that were written in English and not in another language.
What are the job prospects in the U.S. for the international students?
International students will find it far more challenging and difficult to find work than U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Most U.S. employers are reluctant to consider international students for journalism positions and some have outright policies against doing so (i.e. the national TV networks, many national magazines and newspaper chains). That said, there are some companies, big and small, that are willing to take internationals on. Many employers that hire summer interns are seeking candidates who might be good prospects for full-time jobs at the end of the summer. But if you are an international student, fewer employers will consider you for those summer intern “tryout jobs” because you won’t have have permanent work authorization in the United States, and they refuse to sponsor for long-term employment. So despite the fact that most international students will have the OPT one year work authorization, many companies will not consider hiring you even for that period. However, every year many of our international students find jobs in the United States, at companies of all sizes. The reasons are many and can include one’s specialty background, language skills, high proficiency in a particular coverage area like business/finance or multimedia, and a willingness to move to a market that is not highly sought by many and other reasons. Annually, around half of our international students land at least temporary jobs in the U.S. job market but only a handful each year will find fulltime, permanent employment.
Students have been most successful in finding jobs in the United States if they seek to work in financial/business news coverage since so many of those companies have international audiences and write on issues that go far beyond the U.S. borders. In particular, the financial news wire services have been generally welcoming to international students, but only if they have business writing skills and are passionate about such coverage.
Another course many international graduates take is to work as a freelance journalist during their one-year Optional Practical Training period because the law counts freelancing as employment. There are limits on how long a period of time you may remain unemployed during that year, however, so read more at the link below about OPT.
International students can also pursue jobs at media companies abroad and in fact do very well landing these jobs. In particular, the wire services love our international students who speak foreign languages and have an interest in business news. The Career Services Office has established an increasing number of programs with employers in Latin America, Asia and in Europe that are open exclusively to our graduates, so our international students often compete successfully for those jobs. And, finally, most of our international students eventually return to their homeland to pursue journalism careers there.
As for internships during the school year: If you are on an F1 student visa you cannot work for pay during the academic year, including getting freelance fees for stories published. You also cannot write a story and agree to not be paid if everyone else who works with that company as a freelancer gets paid.
For the recently revised Optional Practical Training (OPT) rules for international students, see our breakdown of the new OPT rules.
If I don’t have journalism experience before coming to Columbia, how can I develop a writing portfolio during the year so I have something to show during the job search?
In the MS program, every Reporting and Writing 1 class section contributes stories that are published to a public website, so that is the best way that students can build a portfolio during the year. Student produce plain text stories, videos, audio reports, still photo slideshows, graphics, some blog and add frequent feeds to class Twitter and Facebook accounts, and work in collaborations with outside media partners. For MA students, there are far fewer sites that are published by the school where they can get their work published, but some MA students continue writing for the companies they left just before Journalism School. They also freelance at magazines, websites and such.
Another very good way, whether in the MS or the MA program, is to freelance using the stories that you will write for some of your classes and other pieces you conceive. There are plenty of places where you can get those stories published. Be aware, though, that if you are on an F1 student visa you cannot work for pay in the United States while you are in school, including as an intern or even getting freelance fees for stories published. You also cannot write a story and agree to not be paid if everyone else who works with that company as a freelancer gets paid. However, some companies take freelance pieces and routinely do not pay. Career Services holds workshops in the fall on how to pitch your stories to local publications, and our office provides listings of those companies online.
Updated May 6, 2013