Ask about industry links and work experience placements, as well as the credentials of past students.
The sad fact is that far more people want to be journalists than there are vacancies in the industry. It's not compulsory to do a postgraduate course, but it can definitely give you an edge on the competition. Some courses even involve a regular work experience placement, which could turn into a full time job if you play your cards right.
What types of courses are available?
Courses have traditionally tended to be based on one of two types of journalism:
Print can be split into newspapers, or magazines and periodicals. Broadcast courses will teach you how to report for video and audio, as well as teach you about the equipment and how to use it. Some multimedia courses will cover several different formats. Some courses specialise in particular sections of a newspaper such as arts/lifestyle, fashion and sport.
There are also courses specialising in online journalism – although many courses are now integrating this into their curriculums. Courses specifically focusing on print have become less common as general 'journalism' courses tend to focus on both print and online.
Many postgraduate journalism courses include formal placements with employers, which can be a bonus for those in search of structured work experience. If your department has links with industry (such as lectures by professionals working in the field) this can be another plus.
How can I fund it?
Course prices can be anything from around £1,400 for a diploma to around £10,000 for a masters. If you do decide to take a postgraduate course you may be able find relevant bursaries and grants on TARGETjobs' postgraduate study section. Alternatively, you can study part time, while working to fund the investment in your future. Some employers in the industry may be willing to support training for a valued employee.
A Professional and Career Development Loan might be appropriate. The Journalism Diversity Fund is also available for candidates from underrepresented groups who wish to join an NCTJ course. The Wyn Harness Prize for Young Journalists includes a cash bursary of £1,000, and has previously been open for entries between December and January each year.
How long does it take?
Courses can take up to one year, if you do it full time, or two if you take evening classes. Students on one-year courses usually work towards qualifications such as an MA or PGDip (postgraduate diploma).
However, some courses are much shorter (from a few weeks to six months) and run by specialist training colleges. Be wary of these. Journalism qualifications are big business, but not necessarily worth anything in the industry. Nonetheless, if they're accredited by one of the organisations listed below, they could be a better bet than a longer, unaccredited course at a well-known university.
How do I choose the right one for me?
Your best bet is to talk to recruiters in the industry you want to work in and find out for yourself; you might be surprised. For example, an NCTJ qualification tends to be a prerequisite for local newspapers, but nationals have typically not been fussed about this. Look for accreditation from one of the following industry bodies:
- National Union of Journalists (NUJ)
- National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ)
- Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC).
If you want to assess the value of a qualification, ask about industry links and work experience placements, as well as the credentials of past students.