The 10 Best Colleges for Journalists

By Kieran Dahl December 5th, 2014

Many journalists are freelancers. Many freelancers are journalists. And many members of both overlapping groups likely went to college for journalism—to learn how to report and interview and copy edit and handle unexpectedly egregious requests from PR people.

So in the spirit of the best-of listicles that overwhelm our newsfeeds at the end of the year, here are the 10 best colleges for aspiring journalists. As with my “10 Best Colleges for Creative Writers” piece, this list is based on a mix of objective metrics (like award-winning, highly touted student newspapers) and my own idiosyncratic metrics (like if recent graduates are doing cool things in the media world).

Arizona State University

What? Perennially one of the nation’s top party schools, according to Playboy; also happens to have the renowned Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, which offers a Journalism major and courses taught in a $71 million state-of-the-art journalism building.

What, you mean journalists need more than a pen and notebook nowadays?

Where? The dry, sunny, metropolitan sprawl of Phoenix, Arizona.

Student newspaper? The State Press.

What are recent grads doing? Content producer at Bleacher Report, production assistant at ESPN, freelancer for Vogue, associate breaking news editor at BuzzFeed, designer at Gannett.

Anything else? ASU is a nation unto itself. It’s the largest public university by enrollment in the U.S, with more than 62,000 undergraduates and nearly 15,000 postgraduates. For reference, here’s a data visualization of that number of people biking around Manhattan.

Cornell University

What? The only Ivy League school along with the University of Pennsylvania to offer a communication major—no journalism, sorry—and one of three whose mascot is, inexplicably, a color. (There’s the Harvard Crimson, the Dartmouth Big Green, and the Cornell Big Red.)

Where? Ithaca, New York, a small city more than four hours from anything. By “anything,” I mean New York City. No matter—Business Insider called Ithaca the best college town in America. Plus, Ithaca is gorges.

Student newspaper? The Cornell Daily Sun, #3 in the nation, according to the Princeton Review‘s 2014 ranking.

What are recent grads doing? Reporter at China Daily USA, financial product analyst at Bloomberg, copywriter at McCann, videographer at VideoNote, plus…

Anything else? … one of Cornell’s Communication graduates is a “Character Performer” at Disney World. I figured this fact deserved its own section.

[Ed. note: An eagle-eyed reader notified us that the University of Pennsylvania also has a communication major.]

Indiana University Bloomington

What? The flagship institution of the massive Indiana University system with a journalism major and 10 specialization areas.

Where? The small city of Bloomington, Indiana, known as the “Gateway to Scenic Southern Indiana.” Whatever the hell that means.

Student newspaper? The Indiana Daily Student, 2013 and 2014 recipient of the Associate Collegiate Press Pacemaker Award.

What are recent grads doing? Video journalist at CNN, reporter at the Indianapolis Star, editor at Raycom Media, business news reporter at the Associated Press, associate media planner at Digitas.

Anything else? While the yearly Little 500 bicycle race, in which IU students do over 200 laps on a quarter-mile track, sounds boring, it’s anything but. “It’s billed as the world’s greatest college weekend,” said IU alum and billionaire Mark Cuban. “And it is.”

University of Maryland, College Park

What? The school with a turtle—excuse me, terrapin—for a mascot. Oh, and the competitive Philip Merrill College of Journalism, whose admissions standards are higher than the university’s.

Where? College Park, Maryland, eight miles from Washington, D.C. The university draws adjunct faculty from nearby D.C.-based publications like USA Today and The Washington Post, both of which sometimes pick up students’ stories.

Student newspaper? The Diamondback, named after a more specific moniker of the school’s mascot.

What are recent grads doing? Tim Kurkjian, class of 1978 (recent in the scale of the universe, c’mon), is the face of ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight.” Unlike the other schools, Maryland does not provide information about what recent grads are up to. That’s either really good or bad. Since they’re on this list, I’ll guess the former.

Anything else? Betches love the University of Maryland.

University of Missouri

What? The football-mad SEC university with the country’s oldest formal journalism school, founded in 1908.

Where? Columbia, Missouri, whose main selling point, beyond a reptile exhibit, is the university itself.

Student newspaper? The Maneater, #1 in the nation for oddest publication name.

What are recent grads doing? Editor/reporter at Fox Business News, education reporter at Arkansas’ The Sentinel-Record, reporter at the St. Louis Cardinals (not sure what this means, but it’s listed in the alumni directory), editor at Cooking Light magazine.

Anything else? Within Mizzou’s Journalism major are more than 30 interest areas “designed to build expertise in areas in which journalism and strategic communication majors typically find jobs,” including “Magazine Writing,” “Strategic Communication: Copywriting,” “Watchdog Journalism,” and “Arts and Culture Journalism.”

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

What? The school with its own recognized color (Tar Heel blue) and a bafflingly impressive array of journalism-related majors: Advertising, Broadcast Journalism, Business Journalism, Electronic Communication, Multimedia, Photojournalism, Public Relations, and Reporting.

Where? Chapel Hill, North Carolina, one of three cities—Durham (home to Duke University) and Raleigh being the other two—that comprise the so-called “Research Triangle,” a region home to numerous high-tech institutions. In other words: lots of smartypants.

Student newspaper? The Daily Tar Heel, #9 in the nation and 2013 Pacemaker Award recipient.

What are recent grads doing? More than 80 percent of 2012 graduates reported having a full-time job within four months of graduation, so whatever UNC’s doing must be working, and I demand they share their secrets with the world immediately.

Anything else? Journalism majors must score 70 percent or better on a 50-minute, 100-question usage and grammar test prior to graduation. UNC lists Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Word Crimes” music video as a studying resource.

Northwestern University

What? The school whose third-most-popular major is journalism—and whose journalism program’s name, Medill, is a homophone of what it deserves.

Where? Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago on the shore of Lake Michigan. Northwestern’s location is a blessing and a curse. For “Enterprising Reporting in Diverse Communities,” students get to do in-depth multimedia reporting in Chicago neighborhoods… but good luck with that in the winter. It gets unfathomably coldSeriously. So cold.

Real-world training? Medill’s Journalism Residency program partners students with media companies—magazines, radio stations, news organizations, marketing agencies—for 11 weeks of full-time experience “alongside veteran journalists in professional environments.” Recent site placements include Cosmopolitan, New Yorkmagazine, Sapient, and USA Today, among many others.

Student newspaper? The Daily Northwestern.

What are recent grads doing? News editor at Marie Claire, casting assistant at Jimmy Kimmel Live, social media coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles, news editor at NBC Universal, senior communications analyst at NerdWallet.

Anything else? Northwestern offers a five-course certificate program in Integrated Marketing Communications. If you’ve ever wondered how a brand creates social-media buzz or why people trust some—but not all—advertising, the program may be for you. Alternatively, if none of that, or even journalism, is really your thing, you can major in tuba.

Pennsylvania State University

What? The school better known for football, JoePa, and the Jerry Sandusky scandal than for journalism, unfortunately—but wrongly so. Penn State’s journalism program is one of country’s best, and for the football-frenzied, it even offers a certificate in sports journalism.

Where? University Park, Pennsylvania. Yes, the university is its own postal address.

Student newspaper? The Daily Collegian, #6 in the nation and 2013 Pacemaker Award recipient. (If you haven’t noticed, there are a number of Pacemaker Award recipients.)

What are recent grads doing? Being targeted by recruiters seeking a large, talented pool of potential employees—Penn State’s career services were recently ranked #2 in the country.

Anything else? Penn State students swept the top three places at the 2013–14 Hearst Journalism Awards National Writing Championship.

University of Southern California

What? The famous football-, film-, and fun-fanatical school with the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, which offers majors in communication, journalism, and public relations.

Where? The City of Angels, La La Land, Kardashianville—otherwise known as Los Angeles, California.

Student Newspaper? The Daily Trojan.

What are recent grad doing? Editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly, page at CBS, Internet reporter/editor for the San Francisco 49ers, reporter at People magazine, sales associate at CNN.

Anything else? USC’s Annenberg graduates are so entrenched in the media world they have their own dedicated website:

Syracuse University

What? The school known for the color orange, partying harder than any other school, and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, with its five journalism-relevant majors.

Where? Syracuse, New York, the economic and educational focal point of central New York.

Student newspaper? The Daily Orange, #2 in the nation and 2014 Pacemaker Award recipient.

What are recent grads doing? Project assistant editor for Major League Baseball, sports reporter/editor at New York’s Medina Journal-Register, production assistant at the Golf Channel, junior editor at Grey Healthcare, online and social media editor at BZ Media.

Anything else? Of “The 20 Things You Absolutely Need to Do at Syracuse University Before You Graduate,” 13 involve drugs and/or sex and/or alcohol and/or destroying property. Yay!

Image by Frank Franklin II
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