Supported content from City, University of London Journalism Department

December 16, 2022 (Updated )

For many of us, our last memory of applying to a university course probably involves UCAS — and you were probably pretty peeved when it destroyed all the formatting for your personal statement. You’ll be happy to know the process of applying for a journalism masters degree goes nowhere near that website.

However, if you are thinking about applying for a postgraduate course in journalism, you will need to put together an application that involves multiple parts. We spoke to the lecturers who sift through your applications and the students who’ve successfully applied to work out how to stand the best chance of snagging a place.

Is A Masters In Journalism Worth It?

Before you even think about putting in an application, it’s worth taking the time to work out if an MA in journalism is the right route for you and which one would suit you best. Research is key — City, University of London’s journalism department, for example, offers 10 different options, so it’s well worth taking the time to see which course fits you.

a woman with her back to the camera is looking into her phone, where she is recording herself in a front facing camera
Take the time to think about which area of journalism you want to work in (Image Credit: Pexels: Mikhail Nilov)

Don’t just assume you know what each individual course will entail. Instead, take the time to understand the knowledge and skills you will learn during each course, and think about whether those are suited to your interests and passions.

One example is how City’s International Journalism course isn’t a programme only for international students but is a course designed for students aiming to become foreign correspondents or hoping to work on a foreign news desk — a common misconception made by those who haven’t looked at the course information in detail.

Jason Bennetto, City’s senior lecturer in Magazine Journalism, recommends attending an open day if possible — you can see upcoming dates at City here, as well as what they involve. As well as being able to meet course tutors, students and alumni, and see the facilities, it’s an excellent place to ask a tonne of questions: Ask how much practical experience you’ll get, what kinds of guest lectures you can expect, and where alumni have ended up working. Some universities will also offer ‘virtual’ open evenings too — at City, there’s offer both a virtual open evening in April, as well as a session about journalism skills and jobs that’s open to all on January 31, 2024.

Many universities will also offer remote event options for those who can’t make it in person too — and we can’t stress enough how useful they are to understanding the resources open to you and the people you’ll be working with.

So, Where Do Your Alumni Work?
Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff
Charlie on a panel for Journo Resources (Image Credit: Ollie Cole/Journo Resources)

Asking where alumni work is one of the best questions to ask of potential courses. Rather than just telling you how many of their past students are in work, it gives an insight into the types of places you could end up working, where the course has industry links, and what kind of relationships they have with their alumni.

At City, University of London, more than 6,000 alumni are now working in respected positions within the industry, from newspapers and magazines, to broadcast and digital positions. Names  you may have heard of include:

• Sunday Times columnist Dolly Alderton (Magazine Journalism, 2010)

• Author and broadcaster Gary Younge (Newspaper Journalism, 1993)

• BBC political editor Chris Mason (Broadcast Journalism, 2002)

• Former gal-dem editor and New York Times journalist Charlie Brinkhurst–Cuff (Newspaper Journalism, 2016)

• Fay Schlesinger, head of national news at The Guardian.

You can see even more alumni by looking through their annual XCity magazine here and more about their courses here.

What Are Courses Looking For In Applicants?

According to City’s senior lecturer in Magazine Journalism, Jason Bennetto, anyone who has a genuine passion and commitment to becoming a journalist should consider applying for a MA in Journalism at the university.

“We want people who want to be journalists and like asking questions,” explains Bennetto, when asked the kind of things they look for in applications. But he also urges people to be open about what they still need to learn.

“People with lots of ideas, who are curious about other people and world events, who are prepared to work hard and learn. But we aren’t looking for the finished article — remember, you come on the course so we can help you become a fantastic journalist.”

Journo Resources
“A common mistake is when students write one personal statement for a string of applications. Make sure you show us why you are interested in this specific course — and in us as a university.”
Zahera Harb, head of City University’s MA International Journalism course

Zahera Harb, the head of City University’s MA International Journalism course, agrees. “If you are thinking of applying for a MA course in International Journalism, ask yourself if you really are interested in the news. You need to be up to date with what’s happening in the world to be a journalist. If you are curious, you should apply. If you’re not someone who reads, watches the news, or surfs online for news — or if you feel disconnected with that word — then perhaps this profession is not for you.”

In short, you want your application to show curiosity about the world, how you consume the news yourself, and that you’re open and willing to learn more.

“We offer support services and allowances to applicants with mental and physical health conditions,” Bennetto adds. “For example, we can offer extra time and support for students with dyslexia or dyspraxia. The campus also has wheelchair access and has catered for students with visual impairments. As with all our students, we always strive to make sure everyone is comfortable and looked after.”

Zahera, a woman wearing a green coat and with red glasses and blonde brown hair, sits in a white room, smiling to camera
Zahera Harb, the head of City University’s MA International Journalism course. (Image Credit: City University)

What Do I Need To Apply For A Postgraduate Journalism Degree?

Aside from your mindset and personal statement, courses will typically ask you to submit your academic record, proof of proficiency in English if it is your second language, as well as proof of any journalism work experience to date. The exact requirements will vary from university to university and even course to course, so do check what you need before you sit down to apply.

“The requirements [at City] are a good second-class undergraduate degree or above in any subject,” says Bennetto. “We also welcome applications if you have relevant experience but without this level. And we have had people who have studied everything from humanities to maths, and even law.”

In addition, applicants should have an IELTS academic test of 7 and above, or an equivalent certificate in English if they graduated from a country where English isn’t an official language. A personal statement, proof of an undergraduate degree, and a CV will also be needed for the application. Finally, applicants must demonstrate having an interest or practice in journalism, best shown by already having completed work experience or similar.

“The latter is because we want evidence that students have genuinely thought about journalism by gaining some experience,” Bennetto explains. “Typically, people have worked on a student magazine, website, or radio station.

“They may have even gained work experience on local websites or professional publications — but working for a professional outlet isn’t necessary. We simply want to see you are curious about the world and have already shown a commitment to journalism.”

Journo Resources
“We simply want to see you are curious about the world and have already shown a commitment to journalism.”
Jason Bennetto, senior lecturer in Magazine Journalism at City University

“Applicants sometimes refrain from applying altogether because they feel they don’t have enough work experience,” explains Harb. If you feel this way, she advises spending a week or two experience building before you apply. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount and is another reason to start thinking about your application early.

“If you do want to become a journalist, then engage with journalism by writing a blog or pitching to local or student media before you start your application.”

As previously mentioned, every course will have slightly different requirements for applications. But, as a rule, most will include a short written exercise. Depending on what is required and the student, applications can take from one day to a few weeks to put together.

On City’s MA Magazine Journalism, for example, students are asked to interview someone of interest in their local area and write a 250-word article based on the interview. The idea is to see if the applicant can find someone to interview, talk to them, and put it all together in a cohesive article, like they would have to in a newsroom.

Find The Perfect Journalism Course For You At City University

Applications for City’s journalism courses are now open and run until the start of the next academic year — but early applications are encouraged.

They offer 10 courses tailored courses, all giving up-to-the-minute industry insights and access to specialist journalism facilities developed in consultation with BBC and ITN experts.

MA Broadcast Journalism
MA Digital and Social Journalism
MA Global Financial Journalism
MA International Journalism
MA Investigative Journalism
MA Journalism, Media, and Globalisation (Erasmus Mundus)
MA Magazine Journalism
MA Newspaper Journalism
MA Podcasting
MA Television Journalism

You can find details on their Postgraduate Open Evenings on their website, as well as a virtual event in April and a journalism skills session in January.

A regular mistake made when applying is students not following instructions, warns Bennetto. People leave out things like their personal statement or the short written piece that many courses require, or they provide far too much information. “Remember, accuracy is important in journalism, so I recommend sticking to the course application brief on our website and making sure someone else checks your application for grammatical errors,” he says.

What Is The Deadline For Postgraduate Applications?

While most masters courses do not carry a specific deadline for applications, the recommendation is to start your application as early as possible — this will give you time to ensure your application ticks off all the requirements for your particular course, and that you have work experience to demonstrate your commitment to journalism.

Archie Earle, 23, a student in MA Newspaper Journalism at City, began his application in May, giving him time to consider his application assignments. “I spent three weeks on the application which involved a brief personal statement of 200 words and an interview with someone in the local community.”

Hridika Nandra took a risk and received an unconditional offer within 48 hours of applying. (Image Credit: Supplied)

Though we don’t necessarily recommend it, there are also applicants for whom taking a risk with time has paid off. Hridika Nandra, 22, completed her Master’s application in one day.

“After submitting my application, I heard from them the next day to arrange an interview. From then, it only took 48 hours to receive my official unconditional offer for the course!”

What To Write In A Personal Statement For A Masters

Whatever course you’re applying for, the chances are they’ll want a personal statement. The purpose is to introduce yourself to the course leaders, helping them to learn more about you and to get a snapshot of your background, experience, and motivation. In addition, it should show why you want to be a journalist and why you have chosen the university to undertake your particular programme.

“Be honest and straightforward,” Bennetto advises. “Address your chosen MA and tell us why you want to come to City to study that specific course. Demonstrate those things with examples of the work experience or other relevant work.”

Harb adds, “A common mistake is when students write one personal statement for a string of applications. Make sure you show us why you are interested in this specific course — and in us as a university.”

Earle gave us a look into his personal statement: “I used my 200-word personal statement to talk about how I had wanted to be a journalist for a long time and how, since studying Politics and International Relations as my undergraduate degree, I had got experience at a student magazine and gone on to work on the data desk at the Times and Sunday Times.”

Nandra also demonstrated how a personal statement doesn’t have to be long-winded to be effective. “My personal statement was less than a page and included four paragraphs summarising my interest in journalism. The first outlined my work as an undergraduate student in Psychology and Consumer Marketing, and how the skills from the course could apply in a journalism setting.

“I then ran through my previous experience in a TV presenter role for britasiatv, such as covering the Commonwealth Games and going to red-carpet events. I didn’t just list what I had done, but also the skills I had learnt and show that applied to journalism. Finally, I explained why I looked forward to learning at City and why I had chosen the course I had.”

What Happens After The Application?

After you submit your application, it will then be sent for review by the team at your chosen university.

If your application ticks most of the boxes, you will typically take at least a month to receive an email offering you a one-on-one interview with your course leader, which will either be conducted in person or via Zoom.

Alternatively, some courses may offer you a place straight away. You can find out more about what to expect during an MA course interview here.

And as we promised, no UCAS was involved whatsoever.

University of City, Journalism Department
University of City, Journalism Department

Wherever you are in the world, on any given day you are likely to see, hear or read journalism from graduates of City’s Department of Journalism.

Each year hundreds of people from diverse backgrounds apply to us who want the best education to enable them to get a great job in the media.

Here at City, we provide an intense and highly focused education to help you acquire the up-to-date journalism skills needed to enter your chosen area of the media.