You have until the 15th of May to apply for this year’s round of the Guardian Scott Trust Bursary. But, just how do you stand the best chance of snagging a place? And what exactly do you get?
We spoke to a selection of recent graduates who’ve completed the MA and placement scheme, to put together a handy guide of everything you need to know. It’s pretty comprehensive, even if we do say so ourselves.
Each year, The Guardian Foundation (an independent charity, supporting the diversification of the media, amongst many other things) offers a number of bursaries to students who want to get a postgraduate qualification in journalism, but would otherwise be unable to afford it.
On top of the education, you’ll also get placements at The Guardian and The Observer, and there’s a chance of a six month paid contract at the end of your studies. This year they’re looking to offer places to three students, which is the same as the last few years.
First things first, it’s worth pointing out that, under the bursary, you’re able to choose from five different courses. We have heard of some successful applicants requesting a switch to another journalism course at the same institution, but broadly you will be offered:
- City University, London (MA in Interactive Journalism)
- City University, London (MA in Newspaper Journalism)
- Goldsmiths College, University of London (MA in Journalism)
- Goldsmiths College, University of London (MA in Digital Journalism)
- The University of Sheffield (MA in Journalism, as a bonus this degree is also accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists, meaning you also get an NCTJ Diploma too)
As well as paying for your tuition fees, the bursary also provides a subsistence allowance of £6,000. Dreamy. One of the 2018-19 recipients Jessica Murray tells Journo Resources that this was sent to her in three instalments of £2,000.
“This was such a huge help as the course [at Sheffield] is really intense with lots of contact hours,” she continues, “so it’s difficult to squeeze in enough hours at a part-time job to support yourself alongside it.”
In addition, bursary recipients will also do several weeks of work experience with The Guardian or The Observer during the course of their studies – and a quick look at some of the Twitter profiles of those currently on the scheme shows they’re racking up bylines.
“I first spent a week training alongside the other Scott Trust journalists in my cohort, learning the Guardian house style, subbing skills and how to use the content management system,” Jessica says.
“The first longer placement was on a non-news desk, and we each selected our top three preferred desks for this. I was assigned the environment desk, where I spent two months covering news stories such as the Extinction Rebellion protests and the school climate strikes. It was a great opportunity to gain some in depth knowledge and contacts in a specific area, and I’ve continued writing extensively on environment since moving to other desks.”
Tobi Thomas, a 2019-20 recipient of the bursary and now a data reporter at The Guardian, studied at City University through the scheme, and did work experience in both the Manchester office and at The Observer, “Manchester was great – I was there for the election so covering a couple of counts for the liveblog which was really exciting.”
“The Observer was not as fast paced, being a Sunday paper, but I had the opportunity to write an opinion piece on young people and the election, which was daunting as I don’t consider myself much of an opinion writer, but it was a great experience nonetheless.”
“Manchester was great – I was there for the election so covering a couple of counts for the liveblog which was really exciting.”
Tobi Thomas, 19/20 Bursary Recipient
Jessica also spent a month in The Guardian’s Manchester office, working on stories such as protests against Northern Rail and contributed to a project on the Labour leadership race.
“I was then able to use the news-gathering skills I’d developed from this placement when I moved to the national news desk back in London, covering big stories like the coronavirus outbreak, Brexit night and the death of Caroline Flack.”
Safi Bugel, who is currently studying at the University of Sheffield through the scheme, recently completed her first work experience placement. What Safi has found particularly valuable about the work experience, is “the support network within the newsroom,” where she’s been able to form close relationships with editors, and has “had the space to ask questions about things like the commissioning process and choosing titles.” Safi says she’s benefitted greatly from having a mentor, as they are “someone who understands how tough the industry can be, but who has gone through it and been successful.”
It’s also worth noting here that the work experience in the scheme is also financially supported by the bursary, so they’ll cover accommodation, breakfast, and lunch.
Additionally, there is also the possibility of snagging a fixed-term contract at The Guardian. As far as we know, it seems like this is a pretty strong possibility as long as you pull your weight on your course, but it is worth noting this isn’t guaranteed.
This year they’ve taken down the length of the contract as well – it’s now six months in total, but that’s still a pretty impressive starter job.
The Application Process
Let’s get the entry requirements out of the way first. To be eligible you’ll need to have or be expected to graduate from an undergraduate degree with a minimum pass of a 2.1 minimum (or equivalent from elsewhere) by the time the scheme kicks off in September.
You’ll also need the permanent right to work in the UK, and be able to demonstrate you are unable to pursue a masters’ qualification without financial support. That aside, they’re also expecting a commitment to journalism, perhaps through work experience, blogging, or student journalism.
If you feel you can tick all of those boxes, it all starts online here. For starters you’ll need a CV (max two pages, but we’d advise sticking to one), and this is followed by an application form which questions your “motivation, suitability, and written work”.
Then you’ll need to attach three previous examples of your journalism. These can be published or unpublished, and either print or online. You’ll also then need to explain why you chose to submit those three particular articles. Safi Bugel, a 2021-22 recipient, opted for previous pieces of her work that had explored issues she really cared about, and that included interviews meaningful to her. When it comes to the rest of the application process, Safi stresses the importance of being yourself, “I know it sounds like a cliché, but some of the things you might not realise are really impressive and interesting about yourself, would bring new things to the newsroom,” she says. As well as being honest about yourself, “have a think beforehand about what you think is impressive about yourself and what you’ve done and what you’re interested in, because often in interview settings, it’s quite hard to remember everything,” she adds.
Weronika Strzyżyńska, a 2020-21 bursary recipient who studied at Goldsmiths through the scheme, echoes Safi’s sentiment. “They are interested in a unique perspective, and if you can show that through your work and through the way you answer the questions, I think that’s really useful.” She also says it’s a good idea to be as prepared as possible for each stage of the application, “perhaps see how well you perform under pressure, and how you might find sources quickly, and where you would find them.”
When deciding which previous pieces of work to attach to the application, Weronika chose work that best demonstrated her investigative and written skills, and commitment to the story. “One piece that I chose was a personal essay on Brexit – it’s actually still one of the pieces that I’m most proud of. There was one about Polish women who pursued careers or further education after settling in the UK because at the time, it was the whole Priti Patel thing about low skilled migrants, so I wanted to make the argument that a lot of migrants actually gain skills after arriving in the UK.”
Since working at The Guardian, Weronika has worked on some really important stories, including travelling to Poland to work on a project about the country’s abortion rights, “I started working on this as a project in my masters, and after I finished, I was pitching it around and no one seemed to be interested, but then an editor at The Guardian who I hadn’t worked with before got in touch to ask if I knew anything about abortion rights in Poland. I’m still working on that project now, and I’m going to be writing about abortion rights in Romania.”
Want a bit of help with your CV before you apply? Here’s a complete guide to nailing your CV and cover letter, as well as a couple of successful examples from people who’ve gone onto get jobs. Not sure what to change? Here’s a rundown.
Wonderfully, your application to the bursary doubles as your application to the masters programme itself. But, do remember that if you are applying for any other source of funding (so you could attend without the Scott Trust Bursary), you need to apply directly to the postgraduate course as well.
If you’re successful, you’ll then be asked to submit a written task, which is done at an agreed upon time and lasts two hours. Finally, you’ll have an interview with the Guardian Foundation. “The interview was probably what stands out the most of all three stages,” says Tobi. “Gary Younge was in mine so I was pretty star struck!”
“[The interview] was just about my background, why I thought I was a good applicant, and my response to some issues that may arise while working.”
Laura Abernethy, Assistant Lifestyle Editor at Metro.co.uk
Speaking about her experience of interview, Laura Abernethy, a former recipient and current assistant Lifestyle Editor at Metro.co.uk, said: “It was just about my background, why I thought I was a good applicant, and my response to some issues that may arise while working as a journalist. All in all, the interview lasted about an hour. I heard back from them about a week later to say I had received a place.”
What Are They Looking For?
But just what are the people looking at your application looking for? In a nutshell, confidence, commitment and non-conformity (which isn’t totally alliterative, but does sound pretty good).
Have confidence in yourself and your passion – they are looking for those who desperately want to become journalists, and have a desire to tell the stories of others. And, remember that it’s not about who has done the most internships or had the best work-experience.
“I think a really important aspect of what the Guardian Foundation is looking for is someone who understands the importance of the Guardian’s values and what makes them different from other newsrooms,” adds Tobi.
A lot of nonsense is written about why BAME struggle to fit in at uni so it felt good to finally get a chance to offer my take. Probably my most honest article so far. https://t.co/t67MZxcnWE
— Alex Mistlin (@amistlin) May 21, 2019
She continues: “When I applied I also had a clear goal of getting into data journalism, and so was able to write about this in my application quite enthusiastically. So, I think having an idea of what sort of journalism interests you is helpful as it’s a way to show your commitment to the job.”
Always be ready to explain what you gained from each experience you’ve listed (whether it’s local news, student radio, an internship), and how you believe it will make you a better journalist. Make sure you’ve researched the Guardian Scott Trust prior to the interview, and remember that while they’re not expecting your clips to be published, they need to have the potential to be.
“Think about what you can bring that no-one else can. The best way of demonstrating this is with story ideas, so make sure to get these in your application and at interview.”
Jessica Murray, 18/19 Bursary Recipient
Non-conformity is key, Jessica adds: “The scheme is all about bringing diverse voices to the newsroom so think about what you can bring that no one else can. The best way of demonstrating this is with story ideas, so make sure to get these in your application and at the interview.
“Obviously pitching ideas can seem really scary but just remember they’re not looking for stuff to be perfect, they’re looking for you to think outside the box and come up with fresh angles. Also, draw on your own personal experiences as much as you can.”
Tobi also advises that you should to be honest about yourself and your experiences. “You’re applying to do a journalism qualification, so they don’t expect you to be a perfect journalist already. There’s no need to embellish or blag what you’ve done.
“I remember someone once saying to me that ‘those who don’t have a bit of imposter syndrome are the real frauds’. When applying, just because you’re from a marginalised background, it doesn’t mean that you’re not as good as anyone else. Have confidence in the fact that you have access to stories others may not, and can offer an alternative perspective on issues you may be reporting on.”
And finally, don’t be afraid of rejection. Jessica Murray applied unsuccessfully in 2017, but reapplied in 2018. “I was expecting another rejection but ended up getting it,” she tells Journo Resources. “So, don’t be disheartened. Just make sure you can demonstrate what you’ve done in the intervening 12 months to improve yourself.”
Some Reviews From Those Who Completed It
All in all, it’s a pretty good package in our opinion. But what about the people who’ve done it? We’ve gathered a selection of reviews, and will soon be adding more to cover the placement.
Laura Abernethy: “I would absolutely recommend the scheme. Thanks to the funding and experience, I went straight into a job before the course even finished. When I applied, there wasn’t the possibility of a contract at the end, which I think makes the scheme even better. They’ve also introduced mentors for those on the bursaries and that is really useful. I feel like it was supportive and really helped me move forward in my career.”
Jessica Murray: “The MA course at Sheffield gives you a brilliant grounding as a journalist and is the only course on the scheme which provides you with an NCTJ qualification as well as an MA, something which was really important to me.
“It’s hard to pick out one most important thing I’ve learnt, but getting my 100wpm shorthand qualification, learning media law and court reporting, and developing multimedia skills in video production and editing have all been super useful. I would 100% recommend the scheme to others, it’s a fantastic opportunity to get experience in the industry and gain qualifications that will really help your future career.”
Weronika Strzyżyńska: “As part of my MA course at Goldsmiths, we did a project where we got to design our own magazine, which we worked on in groups. It allowed me to work on very diverse topics and organise my own work and have a creative vision, and think about how I could realise that in the real world, which was really valuable.”
“The scheme has been really valuable. It was great that I got the opportunity to do a Masters because I think I would have struggled to do it without the support financially, and also having the opportunity to work at The Guardian, and have contact with mentors was really useful. It definitely really prepared me for a career.”
Safi Bugel: “The work experience has been a really exciting opportunity to connect with an editor, because while I’ve done freelance work before, that has sometimes felt a bit disconnected compared with being in a newsroom or having a close relationship with an editor. And whilst it was online, it was really nice to have that space to just ask questions about the commissioning process and what they look for, and how they choose titles, because whilst I’ve done the writing before, I’ve not had an insight into aspects like that.”
Article compiled and written by Jessica Lord in March 2019. It has been updated to include new interviews and information in March 2022. You can find Jessica on Twitter.