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We have all been there as journalism hopefuls: you have completed college or sixth form and the next step on your path to becoming a journalist may be university.

But there are so many universities and myriad of media courses, while the number of places available on your UCAS submission form is limited.

How do you solve the chronic indecision of a university applicant? Journalism.co.uk rounded up six important criteria to weigh up when choosing your under- or postgraduate degree.

Syllabus and specialities

Many undergraduate and postgraduate courses are designed with an area of journalism in mind. Some courses are specialist to certain topics, such as fashion, sports or music journalism. Some focus on specific platforms, like broadcast or magazine, and others will offer a mixture, like multimedia or interactive journalism. Knowing what kind of journalism you want to ultimately want to do will help with your decision - so check the course roadmap.

As well as this, some journalism courses place more focus more on the theory of journalism, and others emphasise practical skills in reporting. For aspiring journalists, consider what matters most to you and how this will help you meet your career goals.

Accredited qualifications

Some UK news organisations look to certain qualifications, such as the NCTJ diploma in journalism, and courses accredited by the BJTC and the PPA as a minimum requirement. Studying an accredited course can put you in good stead for a career in journalism and can save you money compared to getting these qualifications separate from your university degree. A list of accredited courses can be found on the NCTJ, BJTC and PPA websites.

If you decide studying an accredited course is right for you, you should consider which type is right for you. Whilst the NCTJ diploma covers a range of areas of reporting, BJTC accredited courses are specific to broadcast journalism, and PPA accredited courses are focused on magazine journalism.

Studying on an accredited course could make you eligible for funding to support your studies through the Journalism Diversity Fund. The fund, administered by the NCTJ, is aimed at supporting British students without the financial means to study, and who come from minority groups or less privileged backgrounds. Successful applicants can have the cost of their course, and in some cases, living or travel expenses paid for by the fund.

Although the Journalism Diversity Fund is only available for those on an NCTJ-accredited course, other bursaries also exist, with the BJTC offering a Placement Assistant Scheme to help students from less-privileged backgrounds secure an industry placement. Applicants can receive a £200 bursary, paid out once the placement has been confirmed.

Job prospects and satisfaction

An important gauge for determining the right university course is checking their individual track record for career opportunities after graduating.

A good indicator of this is their rating in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Published by the UK Government’s Office for Students, TEF assesses a university’s student satisfaction, entry qualifications, and employment outcomes for undergraduate students to grant them a bronze, silver or gold rating. These ratings can be found on the Office for Students’ website.

Area and location

You may have found a course that looks perfect on paper, but do not forget about location - where you study matters too. Whilst many universities in London offer well-respected courses, the cost of living is extremely high - particularly for accommodation.

The facilities of your prospective university should also be factored in. If there is a particular area of journalism you are keen to pursue, like broadcast, do they have a great radio studio? What software do they teach you to use? It is good to know.

Work and reporting experience

Outside of trips to a local court, some universities offer field trips to cover national and even international events. For example, the University of Northampton recently took a selection of undergraduate journalism students to Berlin to cover the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall, as well as an EU conference.

Bournemouth University, on the other hand, has a partnership with the local premier league football club, AFC Bournemouth, for students to cover home games, attend pre-match press conferences and conduct interviews with the players.

Some universities, like Birmingham City University, also offer experience in a newsroom setting as part of course modules, with support from industry professionals. Ask your prospective university what they offer in terms of real-world experience reporting. 

Extra-curricular opportunities

If you want a job after your course, your CV needs to stand out. You can get a lot of good bylines and experience whilst at university, whether it is the local newspaper or the student radio station.

Research what opportunities will be available to help you transition from university to the working world smoothly. You ideally want a portfolio of work which stands out to prospective employers.

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Correction: This article was updated on 27 January 2020 to include information about BJTC and PPA accredited university courses.

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