INFORMATION AND ADVICE FOR J-SCHOOL APPLICANTS

With in-person campus meetings suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak, this web page is being provided in place of information sessions typically held at various times across each semester. If you have further questions, please contact J-School advisor Robert Schwoch at schwoch@wisc.edu.

Note that we have extended the deadline for applications from early May to Monday, June 1, 2020, at noon. Decisions will be emailed to applicants on or around June 19. Admitted applicants will receive major declaration forms to return via email. Acceptance letters will contain full instructions for enrollment.

Note that students must be enrolled at UW-Madison in Spring 2020 and have at least sophomore standing for Fall 2020 to apply for fall semester admission. The School of Journalism and Mass Communication does not offer direct admission for freshmen or first-semester transfer students.

Background on the School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Our school is highly ranked and respected in its field. We are distinctive in our blend of practical professional training and research-based academics. Many schools in our field teach how to do the work of professionals in mass communication, but with less emphasis on why the work is done in a certain way, or what the impact is on culture or society. Our graduates show up in their first jobs able not only to practice the skills necessary for success but also to articulate what mass communication means in broader contexts.

That’s not to say practical training gets short shrift in our school. All students receive solid foundational training in at least one of our two professional tracks of reporting and strategic communication, and hone their skills in real-world settings both on campus and off campus.

Applying to the J-School

Due to the popularity of our major and the size of our campus, we’re unable to offer admission to our major for all who wish to declare it. But most who apply get in. While in a typical semester we admit around half of applicants, our overall admission rate counting second and third tries at admission is 70 percent or more. We’re confident those who aren’t admitted are better suited to one of the many other world-class majors at UW-Madison. Our admissions process is not more competitive than getting a job in the fields we train for.

If you’re an above-average college writer, your grades are in the A-to-B range and you’ve gotten involved outside of the classroom in activities relevant to mass communication, you’re very likely to become a Journalism major in time to graduate on a normal four-year schedule. Most students in our school were admitted on the second try or later, but this still leaves plenty of time: It takes only three semesters to complete our major, and in some cases the last term can be taken in summer.

Overview of process

Each student’s application will be uploaded online at https://journalism.wisc.edu/admissions/undergraduate-admissions/the-application/. All materials except transcripts (see below) should be uploaded in a single .pdf file. A simple way is to assemble all the material in a single Word document (.doc), go to File à Save As and select PDF as the file format before hitting Save.

A faculty committee determines undergraduate admissions. Each application is read initially by two members of the committee. An applicant must be recommended for admission by both readers to move along in the process. If readers split, the application is read by at least one more member of the committee to break the tie.

Nearly always, more students are recommended for admission than the number of available spots. At that point, students closer to four-year graduation are given preference over those earlier in their academic careers. However, juniors and seniors typically have stronger applications in any case: higher GPAs, more seasoned writing, and more extensive extracurricular/preprofessional background.

But we encourage students who are earlier in their academic careers to apply. We admit sophomores every cycle, and most do well in our major. Not being admitted in one semester has no impact on admissions decisions in future semesters.

Criteria for admission

Not all members of the admissions committee respond the same to individual applications, but in general the main criteria for admission are, in order:

  • Communication skill. In a written application this means writing skill.
  • Grades. All grades are scrutinized carefully, with added weight given to more recent courses, and to courses that are highly relevant to our major, such as English/Literature and Communication Arts. The average admitted applicant has an overall GPA of about 3.4, but because grades are not the top criterion, a typical admitted class has a wide range of grades. Students with lower GPAs but excellent writing and good grades in writing-intensive courses are often admitted over students with excellent grades but less skillful writing.
  • Extracurricular/pre-professional background. We don’t expect long lists of prior communication experience from students who aren’t yet Journalism majors. But we’re looking for some involvement indicating applicants have tried this work and found it fulfilling. For students planning to track in news reporting, we often see experience from student newspapers (Daily Cardinal, Badger Herald), or WSUM Radio, or the Wisconsin Union Directorate publications, or publications in their home areas. For strategic communication students, we often see prior membership or work for the UW Advertising Club or the UW chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, or communication work for other campus organizations. See this page for more details on student organizations and media: https://journalism.wisc.edu/undergraduate/student-organizations/.

Elements of the application

The personal statement

The personal statement is probably the single most important part of the application – it gives an indication of your writing skill, your background and your general preparedness for study in our major. The statement is one page, single-spaced, in 12-point type with standard margins. No title is required.

There are no specific requirements for content, but a good theme is “why J-School” – why are you choosing this major, and the career fields we cover? The statement should be indeed personal, rather than a recitation of accomplishments which can be done in the resumé (see below). Talk about what your prior experience as a communicator on behalf of others has meant to you as a person, or how our fields fit your identity or personality. Try to concentrate on what is unique about you – tie what you’re saying to your own specific background in a way that no one else could do.

In news reporting and strategic communication, complicated messages are made simple for a large audience to easily and quickly understand. Likewise, in personal statements for our applications, simple words and sentences often work best. Our fields value writing that is concise, clear and easy to understand over writing that is fancy or “impressive.” We’ll be looking for the greatest amount of ideas in the fewest words possible.

Typos, misspellings, and basic, easy-to-spot errors in grammar will be taken into significant account, as they are in our classes and in our professions. Proofread carefully, and you may also wish to have others do a proofread for you.

Writing samples and recommendations

For supporting material, you’ll be asked to include two writing samples, totaling no more than 10 pages between them. Material that has been written for publication in student media or at internships is good to use if you have it. But many applicants, especially those who are aiming to be in the strategic communication track and have not written news articles, don’t have samples of pre-professional writing. For this reason, most writing samples we see are course papers, or excerpts of course papers, and this is fine.

If you’re using a course paper, something from Journalism 201, Communication Arts, or a humanities or social science course can work well. Technical or scientific papers typically offer less opportunity to display writing skill and style.

You may substitute a recommendation for one or both writing samples. Using two recommendations is usually not a good idea unless you’re supremely confident in your personal statement as the only sample of your writing. But a strong recommendation, especially from someone working in our fields who knows you well enough to comment specifically on why they think you will be a success in their career area, can be a plus for your application.

Again, though, most J-School applicants have not yet had internships or close working relationships with professionals in our fields, or with our professors, or with professors from closely related fields. So most students do not include recommendations, using two writing samples instead.

We will not read a recommendation from a Journalism 201 TA (to spare them from writing recommendations for all their students). Also we will disregard a recommendation from another undergraduate, such as an editor at the Herald or Cardinal. Recommenders must be graduated and in the “real world.”

Should you decide to include a recommendation, the easiest way is to get it from your recommender and put it in with the rest of your application materials. Recommendations should be hand-signed and on official letterhead (pdf format is fine). If the recommender prefers for you not to see the recommendation so we know it was written objectively, have them email it to info@journalism.wisc.edu with “recommendation for admissions committee” in the subject line. In this case be sure to include a sheet in your application materials saying a recommendation is coming directly to the committee from (name and title of recommender).

Resumé

The resumé is an opportunity to give us further details about your education and experience to help us make our decision. Of special interest is any prior experience you’ve had in news reporting or in communicating to the public on behalf of companies, charities, events or with student organizations. Unlike professional resumés, you may include material from before college (such as work at a high school newspaper), and it’s okay to spill onto a second page. We’re looking mainly at the content and not the format. Many resumé templates exist online to help you get a start if you’ve never compiled a resumé before.

Transcripts

We no longer require a UW-Madison transcript for the application. If you are a transfer student, we would like to see your transcript from your prior college. This will be submitted under a separate prompt apart from the rest of your materials. We’re looking only for transcripts if you started on a college degree somewhere other than UW-Madison. No transcript is necessary for college work completed in high school.

Deadline

Monday, June 1, noon. The deadline is strict; materials submitted late will not be read. It’s a good idea not to wait until the last minute, in case technical difficulties should arise.

Enrollment

Register for your Fall classes as if you’re not applying to the J-School. If you’re admitted you’ll need to drop classes to make room for the beginning classes in our major, Journalism 202 and 203. Full instructions on enrolling in J202 and 203 will be included in acceptance letters. Decisions will be issued on or around June 19, with enrollment beginning a week later.

Good luck and thanks for your interest in our major!