Considering SHERP? 20 Questions Answered

If you have a record of achievement in and out of the classroom, a passion for science and a flair for storytelling, we want to hear from you!

1) Is science journalism for me?

Only you can answer this one, but it’s the right question to ask first! Science journalism is not for everyone but has never been more vital than it is today. Our work is at the center of the global conversation, which is right where we want to be.

The science journalism we practice and preach at SHERP focuses on engaging large audiences with compelling, nuanced, and scrupulously accurate reports on a vast array of topics: everything from climate change and genetic engineering to particle physics and, yes, pandemics. You’ll find our students, professors, and alumni exposing health care inequities, covering space missions, investigating Big Tech, exploring biodiversity threats, and explaining the latest research in disciplines from acoustics to zoology. We bring the vitality of the scientific enterprise to lay audiences while also holding scientists, institutions, companies, and governments accountable to their publics.

All science communication is valuable, as long as it’s accurate. What distinguishes science journalism from other forms of science communication (such as public relations, institutional communication, and advertising) is that we put the needs of our readers, viewers and listeners first, ahead of marketing strategies and image-polishing. We pursue truth, advance empathy, and insist on independence — and have a very good time doing it!

If this sounds like your kind of thing, read on!

2) Should I go to grad school?

You should think about it. Science journalism is both wonderfully satisfying and quite challenging. The right graduate training can make you a much better journalist and give you some big advantages in a perennially tight job market. On the other hand, grad school isn’t a fit for everyone (there we go again!) and the various science journalism programs really do differ in important ways. You should investigate your options thoroughly before committing to any program.

As you begin to consider the possibilities, we recommend these two articles, which include contributions from faculty and alumni of SHERP and of other programs. There’s also good advice for aspiring science journalists in this Q & A and this talk by SHERP professors, one of whom is also a graduate of our program.

3) What kind of student does SHERP look for?

Many kinds! SHERP students have diverse backgrounds. Many but not all have a science degree (sometimes at the graduate level) and know their way around a research lab. Experience in journalism, whether you acquired it in college or as a professional, is also a significant plus. Even so, some of SHERP’s most accomplished graduates came to the program with little formal scientific training or journalism experience.

Here’s the bold-faced bottom line: even if you discovered your fervor for science and storytelling only recently, don’t make the mistake of assuming you’re unqualified for admission.

To learn more about the various paths SHERPies have taken, you can read brief bios of each incoming student and can also see what our graduates (all 464 of them!) are doing now. In recent years, interviews with SHERP students and graduates have been published by Politico, Medium, PittWire, Burgundy Zine, Lifehacker, SynapseThe Knight Foundation, Visualizing Data, Mayday, The Verge, The Open Notebook, Mongabay, Impact Mania, and many other outlets. Earlier Q&A interviews were published in Scientific American. As you’ll see, there are many roads to SHERP — and many roads after it, too!

4) I’ve heard it’s hard to get in. Should I apply?

If you’re excited about SHERP, of course you shouldI There is no single formula for a successful application and there never will be. We prize diversity, creativity and determination, as well as achievement. It is true that we are unable to offer admission to many deserving applicants every year. There are only about a dozen spots in a typical SHERP class and most of the applicants we admit choose to enroll, so the application process is important and you should give it your best effort.

When we review applications, we look for thoughtful personal essays, strong writing samples, insightful letters of recommendation (we suggest that at least one be from an undergraduate teacher), and academic records of breadth, depth and achievement.

5) How can I learn more about SHERP?

You’ve already found the best place to begin. We journalists expect transparency from our sources, so it’s only right that we practice what we preach at SHERP by giving you as much information as possible about our program. The interlinked SHERP web pages contain all sorts of useful information, everything from faculty biographies and class descriptions to profiles of incoming students, an alumni directory (including emails and current jobs), a list of recent student internships and a gallery of recently published stories by students and graduates. There’s even a short history of our early years, when SHERP was SERP!

Take your time and explore all of these pages thoroughly. Then if you have questions we haven’t answered, just ask us!

6) May I speak to graduates?

Sure! Our alumni are SHERP’s best ambassadors. You can email them directly via the alumni page (just click on their names), or you can contact us and we’ll put you in touch with graduates and current students who share your background, interests and aspirations.

7) What kinds of jobs do SHERP graduates get?

Please take a look! Explore the alumni page to find out what every one of our graduates is doing. And don’t forget to check out the awards and fellowships page to see which honors our graduates, students and faculty have won lately.

If you’d like some statistics (science journalists love stats but know they need to be poked to get the real story), here’s the breakdown for the last 10 graduating classes: 47% are staff journalists, 36% are freelance journalists, 10% are doing other forms of science communication, and 7% are doing something else. For the last 20 classes, 38% are staff journalists, 33% are freelance journalists, 15% are other science communicators, and 14% are doing something else.

SHERP is small, but we have many more alumni working as journalists than any other science journalism or science communication program in the world. We think that says something important about the value (and values!) of our program.

8) Is there much networking at SHERP?

Yes, a lot. Science journalism is a quirky subculture that’s smaller than you may think, especially at its highest levels. One of the greatest strengths of SHERP is that our community is so close knit. Our new mentorship program pairs students with an alum of their choosing starting in the second semester, but that’s only one of many opportunities for students to interact with highly accomplished graduates during the 16-month SHERP sequence. Through internships, speaker events and innumerable in-class interactions, every SHERP student emerges with dozens of contacts in the science journalism industry.

Of course, networking will never substitute for the hard work of learning to report deeply and to write (and rewrite!) compellingly, which is the heart of what we do at SHERP. But if you put in the time to hone your craft, our community will be ready to lend you a hand — just as earlier grads helped them when they were in your shoes.

9) Are classes online?

Only temporarily. We are resuming fully in-person classes in September 2021. See you in New York!

10) May I visit SHERP?

Yes! Starting in September, we expect to be able to resume visits from serious applicants interested in sitting in on classes and meeting faculty and students. Please email us in the fall to find a date and time that works.

11) Is the GRE test required?

Due to the pandemic, we have suspended our requirement that applicants to SHERP take the Graduate Record Examinations for 2021 and 2022 admission. We expect to restore the GRE requirement for 2023 admission. (In recent years, successful applicants to SHERP have tended to have GRE verbal and writing scores in the top quartile and grade point averages above 3.4, but there are exceptions every year.

12) How much will it cost?

Tuition is assessed on a per-point basis by the NYU Graduate School of Arts and Science (GSAS). The 16-month SHERP sequence is 38 points, or credits, for the M.A. in Journalism with a concentration in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting. The tuition rate for the 2020-21 academic year is $1,928 per point; a new rate will apply in September 2021. If next year’s increase is typical, tuition and registration fees for the entire 16-month, 38-point SHERP sequence will total approximately $78,000 plus living expenses, though SHERP students typically pay far less because of scholarships and other financial aid. International students pay an additional fee of $90 per semester. See the tuition and fees and financial aid pages for more information.

SHERP students typically pay anywhere from $500 to $1,500 per month for housing in New York City, depending on the neighborhood and the number of roommates. Some NYU housing is available to graduate students; university rents are similar to the private market. Students are also required to have health insurance, either through NYU or an approved outside provider.

13) Is there financial aid?

ABSOLUTELY! In recent years, all enrolled students have received financial aid, and the average1 aid award per enrolled student has exceeded $55,000! That figure includes only tuition and expense aid provided by NYU, not loans or non-NYU scholarships. Increasing the diversity of science journalism is a priority for us; there are new full-tuition scholarships shared among the various graduate programs at NYU Journalism and offered through the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association. You do not need to apply for specific SHERP and NYU Journalism scholarships; you will be considered automatically for them.

Thanks to support from the Kavli Foundation, SHERP is also able to substantially subsidize student attendance at conferences (NASW, SEJ, AHCJ, AAAS etc.) and travel expenses for student reporting projects.

Students seeking financial aid should apply by January 4, and should indicate at the end of their personal statement that they are seeking financial aid. This information helps us apportion scholarships, but we do not consider financial need when deciding whether to offer admission to an applicant. If you’re excited about SHERP, please don’t let financial concerns discourage you from applying!

14) What about outside scholarships, loans, and work-study opportunities?

To pay for tuition and living expenses not covered by NYU scholarships, our students typically rely on a combination of outside financial aid, loans, personal savings and/or part-time employment on campus or off. SHERP students tend to be very enterprising about securing aid from non-NYU sources; many have also taken advantage of NYU’s Tuition Incentive Program, which matches qualifying outside aid. Government student loans are administered through the NYU Office of Financial Aid.

SHERP classes usually occupy three days per week and the workload is heavy, but there is time for part-time employment if your work schedule is flexible. There are numerous opportunities for work-study employment on campus.

15) Do you offer teaching assistantships?

We do not offer assistantships because we don’t think they’re appropriate for a program as demanding as SHERP. Instead, we offer financial aid packages to admitted students that in many cases are as generous as assistantships but carry no teaching or work obligations.

16) What if I’m an international student?

Science has no borders and science journalism shouldn’t either. SHERP has a long, proud history of welcoming students from all over the world. Successful applicants do need to demonstrate true fluency in written and spoken English. Non-native speakers must take EITHER the Internet-based (IBT) Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) OR the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). (The TOEFL/IELTS requirement is waived if you received an undergraduate or graduate degree from an institution at which the language of instruction is English.) To be considered for admission, you’ll need a score of at least 100 on the Internet-based TOEFL or an overall band score of at least 7 on the IELTS; successful applicants tend to score higher.

Like U.S. students, international students are eligible for NYU-provided scholarships and other financial aid. However, foreign students in most cases are not eligible for grants or loans from the U.S. government. As with all applicants, we encourage international applicants to seek outside funding from their governments or from foundations and other private sources.

We know visa requirements can be a hassle, but the good news is that we are accustomed to working with international students to allow for freelancing consistent with Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) guidelines. NYU’s Office of Global Services has additional information for international applicants.

17) May I enroll part-time or defer admission?

We are unable to accept part-time students. All SHERP students start in September and are expected to complete the program by December of the following year. Please also note that we are unable to grant deferrals to accepted students except under extraordinary circumstances; you should apply the same the year you hope to enroll.

18) When is the application deadline, and can I apply late?

The formal application deadline is January 4 (or the following Monday, if Jan. 4 is a weekend) for students seeking to enroll the following September.

We will look at late applications, with an important caveat. We start issuing admission offers in February, so it’s definitely in your interest to apply promptly, even if your file still lacks a test score report, a recommendation letter, or an official transcript — all of which can be added later if necessary. Application materials should be sent directly to NYU Graduate Enrollment Services, not to the Carter Journalism Institute or SHERP.

19) Where can I get an application?

Applications are available from the GSAS application resource center starting in mid-September.

20) Any final words of advice?

Just this: If you believe SHERP may be the right program for you, don’t disqualify yourself without trying. There’s only one way to find out whether you and SHERP are a good match and that is to APPLY!