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 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 476 of them!) are doing now. In recent years, interviews with SHERP students and graduates have been published by Nieman Reports, Politico, Medium, PittWire, Burgundy Zine, Lifehacker, SynapseThe Knight Foundation, Visualizing Data, Mayday, The Verge, The Open Notebook, Mongabay, Futurism at Johns Hopkins, 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!

You are also very welcome to speak to SHERP graduates, our 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.

6) Is the curriculum flexible?

Yes, it is. The SHERP course sequence is designed to provide an optimal experience for aspiring science, health and environmental journalists, but we know you have other passions, too. In addition to the elective class in your final semester, it is also possible to further customize your curriculum by substituting other courses for required classes, with the permission of the program director.

7) Is there funding available for SHERP students to travel for stories and conferences?

Yes! SHERP now has generous funding available for students to pursue and publish great stories from all over the world. In 2023 alone, students reported stories in South Africa, India, Hawai’i, Armenia, the Maldives, Italy (twice!), Puerto Rico, Iceland, and Panama. These funds can also be used to cover travel, registration, and conference attendance, including (but not limited to) the annual conferences of the National Association of Science Writers, the Society of Environmental Journalists, and the Association of Health Care Journalists. SHERP also covers the cost of student memberships in those groups.

8) What kinds of jobs do SHERP graduates get?

Please take a look and see for yourself! 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 10 recent classes: 47% are staff journalists, 36% are freelance journalists, 10% are doing other forms of science communication, and 7% are doing something else. For 20 recent classes, 38% are staff journalists, 33% are freelance journalists, 15% are other science communicators, and 14% are doing something else.

SHERP is not large, but has produced more working science journalists than any other program in the world. We think that says something important about both the value and values of our program.

9) 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 be an adequate 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.

And speaking of alumni, SHERP truly is a lifelong affiliation. Our graduates not only show up for our highly regarded Kavli Conversations on Science Communication and other events, they also benefit from a private weekly newsletter, the SHERP Weekly Tip Sheet, that is packed with information about job openings, freelance opportunities, industry news and other useful tips. There’s a busy private Facebook group, too. And when we organize a reunion, hundreds of alumni show up for the festivities!

When we describe our community as an extended family, we mean it!

10) May I visit SHERP?

Yes! If you’re a prospective student who would like to sit in on classes and meet faculty and students, please email us. Most students visit in the spring after admission offers have gone out, but fall visits are possible, too.

11) Is the GRE test required?

You have the option of taking the Graduate Record Examinations. If you take them and send us your scores, we will consider them along with the rest of your application.

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 2023-24 academic year is $2,157 per point; a new rate will apply in September 2024. If next year’s increase is typical, tuition and registration fees for the entire 16-month, 38-point SHERP sequence will total approximately $87,000 plus health insurance and living expenses, though SHERP students typically pay MUCH 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 $700 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 or higher than 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 average aid award per enrolled student is approximately $65,000. (That figure does not include scholarships secured by students on their own; it also does not include loans.) We offer an array of scholarships, some specific to SHERP and others shared among the various graduate programs at NYU Journalism, including full-tuition scholarships in association with 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.

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 and journalism are borderless; science journalism training should be, too. 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.

Please also note that NYU has some specific requirements regarding undergraduate degrees from colleges and universities outside the U.S. You must receive your undergraduate degree (U.S. baccalaureate or equivalent) from an institution of recognized standing before enrollment. Students from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh must show completion of both the baccalaureate and master’s examinations prior to registration. The examinations for the Bachelor of Engineering and the Bachelor of Technology meet our application requirements. For students holding three-year degrees from Australia, we do require a four-year degree to apply.

17) May I enroll part-time, transfer into SHERP, or defer admission?

We are unable to accept part-time students, sorry. We also do not accept transfer 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 year you hope to enroll.

18) When is the application deadline? 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. While admission decisions are made by SHERP’s director, application materials should be sent 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 think 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!