Students voice concerns to the changes of RSJ’s application process

Ryerson School of Journalism sign

The School of Journalism announced their one-year trial plan for the incoming Fall 2020 term

Last week, Ryerson School of Journalism (RSJ) students took to Twitter and Facebook to discuss changes to the RSJ admissions process. The school recently made the decision that incoming students will no longer have to submit a portfolio that showcases their writing abilities. 

Students voiced their concerns and disappointments online regarding the news.  

“I just feel betrayed because I know for a fact that if they just look at grades, they’re just going to take the people with higher marks,” said first-year journalism student Charlize Alcaraz. “And this doesn’t always mean that they’re going to be great journalists.”

The non-academic portion of the application process previously required students to prove their passion for journalism and writing abilities beyond academic marks. Although the ‘Grades-Plus’ requirements have varied in past years, they have usually included a short essay relating to an aspect of journalism, a list of the student’s relevant life and journalistic experiences, and a portfolio containing written story samples and other journalistic content, such as audio and video projects. 

Journalism students have explained that there was always emphasis placed on having a strong portfolio, which is one of the reasons why the change in policy is surprising to many. 

“When I went to this event in Grade 12, the chair of the program, Janice Neil, mentioned how they receive about 1000 applicants but only about 130 generally get in, and she stressed how the portfolio was an important part of that,” said Vanessa Quon, a third-year journalism student. “She mentioned how students with not-as-great marks got a spot over students with higher marks because their portfolio showed passion for the subject.” 

Others are concerned that these changes will do more harm than good to incoming RSJ students. 

“They [incoming students] might not have straight A’s, but they could have something special to offer,” said Heidi Lee, a second-year journalism student. “They might have a good eye or are good at interacting with people and doing interviews. These are things that can’t be reflected through just your grades.”

Students have also expressed their worries about how the school’s image may suffer as a result of these changes. 

“We have maintained such a competitive and prestigious reputation because of the portfolio and other non-academic requirement parts of the application process,” said Tina Makuto, a first-year journalism student. “Taking away one of the key features that sets us apart from other j-schools in the country definitely hurts the reputation we’ve spent years building.”

In an emailed statement, RSJ’s Undergraduate Program Director and Assistant Professor, Lisa Taylor, explained that there are two main reasons behind the change in policy.  

According to Taylor, potential applicants can be deterred from applying to the school RSJ because they were intimidated by the admission process’ requirement of submitting a portfolio. By removing that requirement, Taylor says she hopes it reduces the stress that future applicants may feel, which will in turn increase the number of applicants. 

These changes also strive to address Ryerson’s competition with another one of Canada’s top-rated journalism schools, Carleton University in Ottawa. Taylor stated that since Carleton is not a ‘Grades-Plus’ program, it consistently gives out their offers before Ryerson can. By eliminating the additional application requirements, RSJ will be able to give out offers just as quickly as Carleton, putting them on the same level as their number one competitor.

While she recognizes concerns students have been voicing, Janice Neil, the Chair of Ryerson’s School of Journalism, said that she does not believe that these changes will diminish the program’s reputation in any way. 

“There are more than 5000 people, I will say, who have graduated from our program – over decades – and they are the reputation of the program,” said Neil. “Certainly, we have a responsibility to honour the reputation and we also have a responsibility to make changes if we feel they’re necessary.”

While many students have been openly hesitant to accept these changes, second-year Ryerson journalism student Mercedes Gaztambide has a different perspective on the issue. 

“I think it’s easy to become defensive over a program that, as current students, we all worked incredibly hard to get into,” shared Gaztambide. “But it’s important to remember that a change in the rules doesn’t alter your current position as a student.” 

After years of discussing the trends of RSJ’s program application history, the school plans on using the upcoming application period for the Fall 2020 term as a one-year trial to see the impact these changes have. The results gathered from this trial period will help the staff at RSJ determine how the application process will operate in the future. 

Photo by Stephanie Davoli.