An SOS Flag for PR Degree Programs

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Allison O'Quin
Allison O'Quin



diploma A university’s approach to public relations education and what is required for success in a communications-related role right out of college are entirely different. They’re practically different worlds.

From an outsider’s perspective, the PR realm is easily misunderstood. When I switched my major to PR, my parents were dumbfounded as to what it was saying. “You should be a doctor, lawyer, teacher,” they said. “You know … professions that will always have jobs. What exactly is PR?”

This video shows a few false perceptions about the profession:

With countless misconceptions, how are students supposed to acquire in-depth knowledge about a job in PR? To better prepare them for the hectic yet rewarding world of PR, here are a few questions solicited from fellow colleagues that you can ask your academic advisor or an experienced PR professional for greater insight into the profession:

  1. What are the different types of PR?
  2. What is the difference between in-house PR and agency PR work?
  3. Will an internship help me really understand what this profession is about?
  4. Is a PR class or a PR internship more valuable?

Perhaps the most important question PR students should ask is:

How will the changing nature of PR affect my career in the next 10 years?

If you have questions, set up coffee dates with PR professionals. Prepare questions and be open to hearing varied feedback, including responses that you may not expect or agree with.

For me, the reality of the PR workplace is dramatically different from what I expected or learned in school. A few of those preconceived “truths” that were debunked include:

Having a Degree = All Knowledgeable Yoda for Your First Job

Although higher education enhances your writing, research and organizational skills, it does not truly train you on how to do a job in your field. A lot of what happens in PR is learned on the job, which is why quality internships are so important. I cannot stress this enough! There are many instances where you may find yourself scratching your head and thinking, “Hey, they didn’t tell me that in school!” “Why didn’t I learn how to pitch to a reporter?!” Your best friend at your first job may very well be a more experienced colleague with the heart of gold and the patience of a saint.

Having a Degree = Entry Pass to Securing a Job Upon Graduation

While college can be a time for finding yourself, time spent focused on understanding and learning about PR before graduation is a wise investment. If you’ve made it to your junior or senior year with a mere one or two internships under your belt, you may spend the next year or two after college working unpaid internships to get the experience required for an entry-level job in PR (Unless you’re a networking superstar, which most of us aren’t; it’s a learned skill).

PR education programs need a bit of fine-tuning to better prepare students for the workforce. A recent study conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace, “The Role of Higher Education in Career Development: Employer Perceptions,” provides two insightful statistics:

  • 31 percent of employers indicated that recent graduates are unprepared or very unprepared for their job search.
  • More than half of the employers surveyed indicated difficulty in finding qualified candidates for job openings.

I would propose that the first two years of college be spent in a student’s major-specific classes (normally preserved for the final four semesters). This will allow students the chance to experience their potential future careers, and if they decide PR isn’t a good fit, then it’s still early enough into college to switch majors. The last two years should be solidly spent in full-time internships. If a university has a PR program, at a minimum it should have alumni connections with PR agencies or even offer scholarships for students committed to PR.

Whether you’re a PR student trying to find a degree program to suit your talents or a post-grad trying to figure out the real world, educate yourself. Always be inquisitive about your career path throughout your education life cycle, and remember that arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible will build confidence on your road to becoming a PR rock star.

Topics: Job Search

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