I’m writing a four-part blog post on how to have a successful collegiate career for those interested in public relations. I’m basing this largely off my own experiences (a lot of what I’m including reflects what I wish I would have done during college, particularly in my early years) and those in my network. Please share and comment — with enough feedback, I may write another revised post.
For many, freshmen year is a time to transition and learn a new surrounding. From my own experience, a lot of people didn’t have a job or even a declared major, but one thing I learned is that freshmen year is a great opportunity to start your career. Here is a list of what I think are the most important things to keep in mind during freshmen year:
On selecting a major
The more and more I think about what major you choose, the more I think that it’s not necessarily the most important thing you should focus on. I think the key item to take away when choosing a major is that you should weigh your options and carefully choose. Another important thing to remember is the more writing classes you can take, the better off you will be in the long run. Here’s a list of preferred programs:
- Public Relations-If your school has it — great! Similar programs that will probably have a lot of PR stuff include Advertising, Communication or Mass Media. Make sure the program has plenty of writing classes, but also make sure to take classes in other fields (i.e. business, political science, psychology) in order to become more competent in other areas.
- Business- If you want to work in corporate communications or in an agency setting, a business degree is a great idea, just make sure to take more writing classes. If you emphasize your classes in marketing, this will be especially helpful.
- Journalism- Knowing how to write (well) is arguably the most important skill a PR practitioner can have, but also know that PR practitioners write to persuade. That’s why if you’re planning on studying journalism, it’s good to have another major or minor to complement this.
- Social Science- My other degree is in political science, and truthfully, it’s kicking my butt. However, I’m learning a lot of research (I’m surprised at this), analytical and writing skills, too. I’ve heard this from others, so it’s probably not a bad idea to consider a social science major. Dr. Rick Cole, the chairperson for the APRR Department at MSU, once told me, “Don’t forget the business is communication but the science is social and the science separates the real leaders from the technicians.”
- Other- You’ll find that many practitioners “fall” into PR — as long as you are strategic with your career approach and make smart decisions, there are many other degrees that would prepare you for a PR career.
Tip: choose wisely, and seek input from many people.
Join PRSSA and other organizations
I truly believe that if you take advantage of all the opportunities PRSSA has for its members, you will start off on a successful career — not just a job — in public relations. I could keep going about how PRSSA is so helpful for PR students, but I think the most important thing to remember is that you need to take advantage of the opportunities. While you’re at it, join another organization that is service-oriented. Volunteering can be an integral asset on your resume, so while you have time freshmen year, help some people out.
Tip: become active in PRSSA, apply for leadership positions when possible and join another organization (not necessarily PR-related) that will allow plenty of volunteer opportunities.
Get a job
There are not any legitimate excuses why freshmen can’t have jobs. Seriously. Going from high school, when you’re in class for nearly 40 hours per week, to college, when you’re in class for around 15 hours per week, gives you plenty of time for a job. Even if you have to work in the cafeteria or telemarketing, just get a job. And try to save some of that money (like I said above — this is what I wish I would have done).
Internship or no internship?
As a freshmen, I think it’s better to spend the year preparing for an internship rather than actively seeking one. That means building your resume (with the tools listed above), networking with professionals and learning the right skills. I would take a look at trying to find an internship after freshmen year.
Tip: you probably won’t get paid at your first internship, and maybe in future internships. Don’t be afraid to work with a nonprofit or small agency, especially during your freshmen year, while you still have your high school graduation party money.
Facebook is NOT for drunk pictures
I’ll tell you what no one told me as a freshmen — professionals are on Facebook and will “friend” you. Anticipate that down the line, you’ll need to have a clean online presence. Enough said.
Tip: don’t think cameras at parties are safe. And don’t be dumb about what you leaved tagged.
I’ve been in PRSSA for three years now, and each year brings a new class of freshmen who think they don’t have to start networking until their junior or senior year. If you learn one thing from this post, learn this: the best time to build a network is when you don’t necessarily need your network. If you start networking during your junior or senior year, you will undoubtedly face the awkward resume pass-on. However, if you have a strong network, you will be more likely to avoid this.
I also asked my Twitter network what they thought, and here is what they added:
@carolinejones Use every mistake/pitfall as a learning opportunity to build knowledge and grow as a person.
@MKMasson Get involved RIGHT AWAY. PRSSA is the best experience, even if you don’t even know the definition of public relations yet.
@kellee_m Start early and get involved on campus. If you’re connected to people within campus, you can get hired before you even graduate
@GuyMCampbell Advice for PR freshmen: take extra writing classes and learn to pitch by phone & f2f, not just email. I learned in “real world.”
@CharlieCurve Intern early. Intern often. Internships provide valuable experience, but more importantly, they help you build relationships.
@LJZuber Volunteer to do things PR related, even if you don’t know what you’re doing – it’s a learning process.
@Charlotte_Marie Don’t be intimated by professionals. Most of them are more than willing to help you out and give valuable advice
@YMoffitt I can offer nothing better than “Get involved early on. It might seem daunting, but the sooner you catch on, the better.”
What else do you have to add?