If you are about to finish school, or maybe even university like me, and you are following the developments of the PRCA and maybe this blog, it’s probably because you are considering a career in communications.
One of the many beautiful things of the media and communications industry is the diversity of routes one can take to be a part of it, unlike when you want to become a doctor and you simply have to go through med school. And while this is great news, it is also incredibly daunting in terms of where to start to break into the industry (it is to me).
I haven’t yet – I’m hoping to do so later this year – but as I am taking off to my very last term of my PR degree tomorrow, wanted to share a little insight into the usefulness of PR degrees vs. apprenticeships vs. winging it as a route into the industry.
First of all: All three of these approaches are completely valid and you don’t need to have completed a degree or an apprenticeship to make it. (A good portion of “winging it” is probably advisable though, if any of the blogs of the big names in the industry can be trusted.) Most PR professionals have an undergraduate degree, sometimes even post-graduate degree of some sort, usually in one of the humanities or law, but even if you’ve studied biomedical science I’m sure there are healthcare agencies out there wringing their hands on the search for employees like you.
Now, what does a PR degree in particular do for you? The short answer is: Probably exactly as much as you put into it.
The longer answer is this: Most areas of media studies and PR are not highly academic and this can sometimes lead to people slacking off a bit and trying to scrape by doing the bare minimum. This will get you a degree in most cases, but it won’t help you build critical thinking, general knowledge and most importantly writing skills. A large part of a degree in PR relies on you using your spare time to engage with the news, participate in the industry and then use this time spent in self-study to apply to your academic tasks.
Furthermore, once you start out on the job hunt after or during your studies, it is easy to see that it is almost impossible to get a job without any experience. If you are in the lucky position that you don’t have to work part-time, you should probably do it anyway and use your summer breaks for internships, etc.
That’s because the other two ways tend to be a bit more effective for “short-term” results if you will, giving people your age who have done an apprenticeship or simply started working a perceived headstart.
At networking events for young communications professionals I have met people two years younger than me who are doing an apprenticeship and “living the dream”, because they actually get to go to work in an agency and just learn on the job.
And one of my lecturers neither went to university nor did she do an apprenticeship, she just sort of started working in communications and now has her own agency alongside teaching students, so it really is not a deal breaker.
I’d say, go get a degree in PR if you want to work in communications but also enjoy working academically, because what you are mainly going to get assessed on is the academic work you hand in. I went for it because I knew it’s what I wanted to do, and because I was interested in the media industry at large, and liked learning about its history, specific economy and policies as well. Most PR degrees even offer a placement year between year 2 and your final year, so that you can get some long-term, hands on experience.
To get a less biased view on this matter, I can only recommend reading “How To Get A Job In PR” by Sarah Stimson, or to look around on the website of the PRCA and other student/apprentice/PR newbie blogs. Good luck!