Man, college can be a difficult time. Seriously, I get it. Relatively speaking, I haven’t been out of school for too long, and I remember all too well what it was like to eat unhealthily, cram for tests until the wee hours of the morning and then fall asleep in class the next day.
Needless to say, they’re not days that I miss all that much. Even more difficult was the decision that I had to make as to what I was going to do with the rest of my life. As far as I’m concerned, this is without a doubt the most daunting of collegiate endeavors. Especially, when faced with the daunting task of telling your parents you want to work in PR.
While it’s true that only 27 percent of college graduates actually work in jobs related to their respective majors, go ahead and try telling a college student that. He or she probably won’t believe you. Ya see, there’s this glamour surrounding college. It’s routinely seen as this safety blanket, ensuring meaningful employment and a long and happy life.
This isn’t the case with PR. Moreover, in PR, it’s about writing ability, networking and—most importantly—finding joy in unending work. A degree or two won’t do the trick and ensure success. Nope, not even a master’s degree [gasp].
Keeping Up With Those Freaking Joneses
Many young PR professionals feel the need to go to graduate school because all of their peers are. Listen, if you’re a PR person, though your high school buddies are all planning on making a disgusting amount of money as doctors, lawyers and researchers, you aren’t—at least initially, anyway.
There’s no shame in not going to graduate school. Not only is it an expensive affair, but in your field of choice it just isn’t necessary. Some careers require graduate school and others don’t. Simply put, PR doesn’t demand a master’s degree.
PR Is an Ever-Changing Industry
Have you ever asked yourself why there’s no SEO major? What about one solely devoted to social media marketing? Well, the answer is really pretty simple: change. Both SEO and social media marketing strategies undergo so many changes that it’s nearly impossible for academia to keep up.
Yes, you can go to some top-tier mass communications school like Northwestern or Syracuse for a graduate degree, but what will be taught there is little more than theory of PR. To me, this seems crazy. PR isn’t rocket science. It’s sending emails and not being a jerk to people. As relationships are developed, success is bound to follow. It’s as simple as that.
Absorb Anything and Everything On the Job
Instead of choosing debt, opt for real, hands-on learning. Just because you’ve written a mock press release or two in an upper-level media writing class doesn’t mean you actually know what works out in the real world. It doesn’t mean you don’t, but it’s not a right of passage or anything.
Look, if you’re dead set on going back to school to get a master’s of mass communication or an MBA, do yourself a favor and do base-level PR for a startup, nonprofit or, if possible, a full-blown agency. That way, once you become part of a graduate program, you’ll have concrete experiences to call upon while learning within the walls of a classroom.
Fortunately, throughout the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to interview quite a few potential PR candidates. Some of them were extremely impressive, and others…well, not so much. Ultimately, at the end of each interview, a decision was made—yay or nay.
While I certainly don’t claim to be perfect in the ways of identifying raw PR talent, I can say that I was never swayed in the slightest by an interviewee with a master’s degree. More often than not, there was almost a sense of entitlement or an upturned nose at the thought of having to start at an entry-level position—ya know, along with those who graduated in four years and immediately took the professional PR plunge.
Please know that I’m not trying to speak poorly of higher education. Perhaps there’s a even bit of jealousy buried deep within me, for all I know. Truthfully, in nearly all industries, a graduate degree is a gold. In fact, many of you are probably thinking about the many times you’ve read a job posting only to read the following: “Master’s degree preferred.”
However, from what I’ve seen, this kind of jargon is little more than a filtration system aimed at getting rid of “fluff candidates” to make room for serious applicants. By all means, if a slight interview edge is what you’re looking for to get your foot in the door, the sacrifice is yours to make. My opinion remains the same: there are easier ways.
Clearly, some of my stronger opinions have been shared in this piece. While many of you may agree with, I openly recognize that many will not. So, with that in mind, where do you stand on the value of a graduate degree for PR professionals? Share you thoughts and feelings in the comments section below.
Lucas Miller is the Founder of Echelon Copy. When not writing, editing or running, he's working tirelessly to perfect what he claims is the "World's Greatest Pompadour." Additionally, for what it's worth, his editorial works have been featured on Social Media Today, Business2Community, Ragan's PR Daily, Spin Sucks and many other top-tier PR publications.