By Alexis Bajalia
My senior year of college was a whirlwind. Anxious to decide what my future life would look like, I applied and interviewed for a handful of jobs and graduate schools. All the while, I was taking a heavy course load and working as a communications intern for a health care system. Whew.
Finally, the chaos simmered down, my hard work paid off, and I was left with a major decision that would define at least the next couple years of my life: Do I accept a job offer or pursue graduate school?
I always wanted to go to graduate school, but I let others’ opinions get into my head. Common comments I heard from those who knew I was considering a graduate degree included, “You don’t need a master’s degree to work in public relations,” and, “Experience trumps education in the public relations industry.” Needless to say, after making an extensive pro-con list, I walked across the stage at spring graduation, returned to my hometown for a summer internship and then made my way back to my alma mater in the fall for another two years of school.
Initially, these were the main reasons I decided to pursue a graduate degree:
• Natural curiosity and desire to learn more
• Possibility of pursuing a career in academia or research (Note: Public relations graduate school is NOT only for those who want to work in academia or research. Graduate school is unique in that you can tailor your coursework to suit your interests and career goals.)
• Need to differentiate myself in a competitive job market
• Opportunity to learn more about different types of communication and find my niche
• Financial support from universities I applied to in the form of graduate assistantships
Now heading into my final year as a master’s student, I can confidently say my graduate school experience has met and exceeded my expectations. Below are a few advantages of working toward a master’s degree in communications/public relations:
Understanding public relations from a management perspective
As an undergraduate, I learned technical skills to prepare me for a career in public relations, such as how to write a news release, knowledge of AP Style and how to craft a strategic communications plan. As a graduate student, I now understand the importance of public relations practitioners having a seat at the management table. Graduate courses such as Public Relations Management and Public Relations Ethics have helped me better comprehend how public relations efforts affect organizations as a whole and contribute to bottom-line goals. I also have a better understanding of public relations specializations I can work in, including media relations, employee relations, government relations, consumer relations and health communication.
Polishing written and oral communication skills
Most of my classes as a master’s student are small, and professors expect students to be present and active in class. As a result, I have had countless opportunities to step out of my comfort zone and give presentations, lead and participate in class discussions and debates, read and analyze difficult material, and write. I have made mistakes and learned from them. Because of my graduate course work, I am a stronger public speaker, writer and critical thinker than I was a year ago, and I know these skills will benefit me in my career.
Publishing original work
In almost every class as a graduate student, I have written a final research paper (It’s not as scary as it sounds. Professors help you work your way to this point throughout the semester.) Students can turn research papers into journal articles, conference papers and presentations, trade publication articles, etc. In graduate school, I have the opportunity to transform almost every project or assignment into something even bigger.
Networking and mentorship
In addition to working alongside professors and other graduate students who support and guide me, I meet and learn from public relations practitioners who visit our classes or attend events at the college. Currently, I am working on my thesis in which I am interviewing practitioners about how they measure and evaluate public relations. My research gives me a glimpse into the day-to-day practices of professionals who work in various industries. By the time I complete data collection, I will have spoken with at least 20 practitioners across the country – how amazing is that!
Getting involved and giving back
In only one year as a master’s student, I have gone to undergraduate classes to speak to students about life as a graduate student and talk with them about research opportunities. I have worked as a research and teaching assistant. I have assisted undergraduates in a crisis communications simulation course. I have become an officer for Graduate Students in Mass Communications Association – an organization that provides social and educational opportunities for graduate students in the college. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to give back to my university while making lasting friendships with my peers.
So, in my opinion, though work experience is certainly important in public relations, a graduate school experience is invaluable.
Alexis Bajalia is a mass communications master’s student specializing in public relations at the University of Florida. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Florida in 2017. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org