Oh, college. I look back on my university years fondly. (Go Terriers!) We put a lot of money into going to school and getting a degree, and it’s often interesting to look back and see which courses really prepped us for post-grad life. As I thought about it – some of my answers surprised me a bit.
As a student, there are several courses you have to take while in school – but which ones will really benefit you when it comes to entering a communications career? Here are my top recommendations for what public relations majors shouldn’t skip out on in school:
I’ll be blunt: there is no room for public relations professionals who are poor writers. It just won’t work. Writing is at the core of what we do. Whether it’s a PR plan, a byline, a pitch or a social media post – you need to be able to excel at the written word. Use college to really refine your skills. One of my best classes in school was a course that had us writing all types of pieces — from a short story, to a movie review, to a news article. Even if it’s not a class dedicated to PR writing, you’re still becoming stronger in your written communication. Extra tip: News-writing will especially come in handy as you’ll be working daily with reporters; knowing what goes into a story and how it’s structured will help you craft better pitches to fit what they need.
This is a bit off the beaten path, but if your school offers a corporate/organizational communication class (Here’s a description of the class I took in school), I highly recommend signing up. It was one of the most practical courses I took in college and offered up lessons in management, leadership and all around business etiquette that one might not always be aware of coming out of college. It was immediately applicable to my professional life post-graduation, and it was a class I wouldn’t have thought to take had it not been recommended to me.
Computers in Communication
This might sound like a throwback to elementary school but alas – college computer courses don’t consist of trekking the Oregon Trail or creating a KidPix masterpiece. My Computers in Communications class was one of the most challenging classes I had – it tackled Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, DreamWeaver, etc, in one semester. We mastered a handful of core programs and were required to build our own website as a final project. Graphic & web design is entering the PR fold more and more as social media and digital marketing intertwine with it. I still utilize what I learned from that class. It will prepare you to be able to jump in and work with HTML or image files on the fly.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know by now that coding is becoming a must-learn for kids growing up today. It may seem like a funny fit for PR, but it will be essential as marketing and PR grow. It’s absolutely amazing what you can build to help automate tedious processes or measure data with a coding background. Just ask our boss Chris Penn. He does it every day here at SHIFT. While there was no course offered for me when I was in school, it’s something I wish I had the opportunity to learn. (Good news for us – sites like CodeAcademy ensure it’s never too late.) It will make you an automatic stand-out among your peers.
New Media & Analytics
When I was in college, social media was just beginning to take full swing as an important tool for PR & marketing pros. I was fortunate to be a student of one of the earliest new media & PR classes. Social has become an irreplaceable piece of the puzzle for communicators. Knowing how to best use it as well as how to measure it will be crucial to post-grad success. Which brings me to the second point – analytics. Data Analytics is becoming another key part of a communications program. We have to be able to measure our work and prove its success. If your school offers an analytics course, I recommend taking it. Data will be the guiding force of your strategies as you grow in your career.
Above all, I highly encourage you to gain real-world experience. It will be the number one way you’ll learn the ropes of what is involved in a PR career. This can be via internship – or if your school offers a PR Lab (or your PRSSA chapter offers a student-run agency). Nothing will prepare you better than getting in the driver’s seat and actually doing the work. Fortunately, many schools require an internship in order to graduate.
That’s just my quick take on the courses that will truly help prepare you for the future as a communications professional. For those of you who have already graduated – what other courses would you recommend?