I think it’s safe to say that the first year in any major is stressful for most students. It’s a time of navigation, and learning just what classes, skills and extracurricular activities you need to truly set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd. It’s hard to figure things out right away, but from someone who has been there, here are a couple pieces of advice to help you along the way as you enter the world of public relations.
1. Learn the basics. Learn the basics and learn them as soon as possible! You might not know what I mean by the basics, but you will soon realize as every public relations student does, that the basics usually refer to your AP Style and Adobe Creative Suite skills. Sure, every University of Alabama student has to take APR 300 and APR 332 at some point in their PR coursework; but trust me, the sooner you immerse yourself in learning these essential skills, the better you will be at them. Take some time to create simple designs in Photoshop or InDesign. Use AP Style even when writing emails or informal assignments. These may seem like simple practices, but looking back I wish I had known just how important these skills were at the start of my PR journey.
2. It’s never too early to get involved. “I’m not ready” and “I don’t have the qualifications” were just two of the many excuses I would give myself to justify not getting involved my first year in PR. I was overwhelmed by the students around me who seemed to have the best internships, the best officer positions in clubs and the best résumés. But looking back, I realize that you don’t have to be the “best” starting out. You simply need an eager spirit and a willingness to learn. Don’t think that just because you haven’t had an internship or you are only in your second PR class means that shouldn’t apply for something. Go for it! Take a chance and you just might be surprised at what happens.
3. The title isn’t important. This was one of my biggest misconceptions starting out in PR. I thought that if my job and officer positions didn’t have the words “public relations,” “communications” or “intern” in the title that they were basically useless. Let me just say that I was so very wrong in having this viewpoint. It only took me a short amount of time to realize that any experience you can get as a student is valuable. Focus on finding any opportunity you can to write, enhance your design skills and perfect your overall communication skill set. Potential employers want to see that you adapted to situations and used your skills in settings that weren’t specifically PR positions. It truly isn’t the title that is important. It’s all about the work and practice you are getting.
4. You need a mentor. Out of all the things I wish I had known, this one is certainly at the top of the list. It wasn’t until my second year in PR that I realized just how desperately I needed someone to guide me — someone to answer my questions, to give me advice and to simply just be a friend. Whether it is through the UA PRSSA Peer Mentoring program, the Oakley Society or any other mentoring program, I can’t stress enough how invaluable it is to have someone guide you. Having a mentor will not only help you while you’re still in school, but it also can lead to future job connections, recommendations and relationships that are vital to your future success.
Although I could go on and on about the things I wish I had known when first embarking on my PR journey, I would say that these are the most important. Don’t be afraid to take chances and never stop perfecting your skills. If you can do these things, you’re already headed down a successful path as a PR student.
By Anna Claire Toxey, VP of Chapter Communications