I woke up the other day and suddenly realized that fall semester is more than half way over. To many underclassmen that realization might come as a relief, but as a senior it means that I am that much closer to being kicked out of the Chapel Hill bubble and thrown unceremoniously into the real world. Now don’t get me wrong, I am excited about graduation, moving to a big city, earning real money and never writing a 25-page paper at 3 a.m. again…it just seems to have snuck up on me. Over the past few days I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I wish I would have known as an underclassman, so here are a few of the highlights and hopefully some of you will find this helpful:
1. You’re not a slacker if you don’t have 2 majors and a minor: What I’m really trying to say is don’t try and do too much. Stretching yourself too thin will not only drive you crazy but it will also not let you maximize your experience in the J-School and at UNC. Choose a few activities that you can really dedicate yourself to in addition to your course work. In the J-School specifically you may be tempted to try and do everything, and to pad your resume to get an edge over other PR students. From my experience, employers can see through this and are more likely to be impressed by someone who has strategically chosen a few activities to dedicate themselves to and in then taken on leadership roles.
2. Intern, Intern, Intern: Internships are the best way to learn in a field that values practical experience more than anything else. Working full time during the summer is a great way to maximize your internship experience and really understand what working in the public relations field is like. I’d suggest getting a summer internship after your sophomore year and after your junior year. This is also an opportunity to live in a different city and explore what/where you’d like to be after graduation. I spent one summer in New York and one in D.C. and they were probably the most fantastic experiences of my college career. I would also recommend having an internship during your senior year. This will prepare you to transition into the ‘real-world’ and show your enthusiasm to potential employers.
3. Technology: In PR you don’t always think about knowing the more technical side of campaigns. Exposing yourself to digital communication opportunities, social media applications, and some basic design softwares (like Adobe CS4) will be invaluable in your career as their prominence grows in our field. Look into classes that offer introductions to these topics and do some reading on your own to learn more. The blog Mashable is an excellent resource!
4. Go to Office Hours: This seems like easy advice and I’m sure you all have heard it before, but this is especially important in the J-School. Our professors have incredible experiences in various fields of communication, not using them as a resource for advice, networking, course-planning or goal-setting really is a waste. Not only can building a relationship with your professors help you while you’re in their class, but it can help so much when you’re starting your job search and looking for contacts or recommendations.
5. Network: Networking is crucial when breaking into the PR industry. Use opportunities like the UCS Networking Night and the PRSSA Networking night to meet professionals and then be sure to follow up with them and establish a relationship. J-Link on the JOMC website is another way to look up Carolina Alums that work in the public relations field. Contact information is provided and more often than not you’ll find that Carolina Grads are more than willing to help! And last but not least, talk to other students in the J-School. Chances are someone has interned at a place you’re interested in and they’ll be able to give you great tips and advice. Don’t underestimate the importance of networking, it’s the easiest way to get your foot in the door!
Stacy Merrick, President