Jackie DiBella’s post earned my respect … and sympathy. I thought about my public relations students who, upon hearing stories like Jackie’s, are simply giving up on job applications and are instead submitting graduate school applications.
Some students have been planning for years to pursue a graduate education after college. Others suddenly see graduate school as a kind of “park and ride,” or a way to pull over and wait until they make up their mind about a career or ride out a gridlocked job market.
Ron Culp, a Ketchum Communications partner, suggested that people in this situation base their decision “on rational reasons, not an impulse caused by difficulty in landing a job in the current bleak economy” (PRSA Forum, para. 2).
First, let me dispel some common misconceptions about graduate school. Your undergraduate degree is your ticket to an entry-level job. No, a master’s degree in the public relations field won’t necessarily make you more qualified or enable you to demand a higher entry-level starting salary. In fact, holding a master’s degree with little work experience could work against you in public relations. An employer may hire an equally qualified candidate with a bachelor’s degree, knowing that you might expect a higher salary despite your lack of experience.
A master’s degree is designed to teach advanced knowledge and skills (e.g., management and research) that help mid-career public relations professionals to advance. When considering a master’s degree in the public relations field, also consider degrees like an MBA. Public relations is increasingly valued for its application as a business management function. A Ph.D. is only for a few – those who intend to focus their work on research or enter a field like education that requires a “terminal” degree.
Also, consider two schools of thought on pursuing a graduate degree. Adherents of the “continue your education” school will advocate entering graduate school as soon as possible. There is no better time to pursue a graduate degree than now. Your head is crammed full of knowledge and you have the classroom routine down to a science; and you may find it difficult to return to school once you begin a career, start a family, assume a mortgage, etc.
Residents of the other school, like Ron Culp, recommend that students “get into the field” and gain experience. Culp surveyed several friends who held jobs in college teaching and in public relations practice. All three agreed, “Advanced degrees should only be pursued after working for a couple of years.” According to Culp’s colleagues, it’s important to explore career paths and determine which one is for you, build a professional work ethic, understand the marketplace, become self-sufficient, earn benefits that could help pay for graduate school, and gain practical knowledge and experience that will make you stronger graduate school candidate.
Maria Russell, a professor of public relations at Syracuse University, also agreed: “If I were [a student]…. I would go out and work for a while, then maybe I would consider what kind of advanced degree to get” (PR Week, What’s a master’s worth?, para. 4).
I’m from the school of “get your feet wet.” I spent more than 25 years in public relations with the U.S. Navy. After experiencing combat operations in the Persian Gulf the Navy paid for me to complete a master’s in public relations at Syracuse University, where I applied what I had learned about life and death to my education. Nearly ten years later, I applied what I learned from my master’s to help save lives in NATO peace-implementation operations in Bosnia. I then completed a Ph.D. in public relations from the University of Maryland and now teach public relations at Marist College.
Having seen the way things work in the “ivory tower” and in the “real world” I know that education and experience have been critical to success in my career. However, I benefited greatly from experiencing the world around me before going back to school.
I was glad to see in Jackie’s biography that she has not given up on her job search. My advice to other recent or prospective college graduates is to focus on your personal goals. If your goal is to immediately obtain a graduate degree, go for it. If, however, you have your heart set on finding a job and launching your career in public relations, follow Jackie’s example and don’t give up!
Dr. Mark Van Dyke is an associate professor of communication at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. His scholarship and teaching focus on strategic public relations management, international conflict resolution, leadership, and intercultural communication. He is also on Twitter via @markavandyke.
- The most popular graduate degrees (cnn.com)
- Do You Really Need a Masters Degree to Succeed? (socyberty.com)