16 Things to Do Before You Graduate

Since my March Madness bracket isn’t looking too good right now, I thought I’d draw up a Sweet 16 of my own to get my mind off Xavier blowing a late lead against Pitt last night.

As stated in previous posts, the primary purpose of this blog is to help prepare public relations students for the industry. I’ve created somewhat of a checklist for you to use as a guide.

If you’re a freshman or sophomore, this might be perfect for you. I encourage you to take some of these ideas, and come up with some additional action items to help you fulfill your personal goals.

While this may not serve too much help for May’s graduating class, use this as a rubric to see where you stand.

  • Fill your resume with internships. While I’ll agree the beach is an amazing place to go during the summer, manage to get a few internships under your belt. Learning public relations through a textbook is night and day from work in the field. You will get a better idea of what career path is right for you, or maybe more importantly, which paths are not right for you. Your internships, or lack of, will be the emphasis of your resume.
  • Take elective classes that will support your interests in public relations. I covered this briefly in a previous post, “Don’t Devalue Your Education.” The goal here is to become a master of your future sector of the industry. I always recommend taking a history course of your preferred sector, if possible.
  • Write for your university’s newspaper. One of the most common mistakes I see from PR students is a lack of writing samples. There’s so much to learn in a newsroom. You’ll learn how journalists fill a news budget, deadlines, where to trim the fat in your writing and even news jargon to improve your media relations skills. Having an intern or entry-level practitioner able to draft a solid release that needs minimal editing is truly valued.
  • Create a resume, and keep it up to date. This is a no-brainer, but I’d hate to assume all of you are doing this. If you haven’t had an internship, fill the resume with the work you’ve accomplished in related organizations and other academic achievements. After a summer internship, don’t wait until the next year to update your resume — get it on paper while it’s fresh on your mind.
  • Travel and/or study abroad a semester. I never had the opportunity to study abroad, but I traveled to seven national PRSSA events, and I spent 35 days in Ireland after my freshman year. Traveling gives you a better idea of what the world is like, and it will present you with unexpected opportunities, including networking opportunities. I met a managing partner from my agency in Philadelphia, who encouraged me to apply for a job in Charlotte.
  • Join a relevant organization. I have some bias toward PRSSA, because the student Society defined half of my college experience (the other half was my university newspaper).  While I give PRSSA my 100 percent endorsement, I encourage you to find an organization that will work for you. One thing I urge is for you to serve an active role in the organization. Run for a position on your E-board, write for its newsletter, etc. Attending meetings should only be a small part of your experience.
  • Build an extensive network. If you know you’re moving to Los Angeles after you graduate, connect with students and agencies in the area. If you’re a PRSSA member, create a relationship with an L.A. Chapter. A network is pointless if you can’t reap the benefits of having one.
  • Find a mentor. Whether it’s a professor, advisor, professional or recent graduate, find someone who will help you on your journey. Meet frequently to discuss goals, and use your mentor as a sounding board. Don’t walk your journey alone.
  • Keep up your GPA. Former FORUM Editor-in-Chief Jay DeVoy commented on a previous post to graduate with Latin honors to stand out no matter what university you attend. I support his thoughts completely. Be prideful of your grades, and make the most of one of the biggest investments in your lifetime. Learn to tell Chris you can’t make it out, because you have an essay due. You could get it done if you go out, but would a crammed assignment be portfolio-worthy?
  • Get an understanding of social media. Start a blog, learn to RT on Twitter, be the first in your organization to discover a new social media site. Whether you like it or not, you’ll be expected to enter the industry with just as much (or more) knowledge as your supervisors when it comes to social media.
  • Build your professional wardrobe. You don’t have to go overboard, but buy a dress shirt and pants every so often, so you’re not spending $1,000 after you graduate. Keep your clothes neat, and treat them as a handyman would treat his tools.
  • Volunteer for a cause you believe in. In addition to learning yourself professionally, you need to develop a good idea of who you are in the grand scheme of things. Find a cause that you find important, and volunteer some of your free time to help out. Even if you work isn’t resume worthy, consider it personal development. Others will appreciate you for it.
  • Tour the agencies/companies you find interesting. Get an understanding of what an office looks like. Is the creative team mixed with account practitioners, or is each group separate? Learning different office settings will give you a better idea of what you’re looking for in your first job. One important question to ask yourself: “Do the people at this agency seem happy to be there?”
  • To the least, learn basic Web and design skills. Whether it’s learning xhtml or InDesign, it’s important to develop an understanding of design. As the industry continues to integrate, you can prove to be a powerful asset to your company if you can add design to your public relations skills. Also, when developing campaigns, a seasoned designer has the ability to visualize supporting creative materials, including limitations.
  • Support all you’ve accomplished in a portfolio. I’m a believer in showing my work to show its quality. With your new design skills, build an e-portfolio to tout your amazing placements, press releases and other materials. I was interviewed in 2008 for a syndicated article on e-portfolios, which might give you a better idea of how an online portfolio can separate you from a similar student with an old-fashioned resume.
  • Soak in your college experience. Doing all of the above is enough to burn out any prospective PR practitioner. While you’re striving to gain as much experience as you can before you graduate, remember to enjoy your journey. You’re only an undergrad once.

Your Thoughts

~did i miss anything~
Did I miss something in my Sweet 16? Should I have included a foreign language? Let me know in the comments section below.


7 thoughts on “16 Things to Do Before You Graduate

  1. As an impending senior, my advice to freshmen and sophomores is to take things slow and don’t rush through your degree. I overloaded myself with credits in the beginning, took summer classes, etc. and now I’m on the verge of graduating early! While that can be a great thing, like you mentioned, you are only an undergrad once, and I would live those four short years to the fullest. You have the rest of your life to work, an extra year in the workforce won’t make a difference! Plus, you will be able to handle more outside activities to enhance your resume if you take minimal credits!

  2. To me, one of the most valuable points in your Sweet 16 bracket is to find a mentor. As a college senior, I can look at this list and say, “Yes. I did it. I’ve taken electives to support my degree, studied abroad, learned web design, built a network, joined a few organizations…” The list goes on. However, I am leaving without really connecting with one professor or advisor that I could call a mentor. I have connected with a few professionals and recent graduates that I am close with, but the value of having a true mentor is unequivocal. I believe all young professionals need someone with more experience than themselves to help them through the journey of building a resume, applying for the first internships, negotiating the first salary offer and switching jobs for the first time. Even when you are not at a steppingstone and you are just strolling down the path, you need someone to talk to. Like you wrote, it is important to discuss goals and lesser issues that may arise on a daily basis. Young professionals, look at the network you have built and pull out the names of five people whose opinions and advice you value. Could any of them walk beside you on your career journey? Consider it.

  3. Thanks for the meaningful post. I just completed my freshman year of college, and reading this list helped me gain a fuller knowledge and understanding of what I should do and continue to do in the coming years in order to be successful in this particular industry. I appreciate your honesty in this post.
    I completely agree with your point that students need to find a mentor (I saw you wrote another post specifically on this topic) who will help them along their journey. I like that you suggested meeting with a mentor frequently to discuss goals in order to not walk a journey alone. I think it’s also imperative that you mentioned the mentor can be anybody trustworthy who will help a student through their journey.
    I also really appreciated that you mentioned building a professional wardrobe, because I have found myself extremely conscious of my professional wardrobe, even as a freshman in college, because first impressions are lasting impressions.

  4. Thank you for this insightful post! As a rising senior in college, the real world is looming and I constantly rethink whether or not I will be prepared upon graduation. This year I tacked on a multimedia (digital arts) minor to my repertoire. I wonder if skills such as programming, graphic design, video production and the like are also seen as helpful tools when navigating the workforce. I agree with many of the points you made, and am happy to see that I already can check quite a few things off on my list. In the end, I’m glad that you point out that we’re only an undergrad once. Between classes, work and extracurriculars, it is easy to forget to stop and smell the roses, especially when gearing up for a career in PR.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s