College didn’t prepare me for PR

A plea for higher education to teach real world skills in the classroom.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

The purpose of college is to prepare you for the real world. That’s what you always hear and what you believe must be true since you’re spending four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars for an education to ultimately secure a job.

It’s a rude awakening when you graduate with a PR degree and realize you’re unemployed in a post-pandemic world with an unreal expectation for what working in your field looks like.

I started my job search six months before graduation, applying for just about every entry-level PR job on the market. I’m still currently looking for a full-time opportunity. 

Skills for entry-level PR roles include everything from previous pitching expertise, proficiency in Cision, Muck Rack and other media relations software and at least 1-2 years of experience — all tools and skills not typically taught in a college classroom. 

At my university, there was no class on how to form relationships with journalists or how to pitch a story to a media contact list. There wasn’t a course offered on teaching client management or the creative thinking necessary to make a client stand out amongst competitors. 

The American education system failed to teach me as a communication student what I’ll actually be required to do in the real world by failing to provide industry exposure. 

Nursing and pre-med students undergo clinical hours working in the field gaining practical experience before formally entering the workforce. Their education aligns with what they will be doing post-graduation. 

As a PR major, I was taught a fraction of what I’ve learned my future job will require and was provided a false sense of what the reality of the indsutry is.

I, like my fellow PR and general comms majors, were taught that PR is simply crisis management using an outdated curriculum with textbooks published before the year 2000. This means students are learning how to approach the industry pre-social media, pre-pandemic and pre-introduction of two new generations of consumers in an evolving digital world.

In my experience, PR touches on all of the marketing channels. Although it’s generally controlling the flow of communication surrounding a client’s business and how the public perceives them, the process is done through many forms other than media relations. 

PR pros must use social media, public events, influencer relations and community relations to maintain positive relationships with stakeholders from customers to the government.

Without PR, brands wouldn’t have media placements, relationships with influencers or a brand voice on social media – a critical job often perceived as an easy major in college.

While university communication programs may offer a theoretical foundation, they lack the practical experience employers are looking for and offer a skewed perception of what communication jobs will require. 

If the education system properly taught students — like myself —  what PR is and how to do it, entering the workforce wouldn’t be so hard.

Anna Tamke is a graduate student at Rutgers University.

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