I have a Master’s Degree in PR/Communications and one of the questions I get asked the most is if I think grad school is worth it.
Before I tell you my answer, here’s a quick backgrounder: I studied Communications in undergrad and ended up working in accounting and supply chain for a few years. I decided to go back to grad school for a PR/Communications program with a concentration in finance and have been working at my current firm for just under three years in various roles and levels.
If you’re on the fence about going to grad school, here are a few considerations for your decision-making process.
The first question you should ask yourself is where you want to end up in your career and if a master’s degree will help get you there.
If the answer is yes, then you'll have to evaluate the different options (e.g. MBA, M.S.) and decide which is the best route.
I should also say that if you choose to go to grad school, you should apply this long-term vision to everything you choose to do -- from the classes you take to the topic of your thesis paper. Even if the answer is the tougher route, just do it. You’ll be thankful you did.
Another thing I'll say is that if you intend to stay in PR for the rest of your career, you don't need an advanced degree. PR is more practice than theory so you learn mainly from experience.
But if you want to switch careers, grad school can be a way to demonstrate your seriousness in pursuing something else.
What you get out of the experience of course varies depending on the program you choose.
For me, the biggest takeaway was the business rationale behind PR. It's not just media hits and social media posts; it's the business impact they make. Higher education enables you to think differently about the issues and tasks we encounter.
When it comes to building skills and competencies, a grad school PR program will push you to advance what we do day to day.
Crisis communications was a fairly large focus in my program and we studied previous cases and best practices for every stakeholder. This critical, logical and linear thinking under pressure is a necessary skill to exercise.
Grad school is also a great networking opportunity. Moreso than in undergrad, people choose to go to, so fellow students are looking to continue learning and get to the next level. You get the chance to meet and work with other professionals in similar industries or lines of work.
Grad school is a huge time commitment. Especially if you want to attend in-person and make the most of your tuition.
Luckily, there are programs with part-time options and night and weekend classes. It will become another thing to balance, in addition to work and life.
Will you get a paycheck bump? Depends on which company you end up working for, but honestly, PR is not an industry that values higher education.
Feel free to reach out to program alumni. Whether through LinkedIn or mutual friends, you can always ask alumni what they thought about a certain program. Not all are designed the same and you may learn which are better than others.
So my answer to the question about grad school being worth it is yes because of my situation at the time and my long-term career goals. But every situation is different.
Just know you're not alone in debating whether to go or not.
What do you think? Is grad school a smart move for PR pros?
Julia Sahin works in financial communications at one of the largest PR firms in New York and is a monthly contributor to Muck Rack. She plans on doing big things. Connect with her on Twitter. All opinions should be seen as her own and do not reflect her employer’s.
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