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What’s the Best College Major for a Career in PR?

This is a guest post by PR columnist, Alison Kenney.

Back-to-school season is in full swing and President Obama has finished up his tour to promote reforming the cost of college. Among other things, he is proposing a new college ranking system that includes schools’ track record in finding graduates jobs. Which got me wondering about how many of my colleagues in planned to work in PR while they were still university students? How many PR pros selected their major because they thought it would be the best choice for a career in PR?

Is it best to get a degree in PR (if it’s offered)? Yes, argues Staci Harvatin in her PR Daily article. She makes the case based on the availability of PR programs today that have strong curriculum and offer solid foundations to prepare you to handle everything a PR job in the real world can throw at you.

For me, PR evolved as a career choice – there were no PR or communication courses at my alma mater (I guess I’m one of the “veterans” that Staci Harvatin refers to); it was after a couple of PR internships that I actively pursued it as a career.

Like me, many PR pros are English majors. It has typically been deemed a good major for PR. The emphasis on writing and clear communication is critical in public relations and having a broad, liberal arts education can help in strategic and creative PR program planning. As, this Princeton Review entry explains,

“Though some colleges offer a degree in public relations, most industry professionals agree it’s unnecessary. Since public relations requires familiarity with a wide variety of topics, a broad education is the best preparation. Any major that teaches you how to read and write intelligently will lay good foundation for a career in public relations. Or, as one PR person put it “if you can write a thesis on Dante, you should be able to write a press release.” Internships are a common way to get some practical experience and break into the field.”

But times are changing, and this NY Times opinion piece explains that that reverence for an education grounded in the humanities is declining, as its most obvious manifestation: the ability to write well. The media has been reporting on the decline in liberal arts educations, which can be expensive and are becoming viewed as a luxury that’s not viable. The New Yorker tries to put an end to the discussion by addressing each argument for and against majoring in English, and settling finally on “just because” as the answer.

What about other routes to a career in PR? Lots of PR pros got to their position after studying other aspects of marketing and business management. Others switch over to PR after a more technical role in a particular industry, e.g. practicing healthcare PR after working as a nurse. The HR director at my former agency used to say that he prefers to hire account coordinators who’ve worked as waiters, because they adapt easily to the service business aspect of PR.

What was your college major? How has it affected your career in PR?

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience. She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on LindsayOlson.com. You can find her at www.kprcommunications.com. Learn more about Alison Kenney.

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