Higher Education vs. Real-World Experience in PR

Higher Education vs. Real-World Experience in PR


A common decision that college seniors must make is whether to continue on to graduate school or to look for a job in the field they wish to pursue.

With the economy slowly recovering, it’s no surprise that many students are deciding to enroll in graduate school instead of jumping into the job search. This growing trend, especially in public relations, has made me think: what is the value of graduate school without any on-the-job experience?

Let me preface by saying that I am currently completing my master’s degree in PR and corporate communications at NYU – so I definitely see value in higher education. I chose to pursue this degree because my undergraduate degree is not in PR, and I decided that further education would be the best way for me to understand my new profession.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a full-time job in PR while attending classes, and I now realize that my education would not have been nearly as helpful without on-the-job experience to supplement it.

Listening to a professor tell you how to interact with the media or compile a strategic communications plan is one thing, but it’s not the same thing as doing it yourself.  One component to my degree, which I think should be included in all public relations programs, is to work with an actual company to develop a strategic communications plan.

Too often I’ve heard stories about fellow students who tried to develop their plans strictly following the textbook, recommending components that will work in an ideal scenario, but would have little chance of success in the real world.

Think of it this way: I studied political science in college. I read books upon books about political science and listened to classroom lectures, but I did not participate in the student government. Does the knowledge, but not the experience, make me a politician? In the case of PR, if I read books about PR but are not practicing in the field, can I truly say upon graduation that I am a PR practitioner?

I’ve realized that it’s extremely valuable to be taught by your coworkers along with learning in a classroom. This is especially true when a PR student wants to pursue a very specific field, like business-to-business technology (in my case). Professors can teach you the general PR skills that every student should know: how to write a press release, build a PR plan, communicate with the media, etc. However, a practitioner can only learn the intricacies of their field from colleagues.

In business-to-business technology, would we advise for clients to have Facebook pages and target consumer publications? Not likely, but these are tactics taught in the classroom and are important PR basics. Would a classroom student learn how to interact with industry analysts and how to successfully staff a trade show? Doubtful, but these are skills that are necessary in some specific PR fields.

There is value in graduate-level PR education. Having a master’s degree on your resume can never hurt, and students who studied other fields in undergraduate classes can learn valuable PR skills to help them succeed in the business. However, we need to realize that classroom learning can’t do it all. Especially if students want to pursue a specialized form of PR, they need to supplement the classroom with on-the-job experience to become a valuable consultant.

What do you think? Is it more important to get more education in PR, or are you better off getting more on-the-job training? What do you value most?



  1. Heather B. says:

    I definitely agree that on-the-job training is extremely important. I am getting ready to graduate in the spring and I have recently started interning. Through this internship I have seen the value in on-the-job training. Being able to apply what I am learning in class to real-world situations has benefited me tremendously because it has allowed me to learn in a hands-on environment. Education is definitely a must, but I think that you receive the most benefit when you can apply what you are LEARNING to your experience and training in the workplace.

  2. Finally! An article that DOESN’T put down higher education in PR! I did the same thing as you – my undergraduate degree was in a different field, so I chose to get my M.S. in PR to learn more about PR and I don’t regret any second of it. I do agree that internships, or if you’re lucky enough to get a job, definitely bolster the education, but I definitely learned a lot more in my graduate courses then I did in my undergraduate courses.

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