If you don’t already know, last week I graduated from university (not that I’ve plastered it all over social media or anything). It felt like a long time coming but also, those four years seemed to go by in a flash.
Now that I have the piece of paper that I will be paying for until I die, I thought I’d look back to when I first applied to study Public Relations at LJMU and compare it to where I am now, four years later because there’s a huge difference.
From 18 to 22 years of age, I feel like I’ve aged ten years instead of just four and it also feels like ten years worth of memories, moments and events have happened within those short four years.
But if you are in your final year of high school and considering a career in PR, let me tell you what it’s like to study it at university. I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what I was going to get out of it, but I went with my gut and if you can’t tell, I’m bloody glad that I did.
A PR degree or a Finance degree?
Even though my whole life I’ve wanted a career in the music industry, at the age of 18, I was faced with the decision of what to study at university. And it felt like it was time to get serious and forget about the fantasy life I had imagined for myself, as I had no idea how to get there and no connections to help me figure out what to do.
I’ve talked about how I found Public Relations and the reasons for choosing it in previous blog posts and talked about how a Finance career seemed a safe, sensible choice and one my parents actually encouraged over studying Public Relations.
But when reading through the course descriptions and seeing my friends’ brother living his ‘best life’ (and what I imagined would be my ‘best life’) working in PR in the music industry, my gut was telling me to follow the one I knew would give me a more exciting life than working with numbers and sitting in the same office five days a week. I knew I was destined for more excitement than that. (No offence to anyone that works in Finance).
So, not really knowing what a PR degree would get me or what job I would have at the end of it, I went ahead and chose to study it anyway because I wanted to move to Liverpool and I wanted to study something I thought would be fun and give me an exciting career (based on those three days of working for a fashion PR agency in Belfast and running around the city for Belfast Fashion Week).
Since I had never been to Liverpool before moving there, I didn’t really have any expectations. I had no idea what the university looked like except from pictures online and only had stats from sites like What Uni and __ to go on.
From the course description, I knew I was going to be learning different things about business as well as Public Relations as the course covered it all. It was CIPR accredited and offered the chance of a sandwich year. It wasn’t offering a year in Boston like Ulster University, but it was still going to give me the chance of taking a year out to see somewhere new.
I went imagining a creative degree, one that I was going to enjoy and would enable me to have a future as a business woman. I had only studied Business Studies at A Level, so a career in business was a relatively new idea at the time, but it was a class that I was very interested in and to me, a degree in business seemed like a smart idea.
The modules I undertook
As well as studying the common modules associated with PR, there was also the ‘Business’ aspect to my degree too which allowed for learning in other business areas.
In my first year, the modules I undertook were: Finance and Information, Organisational Management, Skills for PR, Principles of PR and and Introduction to Communications. Wouldn’t you know that I got my highest mark in the Finance module for that year – I guess my knack for numbers never went away.
In second year, the modules were a little more advanced and included: Corporate Communications, Online PR, Graduate Enterprise, Media Relations and Marketing and Human Resource Management. Learning about HR was very interesting, and led some of my classmates to pursue it as a career as opposed to PR. The Graduate Enterprise module was also quite exciting as we were able to be entrepreneurs for the first time.
After a year working in London, it was back to finish university and begin final year. Obviously the most challenging of the three, it didn’t actually turn out too bad as all of our assignments were well split up time-wise which made it easier to handle. The modules for my final year included: Corporate Social Responsibility, Change Management, Events Management, PR Planning and Strategy and Dissertation. CSR was the most interesting, learning about what different corporations do and don’t do, learning about climate change and how businesses and consumers can make a difference – although I found PR Planning and Strategy the most exciting and I actually enjoyed doing the work for it. We’ll not talk about the dissertation just yet.
How each year compares
I can definitely say that in first year, I was just learning about what PR actually was. It was all quite technical and seemed to be very corporate, learning about publics, communications and the value of PR.
The assignments and essays were relatively easy as we were learning to Harvard Reference for the first time and most of my assignments were started 24 hours before the deadline. First year of university was more about having a good time, settling into a new city and learning to live away from home for the first year, which is why our first year didn’t count towards our final degree score. And I can tell you I definitely took advantage of the free opportunity to have a good time and learn to live in a city.
Second year was when things started to get serious. I had moved home for the summer and soon realised my small hometown of Lurgan couldn’t compare to my new home of Liverpool, so I moved back at the beginning of August, cutting my summer at home short. I started to think about placements as it was coming up to the time of applying. I had started my Fake Blonde Blog at the end of first year and wanted to get more serious about blogging. And so, sitting in the university library in the middle of August, Orlagh Claire was born.
University is very much about ‘you get out, what you put in,’ and so the more work you put in, the more you’re going to get out of it. I started reading outside of university, making connections and exploring my own thoughts and ideas about PR through writing blog posts. It was the best thing I ever did and I couldn’t imagine being in this position now once graduated, if I hadn’t started my PR blog.
In second year, I also got myself a part-time Communications job and carried out three different internships. I don’t know why I finally got my head screwed on in second year, but thank God I did. So enjoy the free ride of first year, but when it comes to second year, you’re going to need to get down to business and start thinking about putting effort into the degree that’s going to cost you £40k.
Placement year was obviously the best year of my life and you can read all about it here. It was obviously very different to my first and second years as I had a lot of responsibility and was given a taste of what working life was going to be like after graduation.
I would always recommend going on a placement year if you can. It was one of the reasons I chose to study on the PR course at LJMU because I knew I wanted to take a year out and work in the industry. Only 7 people on my course took the placement year, and I’m so glad I was one of them. Here are five reasons why I’d recommend doing a placement year.
Coming back to final year was daunting and I was a little apprehensive as I didn’t want to leave my amazing life in London, but was so excited to come back to Liverpool and all the while dreading how hard final year was going to be. Now that it’s over, I can say that it wasn’t as hard as I had expected it to be.
The assignments were a lot more challenging, required a lot more reading and had higher word counts than I was used to, but it was a welcome challenge. A lot of the assignments were actually quite fun and I was able to incorporate a lot from my placement year.
The dissertation wasn’t too bad, in all honesty. The hardest thing was figuring out what I was going to write about. There’s obviously huge scope for the area of Public Relations, but after working in Influencer Marketing for a year, it was the area I wanted to write about. But figuring out what to write about when it came to Influencer Marketing was hard.
But one thing I would say about final year is that you need to enjoy it. It’s your final year. You only have around eight months of university life before it’s into the real world, so make a bucket list, go out with your friends as much as you can and just enjoy your final time of being a student.
A degree in PR, so now what?
Ah. So now that I have the PR degree, what am I doing with it? Currently? Nothing. From my blog, making connections and working my butt off to get a first-class degree, I have had quite a few offers and interest come in for grad jobs. But I’ve been thinking about what I want, where I want to be and what way I want my career to go before I jump at the first job I’m offered.
I’m heading down to London tomorrow to chat about one of my top choices and am still waiting to hear about another of my top choices. Once I know the outcome of both, I’ll be able to decide how to move forward.
The only reason I have these opportunities is because I got myself the part-time PR job while at university, took a placement year, started a blog, made a lot of connections in the PR world and made something of a name for myself all while studying a PR degree.
So if you are studying PR, thinking about studying PR or just in university, take advantage of all the free time you have – start a blog, start networking, get as much experience as you can and make something of yourself before you even graduate. It’s possible and it’s worth the time and energy.
University shouldn’t be 100% partying, pot noodles and sleeping until 12pm. Trust me.