A Guide to Graduate School

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Posted: April 14, 2015, 11:08 p.m.
by Laura Gregory.

Every spring, young and eager undergraduates count down the days to the one they’ve been working toward their entire lives: graduation. With their last exam officially behind them, they celebrate the end of their collegiate careers and look forward to their lives in the “real” world.

However, for a select group of these seniors, the real world isn’t coming just yet. Instead, these students have elected to follow a path that many of their peers wouldn’t imagine — a path full of more sleepless nights at the library, seemingly endless exams and papers, and yet another countdown to another graduation. These students have weighed the pros and cons and decided that earning a graduate degree is the best option for their careers.

human trying to make the right choice
human trying to make the right choice

Study after study after study has been completed to assess whether or not a graduate degree is a worthwhile economic investment for students. After all, the cost of attending graduate school is certainly not cheap, and graduate school takes away from time that could be spent working and earning a real income. And, frankly, some studies indicate that a graduate degree does not necessarily guarantee a higher income than a bachelor’s degree.

While the statistics are certainly worth examining, in the end, the most important decision about graduate school is choosing the right degree. Before pursuing graduate school, it is important to identify what field you are interested in, and then pick a degree that will assist you in landing that dream job. For example, if you want to join the legal field, you should probably consider law school.

While this may sound simple enough, many undergraduate communications and public relations students toying with the idea of graduate school remain unsure of what specific area they want to study and what degree they should pursue to help them meet their career goals. The obvious choice for PR students may be a Master in Public Relations or Communications degree, but the opportunities are endless. In fact, Teri Henley, APR, a professor in the advertising and public relations department at the University of Alabama, suggests choosing a graduate degree that differs from your undergraduate degree.

Henley, who received her M.B.A. from Auburn University after receiving her B.A. in Speech Communications and Public Relations also at Auburn, said, “Getting more of what you already have may not be the best solution depending on what you are trying to do in your career.”

So, without further ado, here is a closer look at just a few of the countless graduate degrees that former communications and public relations students have pursued.

Nasser-AlmulhimM.B.A.

Business school offers a complementary set of courses to the public relations industry.

“Understanding how businesses run is important,” Henley said. “Too often [in public relations] we think about it from the client or consumer perspective rather than thinking about all of these different projects and clients as businesses. They have financial realities, and you need to understand the statistics, how to put together a budget and how the economy works in order to figure out how your client fits into it.”

Henley stressed the importance of looking at the big picture in public relations. Using the example of a PR campaign, she cited how a business school looks at the bigger picture of what a campaign will do for a business.

For students who know they are interested in getting their M.B.A., Henley advised taking introductory-level business courses during undergrad to help jumpstart the process and obtain a basic business background.

“For me, getting my M.B.A. opened doors. If I just had another communication degree, I wouldn’t have had those opportunities,” Henley added.

Master of Healthcare Administration

The healthcare industry is vast and offers a wide variety of employment opportunities, especially for communications students.

Christina Rich is a current student at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health where she is pursuing her Master of Healthcare Administration after earning a B.A. in Public Relations and Political Science from The University of Alabama. After an internship in the healthcare industry during college, Rich decided she wanted to pursue a career in that industry. The healthcare field is very complex; therefore, Rich decided to attend graduate school in order to hone in on the industry and find the specific fit for her. She believes her background in communications has had a positive affect on her graduate school experience.

“I’m the only person in my [graduate] program that did anything communications related at all,” Rich said. “At first I thought that was a disadvantage, but I think in every single class I’ve had this year we have talked at least once about how important communication is. My finance class is not communications related in the least, but even if you are just giving a pitch presentation to a client, you have to be able to communicate well. A lot of problems in health care come down to bad communication. I think it’s incredibly important, and I’m glad that I have that communication background. ”

Master of Community/City Planning

It was her major in public relations that led Kayla Anthony to discover her passion in urban planning. Anthony, who received her Master in Community Planning degree from the University of Maryland, ultimately added geography and urban planning as a second major during her undergraduate studies at The University of Alabama.

“The best advice I received while a PR student was from a 101 journalism professor who said, “PR is not about talking or people. It’s about writing.” That scared me at first (there was a reason I wasn’t a journalism major!), but then I realized he was correct,” Anthony said. “Once I embraced writing, public relations made much more sense. Fast forward to post-undergraduate work, I find that urban planning is all about ‘telling the story. I truly believe the foundation of writing I built during my undergraduate years has been incredibly useful.”

While these degrees cover only a narrow range of graduate degree opportunities available to students, they do shed some light on the variety of directions a communications student can choose to take with their life after college. The possibilities are endless – you just have to find the right one for you.

Further, graduate school does not have to immediately follow undergrad. Anthony advises students to not be afraid to take some time off after college.

“Dabble in the real world and delay graduate school for a year or two, if possible. The experience I gained working two jobs between undergrad and graduate school helped me make decisions about the direction I wanted to take my career.”

Rich offers this final piece of advice for students considering graduate school.

“You have to really want to do it. It’s not ‘Undergrad Part Two.’ It’s very different and much more professional . . . You have to do the work, do the reading, listen in class and go to class! You have to be prepared for that. Grad school is still fun, but in a different way. Don’t go to grad school just because you don’t want to find a job yet. You have to be passionate about it. Grad degrees tend to be expensive, so you have to know that’s what you want to do.”

One Comment

  1. Katrina

    As a senior currently contemplating attending graduate school, I found this article very interesting and valid. From my personal communication with people in the industry, I would say that your assertion regarding the economics of graduate school are somewhat true, but do not give a full picture. Managers in the past have cautioned me that prospective employees with a graduate degree, but the same experience as someone with a bachelor’s degree, should expect to be paid in the same range. So in that sense there may be additional reasons for disparities in pay. From my observations a graduate degree becomes more important when someone is looking to move into a managerial or executive level position. It seems to me that a graduate degree can often be what causes one employee to be chosen over another. Also, I believe there is a typo in the third paragraph under the header, M.B.A.

    Reply

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