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Post-Graduation: To Earn an M.A. or to Work

Posted At: April 12, 2007 10:22 AM

The options available to college graduates and the best choice for you

by Breeanna Beckham

As you enter your senior year of college, a scary notion hits: you don’t know what to do after graduation. Until now, every step of life has been determined for you. At the age of five, you entered into the education system, which filtered you through until your graduation from high school. At the completion of this 13-year feat you were then hustled off to college. As the years of freedom flew by, you suddenly found yourself being asked the daunting question, “What’s next?”

In your last year of college, there are several options available that you should begin exploring. Many students in public relations continue their education in a master’s program, such as earning a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Advertising and Public Relations (APR), a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) or even a Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.) from law school. However, many students simply graduate and enter the professional realm by getting a job. Before deciding which path is best for you, it is important to understand what each option could do for your career.

M.A. of APR
According to Dr. Bruce K. Berger, professor and chair of the department of Advertising and Public Relations in the College of Communication and Information Sciences, University of Alabama, with an M.A. degree in APR from UA you will literally have twice the education of someone with just a bachelor’s degree in PR. In addition, you will most likely work on at least two campaigns for regional or national clients. This triples the crucial experience you gain working with clients and strategically planning campaigns.

Berger went on to say, “Earning your master’s matters some today and a lot tomorrow.” He added that some organizations require an M.A. degree for management positions.

At a recent breakfast in Chicago with prominent PR figures, Berger asked if job candidates with a master’s degree stood out during the hiring process. All agreed they would hire an M.A. candidate over a B.A. candidate.

However, a seasoned PR practioner who asked to remain anonymous said, “I have worked with people who went on for their master’s [degrees] and those who started work immediately following four year [colleges] and [I] rarely see a difference. To be honest, success is based on willingness to learn and drive. That is what I look for.”

Ginny Willcox, who has a Master of Arts in APR and is now employed at PR Newswire, agrees with this sentiment. She said, “I think having a master’s doesn’t necessarily make or break your career. Whether you have an M.A. or not, you have to have the drive and motivation once you do get into the professional work force. However, I do think it is one more thing that makes me stand out when interviewing for a position.”

Ann Taylor Reed, a PR practitioner at Abernathy MacGregor Group in New York City, did not opt for graduate school after earning a bachelor’s degree in PR and doesn’t believe it has held her back professionally.

She said, “I can honestly say that having a graduate degree would not help me in my chosen job at all. I got a job with a New York agency about a month after graduation, and all they really cared about was how well I could write and how well I could communicate verbally. I think we learn most of that in our undergraduate classes.”

Susan West, assistant dean and director, M.B.A. Programs, at The Manderson Graduate School of Business, University of Alabama, stated, “If you are in PR or any field for that matter, the better you can understand business and how business operates, the more effective you can be in almost any job.”

West added, “Only one percent of all Americans have the degree, so it is a very elite and difficult degree to obtain. The program is challenging. However, the networking and hands on experience are unmatched.”

Angelia Knight, PHR, career services coordinator for Manderson, added to West’s thoughts, saying an M.B.A., “will help them communicate those things to the outside world.” She added that gaining work experience before earning an M.B.A. helps you to understand your career path. However, once you start enjoying your paycheck it is hard to give up.

Berger is also an advocate of PR students earning an M.B.A. “It is all about the combination you create in your education,” he said. “The combination makes you well-balanced and highly knowledgeable.”

So, how do you decide? Berger advises to go down both paths. Apply to a variety of graduate programs and begin interviewing for jobs. Then as graduation nears, choose your best option. If job opportunities aren’t attractive, you still have the option of continuing your education.

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