Published on December 11, 2019, at 11:55 p.m.
by Zoie Mestayer.
Students’ first few months in college can be a whirlwind. They move away from their loved ones, their homes and their pets and move into drafty shoebox dorms full of strangers. The days of hand-holding and structured education are over as full control over one’s future is thrust upon unsuspecting 18-year-olds.
For first-semester public relations students, this adjustment can be especially difficult. Schools have only recently begun to offer majors in public relations, and a degree still isn’t technically required to land a job. In addition, further degrees are relatively uncommon in the field, so undergraduate public relations students must really make their four years count. Getting involved in extracurricular activities, especially jobs or internships that provide students with real experience, is a necessity.
But aside from the demands of school and other activities, a student’s first year of college is a time for personal growth and making memories. It offers the first chance to really choose your own adventure — only you determine your relationships and lifestyle as well as your GPA. It is during these years that your personality, beliefs and values develop and begin to shine. For PR students, this means, of course, developing your personal brand.
So what do public relations students make of their first semester of college? The following responses were collected from six undergraduate public relations majors from The University of Alabama: Laura Brooks, Morgan Perkins, Stella Holt, Kirstyn Corbett, Sarah Pierce and Madi Woziwodzki. They were asked to reflect about their college experience thus far as well as the hopes and goals they have for the next four years and the rest of their careers.
Zoie Mestayer: Tell me a bit about yourself.
Laura Brooks: My name is Laura Brooks, and I’m 18 years old and majoring in public relations. I still have not decided on a minor. I’m from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but have moved around a bit.
Morgan Perkins: My name is Morgan Perkins, I’m 19, I’m from the Chicago suburbs. I’m majoring in public relations and psychology. Double majoring, actually.
Stella Holt: I’m Stella Holt. I’m 18 and from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I’m majoring in public relations with a political science minor.
Kirstyn Corbett: My name is Kirstyn Corbett and I’m an 18-year-old freshman from St. Louis, Missouri. I’m majoring in public relations and undecided on my minor, but I’m looking to minor in creative writing or Spanish.
Sarah Pierce: I’m Sarah Pierce, I’m 18, I’m originally from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I’m majoring in PR and minoring in psychology. I don’t really know what I want to do yet, so I’m taking psychology classes in case I want to be a psychologist.
Madi Woziwodzki: I’m Madi Woziwodzki. I’m 18 and from Little Rock, Arkansas. I’m majoring in public relations and minoring in marketing.
ZM: What attracted you to majoring in public relations?
LB: Well, I knew I wanted to do something within communications and I knew it was broad spectrum. I love building relationships with people, and I knew I would be able to do that with PR. I also love to write, plan events and media. PR offers all of that.
MP: So, my sister actually went here. She graduated almost two years ago and she was the director for Capstone Agency, [UA’s student-run PR firm]. I originally was just going to major in psychology because I was interested in therapy and counseling, but that would require grad school. So she kind of encouraged me, “Why don’t you also major in PR; you don’t have to go to grad school for that, you like to write and you’re good at it. See how you feel first semester and if it’s something that you’d want in your back pocket.” I decided I was going to double major in both and I’m just kind of feeling it out.
SH: My mom was a public relations major and I have always been interested in media. When I really researched the College of Communication, I was so excited to realize that Alabama had such an amazing program. That sealed the deal for me and a public relations major it was.
KC: I came into my freshman year as a news media major, but after joining Capstone Agency and learning the differences between journalism and public relations, I felt more drawn to public relations. I wanted to pursue a career that combined business and writing with the freedom to still be creative, and I learned that public relations was the best fit for these goals. I also wanted a degree that was versatile and opened doors to all areas of the communications field, and public relations did this as well.
SP: Honestly, I didn’t know much about it, but my dad was like, “You’re a good talker, so just do this major until you figure out what you want to do.” I’ve liked it so far and I don’t see why that would change. I feel like it’s a lot of the stuff that I would enjoy — talking, being organized, being up in people’s business and getting stuff done. I think that’s so satisfying, when you’ve been planning [something] for so long and you finally get to finish something off.
MW: I’m a people person. I love building connections with others and helping bring their ideas to life.
ZM: What has been your favorite part of your first semester as a PR major? Least favorite part?
LB: My favorite part of my first semester as a PR major would be my classes towards the major. I have loved mass communication class because it involves the media and how the public is affected by it. Mechanics of media writing and software applications have also been classes I have been interested in. My least favorite part would probably be that I have not focused specifically on PR this semester.
MP: I would definitely say joining Capstone Agency, specifically our internal meetings. It’s been really good to meet people that have similar or the same majors as me that are — not just all ages — but all levels in the agency. At the same time, even if they’re new members, they could be a junior and have taken more classes than you. It’s a good time to ask questions about classes and get to know more faces on campus. As for my least favorite part, it sounds so minor, but with PR you have to take certain classes at certain times and it’s kind of stressful to try and figure out your courses to make sure you’re taking all the ones you’re supposed to take so you don’t get behind a semester. You have to make sure you actually get in them and get the right teachers because you can really screw yourself over if you don’t take all the classes when you need to take them. That part of it is so high-demand where you can’t really wing it.
SH: I have loved being a member of Capstone Agency and learning so much more outside of the classroom while also taking classes like mass communication and public speaking.
KC: My favorite part of my first semester as a PR major has been learning to combine creativity with strategy to produce the most successful results. I’ve also enjoyed taking classes that use real-life applications and collaborative techniques that prepare me for a career, rather than being taught in a standard lecture-style. My least favorite part of my first semester as a PR major has been learning to balance personal creativity with the creativity required for projects and classes.
SP: I haven’t done much of PR yet; I’ve only taken one class for my major and it’s mass communication and that’s been really general. I have a lot of really fond memories from my dorm, though.
MW: My favorite part about being a PR major this first semester was providing me the opportunity to be a part of the Capstone Agency. As far as least favorite part, I don’t have one yet.
ZM: What are you looking forward to most as a PR major?
LB: I am looking forward to learning more about what I can do with PR and future job or internship opportunities. I’m also excited to build relationships and step outside of my comfort zone. I am more of a reserved person, so public speaking may be a challenge for me, but I am excited to grow in that area since that is a big factor of PR.
MP: I think definitely figuring out what I want to do with it, since I am a double major. I have a passion for mental health, but I met with one of my PR professors the other day and he gave me this book that went over all the things in PR. I think it would be really cool to write speeches for people or do their community involvement or crisis management. PR can be really broad and you can do a lot of things within communications with a PR major, so just figuring out what clicks.
SH: I am really excited to dive deeper into the world of PR, and to see how my political science minor works in with my major.
KC: As a PR major, I’m looking most forward to networking with business professionals and exploring careers and opportunities that not only drive me to improve, but that I also enjoy.
SP: The internships, being able to go out and do stuff. I hate sitting in class, so just being able to put the teachings to work.
MW: I’m looking forward to building my brand and expanding my overall knowledge.
ZM: What are some of your goals for the rest of your college career?
LB: I want to be more involved in the communications college in the future and to get to know more people in my major. I also hope to have future internships for a magazine or a business I am interested in.
MP: Definitely overall just making sure my GPA is where I want it to be, because I know if I do want to go to grad school that needs to be topnotch. Also finding internships that let me figure out what I want to do. Right now I would love to do something with mental health and PR — that’s what I was talking to my professor about, seeing what my options were and what that would even mean. I’m definitely trying to talk to people and make those connections that would give me insight into that kind of career.
SH: I really want to get more involved in Capstone Agency and get more involved in the college. I plan to apply for more groups on campus and see what internships come out of being involved and putting myself out there.
KC: My goals for the rest of my college career include moving up in the copywriting department within Capstone Agency, as well as working summer internships with large public relations firms within the Midwest. I hope to work an internship that will eventually lead to a career following graduation, or will open more doors within the field. Beginning sophomore year, I plan to start the application process for summer internships with PR firms in St. Louis; in my junior year, I plan to begin my preparation and application process for the advertising and public relations master’s program at The University of Alabama to further educate myself and prepare myself for a career in this fast-paced and exciting field.
SP: I want to be involved in my sorority and hopefully get on the executive board some day. I’m also looking forward to not having so much stress. I know classes get harder, but once I have my own place I’ll be able to control more. I want to pass my classes at the very least. I want to be able to have a good internship by junior year, so that’s a goal. Next summer I’m hopefully going to do an internship for a congressman in D.C. I’m hoping for that.
MW: More involvement in Capstone, maybe a leadership role. Internship in my hometown at a local ad agency.
ZM: What is your dream job?
LB: This is something I have also been back and forth on! Right now, I would say my dream job would be to work in Raleigh or Greensboro, North Carolina, for a magazine. I would also love to help write editorials or intern for a business there. I have not looked into anything specific, but hopefully this next year will help me figure out exactly what I want to do.
MP: I came in thinking that I wanted to go and be a school counselor or therapist, and now that I’m here, I’m not so sure if I want to go through all those years of schooling. Now I’m thinking of doing PR work for either a rehab facility or a hospital’s psychiatric department. Or — if we’re talking fantasy — I think it would be cool to work for Disney, who wouldn’t? My dream day-to-day would be doing crisis management. I think that it would be really stressful and it would be a lot going on, having that level of problem-solving and being on your toes, trying to help a company when something goes wrong, trying to turn things around and take control. It all sounds really cool to me.
SH: A social media content director or a PR executive.
KC: My dream job is to work as a public relations manager for a major league sports team — preferably in my hometown with the Cardinals or the Blues.
SP: Being a personal assistant for someone big, like Kim Kardashian. I know that sounds weird, but I love organizing and planning things out, having complete control. I don’t like the spotlight on me. I’d rather do all the work behind the scenes and get paid for it.
MW: A stretch — but gotta dream big — to run my own agency and PR firm.
ZM: What advice would you give to incoming freshmen about college and majoring in PR?
LB: My advice for incoming freshmen would be college is not as scary as you think. As long as you figure out how to balance your school work and social activities, and surround yourself with people who genuinely care about you, it will all be fine. For incoming PR majors, I would say get to know people who are also in your major/classes so y’all can talk about it and ask each other questions. You will also be able to learn more from other people. Also don’t underestimate the amount of work you have.
MP: In college, I would say: give everything time. It can feel like you have to come in and have everything together, have perfect friendships, have it all together with your classes and what you want to do, so just realizing that those things take time to adjust. And for PR: get involved. Figure out as much as you can, as soon as you can. If that’s talking to teachers that seem like they could be helpful, or joining a student-run agency or PRSSA, talking to upperclassmen who have gone through it. I feel like PR is a career that you don’t know a ton about prior to college. So just making sure that you are aware of what it actually means before you start taking classes and jumping through without knowing if it would actually be a good fit.
SH: Apply for everything you can freshman year and keep up good relationships with your professors!
KC: I would encourage incoming freshmen majoring in PR to remain flexible and creative in their work, as public relations requires editing, re-doing and re-thinking in order to be successful.
SP: Study hard. Do your homework before you go out or else you’ll forget about it and have to do it in the bathroom. [unclear point] Don’t procrastinate. I procrastinated so badly on my research paper and that’s why I’m cramming it in right now.
MW: Say “yes, please” to any opportunity that comes your way. Use your voice and don’t take everything so seriously. Nevertheless, stay focused on the task at hand!
So future public relations students, take notes. As for the current PR students or professionals, take a moment to reflect and remember how far you’ve come and reach out to the college freshmen in your life — although there’s probably a homework assignment that they should be doing.