Advice for Graduating Students + My Public Relations Journey

It’s here! After four long and hard years…. the time has come. I am finally in the last year of my Public Relations Degree and I never thought I would make it here. I’m not saying I thought I would have dropped out by now, but the past four years have felt like the longest 10 years of my life. But… fourth year and graduation are here. I asked on Instagram for some questions about PR or just post-secondary school in general and got a lot of really good questions back. I decided I would write up a blog post answering some of the top questions and hopefully, this helps soon-to-be graduating students and even new students with their journies. Let me know if these questions helped you at all or if there is more you’re curious about on Instagram @mercibysam.

Question One: How did you decide on what degree to take?

This is tough because there are soooo many options out there. You can do online school (which we are all doing right now), school in person, school part-time, or school full time. You can have so many options for what to enrol in and how to get the degree or education you want. It took me a long time to find what I wanted to study. A lot of my friends knew what they wanted to do and I had ZERO (and I mean zero) ideas for what I wanted my career to be. I think the word, career, in itself freaks people out because it’s serious. I will be very honest, many students change their minds or go back to school after studying something for four years. You are constantly evolving and changing, so your path and interests will change. Sometimes you get a degree in something and then after graduation you realize it’s not at all what is best for you. Don’t think of that as a negative, if you’re able to go to school that is a positive in itself.

I started out by simply making a list of what I liked, what I wanted out of my degree and what I wanted to avoid like the plague. For me, I enjoyed writing, fitness and health, helping others, interior design and fashion (so literally all over the place), I knew I wanted a career that was constantly changing from day-to-day and gave me a lot of options, and I wanted to avoid math with everything in my soul. I made this same list over and over again in case I missed something, then started researching what local schools and programs were out there that matched my list. Never limit yourself with schools, don’t underestimate yourself and think that you’re not smart enough to get into a school/program when you haven’t tried. Apply to everything and anything that sparks your interest. Look at current job opportunities with this title/degree online before applying, google jobs help a lot because you can see what your tasks would look like and what companies are looking for. I wish I applied to more schools and programs because I 100% limited and doubted myself.

After two to three months of researching, budget planning and figuring out what I could see myself doing in the future, I decided on a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations. I really liked that there was a high focus on writing, content creation, event planning and design. There are a lot of job options that come with a degree in PR as well, and I wanted those options when applying for full-time jobs! I would also 100% recommend finding a degree with Co-op or internship opportunities, it’s very stressful but worth it because you will gain so much useful experience. I have a couple of older blog posts about PR under the School category so go check those out! But, it was really tough because the majority of 17- or 18-year-olds do not know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Every journey is different and that’s okay but don’t sell yourself short!

Question Two: What is the best lesson you have learned over the past four years?

I am actually doing an entire blog post on this that will come out next spring because there are so many things I have learned from school. I always say that post-secondary school helped me grow in so many ways. High school was nothing compared to post-secondary and I saw myself in a different light (many different lights, post-secondary is like Taylor Swift in Mirrorball… you will literally see every version of yourself whether that’s wanted or not).

I think the best lesson I have learned from college, is to keep pursuing more and stop doubting yourself to the point of never reaching more. Now, I understand that is two lessons but those were the top lessons that were screaming at me in my head so I had to share both. Even though you’re almost done college/university and you’re literally over everything, keep pursuing more in life. Learning doesn’t stop and new opportunities for growth will always be there. Take them! Keep trying to be better, keep trying to learn new skills, keep trying to be the best you no matter what that looks like. Don’t give up because you think you have done the work and you’re tapped out. I hear a lot of people saying “I have done my time and I can’t wait to graduate and be done with this crap”…. well Susan, you are going to have to keep learning to improve in any industry and you are going to have to change as generations change. Don’t give up on yourself because you think you have done everything “you had to do.”

The second lesson, stop doubting yourself. This is hard and I still find myself doubting my abilities, strength, my voice and my future all the time. But doubting yourself really does not get you anywhere, so check yourself before you wreck yourself! Doubt is a roadblock that you can choose to go around or you can sit in front of it and sulk that you’re not getting anywhere. We all doubt ourselves sometimes, that’s completely normal! New situations and unknown outcomes are both terrifying to think about, but you can’t place that those negative feelings onto who you are and what you can do. Those are just situations, you are a human being that can control and change those situations. I learned in college that I am able to handle and create WAY MORE than I thought I could, I learned to not doubt myself but to do what makes me happy (see question four for more advice about this).

Question Three: How do you know what you want after graduation?

This question is a bunch of questions in one: Would you get a Master’s degree? What jobs do you want? How do you find jobs? Do you feel ready for graduation? What are you doing after graduation?

There were a lot of questions about what to do after graduation and if I feel ready for that next step. To be completely honest, I don’t feel ready at all! That’s not the school’s fault because I believe I pretty much learned all that I need despite a three-month teacher strike in my first year, constantly changing content and resources, and now this pandemic. I had to go through a lot of external changes within my college journey so I know some things are missing that I could have learned. I’m not ready because I really like school, I enjoy what I am learning and I don’t know if I am ready to go into the workforce just yet. But I take baby steps and I am constantly reminding myself to be open to learning and whatever comes my way. You will never be ready for anything in your life, you just need the confidence to own that and take the first step forward with an open mind.

Would I get my Master’s degree? Yes and no. I say yes because I love learning and being a student, I would definitely be open to learning more and that new experience. I also say no because unless my future job needs that master’s title, that is money and time that could be wasted in the end. Some people are determined to get a Master’s and that’s awesome! I just have to ask myself: Will it really benefit me and my career personally? Or am I just doing it because I’m a child and not ready to work full-time and have responsibilities? There are a lot of factors that go into continuing school past a degree. Currently my plan for after school is a little different but I am open to anything!

I personally believe having multiple degrees, certificates or qualifications in a variety of industries is good, especially in the competitive environment that I am graduating into. Now, multiple degrees can be a lot because that’s close to eight or nine years of school! But I want to have a back-up plan or have other qualifications for something that I am interested in besides my degree. For me, that’s having a Real Estate license! For most of my friends, that means taking their degree and going to teacher’s college. I think it’s amazing to have options in multiple fields of work because you never know what will happen after school. I want to work and make money using my degree at first, but I would like to get a Real Estate licence in case my degree isn’t what I thought it was. Don’t limit yourself to a degree or master’s in your related field unless you really need that to get the job you want or the title you want. There are a lot of other paths you can take that will open new doors for you!

How to find jobs and know what you want to do after school? I am still learning how to do this myself. Finding jobs today can be very tough and understanding what you want to do is even tougher. Sadly, I think school will never full prepare you for the workforce and job hunting, but there are services that you can use to help you.

Networking is key with a lot of industries today. Sadly, it’s more of a “who you know instead of what you know” environment. Use LinkedIn and social media platforms seriously and connect with people in your field that could provide useful advice. A lot of schools have job fairs or networking events (more online now) that you can use to create this network. Always have questions ready and ensure each person you talk to understands that you have done your research. I am constantly searching for job openings just to see what companies are out there and what they are looking for. This also gives me a good idea of what titles I would like, what matches my skill set, what would help me grow as a professional, and what values companies around me have. I have found so many agencies that I would love to work for and even following them on social media is a good first step! Start engaging with the companies you like. You need to put yourself out there and that can be scary for a lot of students. It’s no longer just about applying online or “in-store” and waiting for a call. You need to reach out to people online or by phone, talk to real people and get your name out there. Apply for any job, even if you don’t think you’re fully qualified because it’s still getting your name and resume out there.

Question Four: What would you change about the past four years?

This is hard because there are a lot of things but also not a lot of things I would change. There are small things I would change but they didn’t actually impact my journey as a student, so that would be a waste of energy. I feel like I have mentioned some in this long blog post, like: applying to more schools and programs, not doubting myself and being more confident, networking more with events that the school hosted, and just being more involved and present.

Those are somethings I would change but it’s not a big deal now. I think at the time I had expectations of what Sam as a student would look like before my first year, but I have learned that you can’t really have expectations for anything in life. I thought I would be outspoken, confident, highly involved and getting 100% on everything. JOKES ON ME! My first year was none of that. My grades were average or above-average… but not at the level I thought they would be at. I was shy, sat in the corner and barely talked to people because I was afraid of being judged. The first year of school, I second-guessed everything, from what I wore, how I spoke, how I looked, and how I acted. Now, I’m learning to not give a shit about others’ opinions of me because that’s none of my business. But it took a while and I had to realize that my expectations were not going to just create a new Sam. I had to grow and learn how to be confident in myself. So would I change anything? There are things I could change, but I don’t think I would change them. Each bump in the road is a lesson that got me to where I am right now!