5 Things Communications Programs Can Do to Help You Succeed

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

Careers in digital, print and broadcast journalism, advertising and public relations are among the most desired by college students. However, early success in these fields requires students to build their resumes while they pursue their degrees.

What are some of the things that colleges do to help their students succeed?

1) They maintain faculty and staff relationships with major employers. One stand-out is the University of Cincinnati, which requires all communications students to do co-op assignments, usually with the major media outlets or employers in the city. Co-op extends the degree program over five years. Students alternate semesters of paid work with on-campus classes during the middle three years of their education. While co-op is an expensive proposition at private universities such as Drexel and Northeastern, the University of Cincinnati is a state school that charges approximately $26,400 in tuition and fees for an out-of-state student. Scholarships are available to further reduce educational costs. Communications positions are noted for low entry-level salaries. The opportunity to work and receive scholarships can be quite attractive.

2) They employ career counselors dedicated to the major. Northwestern, Penn State and Syracuse are highly regarded not only for their faculty and resources, but also the career services that are dedicated towards helping their students find internships as well as full-time jobs. While Northwestern is located within a major media market, Penn State and Syracuse are not. However, the career centers at Penn State and Syracuse do an excellent job at working with the university’s alumni base to help their students find work. These schools are also excellent options for aspiring sportswriters. Their athletic programs are quite successful and well-staffed with talented media professionals.

3) For students who are interested in advertising and public relations careers, they offer
an education that balances business and the liberal arts with the technical skills required to go to work.
It is not necessary to be an advertising major to work in advertising or public relations major to work in public relations. A general business major or liberal arts major with a business or communications minor can suffice. However, potential employers will expect interns and entry-level employees to have a skill set that includes strong writing, presentation skills and analytical skills. It will be difficult for an entry-level hire to advance to mid-level and senior-level positions without them. Among the small and mid-sized colleges that fit the bill include Franklin & Marshall College and Muhlenberg College, both located in Pennsylvania; two others of note are Marist College, located in New York, just outside of the Big Apple, and the College of New Jersey.

4) For journalism students, they offer an opportunity to complete a second major. Most college journalism programs will recommend that students double major, usually in a subject that the student might be reporting when he or she goes to work. Criminal justice, economics, international relations and political science are popular second majors. Reporters with strong academic backgrounds in the sciences will be in high demand within major media markets. Liberal arts colleges make it easier to complete a double major. They have fewer required courses than universities that have a separate accredited school of communications. But there are also larger universities such as the University of Connecticut, the University of Delaware and Rutgers- New Brunswick that place their communications majors within their college of arts and sciences, making a double major possible. Another option is to minor in journalism and take more courses in other subjects such as a foreign language, demographics or statistical analysis.

5) They host a high-quality college daily or weekly newspaper. The editors of the better papers are often invited to college journalism conferences not only to receive awards, but also to network with professionals who might have internships or jobs to offer. The Associated Collegiate Press recognizes excellence in student media with collegiate journalism’s preeminent award, the Pacemaker. Pacemakers are awarded in each category of publication — online, newspaper, yearbook and magazine. Among the best daily newspapers: the Indiana Daily Student at Indiana University-Bloomington. Among the best weeklies: The Ithacan at Ithaca College (New York) and The Pendulum at Elon University (North Carolina).

No one needs to attend a super-selective school to work for a quality college media outlet, become an attractive candidate for an internship or to move into a rewarding career after graduation. But anyone who expects to be a serious candidate for employment in journalism, advertising or public relations needs to show that he or she has taken advantage of the opportunities that their college and its community had to offer. Their employers will expect them to be go-getters from the very start.