Take General Ed First, Focus Later on Career Major


Q.  I’m a college freshman majoring in business, but am seriously thinking about switching to public relations.  I’m not certain, however, about the prospects for PR majors in three years.  I’m also considering a major in political science or pre-law, but those job areas look even worse.  What do you recommend?

A.  Your question recalls a recent conversation with career coach Rita Dragonette, of Dragonette Career Strategies, who thinks young people are forcing themselves into selecting majors earlier than necessary during their 4-year college experience.  I agree with Rita, who suggests that you should load up on general education courses during the first two years of college.  During that time, you will be exposed to many career options and you’ll benefit from hearing what your classmates are thinking. At the same time, you want to guard against getting “pigeonholed” into a role or career choice too soon.

There is a lot of talk these days about identifying your “personal branding,” but without the right exposure and open attitude towards all the options available to you, you could get labeled even within your chosen field—ie as a writer when you might discover you have an aptitude for running the entire business.  Also remember that choices don’t have to be black and white. For example, a political science or pre-law background could be excellent in the public affairs area of public relations. Unless you are one of the few students who are dead-set on your ultimate career goal, stay open and aggressively engage in the discovery process, be curious and let the possibilities come to you.

As far as job possibilities in the future, all indications point to PR growing at a faster rate than many other professions as corporations place increasing emphasis on better communications with employees, vendors, customers and shareholders.  Even though job prospects for business graduates are bleak, I remain a strong advocate of that major (or minor) in conjunction with public relations.  That combination will set you apart from most other PR students who, like me, avoid the left side of their brains during the college years.

Waiting to select a major doesn’t get you off the hook of volunteering and interning during your freshman and sophomore years.  Those experiences provide invaluable insights that may help you determine your future career goal.  Plus, they’re essential to your resume, no matter which career direction you eventually pursue.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with getting a liberal arts degree as long as you augment with involvement in activities that support your eventual career goal.  Some of the best social media and PR professionals today had no idea what careers they were going to pursue while attending college. It’s a harder sell to agencies and skeptical PR pros, but those seeking writing and critical thinking skills often are intrigued by non-traditional PR degrees.

Bottom line: There’s no rush to pick your major, but don’t use the uncertainty as an excuse to not get real-world experiences that help you think through the process of career determination.  You have a long time ahead of you to fine tune whatever you decide.

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