As a recent college grad, I’ve been handed my diploma and sent on my merry way, off into the competitive world of public relations. As I get more experience in my field, I realize how little I actually learned from my college courses.
It makes me a little upset to think about the thousands of dollars I wasted on pointless classes. Expectations for college graduates are high, and a lot of times, our classes give us a lot of theory with little practical knowledge. Especially if you are a general Communications major, the classes are can be vague and a waste of time.
The only way I gained valuable skills in the classroom was to branch out from my recommended electives and take classes outside of my major. Here are 10 classes I either took or wish I did:
1. Social Media Management
This class didn’t even count for my major, and it is the most helpful class I ever took. It discussed the best practices for each social network.
It taught me how to optimize different images for Twitter vs. Facebook and vice versa. It covered studies on social media’s effectiveness in reaching an older and younger demographic. I learned all important nuances of social media that I never would have known otherwise.
If you can take any class on professional social media management, absolutely do it. More and more PR pros are taking control of clients’ social media accounts, so make sure you know what you’re doing.
2. Social Media Ad Campaigns
Every college student wants to brand themselves as a “social media expert.” Then, you hand them a LinkedIn ad campaign, and they’re lost.
Since we’ve seen the massive decline of organic reach, paid posts and ad campaigns are becomingly increasingly important. Knowing how to craft a highly-targeted, effective campaign is key to making social media a useful business tool. With social media ad campaigns, the reach can be significant for very little money. The key is to spend your money reaching a small, target audience rather than millions of users. Most fresh college graduates have no idea how to do this and are forced to learn from YouTube videos and blogs.
3. Website Design
This is a class I never took, and I wish I did. Web design is a hard topic to teach yourself even if you’re computer-savvy. The differences between HTML, script, and building the aesthetics of a website is complicated.
In many cases, it’s helpful just to speak the language of website design. It helps you communicate with clients and ensures you’re not going to look unprofessional when discussing their website.
As a PR professional, you probably won’t be doing tons of coding. However, it is really helpful to understand the basics. There’s nothing worse about being completely in the dark when a client is discussing the intricacies of her website.
It’s not imperative that you know how to write your own code, but it does come in handy when you’re trying to pick code out of a website. It also helps if you’re trying to make a quick fix on WordPress to change formatting on your blog
5. Photoshop or Indesign
If you’re lucky, your PR agency or an in-house department will have a creative team. However, if you’re not lucky, you’re going to need to create graphics yourself.
A creative class focusing on Photoshop or Indesign will be invaluable to your career. If you can at least make some basic, attractive images, you just upped your salary a few thousand dollars.
6. Business 101
A basic business class can really help you in several PR situations. When a client is discussing their ROI or Accounts Receivables, it’s helpful to not be Googling those terms on your phone.
Just knowing the basics of running a business will be helpful in pitching to clients. If you can speak their business language, you can show exactly how your services can help them reach their bottom line.
Knowing the important differences between advertising and PR is key to not making a rookie mistake. The lines between PR and advertising are blurred, but the method and intent behind each is different. Don’t make a senseless mistake by guaranteeing placement or paying for public relations.
Sometimes, you are asked to take pictures for your clients to publish on social media, add to their website, or stream on Periscope. I’ve encountered so many PR professionals who take horrible photos for their clients. Dark, off-center, blurry photos are not going to look better once they’re pushed to Instagram.
Take a basic photography class to understand balance, frames, shadows, and more. A basic photography class can also help you navigate through a complicated professional camera.
9. Advanced Writing
I took Advanced Writing and Editing my sophomore year, and even though it was difficult, my writing improved so much.
Find a writing class that focuses on advanced forms of writing such as research papers, white papers, or analyses. Your client is inevitability going to want you to draft a white paper, and it’s nothing like the blog posts you’ve been writing. Knowing advanced writing styles is also a marketable skill you can sell to potential employers.
10. Microsoft Excel
Excel has been named one of the most valuable assets an employee can have. Excel is one of my biggest weaknesses, and I wish I was pushed to take this class in college. No one told me how critical it would be for social media data analysis, so in my internship, I floundered around making charts that didn’t make sense.
If you take all these classes, you will be the most well-rounded, valuable college grad to ever exist. When you walk into job interviews, they will hopefully be hiring you on the spot. Being well-rounded in all areas of public relations including website design, writing, advertising, and business gives you marketable, concrete skills to present to employers and potential clients. Don’t limit yourself by sticking to classes in your major or your college; branch out because that’s where you gain some of the most important skills.