From an Almost-Alum to a Freshman PR Student: What I Wish I’d Known

By: Abby Maxwell, Director of PR

Business Partners Helping Each OtherIn less than six weeks I will be an alumna of The Pennsylvania State University (assuming I pass this pesky little finance class). I will graduate a semester early, and including my time abroad, will have only spent a total of three years as a Penn State student. But even though I spent less time in the largest College of Communications in the country than most, I learned a few things along the way that I wish I’d known from day one. I’m far from an expert, but here are a few tips I feel strongly that every freshman PR major should keep in mind.

  1. Bob Martin is your best friend.

You’ve heard it, you’ve probably read it, but listen carefully to my words: you need him. I’ve met people who found jobs without his help, but I’ve met infinitely more who don’t know where they would be today without his help. I am one of those people. Starting your sophomore year, you should be setting up a meeting with him to talk internships/careers/life. He is happy to do it; it is his job. He will ask you what you want to do and where you want to do it, and he will hand you a glorious stack of contacts you can only obtain through this meeting. Please, just do it. And whatever you do, do not be the girl I shared a meeting with junior year who not only had never met with him before, but also had never sought out any sort of communications experience. Junior year is not the time to realize that you need resume content. Do your future self a favor.

  1. Get involved with PRSSA and/or HVC.

To be blunt, this is absolutely necessary if you want to be successful in the Advertising/PR major at Penn State. But the part that so many people don’t understand is that involvement in these organizations is infinitely more than resume value. I have talked about PRSSA in every single interview I’ve done. I’ve gained real life experience that we simply do not learn in the classroom. And personally, one of the most important parts of PRSSA is the people I’ve met. We have all become close friends, and what better friends to have than people who know and have lived the same college/career hunt experience you have? These are people you will stay in touch with for a long time, and that isn’t something you want to miss out on.

  1. Internships matter more than your GPA.

Grades are important. But they pale in comparison to the value of the real life experience you can gain during your college years. Read Bob’s emails, and apply for anything that even remotely interests you. One of my biggest regrets is not starting my internship search earlier in my college career. At the risk of scaring underclassmen, it is nearly impossible to obtain an impressive internship without previous internships. Start small and work your way up. You truly never know who you will meet in any position – it could lead to another position. This is called networking, and it is a buzzword you will grow overwhelmingly sick of hearing, but just get used to it now. It is everything in the world of communications. Do your work, but if you’re in a time crunch and it comes down to impressing your internship boss or getting an A over a B on an exam – choose the former.

  1. Write, write, write.

Set up a personal blog. Write about anything that’s important to you. Write about your classes or your friends or a movie you just watched. Even if you feel like nobody is reading it, keep doing it. Reach out to online platforms you read frequently and inquire about writing for them. I secured a (paid!) freelance writing position with an NYC firm this semester almost entirely because they were impressed by my writing portfolio, almost all of which was on my personal blog (that I was certain nobody read). You will need writing samples, and you will need a wide variation of topics and writing styles. Even if you don’t think what you wrote was fantastic, post it. Employers want to see that you are interested in what is going on in the world, especially how it relates to PR. They want to see that you are passionate about something. Trust me on this one.

And with that, I hope you make the most of however many years you spend in the Penn State College of Communications. It is an incredible program that I am going to miss very much. And while everyone says this, take it from a soon-to-be-washed-up alum, enjoy every second because it will be gone in the blink of an eye.

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