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A six-point guide to PR degrees: Choosing an undergraduate public relations course

This six-point guide is written for those thinking of studying a full-time undergraduate PR degree at a university in the UK. Each point provides a piece of information with a purpose and is supported by an action helping to address a key question.

The guide also includes notes for PR practitioners able to offer work experience, internships, and/or graduate recruitment opportunities - or who wish to get involved with higher education institutions for other reasons.

THE PRACTICE

Before committing to studying PR at university, take time to understand the practice.

Purpose: Become familiar with the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to work and establish a career in PR, the size of the industry, and how it is changing (for instance, due to developments in AI).

Action: Read PRmoment and talk with practitioners, ideally PR graduates, who can be found on LinkedIn (search public relations graduate and click on the people tag). If you don't have a profile on the platform, set one up to make contacts and build a network. It is a useful place to record your qualifications and other achievements as well as to research organisations and individuals, follow discussions, and find examples of PR practice.

Key question: What will an early career in PR be like?

Notes for PR practitioners: Inspire the next generation by sharing your early career experience online or get involved with outreach programmes run by local schools/colleges, universities, or professional bodies. See PRCA Schools Outreach Programme: https://prca.org.uk/schools

THE SUBJECT

Be clear about your reasons for choosing PR as a subject area at university.

Purpose: Evaluate and explain why PR is a subject of study that you'd enjoy and are interested in learning about in-depth at university.

Action: Determine your 'why' - the reasons that PR feels the right choice for you. You can expect to be asked about your motivation by family, friends, teachers, and other people, so it's helpful to think about what you expect and hope that PR will help you to achieve. There are many techniques and tools that support decision-making. A simple method focuses on 3 things:

Head: What drives you to succeed? How does PR fit with your learning and life goals?

Hands: What do you do best? How does PR fit with what you like and can do well?

Heart: What do you care about? How does PR fit with your passions and values?

Key question: Why are you choosing to study PR at university?

Notes for PR practitioners: Assess how working in PR aligns with your personal strengths, values, and goals. Ask colleagues the head, hands, and heart questions - and include them when talking with candidates interested in work experience, internships, or graduate recruitment opportunities.

THE UNIVERSITIES

Identify your most important requirements in choosing a university where you can study PR.

Purpose: Use a logical decision-making matrix to focus your search for a university around your personal preferences.

Action: Create a scorecard of key criteria with three categories (practicalities, reputation, and extracurricular activities). List and rank contending universities for fit against your needs. For each option, you could use a rating scale (eg. 1 to 5) to calculate an overall score. Add a weighting factor (multiplier) to emphasise your most important criteria. Or apply a red-amber-green (RAG) method to highlight preferences and eliminate least desirable options.

DECISION-MAKING MATRIX [Illustrating the three methods]

[Rank each option with a score from 5 = fully meets needs to 1 = fails to meet needs.]

Category I. Practicalities

Key criteria (for example)

Option 1: University A

Option 2:
University B

Option 3:
University C

Type of location

2

5

2

Closeness to home

4

2

3

Size of university

3

3

4

Wellbeing services

3

3

1

Inclusive access

4

2

1

Work opportunities

2

4

5

Total

18

19

16

[Rank each option with a score from 5 = fully meets needs to 1 = fails to meet needs, and multiply by x1, x2, x3]

Category II. Reputation

Key criteria (for example)

Weighting
(multiplier)

Option 1: University A

Option 2:
University B

Option 3:
University C

Overall rating

x1

3x1=3

5x1=5

2x1=2

Graduate employment rate

x3

4x3=12

2x3=6

3x3=9

Student satisfaction

x2

3x2=6

3x2=6

4x2=8

Industry relationships

x3

4x3=12

3x3=9

1x3=3

Teaching ratings

x1

4x1=4

2x1=2

1x1=1

Placement opportunity

x2

2x2=4

4x2=8

4x2=8

Total

41

36

31

[Highlight how each option meets your needs, where green = fully, amber = partially and red = fails]

Category III. Extracurricular activities

Key criteria (for example)

Option 1: University A

Option 2:
University B

Option 3:
University C

Student media

Clubs and societies




Student union




Volunteering/campaigning




On campus services




Sports/leisure facilities




Total

Amber

Red

Green

Key question: Where are you most/least likely to compromise in selecting a university?

Note for PR practitioners: Get involved with universities as alumni or through professional bodies, build relationships with academics, and/or take part in career activities as employers.

THE COURSES

The design of PR degree courses creates variation in how PR knowledge and skills are covered.

Purpose: Gain a detailed understanding of how PR is covered within course designs to compare different programmes of study and assessment.

Action: Review how university courses offering PR are structured over three years (four with a placement year). Key factors to consider are modules/units of study, flexibility and choice in course content, balance between academic study and practical coursework, learning/teaching approaches, plus methods of assessment. Look at comparison sites such as What Uni?, The Uni Guide, The Complete University Guide and UCAS, as well as individual university websites, the PRCA Partner list and/or courses with CIPR recognition.

Key question: How is PR covered in different courses?

Note for PR practitioners: University courses offering PR enhance students’ critical thinking using analysis of practice examples. Create case studies as valuable teaching materials to include details of application of planning, research, theory, ethical decision-making, and evaluation methods.

THE ACADEMICS

Academic staff at universities develop PR courses, deliver teaching, support student learning, and may also undertake research and publish in books and/or journal articles.

Purpose: You will benefit from academics' experience and expertise in delivering a high standard of education that incorporates knowledge of established and emerging theories and practice.

Action: Research the backgrounds of those involved in teaching and supporting student learning on PR undergraduate degree courses. Profiles of academics, qualified professional practitioners, and research staff should be available on university websites, including career details, research interests, and published works. This knowledge will be helpful when visiting universities, where there may be an opportunity to meet academic staff and ask questions.

Key question: Who are the educators, scholars, and researchers teaching undergraduate PR?

Note for PR practitioners: Academics teaching undergraduates look to maintain relationships with practitioners. They may speak at industry events, participate in professional bodies, be interested in co-research projects, and/or include practitioners as guest lecturers or to support assignments. Reading their work in books, journal articles (which may have open access) or industry publications is a good way to keep up to date with the latest theory, research, and thought leadership.

THE PROCESS

UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) manages the application process for undergraduate university courses.

Purpose: Know when and how to apply for an undergraduate university course.

Action: Understand the process and timeframe for applications for places, finance, and student accommodation (and so on). Most steps involve technology, so check this out in advance. Read online guides (and books such as Starting University), speak with former students, and take advice from the link person/career support service at your college or school (they've done this before!!). In rough terms, the process flow to secure a place involves:

Key question: When do students and universities make their decisions?

Note for PR practitioners: Contact school career services to discuss how you can help students interested in applying for a PR degree course at all stages of the process.

Written by Heather Yaxley, regular PRmoment columnist and managing consultant at Applause Consultancy

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