New Year, New Degree: The Road to Grad School

grad schoolWhen I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in May 2012, I couldn’t wait to be done with college. Passionate about starting my career and impatient to begin my new agency job, I was ready to leave behind tests, lectures and projects for the real world.

Exactly three years later, in May 2015, I’ll be in class again – this time, as a graduate student pursuing my master’s degree in integrated marketing communications.

Why grad school?

My decision to pursue a graduate degree was the direct result of a shift in my career path. After two years of working agency jobs – and an unexpected layoff after the loss of a client – I was unfulfilled, frustrated and ready for a change.

After much thought, I accepted a marketing position with a small liberal arts college where I focus on telling the stories of students, faculty and alumni who are doing amazing things. I assist in developing communications plans for community relations, development and alumni relations efforts. And I’m in an environment where education and the pursuit of lifelong learning are valued and respected.

Unlike the agency world, where experience is indispensable and graduate study isn’t a necessity, nearly all management and executive-level jobs in higher ed administration require an advanced degree. And, with more of their top communications officers reporting directly to college and university presidents than ever before, I’ve got my eye on the top spot and a plan to get there.

In addition, I hope to teach at the college level in the future – another position that nearly always requires at least a master’s degree.

For both of these reasons, grad school became a logical next step for me. But how do you know it’s right for you?

Is grad school the right move for me?

It’s a difficult decision to go back to school – one with personal, professional and financial implications. Before you sign up for a GRE prep class, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Will earning a graduate degree further my career? Think about where you’d like to be in your career five, 10 or even 15 years down the road. Search job postings based on those goals and look at the qualifications. Is a master’s degree preferred or required? Talk to your professional mentors and explore LinkedIn profiles. Understanding exactly where you want to be in the future will help shape your plan for how to get there.
  • What program fits my objectives? Part-time and online programs are flexible options for working professionals. MBA programs focus on business, while M.S. and M.A. programs can have professional and academic tracks. Since my bachelor’s degree is in public relations, I was looking for a graduate program that would complement my skill set while allowing me to focus on taking classes in areas where I was less versed. After narrowing down the choices, I reached out to alumni via LinkedIn and learned firsthand their experiences and how they were using their degrees.
  •  How much will it cost? Though grad school isn’t free, there are many ways to cover costs and make sure you’re not saddled with large debt in the process. Make sure to submit the FAFSA, which will help generate loan eligibility. Explore scholarships and fellowships. In addition, talk to your boss about going back to school. Many employers will look favorably upon an employee seeking education and may provide tuition assistance or reimbursement.
  • Does the timing make sense? It’ll take me a little more than two years to finish my degree taking classes part time while I continue to work full time. That’s quite a commitment. Will you be able to devote the time necessary to be successful? Each person’s situation is different; take a look at personal and professional obligations and be realistic about what you can take on.

With public relations and marketing professionals working in a variety of industries, each with their own set of requirements and qualifications, grad school may not be the right move for everyone. My best advice? Do your research. Ask the right questions. Create a plan. It will soon become clear if (and when) graduate school will fit. And, if you end up back in class in 2015, I’ll save you a seat!

Sarah LackSarah Lack is an alumna of Kent State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She works in the communications department at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio, and is the communications coordinator for Girls on the Run of Greater Summit, a nonprofit organization serving Northeast Ohio. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@sarah_lack).

Why De-Busying Yourself Should Be Your New Years Resolution

6780743295_889e07e1a7_bThere are approximately 500,000 words in the English language. How we weave those words together in sentences with one another is what many call “the art of communication.” Or should I say, the lost art of communication?

How many times have you replied, “I’m good” when really, last week a rock shattered your windshield so you’ve been eating pb&j’s to afford rent? And how many times have you gone to dinner with a friend (or worse, a date) only to have their cellphone receive its own placemat; as if silently saying, “I’m here for you. But I’m also here for my 600+ network of friends, should anyone message me.” A phone call or handwritten note is becoming so rare that most people don’t even know what to do when they get one. Sadly, the art of communication is a dying trade, and though we don’t like to admit it, we and our busy schedules are to blame.

You wake up: Emails. Brush teeth: Facebook. Riding around: Snapchat. Drink coffee: Google Alerts. *Cue Beyoncé* Do you wake up like this? Many of us have fallen prey to the idea that always being accessible simplifies our lives in saving us time, and provides us with better access to, and thus improves, our level of communication.

However, in reality, constant connectivity deteriorates and distracts much more than it builds. In a study conducted by University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer, 1,000 individuals were put through a series of cognitive and motor skill tests to determine who could be truly capable of multitasking. In the end, only two people passed. TWO. That means on average, 98% of people cannot devote their care and attention to more than one person or situation at a time without deteriorating their original quality of focus.

Despite this somewhat depressing fact, the average person tends to overrate their ability to multitask and/or believes, from practice makes perfect, a light bulb will suddenly illuminate the way to mastering the Rubik’s cube of multitasking. When in reality, Strayer’s same study showed that those who regularly engaged in multiple activities at once were worse at it than occasional offenders. [If you’d like to take the experiment’s electronic test and shatter your illusion of ever being a said “supertasker,” click here.]

It’s no secret our society is over-stimulated. Between the constant bombardment of pop-up ads, Facebook check-ins and Candy Crush invitations, we rarely leave ourselves idle time. Yet, perhaps even worse lies in how we’ve created a sort of silent competition of who can do the most, see the most, BE the most. It’s as though the longer your laundry list of events and to-do’s, the higher you rank on the social status o-meter. Busy has become synonymous with important, and who doesn’t want that? But, our attention has stretched so thin from always looking forward to what’s next that we forget how to see what’s standing right in front of us.

If we are too busy for something as simple as laundry, how can we expect to make time for friends and fostering relationships? Humor me for a second and think; when was the last time you called (not texted) someone on their birthday? Or took the time to give your best friend a pep talk before their big interview? These meaningful moments and opportunities to build deep connections are what we trade in when we overrun our schedules with busyness for the sake of busyness. As much as our devices and determination might argue otherwise, it’s time to admit that we can’t do everything; and inevitably things (and often people) will fall through the cracks, in both our personal and professional lives.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received was from someone who said plainly, “don’t confuse action with traction.” We pour so much time, energy and emotion into doing a-z, but how many of these things actually propel us in a direction we’d like to be going? Toward reaching a goal, toward happiness, toward connecting with others on a sincere level or simply toward becoming a better person? As the New Year begins, step away from the laptops, the ringtones and the calendar reminders and ask yourself, how do you want to be in this world? Not who do you want to be, or what; just how. And whatever your answer, don’t be afraid to go out and do just that!

rsz_megan_nicole_oneal_headshotMegan O’Neal graduated from UCLA in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies, emphasizing in mass communications. She is currently the PR Coordinator at Marketing Design Group and volunteers with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, freelancing for the public relations department. Connect with her on Twitter @megannenicole.

A Look at The Edge in 2015 – And How You Can Be a Part of It!

The Edge 2015

Who’s ready to take 2015 by the horns?

I’m sure you’re all standing up on your chair, chanting “me, me!” at the office now, right?

Well, here at The Edge, we’re pretty close. Ashleigh Mavros and I, the new blog co-chairs, have a lot of exciting plans for the New Year, from a thematic strategy to member highlights, and we’re going to spend a few minutes getting you in the know.

Monthly themes will guide our content strategy.

To keep content cohesive every month, we’re going to introduce new monthly themes. Some coincide with PRSA initiatives, such as Ethics Month. Others delve into issues facing new professionals, including this month’s theme: “Kickstart to 2015”.

So how are we turning this idea into a theme? We’ll focus on a few things:

  • Helping you achieve your 2015 career resolutions,
  • Discovering new productivity tools to help you accomplish more,
  • How to de-busy yourself to save your sanity, and
  • Whether or not you should consider going back to school for a master’s degree in 2015.

Of course, we are always accepting guest posts from new professionals, so if you have an idea that in some way relates to this theme (we’re open to all types of ideas, so get creative!), please email me or Ashleigh Mavros.

If you’re interested in writing for us in the future months, here’s what we have slated for February – June 2015:

  • February: Social Media Strategy
  • March: Integrated Marketing Communications
  • April: Building Your Network
  • May: Graduation Tips and Next Steps
  • June: PR/Career Book Review Series

Highlighting members going above and beyond.

Do you know a PRSA new professional who had a major accomplishment or works hard consistently? We’d like to profile him/her on The Edge.

These nominations don’t have to coincide with the monthly themes; the only requirement is the individual is a member of the PRSA New Pros chapter. Please email Ashleigh or me with nominations!

Posting schedule set, so mark your calendars!

Similar to last year, we will be posting on Mondays and Thursdays, so make sure to set those reminders.

Additionally, the social team is working on the #NPPRSA Twitter chat lineup for 2015, so make sure to check The Edge regularly for the latest news. If you have any ideas for Twitter chats, please email Erica Brown or Lauren Rosenbaum.

As you can tell, the PRSA New Professionals team is excited for a stellar 2015, and we hope you are, too. If you’d like to learn more about joining the New Professionals section, please visit the PRSA website.

Questions about this year’s blog strategy? Thoughts for how to improve it? Please leave a comment below or email our team.

Vermillion small 1Stephanie Vermillion is a senior account executive at Wordsworth Communications, a public relations agency in Cincinnati. She is the PRSA National New Professionals blog co-chair, and is on the PRSA Cincinnati Leadership Team. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn and Twitter (@SMVermillion).

Transitioning Beyond Being a “New PR Professional”

The years I’ve spent on the New Professionals Section Executive Committee have been some of the most valuable to me as a budding PR pro fresh out of college. I find it hard to believe that more than five years have passed since I graduated and even harder to believe that I can no longer call myself a new professional.

“Fake it until you make it” has been my personal and professional motto for quite some time, but after experiencing quite a few PR agencies and finding a niche industry I really enjoy, I no longer feel like I’m faking it. I feel ready to move on from the “new professional” label and onto the next chapter.

What is that new chapter, though? Mid-level positions can feel like limbo – maybe you’re managing a few junior staffers at an agency and leading client accounts or acting as a one-person communications team in-house. You’re still absorbing knowledge from those above you, but you have enough expertise to coach and guide both team members and clients alike. Mid-level positions come in all different shapes and sizes, which often makes it difficult to arrange a formal group for folks passing the five-year mark in PRSA.

However, you are not alone as you transition out of the New Professionals Section. PRSA offers many other opportunities to stay involved:

  • If you’ve found a specialty within PR that you enjoy, consider joining another PRSA Section. Finding professionals with the same interests as you helps you exchange ideas and discuss current trends, with professional development opportunities directed specifically for your industry.
  • One of the biggest requests we get in the New Pros Section is the opportunity to connect on a local level. PRSA Chapters are an excellent way to network within the city you live or would like to live, recruit talent or find a new position and meet industry influencers in the area.
  • Free online training and professional development is one of the most valuable benefits of PRSA membership. If you aren’t taking advantage of the library of on-demand and live webinars/teleseminars on, you’re missing out. Browse the site when you have free time and you’ll discover a wealth of topics to dig into deeper and continue your personal growth.
  • If you have the chance, PRSA International Conference is the annual event to learn, network and grow in the PR profession. Sessions range from nitty-gritty tactics to bigger picture strategy advice for mid-level professionals who may straddle both sides of the practice. PRSA International Conference visits Atlanta this year and will surely be an event to remember!

Of course, don’t forget about your New Pros roots! Feel free to keep enjoying our monthly Twitter chats at #NPPRSA, blog posts here and conversations on Facebook and LinkedIn. All of us were new professionals at one point in our careers, and our members learn from your experiences and advice. Please continue to share it.

Are you passing the five-year mark and wondering how to stay involved? Feel free to reach out on Twitter (@hsliwinski) or LinkedIn. Wishing you the best of luck in the next stage of your career!


Heather Sliwinski

Immediate Past Chair, New Professionals Section

Tis the Season: Give Your Talents in Lieu of Cash

The holidays are a very special, neigh, magical time that transform colored lights on a wire to a symbol of family, joy and camaraderie. Like the ending to The Grinch, December often comes hand-in-hand with a swelling heart and the passing out of free ear-to-ear smiles. But who says this spirit of giving has to end with the New Year? There are countless ways you can help those in need year-round, with a meaningful approach that will simultaneously strengthen your personal and professional character.

According to the National Center of Charitable Statistics, there are over 1.5 million non-profit organizations in the United States, all of which have strict budgets and manpower to make the impact their causes deserve. Only a lucky few get national notoriety like the ASL Ice Bucket Challenge or can convince professional athletes to wear pink for a month.

With that in mind, I can say with 99% certainty (because let’s face it, nothing in life is guaranteed) that if you were to propose volunteer freelancing to a not-for-profit, they would embrace you with open arms. And unlike the demands of an internship, you’ll likely be able to conduct your work from home and on your own schedule. (Can I get a Hallelujah?!) Through this kind of volunteerism, you’ll have the ability to develop your professional skillsets in a low-risk and high intrinsically rewarding environment.

The first step lies in selecting an organization that supports a cause you are passionate about. Maybe you love animals. Or perhaps your aunt has lymphoma, and you’d like to volunteer for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in her honor.

Whatever you decide, pick a non-profit that you have a personal connection to; your creative process will be more inspired and your work will reflect that. It is widely agreed in the science community that “energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can only be changed from one form or another.” I argue that true organic passion is not produced, but manifested; and it is often contagious.

Now, once you’ve found your calling and contacted the organization, take some time to be honest with all parties involved on how much time you’d like (and can realistically give) to donate in their honor. As in dating, there is no shame in admitting you’re not looking for a full-time relationship, so long as you haven’t promised them the moon already. A simple conversation about what you’re both looking for upfront will save a lot of frustration and time wasted. Nevertheless, if Goldilocks could find herself the perfect porridge, there IS a winning combination to be found for everyone.

Here are some ideas:

For the commitment-adverse:

  • Offer a free, one-time evaluation of their online presence. Look at their website, social media outlets, customer reviews etc. and provide professional suggestions on ways to improve and the best places to advertise for various budgets. You could even take it a step further and write fact sheets for their top five competitors for comparative purposes.

For the casual daters:

  • Create a content calendar and tactical plan for the next 3-6 months of their social and/or public relations campaign(s).
  • Guest write for their newsletter or emails once a month.

For the long-term relationship:

  • Become a volunteer consultant/team member: Write press releases, create story pitches, targeted media lists, execute their social media channels, etc. The possibilities are endless.

In the end, the relationship will be what you make of it; the more work and effort you put in, the greater value and rewards will be waiting for you. We may not all have time or skills to build a home for orphans in Tijuana, but we can certainly offer more than our signature on a check. And in our line of work, procuring the eyeballs and attention of the masses might just be what makes their organization (and yourself) great-full this holiday season.


Megan Nicole O'Neal headshot

Megan O’Neal graduated from UCLA in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies, emphasizing in mass communications. She is currently the PR Coordinator at Marketing Design Group and volunteers with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, freelancing for the public relations department. Connect with her on Twitter @megannenicole