Can you get ahead in PR without a PR degree?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question we face from when we’re young right through to adulthood. I’ve certainly been around the houses trying to figure this out. From being an aspiring lawyer as a teen, to being so sure I wanted to work in property when I was 21, I never knew I would end up in PR.

And why would I? I didn’t know what PR was exactly. The truth is, unless you have a family member that works in PR, or a really good careers advisor at school, it’s not an option that crosses your mind.

I studied Geography at university and only considered PR as a career once I’d already graduated. I’m one of the PR folk that didn’t do a PR degree. And from time to time you can’t help but fear you’ve missed out by not doing one.

A degree in PR teaches you about the theory that forms the basis of the discipline – and likely other things that I cannot tell you (because you know, that’s the point of me writing this). You’re not quite sure what you don’t know, that’s the problem. You feel like you have lots to catch up on.

But I’ve started to realise that this isn’t such a bad thing. In my personal experience, this feeling of needing to catch up drives you to learn more about the industry. You try to read more around the industry, attend industry events and listen to relevant podcasts to be ‘in the know’.

And in PR this is so important. The industry moves so fast and is always changing. What works one year, doesn’t work the next and different trends emerge which you need to keep up with.

The PRCA has recognised this and has designed a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) framework, which is encouraging PR professionals to build their skills and expand their knowledge. It provides a structured way of continuously seeking out best practice, acquiring new tools, techniques and theories to help you develop your expertise and build your career.

As someone that has completed the CPD, I can say it has helped me to learn more about the industry I’m in. It’s encouraged me to participate in, and reflect on, a range of activities from ethics in PR to PRCA training courses on management and B2B writing.

And it’s not just this. As someone that has been in the PR world for more than two years, my degree in Geography has come in useful (we didn’t just colour in – shock). It equipped me with research and writing skills, not to mention an understanding of the world. And I don’t think many would contest that having PR professionals from a range of backgrounds and walks of life brings new perspectives and ways of thinking.

Obviously, I can’t comment on the necessity of a PR degree, or the toss-up between both routes. But what I can say to anyone who doesn’t have a PR degree, is not to worry. Whether you studied Chemistry or Philosophy, or didn’t get a degree at all, your background is what gives you your edge.

Getting real-life experience in PR will teach you 80% of what you need to know. And I think those with PR degrees will even back me on that. This combined with continuous training and learning about the industry will be what gets you ahead, not the degree you chose when you were 18 years old.

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