Many current and former students, plus some working professionals, ask me about grad school. Should I? If so, in what? Where?
Many seek a master’s degree as a competitive advantage. A graduate degree helps differentiate you in the marketplace, adding a level of skill and experience through higher education. Nowadays, in a competitive communication/PR/IMC job market, added credentials are helpful. But so are undergraduate internships and work experience. Even if your work experience was as a restaurant server, you proved to potential employers that you can work and earn a paycheck. The internships give you practical, hands-on experience to complement your academic work.
My advice about whether or not to pursue a graduate degree is, first, tell me why do you wish to have a graduate degree? What do you want it to do for you? What are your long-term goals? Do you wish to have a competitive advantage in the job market? Or, do you wish to have a start on a doctorate perhaps to become a scholar later? Or, do you simply wish to continue learning?
The answer to that question leads logically to the next question: in what do you wish to obtain a graduate degree? Here’s where the cognitive dissonance appears in those with undergraduate mass communication/PR/IMC degrees — what should I study?
To answer this question, consider your goals again. Do you wish to gain marketable skills? Then choose a graduate program from a university that offers the best of what skills you wish to build. For example, if you wish to enhance your knowledge of mass communication or public relations or integrated marketing communication, then conduct research and choose from the many good programs offered. Consider programs that stress an applied approach. If you are considering a doctorate later, then choose a program with a more scholarly program.
There are other choices than only a master’s degree in communication. For example, the Master’s of Business Administration (MBA). I chose to earn an MBA. I graduated in 1970 with a B.A. degree in Communication. I was working in a corporate communication department when I joined IABC in 1973. IABC has been my personal “graduate school” all through my career. I wanted an advanced degree, but I knew that I wanted an MBA for these reasons: I knew that whatever I did in my career, I was dedicated to being an organizational communicator. I knew that I could learn the latest thinking, cutting-edge techniques, and best practices through IABC, but whatever I learned, it would be applied to business. Therefore, I chose to learn more about business management and administration. Conclusion: I wanted an MBA.
The MBA is one clear choice for those who wish to build their business credentials. But in the past few years, another attractive option has emerged, the Master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC). The Medill School at Northwestern University says it pioneered the IMC graduate program. According to its Website, the program “combines the traditional areas of marketing communications with business skills in marketing, finance, statistics and organizational behavior to form a unique program on the cutting edge of marketing communications and customer relationship management. ”
I have seen advertisements in business magazines that blatantly pitch the Medill IMC degree against the traditional MBA. I am not qualified to judge who wins this argument. Time will tell. The marketplace will be the judge. I know that as a consultant and head of my own firm, Les Potter Incorporated, business leaders/clients appreciated the fact that I had an MBA. The degree opened doors. I had credentials as a strategic communication planner and manager, such as decades of organizational communication management experience, my IABC accreditation, a best-selling manual on strategic communication planning, hosts of published articles, and hundreds of speaking engagements. But I am convinced that the MBA after my name sold many accounts.
Consider the timing of graduate study. Some may wish to complete undergraduate studies, then begin graduate school immediately. That’s fine. Get the most credentials you can before you enter the job market.
Here’s a tip: go to work for three to five years. Chances are you may land a job with an organization that has a tuition reimbursement program. Such programs reimburse part of the costs of additional education that enhances your job performance. You will have to have been on the job for a set time period, and you may have to agree to stay with the organization for a set period of time for the organization to pay part of your schooling costs. But it is still a great deal.
There is an added advantage to working for a few years before you return to the classroom. You will have valuable experience that will help you in your studies. You will have real world examples from which to draw in completing various assignments. Your work experience will prove quite valuable in your graduate studies. Plus, the school environment will be stimulating after a hard day’s work. You will probably be studying with other working professionals, thereby expanding your network and circle of friends.
Do not forget the value of professional associations in all this. I remain passionate about the positive role that professional association involvement plays in your career. All things considered, IABC and PRSA remain cheap grad school.