A letter to my first-year self – what my degree hasn’t taught me

A letter to my first-year self – what my degree hasn’t taught me

No matter how excited I am to start my career and finish University, there is a part of me that is almost sad I’m leaving a large part of my life behind. I started University four years ago in September (which makes me feel really old) and when I sat in my very first lecture on my first day I really wasn’t sure where my future was headed and where my degree could take me. I had a million thoughts going around my head, have I just signed up for four years of education in a subject I might not work in? Have I gone too niche? Am I cut out for a degree? Am I good enough for PR?

I guess they are all normal thoughts on the very first day of University though, I would be surprised if any 18 year-old has their life plan sorted on the first day. In reality, I did not know what to expect on that first day, let alone the weeks and months to come. I knew what PR was to some extent (I could have known more) and I was so interested in the content on offer but I had no idea of how broad the industry was and where it could take me. I knew I was interested in media communications and thought PR was the one for me but oh how much I still had to learn.

Approaching the four-year mark means that there have been a lot of lessons learnt along the way. A lot. University isn’t going to teach you everything you could possibly need to succeed and my degree certainly hasn’t. There is a lot of self-investment needed. You get out what you put in. Looking back at my old naive 18-year-old self, I could have done with an older student giving me some tips from what they have learnt. Seriously, I really could have done. So, 18-year-old me, here are the things my degree hasn’t taught me and what I would do more of if I could go back and do it again (I’m quite happy with how much I’ve done though!).

1. The importance of networking and how to do it

Within in the PR industry, it pays to have good contacts. A lot of what you do surrounds the connections you make and who you know so it is important to start as early as you can. You’ll be surprised how big your network could be at the end of the degree. Your course mates are a good place to start but it doesn’t always have to be someone else working in PR, it could be a journalist, an influencer or events professional. It’s a small world, and the PR industry doesn’t hide from that. Within a few months of starting my placement, I knew the news buildings addresses off by heart, from journalist to building to postcode. I could tell you exactly where each journalist worked and the address of their office.

You want to make a name for yourself and be known by those you need to be known by. This isn’t as scary as it sounds either. Social media makes this a lot easier for us than it used to be. If you haven’t made a Linkedin profile, take time to do this and create a professional profile for yourself. You can learn a lot from your connections and you never know, the people you meet now might be your manager, fellow journalist or colleague in a few years time. The benefits might not be apparent straight away but you’ll thank me when you start seeing them. Build your network and start somewhere.

2. Experience, you can’t have enough!

I can’t stress this point enough. I thought I knew what PR was but in reality, nothing could have prepared me for my first stint of work experience. At the end of the first week, I was asked to prepare to pitch to national news titles such as The Sun on Monday morning. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. But the thing is, each bit of work experience has taught me an incredible amount about the industry and provided me with crucial skills. 4-12 hours a week of University can only prepare you for so much. I had to learn how influencer marketing worked, how to order stock, social media management, how to pitch via email/phone, how to present coverage and so much more that can’t be taught in the classroom. I wouldn’t know how to do any of that without my work experience.

With so many graduates entering the working world each year, things are competitive, there’s no getting around that. The person next to you outside your interview could have more experience than you and their CV could be glowing. So make yours glowing too. Invest in yourself and try a variety of roles. With so much spare time, it pays to use it wisely. Yes, it might seem insignificant now, but it won’t be when you’re trying to get a job after graduating. Each work experience placement is an opportunity to meet more people (see, networking!) and learn, learn, learn. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself. You can bring examples back to your University work or even refer to what you did in an interview.

3. You are your own brand

There’s no denying the fact that your future employer is probably going to Google you. Your Linkedin and social accounts will be right at the top of the list, that’s just the way it is. So don’t let a simple Google search stop you from getting your dream job in the future. Your name means a lot. Give them something to be impressed by.

4. Be ready to learn

I still have an incredible amount to learn. Four years of University has begun to teach me the basics of PR & Communications but when I start my first job, there’s going to be a mountain for me to climb. There are going to be situations where I won’t have a clue what I am doing. So my biggest tip here is always be ready to learn. Take opportunities to expand your knowledge and read. Read industry titles, market reports, Twitter, Linkedin – anything! The more you read, the more you know what is going on in the industry and the more you will learn.

5. Challenge yourself, it’s not impossible until you try

One of the things you could say I regret is not challenging myself enough in first year. I’ve spoken about this countless times but I think that is to do with my confidence and not believing in myself. Don’t let your confidence stop you from doing what you want to do. Challenge yourself. I never thought I could get a placement at L’Oreal, let alone finish one with what I achieved.

Dream big, it’s not impossible until you try!

6. Time management

University and working life means you need to be good with your time. Going from A-levels to University is a jump. So much free time. But don’t forget what you are there to do. You need to pass the assignments to carry on with the degree so time management is key. Is that night out the day before your exam really wise when you still have three topics to revise? Probably not. Knowing how to manage your time well will help you massively when you find yourself on work experience. The 4am bedtimes aren’t going to cut it when you’re working 9-5 and you have a manager to impress. Getting into good habits now will help you in the long run.

7. Have fun and enjoy it

When reading this all back, it does sound scary. The thing is though, you don’t get taught these kind of things at University. I wish someone had written something similar for me because hearing from someone who has been there always helps. These are just a few tips that I hope will help someone, somewhere with their journey into their dream job.

The most important thing out of all of this is to enjoy it. University and work placements are all life experiences that you will remember forever so make the most of it. Meet people and have fun. Make the most of each opportunity. Be challenged and grow in yourself because before you know it the three or four years will have flown by!

Luce x

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