A Public Relations Major's Guide to College Success

A student wearing a green SOJC tee shirt speaks with someone in the atrium of Allen Hall
SOJC PR student Ella Norton gives a tour of Allen Hall to alumni, showcasing the state-of-the art equipment students have access to. Photo by Jeremy Parker.

As an ambassador for the UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC), Align magazine executive print editor, Allen Hall Public Relations (AHPR) account supervisor, SOJC communication writer, public relations major and general media fiend, I’ve gotten to know Allen Hall and the SOJC quite well throughout my college experience.

It feels like just yesterday I was logging into Zoom for my first college class, and now I’m preparing to move across the pond to begin my communications career. As my time at the SOJC comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on several tips that have allowed me to make the most of my college experience.

1. The Undergraduate Student Success Center is your best resource.

As an SOJC ambassador, I conduct tours for prospective students and their parents. For the last three years, I have ended every tour with, “No matter where you end up, I strongly recommend that you take advantage of your Undergraduate Student Success Center (USSC) because they have a ton of resources to support you.” I added this after realizing that so many students are unaware that the USSC is not only for academic advising, but also career advising. These folks can help you plan your classes, create grad plans, connect you to financial aid and figure out if study abroad works within your schedule. But advisors are also there to help with job-search strategies, interview practice, resume and cover letter advice and connecting with alumni.

The USSC has been invaluable to my college experience. Every time I’ve applied for a job or internship, I’ve gone to drop-in hours to have an advisor look over my application before I submit it. When I started getting the senior-year scaries, the advisors were so helpful in brainstorming alumni to connect with.

Whether it’s a big win, like securing a job, or something small like getting an A on a paper, the advisors are always there to celebrate my wins and support me through my challenges. And while it’s true that working at the USSC has allowed me to connect even more with advisors, they are there to champion every student in the SOJC. I truly cannot speak highly enough of these people, and if you haven’t taken advantage of their expertise, I encourage you to reach out as soon as you can.

seven student members of the Align Magazine staff sit on the front stairs of a house underneath a banner for Align
Student members of Align magazine, UO’s student-run fashion and lifestyle publication, organized a spring market, selling jewelry, art and food to bring the creative community together. Photo courtesy of Ella Norton.

2. Get involved in student organizations.

One of the big reasons I chose the University of Oregon was that I was able to get involved as soon as I wanted to. Unlike other programs I had researched, I didn’t have to take pre-reqs to start joining student organizations. I joined Align, the university’s fashion and pop-culture magazine, my first week of college. This opportunity allowed me to immediately start adding work samples to my portfolio, gain leadership skills that led to my position as executive print editor and meet a community of like-minded creatives.

Joining this publication has given me so many memories, friendships and opportunities, and I really don’t think my college experience would have been nearly as fulfilling without Align.

There’s a myth that majoring in communications is easy, but I believe you get out what you put in. Sure, you could skate by doing the bare minimum in your classes, but by joining student organizations, you get to actually create the content you are learning about in class.

It was through Allen Hall Public Relations (AHPR) that I got firsthand experience creating media lists, press releases, multimedia reels and graphics, all of which I have talked about in job interviews. As I begin my career, I already have experience working in public relations, which sets me apart from other applicants. AHPR also gave me a glimpse of the real communication industry by allowing me to work with real clients, meet with alumni and hear from professionals, which helped me discover that public relations was truly the path I wanted to pursue, without even leaving campus.

3. Network, network, network!

We have a saying that Ducks love to help Ducks, and in my experience, it’s definitely true. The first time I sent an alum a LinkedIn message was nerve-wracking. But I quickly learned that they wanted to connect with me. Every time I’ve reached out to an alum, they’ve been so helpful and have introduced me to other industry professionals or informed me about opportunities that might interest me. Whether it’s an alum, a class speaker or a professional at a student organization, if they interest you, connect with them! They’ll offer you great advice, and the worst thing they can say is no. Networking isn’t just limited to alumni and professionals. It’s super important to connect with your professors too. They have experience in the industry and often still have connections, so they can be a great resource for class questions, career tips or general advice. By attending office hours and consistently remaining in contact with professors, I have developed mentorships that have allowed me to grow as a student and as a professional.

Campus jobs have also allowed me to connect with faculty members and staff who have been integral to my career, like the advisors at the USSC or all the folks from the university’s communication team. These jobs have also connected me to students, alumni and industry professionals I never would have met otherwise, and I am so thankful for all those opportunities.

a film marker for a scene filmed by Ella Norton
Through her work with Align magazine, SOJC student Ella Norton was able to help art direct videos of six bands for Battle of the Bands, a local music competition. Photo courtesy of Ella Norton.

4. Take advantage of the J-cage and production studios.

One of the biggest opportunities we have as SOJC students is our access to over $750,000 worth of camera equipment, state-of-the-art production studios and the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite in the computer labs. When I started, I was definitely on a writing track and didn’t have much experience with visuals and multimedia. However, I recognized this was one of the few (if not only) times in my life I would have access to so much equipment I could borrow for free, and I took advantage of it.

I created a short video of my friend’s band, art directed photoshoots for Align, took my friends’ headshots, recorded a podcast and created silly Photoshop projects of my friends and me meeting celebrities. While I’m certainly not an expert, I at least have baseline skills that can help me throughout my career.

Even if it’s just to take a few pictures of your friends at the park, rent out a camera from the J-Cage and experiment with it. The folks there are so helpful that I promise they’ll make sure you get the equipment you need. Even if you do nothing with it, go to the computer labs and start an InDesign file.

If you get stuck, walk around the corner from the J-cage to visit Creative Central, where the super creative and talented team of staff and peer coaches will help you bring your ideas to life. And even if it fails tremendously, shoot a short video, because this is your time to try things, fail, learn, grow from it and ultimately end up improving your skills. It’s through the actual practice that you will become a better communicator and professional, while also having a lot of fun.

5. Apply for scholarships every year.

College is expensive, whether you’re an in-state or out-of-state student, and scholarships can be a great opportunity to lower the cost. Each year the UO School of Journalism and Communication awards over $700,000 in merit-based scholarships to SOJC students. What’s extra nice about the scholarships is that you only have to submit one application, and you will be considered for every scholarship you qualify for, saving you time.

Scholarship applications open Nov. 1 and close Feb. 1, so I always tried to submit mine over winter break. I also remind people to apply every year, even if you already have scholarships, because the more work you do, the more scholarships you qualify for!

My time at the SOJC has been filled with so many experiences, friendships and opportunities that it’s sad for me to say goodbye. However, as I prepare for graduation, I feel ready to begin my career, and I know the SOJC will always be there for me. 

—By Ella Norton

Ella Norton ’24 (she/her/hers), a recent graduate of the SOJC, is from Kansas City, Missouri. She majored in public relations and French and is the executive print editor for Align magazine, an account supervisor for Allen Hall Public Relations and an ambassador for the SOJC.