Frequently Asked Questions about how to survive college and maybe even get a job in the real world. 

Communications major? Great choice.  (Sort of)   

Communication is a wonderful business and it’s a terrific time to be going into it. It is also a time of upheaval and chaos, and if you are going to be successful, prepare to give it everything you’ve got — starting today. 

So — Are you are certain about a career in the media?  Then don’t wait to take your major classes until your junior year. The conventional idea that you should “get your General Education courses out of the way first” may be OK for people who are not certain, but it is not always appropriate for communication majors.

My advice is to take your major classes as early as possible so that you can  spend time building your portfolio and developing your skills. 

It’s also a good idea to take classes that will help in your line of work. Advertising majors will want to take consumer psychology. Journalists need political science and history. Production majors need cinema history and theater lighting. And so on…    

Learn to serve 

In the print shops and “chapels” of the 18th and 19th centuries, printers did not expect to make a living directly from their writing about public affairs. The newspaper, in most towns, was a loss-leader that brought customers in to the other kinds of printing and publishing services.

Today, individuals and communities have many publishing needs that are not being served by businesses.  If you can find those needs, and find ways to serve them that include the community, then you can help re-discover the financial foundations of the media industry.

For instance, how can video be streamed and/or recorded from community news, sports and cultural events?  How can families create compilations of their videos?  How can authors collaborate on publishing enterprises?

 The best advice:  Carpe Diem

First and foremost, be proactive. Carpe diem. Dont wait around for someone else to help you — it probably wont happen. You have to help yourself. Faculty and staff at RU are doing their best, but we are constantly chasing feathers in the windstorm. The fact is that higher education in Virginia is grossly underfunded. This is particularly true of RU and even more particularly true of the School of Communication.

So? Let’s face it: you have to think ahead for yourself, plan your own schedule, develop your own portfolio and think about what will happen when you graduate. It’s unfortunate, but some people graduate with a diploma in communication and can’t find work in the field. That’s not because they weren’t smart or even deserving. It’s usually because they didn’t prepare. You don’t want to be among them.

British engineer Harry Ricardo once said something that might be helpful. [Ricardo was famous for designing the Rolls Royce Merlin engine that was used in British Spitfire airplanes in WWII.]

First and foremost, make up your mind what to go for, that is to say, what in your judgement, will be likely to fulfill a need in say four or five years’ time; having once decided, keep that objective always clearly in view. Do not let yourself be cast down by disappointment, or too elated by those initial successes which so often prove to be only transitory. Do not be afraid of failures. In my experience one learns as much,  or possibly more, from one’s failures, and I have been responsible for many, as from one’s successes; the downright failure is always instructive and is usually fairly early apparent before it has cost an undue amount of time or money. The real danger, and by far the most difficult to cope with, is partial success, the achievement which is either not quite good enough, or for which the need is passing.  To cope with this taxes one’s judgment to the limit; it requires all one’s strength of mind to break off when cool judgment counsels the abandonment of a project to which one has grown very attached…

From: The Ricardo Story: The autobiography of Sir Harry Ricardo, Pioneer of Engine Research, SAE Historical Series, Warrendale, PA, 1992

So…. How do you use your education to launch a real media career?

When you graduate, you will have a sound liberal arts education. That’s the main thing. Then you should also have:

  • A set of skills you gain from skills classes, such as web design or print production or video editing
  • A portfolio (online in various forms, and also in print and on DVD ) of your published work in journalism, advertising and/or production.
  • Work experience with media, possibly student media but preferably local and regional news organizations;
  • Volunteer work experience and holiday mini-internships with professional media
  • Professional internships.

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