My decision to attend Washington State University was a simple one, because the school offered me a merit scholarship. Everyone in my family went to the University of Washington, but I was wait-listed there, even though I was president of my high school’s chapter of the National Honors Society and highly qualified to get into college. I did not want to wait for a school that didn't seem interested in me, especially when I had such a great offer from Washington State University.
I didn’t start out college as a communications major, but I switched into this program during my junior year based on my father’s advice. At the time, I was a philosophy major in a pre-law program. My dad and I had a conversation in which he told me that he supported the idea of me going to law school, but he also thought that I should earn a more marketable degree than philosophy in case I changed my mind about being a lawyer.
A communications degree is far more marketable. Plus, I have always loved working with and talking to people. I kept philosophy as my minor since I still find it very interesting.
On average, it takes students 4 years to earn a bachelors degree in communications. I spent a minimum of 20 hours in class each week. But because that amount of school work can be overwhelming, I would recommend that freshman take a lighter load in their first semester.
The communications curriculum is divided into 2 phases. The first phase includes the years of study before you have been formally accepted into the College of Communication. Before you apply to the major you take 5 prerequisites, which include introductory level communications classes and public speaking classes. The second phase of the curriculum begins after you have been accepted into the College of Communication. At this point you pick an emphasis for specialization.
I think the strongest part of Washington State's communications program is the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and participate in activities outside of the classroom. During my senior year, my class did public relations work with the Pullman Senior Center. We helped the Center increase its audience by creating brochures and marketing materials for seniors in the area. We also took publicity photos for the Senior Center Wii Bowling tournament. I found the project very engaging.
I was also involved with the Washington State University chapter of the Association for Women in Communication. Within our chapter of that organization, I was the Director of Community Service during my junior year and the Director of Public Relations in my senior year. I found it to be an extremely worthwhile experience.
Another strength of Washington State University's communications program is the faculty. The faculty is not just knowledgeable, they are brilliant. They have all completed graduate school and continue to research and publish while they teach students. Their teaching ability is outstanding. They are very personable and friendly. I imagine that it can be hard to pay attention to each of the students in huge classes, but if you make an effort to introduce yourself to the professor, he or she notices and wants to help you. For instance, I had a professor who was the director of the Association for Women in Communication and she shaped my entire college experience. I can’t thank her enough for that, and I could not have asked for a better experience.
The only weakness in my program is the lack of spots available for students in important classes. We need bigger classes because there isn’t enough room for all of the students who want to study communications.
I did complete an internship with the Marketing/Communications Department at Providence Hospital in Everett, Washington. It was a perfect opportunity for me, because I had the chance to get my feet wet in different areas of communications. I got to do journalism, internal communications, and public relations events in the community.
That internship was the best job I have ever had. I enjoyed going to work every day because the people and the environment were encouraging and inspiring. I think an internship is a vital part of education because it allows you to see firsthand what you have been learning about in your textbooks. Until you get some experience, what is in those books doesn’t mean that much.
The best study tip that I can pass on to communications students is that when you do group work, it is very important to be a strong group member. Even if you do not consider yourself to be a natural leader, do not be afraid to offer your ideas to the group. It is also important to be present in class every day. You can communicate through email and phone conversations as much as you want, but face-to-face interaction is really important in the communications field.
I lived on campus all 4 years. My first year I lived in a dorm, and the rest of the time I lived in a sorority. A lot of students in the sororities and fraternities wanted to live on campus because they were involved with their houses and school activities.
For me, the biggest benefit of living on campus was being able to walk to class. In the winter, there is a lot of snow in Pullman, where Washington State University is located. It makes the roads very unsafe. Plus, parking on campus is a nightmare and I would have to pay $15 per day to park if I drove.
I think the only drawback to living on campus is that it can be noisy at times. A few of the big bars are located on the university grounds and I was constantly surrounded by people. If you live on campus, you need to be able to concentrate on your work when there are outside distractions.
The amount of time I spend on homework each week fluctuated according to my year in school and the difficulty of my course load. I would say that is safe to expect to spend up to an hour of homework per class, per day. Just know the amount of work that is required can range according to the difficulty of the course.
If you major in communications, the majority of your homework will be in the form of group projects. You will still write papers and take exams, but overall, you should expect a collaborative work environment.
People sometimes assume that communications is an easy major but I found the coursework to be fairly difficult. The teachers are all very serious and it can be a heavy course load.
In the long term, I can see myself using my communications degree in the healthcare field. When I did the internship at Providence, I loved the passion that everyone had for their work. I loved knowing that I was having a direct effect on people’s lives. It is very moving. But right now, I am interning at Puget Sound Energy in Bellevue. There may or may not be room to hire at the end of my internship, so I am simply doing my best to learn everything that I can while I am here.
I am not limited in my career choices, however. Someone with a bachelors degree in communications could work at nearly any company. Every organization needs some type of public relations expert. You could work for an advertising firm or a newspaper. You could even be a professional blogger. Communications gives you so many valuable skills.
Even though I don't feel limited in my job career options, I am having a hard time finding a job right now. That is not because the jobs don’t exist, but because most jobs I've seen require 2 to 5 years of experience. I have all of the people skills, but on paper, I am just another recent college graduate.
The best advice I can give to a communications student is to work on your people skills as much as you can because you will need to have personal references to support you when you try to get a job. To that end, I think it is essential that students make an effort to get to know their professors, because a resume looks much stronger with those sorts of references. Form those personal bonds and show your professors that you care as much about your education as they do.