GPA vs. Experience in the Communications World: Why Internships Matter by Anna Army
Some would say in the communications field GPA doesn’t matter. This is not the case, but in comparison with your experience, it matters differently. Experience can be gained through leadership positions and involvement on campus, but more importantly internships. Internships are critical for you to be taken seriously as a job applicant. After speaking with Professor Hua Jiang and Professor Anthony D’Angelo, I gained a better idea of the importance of GPA and experience in the job application process. We specifically discussed the importance of internships. Professor Jiang conducts research along with being a public relations professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Professor D’Angelo is also a public relations professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, along with being the 2017 PRSA National Chair-Elect to become the 2018 PRSA National Chair. Both have valuable years’ worth experience in the public relations industry and made great resources for me to interview.
When deciding which area to focus on, a student’s GPA and their experience both overlap when it comes to importance. Professor Jiang explained that GPA is important to see how a student performs in the classroom and shows the quality of the work they can produce, as well as being a good judgment of their qualifications. She continued to explain that experience is even more important because people want to see how you have applied your classroom knowledge into your internships and how to solve problems while working with people. This shows you know how to get the job done with a team and clients. There are gaps between learning and real life experiences. Internships enrich classroom learning and can really fill the gaps that classroom learning cannot achieve.
Professor D’Angelo believes that you cannot choose GPA or experience to be more important as they are not competing characteristics. You need a healthy combination of the two in order to stand out. High performing people and organizations don’t choose between either or, they figure out how to get a winning combination of academic credentials and practical work experience. Professor D’Angelo referred me to a great quote said by Al McGuire, a former head basketball coach at Marquette University. McGuire once said, “I think everyone should go to college and get a degree and then spend six months as a bartender and six months as a cab driver. Then they would be really educated.” To explain this, he believes an education is important, along with real world experience of dealing with people in tough situations. Some things can only be taught with experience, and not in the classroom.
Now, to gain that necessary experience to be hired, you need to apply for internships! The process may seem stressful and frustrating, but with the connections and experience you gain, it is all worth it in the end. Keeping an open mind to different internship opportunities is very important because you may intern somewhere over the summer and discover what type of public relations you truly love doing! Professor Jiang advises not to focus on the pay, but to focus on your interests and what you think an internship will teach you. Ignore internships in which you would act as a secretary or assistant, you want to be completing real public relations tasks. Everything you learn and practice in your internships should contribute to your career. Also, you want to have a variety of internships throughout your years to be well emerged and know what is going on in the public relations industry.
Professor D’Angelo had similar thoughts on how to pick the right internship. He explained that the most important part when choosing an internship is to consider if you can take the experience and learning to the next place. If you are in a place where you can look around and say that you are happy and you are learning, you can take this experience to the next place. You realize this once you question yourself, “Where is this leading me?” If you feel as if a position is leading you nowhere, then you need to make a change for yourself and work towards lifetime employability. He explained you cannot guarantee lifetime employment anywhere, but if you are always ready to learn you can guarantee lifetime employability. He also added, “Don’t be so fixated on a target that you think you want, be open to all valuable opportunities.” His biggest piece of advice for successfully obtaining an internship is to think about your interviewer while being interviewed. Think about how hard the hiring process is for them and provide them with how you can benefit them.
After speaking with both Professor Jiang and Professor D’Angelo, I realized how important internships really are. All along I knew they were necessary, but from a professional point of view, you really need the experience to be valuable in the workplace. The only way we can improve is by learning, and learning can be done easily through real life experience. A full-time job doing public relations over the summer can teach valuable skills that you will never fully understand within the walls of a classroom. While focusing on your experience, do not forget about your grades contributing to your GPA. Although GPA may not seem as important in the communications agency, we still must prove our hard work in the classroom. In conclusion, GPA and experience are equally as important but will teach you different skills that all are necessary for your future.