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Public Relations Major Guide for 2016-2017

What is Public Relations

Public relations involves effective management of an organization’s relationships with various publics, such as employees, community, investors, consumers/customers, the media, etc.  Public relations has evolved over recent decades to include not only what organizations say, but also what organizations do.  Graduates in public relations are expected to contribute to the strategic decision-making and policy-making of organizations.  Public relations practitioners conduct research to better understand organizations’ target audiences.  They plan ways for their organizations to respond more effectively to their publics, implement communications strategies, and evaluate the effectiveness of those strategies.  The professional practice of public relations results in win-win relationships between an organization and its important publics, ultimately helping interdependent elements of a democratic society work more effectively together.

People who have successful careers in public relations tend to be self-starters with both creative and analytical abilities.

Career Opportunities in Public Relations

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, public relations is in the top ten growth industries in the country.  Every organization, big and small, has a need to communicate with the people it serves, and public relations practitioners serve this function.  Corporate public relations work includes investor, community, and employee relations, reputation management, and marketing support.  Non-profit work includes fund raising and advocacy.  Other types of public relations jobs are found in the entertainment, sports, and travel fields as well as in the government and military. Some students begin their careers in public relations agencies where they are exposed to a variety of clients.  The public relations process, which involves research, planning, communication, and evaluation, can be applied to the management of communication in any type of organization.  Mastering these skills allows students to find jobs in a variety of industries.

Salary Trends in Public Relations

Tennessee public relations graduates command starting salaries competitive with starting salaries nationwide.  Like other communication professionals, public relations graduates tend to begin their careers in the low salary ranges and then move up quickly when they demonstrate their ability to perform.

High School Preparation

Creativity, initiative, good judgment and the ability to express thoughts clearly— both verbally and in writing—are essential for students who are contemplating majoring in public relations.  Problem-solving, decision-making and analytical skills are also important.  Inquisitiveness about a broad range of topics, including current events and trends, is another fundamental characteristic.

While in high school, you should consider working for your school newspaper, radio station, yearbook committee, or any other opportunity that will enable you to sharpen your communication skills.  Enrolling in courses such as public speaking, desktop publishing, accounting, finance, English, and creative writing is also valuable to those considering an undergraduate degree in public relations.

How to Major in Public Relations

Students may choose public relations as their major when applying to UT.  Current students should contact the School of Advertising and Public Relations for current admission procedures.

Requirements for Public Relations

Requirements for the major fall into several broad categories that include basic skills, general education requirements, and major requirements.

In the basic skills category, students follow a prescribed list of courses that involve writing, foreign language, and math.  In the general education category, students complete courses in the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, and western or world civilization that provide the breadth of knowledge required of the communication professional.  In the major category, students begin with a prescribed set of courses that involve public relations principles, public relations communication, research, and public relations cases.  Following completion of these courses, students enroll in course work designed to advance their knowledge of public relations campaigns and current topics in the public relations field.  In addition, students may select from elective courses involving topics such as social media or international public relations to complete their degree program.

Special Programs, Co-ops, and Internships

All public relations majors may take 1-2 hours of internship credit.  That translates to 10 hours a week for a semester or full time in the summer.  Some students complete internships without credit.  A major benefit is that the experience routinely reduces the amount of time you’ll need as a new employee on your first job.  That’s an important consideration for a potential employer.  For that reason, many students complete more than one internship.

Students have interned on and off the campus in Knoxville, and in other cities and states.  Interns often are hired full-time after graduation based on their internship.  You may find your internship work either confirms the kind of job you want after graduation, or leads you to a job in a different aspect of public relations.

Highlights of Public Relations

International study is possible through well-established exchange programs with professional schools in the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Italy.  Public relations majors join the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) and participate in local, regional, and national conferences.  The University of Tennessee is one of a very few universities nationwide that offers a separate major in public relations.

Ready for the World logoReady for the World

Students in the College of Communication and Information are encouraged to participate in a study abroad program as part of the University of Tennessee’s commitment to make our graduates “Ready for the World.”  Studying abroad opens up many opportunities for students to learn about communication and information in an international setting, develop cross-cultural communication skills, and enhance their marketability and career options.  Students often say that their study abroad experience was the highlight of their college years.  Communication and information students may participate in faculty-led summer programs including global advertising in London, intercultural communication in Europe, global public relations in Italy, British media in London, foreign language in any number of countries, or participate in the study abroad program of their choice.  Most students participate in study abroad during their second or third year at UT.

Learn more about UT’s Ready for the World initiative to help students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today’s world.

Experience Learning

Experience Learning LogoExperience Learning is a bold new initiative with the goal of transforming the educational student experience at the University of Tennessee. Over a five-year period, UT will transform our culture to give students more opportunities to be involved in civic engagement, solve complex real-world problems, and contribute to the welfare of their communities as part of their regular course work.

The purpose of Experience Learning is to help students apply the knowledge, skills, and values learned in the classroom to real-world challenges. Experience Learning also seeks to engage student learning through direct experience and intense reflection to increase knowledge, acquire lifelong learning and problem-solving skills, and elucidate values.

Learn more about Experience Learning.

Academic Plan and Milestones

Following an academic plan will help students stay on track to graduate in four years. Beginning with first-time, first-year, full-time, degree-seeking students entering in the Fall 2013 semester, UT has implemented Universal Tracking (uTrack), an academic monitoring system designed to help students stay on track for timely graduation. In order to remain on track, students must complete the minimum requirements for each tracking semester, known as milestones. Milestones may include successful completion of specified courses and/or attainment of a minimum GPA.

To see a sample academic plan and milestones for this major, click here.

For More Information

Maureen Taylor, Ph.D., Director
School of Advertising & Public Relations
476 Communications Building
Knoxville, TN 37996-0343
(865) 974-3048



The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT catalog or contact the department and/or college directly.

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