29 May

I’ve been thinking about continuing my education for quite some time. I believe in life-long education and development through getting real life and work experience, reading books, networking, learning from professionals, webinars, seminars and all kinds of sources available. It is an investment in yourself, your career and your business.

When it comes to formal education, stakes might be high. First, it is expensive, takes lots of time and effort, and the application process is not something you can do in a day or two with just payment.

That’s why, I started looking into options. One thing I came across is becoming an APR (Accredited in Public Relations). This thing really interested me. It is done within PRSA, and is for now the only recognized accreditation for PR professionals in the States. Yes, accreditation in the field is not required, that’s why it is all volunteer.

I did some research online to find out the value of APR. Interestingly enough, pros and cons are the same as in the case of getting Masters. It is really 50/50: some people say “Go for it: it will boost up your career and will be good for your credentials”, others recommend to focus on gaining more practical experiences than collecting certificates and diplomas.

Both are right. I know people with no PR education and great results, people with PR education and poor results, and people with PR education and great results. It is all individual. Nevertheless, for me, as a PR professional trying to build my career in a new country a paper from a local educational institution or professional organization would be a good added value to my resume.

What’s the difference between MBA and APR?

I’ve tried to sum it up here.

First, the essence. MBA (Master in Business Administration) is a degree you get from university. One may choose to study in classroom, online or go for blended learning. Normally business school offer several MBA programs – General MBA or MBA in Finance, Marketing etc. Universities also offer Masters program in Marketing and other fields. APR, on the contrary, is not a degree, it is accreditation you get and can use lifetime after completing a certain exam.

Second, time. Masters one can get in 2 years. When it comes to APR, the preparation for the exam process is your own: you pick when, what and how to study. You set your own pace, and looks like you are less dependent on a certain schedule. The only requirement is that you have one year from the date you receive authorization to participate in Advance Readiness Review and complete the computer-based Examination. Looks like APR wins this one.

Third, costs. An MBA program would cost you about $50K-60K a year plus books and materials. It is a lot.

APR exam costs $385, and PRSA Members are eligible for a $110 Accreditation Examination rebate upon completion of the computer-based Examination. PRSA membership for those with 2+ years of experience in PR, costs $255 plus a one-time $65 initiation fee. Not sure yet if I really want to join PRSA but once you are a member you can watch some educational videos on demand for free and also enjoy discounts on services you have to pay for.

PRSA also offers The APR Online Study Course for $195 for members and $295 for non-members. It gives you one year subscription. Amazon also sells this course on CD for $195. Not sure how new or old it is. The product profile says “Date first available at Amazon.com: May 27, 2008”. It might be not up to date.

Of course, there are recommended books as well. The prices range from $0.40 to $90. You don’t have to buy them all – just pick and choose what you really need to study. Let’s say, you will spend about $300 on books or try to borrow them from the library or find cheaper used copies.

Overall, if you are not a PRSA member, the cost of becoming an APR would be about $1000 minimum but it still beats the cost of getting your MBA.

Fourth, networking. The majority of people with MBA I know say that the main benefit of going to business school was not classes but people. Some met their future employers, others met potential business partners and investors. I know someone who dropped out of a very prestigious business school after the first year because he met people to start a business with and saw no reason in staying at school.

With APR I am not sure about the networking part. When you are getting ready for an exam, how much communication and support from other APR and PRSA member you get? Looks like MBA wins by this criterion.

Fifth, value. What would look better on your resume? MBA from a prestigious business school is very impressive. In my life I’ve never met someone who had comma and APR after her name on her business card. I’ve seen people with PhD after their names, but it is different. Are they respected? Yes, for sure. Do they have preference when it comes to hiring? In business world, I am not sure.

What’s the bottom line? Obviously, neither MBA nor APR can substitute real experience. Working and getting results is a must. Employers and clients are more likely to check our your portfolio than anything else. Will having MBA or APR hurt? Not at all. Do they worth money and time spent? Maybe. You never know for yourself until you try, right?

For now I don’t have a clear answer for myself what I want to go for – MBA, APR, both or something else like a certificate. My search is still on.


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