Get Involved At School

Around my second year of undergrad, I discovered portfolio schools. And it pissed me the hell off. Why didn't somebody tell me about this before? Why am I sitting here, bored to pieces, in Media Planning and Strategy class when I could be taking Storywriting or Photoshop II?

I did not drop out of school and join the Circus then and there. (My mother would have hopped on a plane and flogged me wherever she found me.) But knowing that there was a copywriting program out there where I'd have the opportunity to build my portfolio more than Copy & Vis I and II gave me focus. And hope. 
I spent the next two years making sure I got the most out of my college experience (study abroad, work study, drunken Mondays, hungover know, the usual) and prepping myself the career I wanted. I did a summer program at the Creative Circus to get a feel for what portfolio school would be like (turns out it was just like my creative writing workshops). I increased my involvement in Ad Society, UF's student advertising club, worked at the school's newspaper and wrote the newsletter for the Caribbean Student Association. I applied for every internship under the sun (did one in account services at BBDO NY and one in the creative department at then FCB Chicago) and won a student Addy for a ad I did for a class.

I knew my degrees in Advertising and English wouldn't land me exactly where I needed to be at the end of those four years, but I was going to make sure I got as close as I could. (Yep. I'm a huge nerd)
Okay okay okay. Enough about me. What are you going to do? Here are some tips about how to get more involved while you're at school (undergrad or portfolio school).

7 Ways To Get Involved With Advertising At School:

Join student clubs. There was a napping club at UF. Napping. Yep. So I'm pretty sure your school has an ad club. The American Advertising Federation (AAF) has student clubs at colleges and universities all over the country. They have speakers, panels, social events, agency visits, competitions and other great opportunities for you to learn more about the industry and connect with people. If a club doesn’t exist at your school, start one. 

Get a student membership in professional organisations. Most of these big name organisations like the One Club and the Art Directors Club offer student memberships for a discounted rate. I know as a student it may still seem expensive, but consider it an investment. Start putting aside your beer/pizza/shoe money to save up for it.

Find a teacher to be your ally. Find a professor who you respect and feel comfortable with to get career guidance and personal and professional feedback. They can introduce you to people, put you on to books, websites and techniques to make you a stronger creative and they can give you personal and professional feedback to help you grow. And now you have someone who you can count on as a reference. 

In undergrad, Dr. Duke was my hero. She taught one of the few creative classes at UF, Copy & Vis, and was a copywriter, so I aligned myself with her early on. I ended up taking an independent study with her my senior year where I worked on my portfolio and portfolio school application. Her insight, advice and feedback were instrumental. One time, dangerously close to graduation, she told me to focus on my poetry instead of advertising. (Sometimes I wish I'd listened.)

Find an industry mentor.
Connect with someone who currently has the job you want. Even if it's a junior at a local agency. Get advice, tips, feedback and a real look at what it takes to get and keep a job in advertising. One of the things I appreciate at the Circus was that for my last few quarters I had a mentor who was currently working in an ad agency to give me feedback on my book. She told me what was working and what wasn't and while our relationship wasn't deeper than a few emails every few weeks (mostly of her tearing my work apart), it was very helpful to me. Reach out to someone whose work you respect, start a relationship and ask them if they are willing to help you. (Sometimes using the term "mentor" is overwhelming so use it sparingly) Meet for coffee or start emailing and see where it goes. (In the meantime, you have my blog!)

Enter student competitions. Competitions are great ways to get work for your book, to work on something you previously may not have considered, and if you win, to get your name out there. There are always competitions going on. Always. Check out the AAF. One Club, Cannes Young Lions, Young Guns, Art Director's Club, D&AD... Start googling chicklets.

Read. Stay up on what's going on through industry publications. Creativity, Com Arts, Archive, award books and so on, so forth. Get a student subscription or check it out at the library. This not only serves for inspiration for your own ads but it gives you something to talk about when you do connect with professionals. (Read up on small talking tips)

Get relevant experience. Start writing or designing ads for whatever organisations you are involved with. Or offer your services to others. Work on everything and anything you can to increase your skills and add bullets to your resume. You may not end up doing anything that could go into your portfolio, but nothing beats experience. (Except for Rock. Rock always wins.)