As students of all ages head back to school this week, I’m celebrating the fact that I’m no longer one of them! Don’t get me wrong. I was kind of a nerd about grad school and appreciated the many opportunities to learn, collaborate, network and grow. But I enjoy taking what I’ve learned and applying it to client projects a whole lot more as a working professional.

As I look back at my grad school years – they ended not too long ago – I’ve realized many back to school tips can also be applied to communications work. Here are four lessons that I believe will prove useful for students and communicators alike.

1. Be Prepared

Remember the parents and teachers who often told you to stop goofing off and start focusing? I didn’t know it then, but they understand that you’ve got to work hard in order to do your best. You can’t disregard your homework, wing a presentation or cram for a test and expect to succeed. I knew I had to put in the effort every day to achieve my goals.

This same principle should apply when it comes to creating a winning communications strategy. Communicators must remain dedicated from the pitch through the implementation, from the preparation through the evaluation, to ensure a client’s success. Being prepared, proactive and committed is not only good but also necessary in this industry.

2. Plan Ahead

I’m a Capricorn with a Type A personality (most of the time at least) so it should come as no surprise that I purchased a new planner every year to keep myself organized. From homework assignments to extracurricular activities and more, I diligently wrote everything down to master the art of time management.

We all know (and also appreciate) that no day is ever the same in communications. Because we often need to expect the unexpected, it’s crucial to manage our time effectively. When we’re given multiple projects with both short- and long-term deadlines, we have to plan ahead and prioritize so we get everything done on time and on budget to exceed client expectations.

3. First Impressions Matter

I always made it a point to find the perfect outfit for my first day back to school (and I still do the same for certain occasions as an adult). Like me, many students want to make a good first impression. So we’re not shy about combing the racks of our favorite stores to find the ensemble that will convey our fashion sense and showcase our personalities to our classmates.

Communicators should take this same approach when introducing a new campaign. When the content and design of all communications effectively reflect the company values and key messages, the brand personality will shine. Stakeholders will come to recognize, know and (hopefully) love it.

4. Broaden Your Network

Knowing that I no longer have this luxury as an adult, I now realize that seeing my friends every day was the best part of school. I also enjoyed the chance to meet new people regularly and find mentors among my teachers and advisors. I can only hope today’s students understand what a prime opportunity they have to nurture their friendships and expand their networks.

Communicators know that relationships are the foundation of everything we do. Whether it’s business development for our own agencies or connecting a brand with its audiences, we have to work to build and foster relationships every day. It’s this sort of focus that can lead to new opportunities and great working relationships with clients, colleagues and fellow professionals.

Whether a student or professional, you won’t just make the grade if you keep these lessons in mind. You’ll complete any project or pass a test with flying colors!

— Erin Carlin, Account Executive