As a college major, communications is the study of human interaction and expression. Students of communications seek to understand theories of oral, written and multimedia communication and how to apply those theories to persuade, inform, educate and entertain others.
Most communications majors don’t study the field just for the sake of quenching a thirst for knowledge. They apply the concepts they learn to creating media content, crafting corporate messages for business communications, marketing products and services or analyzing the relationship between communication and society. Communication degree programs are known for equipping students with excellent skills in speaking, writing, thinking critically, using evolving technology and interacting productively with other people, according to U.S. News & World Report. If you haven’t yet considered earning a degree in communications, perhaps you should – for several reasons.
Exceptional Communication Skills
By the time you graduate with a degree in communications, you’ll have spent years learning about effective ways to convey ideas and information through the written and spoken word. This education will help you make the most of your own communication skills in both your professional and personal life.
You will become skilled at presenting persuasive arguments, at encouraging and motivating the people around you and at finding credible and valuable sources of information. Thinking, researching and communicating messages are some of the most important – and yet fundamental – skills an educated person should have, no matter what their industry or job role is. These are life skills that help you learn new things, make informed decisions and keep your interpersonal relationships running smoothly at work and in your private life.
Experiences Beyond Your Comfort Zone
Even if you naturally have strong communication and interpersonal skills, not everything you learn in a communications degree program will fit into your current repertoire of skills. That’s a good thing. College is the perfect time to expand your horizons and explore new opportunities and experiences – and that’s just what your communications degree program will require you to do.
Throughout your studies, you will need to develop skills that fall outside – sometimes far outside – your comfort zone. You’ll be expected to practice public speaking, giving presentations in front of your classmates or perhaps a larger group. You will need to write pitches and advisories to the media. You have to go out and track down information for a news story. You must put your advertising ideas out there, and possibly risk rejection. These tasks might sound awkward or even a little scary at first, but learning to do them is essential. Not only will these skills help you succeed in a communications career, but they will also make you a more assertive and confident individual. Those qualities are appealing in the workforce and in interpersonal relationships.
Plus, going outside of your comfort zone will really set you apart from other job candidates. Around 80 percent of Americans experience anxiety about public speaking, and another 10 percent find the prospect so terrifying that they experience debilitating panic attacks because of it, according to Forbes. There’s even a name for the intense fear of public speaking: glossophobia. Learning to get past any fear of public speaking you may have – or even better, becoming one of the 10 percent of Americans who actually enjoy public speaking – will make you a hit with interviewers, recruiters and prospective employers.
Similarly, other workers might feel paralyzed by a blank page or overwhelmed at the thought of a daunting research assignment, but not you. Your communications background means that finding information, brainstorming ideas or putting together a draft of a document are all tasks you can handle with poise.
Plenty of Career Opportunities
Let’s face it – everyone likes a good communicator. No matter where you work or what job duties you perform, you need to be able to communicate well with your customers, clients, colleagues and even bosses. The skills you learn in a communications degree program are valuable and versatile.
What are the different careers open to graduates of a communications degree program? The options are endless, but to name a few, you might become journalist, a broadcast reporter, a film camera operator, a public relations specialist, a sales manager, an advertising or marketing manager, a writer or an editor.
The possible work environments are just as varied. With your communications degree, you might find employment with a newspaper or magazine, a broadcast news network, an advertising agency, a publishing house, the media relations arm of a nonprofit or a company’s in-house marketing team. You might do communications work for a single company or for many clients. You could also be self-employed, using your communications skills to do freelance work on an as-needed basis for clients.
Not every communications professional works in the media and communications industry. From education to engineering, from healthcare to retail and manufacturing, nearly every industry has a need for skilled communicators. Depending on your industry, employer and job title, you may handle internal or external communications.
Salary Potential (Especially for Management)
In the field of media and communications, there are a wide range of potential salaries depending on job duties and education and experience level.
The starting salary for communications professionals with a bachelor’s degree is around $40,000 per year, according to U.S. News & World Report. Some lower-paid communications positions, like announcers and photographers, often earn less, in part because they frequently work part-time.
However, the increase in earning potential you will see as you gain experience is considerable. Experienced communications professionals earn close to $70,000 annually, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Some communications roles are particularly lucrative. In the most senior-level communications roles, six-figure salaries are the norm. Public relations managers and fundraising managers earn a median salary of $95,000, according to U.S. News & World Report. Sales managers make closer to $105,000, while advertising and marketing managers earn $116,000 per year. (Learn more about how much you can make with a degree in digital marketing.)
Opportunities for Advancement
In addition to salary, there’s a certain level of prestige that accompanies managerial roles in communications. You often have more interesting, big-picture job duties, like developing overall communications and public relations strategies. You might get to lead campaigns and manage exciting projects, like the launch of a new advertising initiative or publication. Often, managers in communications roles also oversee other communications professionals. The skills you have developed in public speaking and in communicating information clearly can help you supervise these employees effectively.
In the field of communications, attaining a management role is achievable. Some employers may look for a graduate degree for certain positions, but often, your bachelor’s degree is sufficient to meet education requirements. A few years of work experience in communications is typically enough to begin moving into management positions, according to U.S. News & World Report.
You can also advance your career through networking. Professional communications organizations like the American Advertising Federation (AAF), the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and The Communications Network offer valuable networking opportunities, resources, job postings and training programs for members. The AAF and PRSA even grant awards to outstanding professionals in the communications industry.
A Career of Interest
There’s a reason so many novels, movies and other fictional stories follow an intrepid reporter or a rising advertising superstar. Careers in media and communications are, well, interesting. You get to earn a living telling stories, ferreting out the truth about scandals and educating and entertaining an audience. Sure, the day-to-day work of an advertising agency executive or a sales manager might not quite live up to the media hype, but there’s no denying that you have a cool job.
A Glimpse Behind the Media Curtain
At some point during your education – often, even before you get to college – you will be encouraged to think about the credibility of sources. You will have to decide whether a publication is reputable enough to include its article in your research paper or whether the authors had an agenda that influenced their findings. The reason students are asked to do this – regardless of their major – isn’t purely academic. The practice encourages students to learn to question the credibility of all of their sources of information – including the news that informs their daily decision-making.
When you have a background in communications, you have an advantage when it comes to questioning the motives and tactics behind media messages. You understand the industry from an insider’s point of view, so you know what kind of motivations affect the stories that are told and the ways media sources and marketers tell them. What kinds of stories sell news consumption, interesting advertisers? What kinds of marketing messages do consumers respond to the best? While readers and viewers without a communications background can only guess that what’s going on behind the scenes, you have a unique insight into the biases that control media messages – and this perspective helps you make educated decisions about what messages to believe and products and services to buy.
Great Hands-On Work Experience
Many communications professionals are doers. Sure, they may strategize and brainstorm initial ideas, but a huge part of what they do is in the details. They want to create the campaigns they’re envisioning and put those ideas into writing or film, so they can be transmitted to an audience.
While you will study the theory and concepts of communications during your education, it’s likely that much of what you do will involve hands-on experience. That’s great news not only for keeping the creative mind interested in the field of communications, but also for your future career preparation.
What kinds of hands-on work might you do in your communications courses? In an advertising class, you might have to devise and execute your own ad campaign, coming up with the strategy as well as the wording and images needed to create a print, online or video ad. When you study public relations, don’t be surprised if one of your assignments is to figure out how to manage a theoretical crisis. You might even find yourself responsible for coordinating and overseeing a mock interview or press conference.
While some communication studies programs are more academic in nature, many communications majors are more interested in gaining the practical skills they will use in their careers than in research. Hands-on experience equips students with the knowledge and skills they need to confidently launch their careers. When you go for your first interview for a communications role, being able to tell prospective employers about the work you have already done – and perhaps even showing samples of that work in writing or advertising portfolios – makes a far better impression than simply talking about the lecture classes you completed.
Generalist and Specialist Options
When it comes to college and career preparation, is it better to study a very general subject, or to focus on a very narrow specialization? There’s no sure answer. On one hand, you don’t want your knowledge to be so general that an employer won’t find your skills valuable. On the other hand, you don’t want to focus on such a small niche that you’ll have trouble finding a position that allows you to put your skills to work.
Fortunately, a communications degree offers the best of both worlds. As a whole, the major provides students with plenty of versatile generalist skills, allowing them to thrive in any number of possible job roles. However, many communications programs allow students to choose a concentration or specialization for more in-depth study.
If you want to work in print publication, television, film or radio, a specialization in media can help you reach your goals. In a media production program, you might study the hands-on process of video production and music and sound design. On the other hand, a media studies program will focus more on studies and criticism of media content such as television programming and film. Some schools even offer specializations in new or emerging media that train students in topics such as Web design, computer graphics and electronic publishing.
If your interests lie in news reporting, then you might want to look for a communications degree program that offers a specialization in journalism or writing. Coursework will include journalism principles for online, print and broadcast media.
Specializations in public relations and strategic communications are popular among many students. A concentration in PR will equip students with the skills to develop and manage an organization’s image. Courses such as public relations principles, message design, campaign planning and crisis communication teach students both the strategy behind PR tactics and how to implement these strategies in their own work with organizations.
Studying communications is a great way to prepare for roles in the business world, especially if you choose the right specialization. Many communications degree programs allow students to specialize in marketing or advertising. Completing a concentration in marketing or advertising will help you understand what motivates people to buy products and services and how your company can improve sales. You could also consider a specialization in business and organizational communication, especially if you want to use your communication skills to land a role such as human resources officer, event coordinator, personnel manager or corporate communications manager.
A Communications Curriculum
From the versatile career options to the chance to follow your dreams, there’s no shortage of reasons to consider studying communications in college. In fact, the major has remained popular year after year, regardless of changes in the economy. Around six percent of all college students in the United States choose to study communications, journalism and related subjects, according to U.S. News & World Report.
When you major in communications, you’ll take core courses in a wide range of subjects, from public speaking to intercultural communication. You will learn how to speak and write persuasively, skills that matter whether your work involves creating media for news broadcasts or drafting corporate communications for a large company. Coursework varies from one program to another, but often include introductory studies of communications, research methods, ethics, communication theory, interpersonal communication and digital media tools. If you choose an academic concentration such as media or public relations, you also will take a number of specialized courses that help you build your expertise in these topics.
If you think earning a degree in communications could be right for you, there are a few factors you should consider. While the degree path is versatile, you can be better prepared for your career if you give some thought early on to how you want to use your communication skills. Do you see yourself as a journalist rooting out the truth behind a story, a marketing superstar bolstering companies’ profits, a PR whiz who wins over the hearts of the media and the community or a high-level manager of corporate communications?
Figuring out your goals can help you make the most of your education by choosing a relevant specialization, applying for internships with companies like your dream employer, and building your skills through related extracurricular activities. Depending on what you want to do with your degree, you might find great value in experience editing your school newspaper, interning with local media outlets or managing social media accounts for nearby small businesses. Having the right combination of education and experience can go a long way toward helping you make your dream communications career a reality.