Guide to College Majors in Communications

The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said.
--Peter Drucker
Table of Contents

What is Communications?

A college degree in communications is based on the Greek and Latin studies of language and rhetoric, and how they could be used as tools to benefit all of society. These ancient teachings are the foundation for many modern societies and form the core of studies in communications, linguistics, archeology, religion, philosophy, art history, fine arts, sociology, ancient history, and law.

In its highest form, rhetoric--or persuasive arguing--was structured using logos (logic), pathos (emotion), or ethos (status of the speaker) to convince an audience to believe the message being delivered. Innovative ideas were discussed through hypothesis, thesis, and antithesis--a structure which allowed scholars to consider and advance practical and theoretical knowledge which could then filter down through all sectors of society. Study any political speech or mass media message today and you'll see this rhetorical structure in use. Walk into any lab or brainstorming session and see how new ideas or processes are thought up, tested, and proven or disproven.

The concept of "communication" itself has been widely studied, debated, and held up as a mirror to culture. Common language, or vernacular, consistently evolves to define communities and to set them apart from another. Think of how hip-hop, l33tspeak, and text messaging are all ways of defining subcultures in Western society, just as the use of Latin set scholars and clergy apart in earlier centuries.

In the modern business world, a major in communications teaches you to combine a convincing argument with the appropriate medium to effectively deliver your message. It's the modern marriage of theory and application.

The information industry is present in all parts of society and employs, in one way or another, 50% of American workers. The highest percentages are seen in the medical and public relations fields.

This is a great career choice for you if:

  • You have an innate desire to understand and synthesize what you hear into a message you or someone else can use
  • You have strong verbal and writing skills
  • You display a caring, helpful attitude; a desire to teach or inform; and a never-ending curiosity about what's going on around you

Career Education in Communications

A communication major focuses on much of the same coursework as public relations, advertising, journalism, corporate training, marketing, and business management. It's a generalist path with a wide-ranging curriculum that can be tailored to work in a variety of specific industries.

The business community is increasingly demanding a formal liberal arts/communications background for its professional candidates, rather than hiring staff from within. In some cases, an English degree is acceptable in this field since it encompasses a thorough knowledge and understanding of language and communicative arts.

Courses in economics, finance, management, marketing, and sociology can round out your communication studies and help with your entry to or advancement in the workforce. An introduction to specific fields such as engineering, computers, and biotechnology can also be important if you're looking at a career within one of these industries. Familiarity and some expertise with modern media can also be crucial. You'll need to know web design and appropriate language rules if you'll be communicating to your audience via a company webpage. If you'll be working with the media, you should understand the technical aspects of radio, television, or digital imaging.

Find Colleges

Associate Degrees in Communication

You can start your education in communications with an Associate in Applied Science - Communication Arts. This will help prepare you for core courses in liberal arts and sciences, combined with courses to develop your critical thinking and communications skills.

Bachelor's Degrees in Communications

An online bachelor's degree in communication can be taken as an interdisciplinary program or as a major in its own right, with specializations in business communication, journalism, speech communication, or technical communication across digital, written, and visual platforms. You'll learn basic communication skills like how to produce and distribute messages, and you can specialize in organizational or mass communications, corporate leadership, management, or strategic communications.

Online Communications Degrees

Constantly evolving technical advances have opened up the playing field for communications majors--not just in terms of their careers but for their studies as well. Online college classes in communications allow working professionals to get the training they need without commuting to a campus, and are becoming increasingly popular at all educational levels.

Matching School Ads

Learn more about online communications degree programs offered at these universities:

University of Phoenix, Walden University, & Ashford University

What Can You Do With a College Major in Communications?

The career choices for communications professionals are incredibly diverse-- every business, sector and industry needs effective communication to succeed. Over $1 billion is spent annually on employee and membership communications, and even more goes toward external communications.

A communications specialist can work in human resources, advertising, publications, research and development, sales and marketing, and training departments. She or he can do contract work as a freelancer, work for a consulting or public relations firm, in the Foreign Service, in all three branches of government, in labor unions, non-profit organizations, in the medical services field, and at colleges, universities, technical and vocational schools.

For a communications career, you should have a natural curiosity and creativity, because you'll constantly be seeking accurate information and adapting it for different audiences. As a technical writer, for example, you'll combine your communications courses with industry-specific classes to learn the processes and terminology of the field you want to enter. If you're working for an engineering firm, then you'll need to talk like an engineer for employee memoranda and newsletters. You'll need to take these terms and translate them like a financial analyst for the Annual Report and shareholders' meetings, and you may need to soften the language and focus on the environmental safeguards for media releases.

Jobs in corporate communications are expected to grow faster than average; growth for non-management public relations professionals will hold steady. Job competition is strong, with preference given to candidates with industry-specific knowledge, communications training, and appropriate internship or volunteer experience.

A public relations specialist works on developing and maintaining a favorable image for an individual or organization. They work for consulting firms or large corporations, doing research and compiling data, writing reports, news releases and promotional pieces, and coordinating special event and meeting opportunities for target groups. If there's a launch for a new product, the public relations person prepares and distributes the information for the media, coordinates the location and logistical aspects of the meeting, writes the speeches and briefs the executives on answering questions, and establishes themselves as the liaison for any further information. They plan for the worst-case scenario by having generic news releases ready for emergency distribution and by educating key personnel on the value of "no comment" until they've had a chance to assess the situation and decide how best to present the information and what information to give. They often specialize in a specific skill, such as crisis management, or industry, such as healthcare. A bachelor's degree is considered the minimum level of education and a master's is generally required for a public relations manager.

Along the same lines, a public information officer works in government communications to gather information and write media releases, speeches, and newsletters to inform the public about certain topics or events. They can also work for zoos, parks, or museums and can advance to higher profile positions by earning a master's degree in communications, journalism, or public relations.

A good publicist knows how to turn scandal into positive publicity. They work to gain coverage for their famous or not-so-famous clients. They might try to generate excitement about a new project a film star is involved in, to indirectly increase that star's earning potential through higher ticket sales. They can organize a merger launch that makes a hostile takeover look like a fabulous opportunity for growth and success. They can turn a long-fought labor dispute into a big-grin, hand-shaking photo opportunity.

A communications director will work with the executive director of a non-profit organization to promote the policies and goals of the group. They perform much of the same types of duties as a public information officer, but will focus more on ways to get the public involved with the organization as a way to develop a higher profile which indirectly increases funding, sponsorship, and opportunities to help more people.

Certification, Licensure and Associations

Relatively few advertising, marketing, and PR managers are currently certified, but the number of managers who seek professional recognition is expected to grow as the industry becomes more competitive. Comprehensive examinations and presentations of your successful projects can earn you professional accreditation with the Public Relations Society of America, the International Association of Business Communicators, or the Canadian Public Relations Society. The Society for Nonprofit Organizations may be a good networking outlet for communications directors.

Pursue your Business Major today…

Searching Searching ...

Matching School Ads
5 Program(s) Found
University of Phoenix , Online (campus option available)
  • Phoenix Career Services™ help students find careers that match their interests & map out a personalized career plan.
  • Mentorships & networking opportunities available through Alumni Association of 800,000+ graduates.
  • Flexible start date and class schedules.
  • 100+ locations and online options.
  • Offers special military rates and special advisors who have a military background.
  • Students can earn credits for applicable military training and education.
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
1 Program(s) Found
DeVry University , Long Beach
  • More than 90% of new graduates land jobs in their fields of study within six months of graduation
  • Campus locations feature admissions, financial aid and career services offices, libraries, study areas, computer and electronics labs, cafeterias and common areas, tutoring facilities, and more.
  • Centers are smaller, and are located throughout major metropolitan areas.
  • More than 85% of students receive financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants.
  • Degree programs are designed and updated regularly with input from industry leaders.
  • Offers support for financial aid and job placement
Show more [+]
  • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
  • In a 2013 survey, 83% of students said they would recommend the university to others.
  • Most degree-seeking online and campus-based students are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
  • Average class sizes is 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
  • Founded in 1937 in Davenport, Iowa as the American Institute of Commerce (AIC).
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
5 Program(s) Found
  • According to a Walden-sponsored study, 88.2% of graduates are very satisfied or satisfied with their education and more than 85% of students are likely or very likely to recommend the school to others.
  • In that same study, 88% of graduates said their education helped them enhance their professional performance.
  • Students can save 15% on tuition over the lifetime of their program if they are active-duty military, a veteran, or an employee of the Veteran’s Administration.
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
1 Program(s) Found
  • Ranked among the Best National Universities in 2014 by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Attracts nearly $100 million annually in sponsored research, allowing students to gain valuable hands-on experience.
  • Student to faculty ratio is 14:1, with 900 dedicated faculty members and an average class size of 27.
  • Campus employs many green and sustainable initiatives, including one of the largest food-scrap composting programs in the nation. 
  • Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association (NCA).
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
1 Program(s) Found
  • Now part of the Sanford-Brown network of schools.
  • Degree programs are developed to address current and expected needs of the design, fashion, and media arts and technology industries.
  • Many programs let students combine classes on campus with online courses.
  • Has a Career Services department that offers career development strategy, résumé and cover letter assistance, and more.
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
1 Program(s) Found
  • Recognized in the first Best for Vets: Business Schools list in Military Times Edge magazine’s 2013 “Best for Vets” edition.
  • Offers MUSE (My Unique Student Experience), a content delivery system that gives students the option to watch, view, read or listen to required course materials.
  • Allows students to complete courses at whatever pace they want.
  • A DANTES-affiliated university and member of the Service Members Opportunity Colleges.
  • Offers IntelliPath, a proprietary learning technology that lets students learn at their own pace.
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses