What Does it Mean to Study Communications?
A business degree in communications is structured to teach you how to craft a convincing argument in the best medium to effectively deliver your message. It's a modern marriage of theory and application, and it is useful in just about any business setting.
If you're considering a communications degree, it helps to have an innate desire to understand and synthesize what you know into a message someone else can use. It also helps to have strong verbal and writing skills, along with a helpful, caring attitude and never-ending curiosity about the world.
Before you choose to major in communications, it's crucial to understand the degree types available, what type of commitment they require, and the career options you could pursue after graduation. Fortunately, that's what we're here for.
Types of Communications Degrees
A communication major's coursework is similar to that taken by students of public relations, advertising, journalism, marketing or business management. It's a wide-ranging generalist path that can be tailored to work in a variety of specific industries.
One of the many perks of this subject is how easily its programs translate to online or distance learning. The same communications courses available in brick-and-mortar schools are commonly offered by online colleges with few alterations, making distance education in this field not just possible, but accessible.
Before you dive in as a communications major, you should know a little about the curriculum that awaits you. Here are the various degree levels for communications:
Associate Degrees in Communication
An associate degree program in communications is meant to encompass a basic education in this important field, both via theory and application. During these programs, students are generally exposed to a wide range of communication concepts, such as the role of media in our society and how to resolve interpersonal conflicts. An associate degree can also help you develop the verbal and listening skills that careers in this field utilize.
In addition to core courses in English and math, an associate program in communication requires courses in subjects such as:
- Basics of economics
- Introduction to sociology
- Introduction to marketing
- Management theory
- Media studies
Bachelor's Degrees in Communications
A bachelor's degree program is meant to help cultivate your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. More specifically, an online bachelor's in communication degree program is meant to build upon the core information you learned during your first two years as a communications major, improving your different contact strategies in a variety of organizational and social settings.
As a student in one of these programs, you will likely want to focus on learning how to successfully exchange ideas while understanding and connecting with those around you. In addition to core courses in communication, communication practice and communication theory, you should also expect to take courses such as:
- Organizational communication
- Intercultural communication
- Media and society
- Ethics and communication
- Communication law
Master's Degrees in Communications
If your goal is moving into the highest tiers of the communication industry, a master's degree may be required. This degree type can show you how to apply critical thinking and verbal communication to a wide range of business and organizational settings in order to create the outcomes you -- or your business -- desire.
Being an advanced program, a master's degree program will also usually dive into a number of complicated topics related to its subject. In the case of communication, these topics might be crisis communication, effective social media communication, publication relations theory, professional writing or communication ethics, to name a few.
Some of the graduate-level courses commonly found in a communications degree program include:
- Global strategic communication
- Strategic communication and fundraising
- Strategic public relations
- Health care communication
- Persuasive communication
Ph.D.s in Communications
Students who want to understand communication theory inside and out, perhaps in order to study this important field in a research setting, may want to consider an online Ph.D. in communication. This revered degree program helps students dig beneath the surface of communications, with the ultimate goal of fully and deeply understanding the assertions and concepts that drive communication theory.
Not only do students study both humanities and social science traditions in this program, but they are expected to learn how to apply communication theory and rhetoric across many different settings, working to help us all understand the world and the motivations of people far and wide a little bit better.
Students who choose this educational path must typically have a master's degree in communications or a related field first. Courses pursued during a Ph.D. program can include:
- Cultural studies
- Social change and media
What Can You Do With a Degree in Communications?
The career choices for communications professionals are incredibly diverse, mostly because so many industries rely on these workers to get their message across effectively to the media, the public and their other business interests.
The following careers could be well worth considering for graduates, depending on the degree level earned during college.
To be successful in a communications career, you should have an interest in procuring accurate information and adapting it for different audiences. As a technical writer, you can combine your communications education with industry-specific courses to learn the terminology of the field you want to enter, then rewrite those terms in different ways to connect with different groups of people.
If you're working for an engineering firm, for example, then you'll want to talk like an engineer for employee memoranda and newsletters. However, later you may need to take these terms and rephrase them like a financial analyst for the Annual Report and shareholders' meetings, or to soften the language and focus on the environmental safeguards for media releases.
- To enter the job market as a technical writer, you will likely need a bachelor's degree in English, journalism or communications.
- The Society for Technical Communication offers certification for technical writers, although certification is not mandatory.
Public Relations Specialist
A public relations specialist works on developing and maintaining a favorable image for an individual or organization, often for consulting firms or large corporations. Their work starts by doing research and compiling data; using that data, they then write up reports, news releases and promotional pieces, or coordinate special event and meeting opportunities for target groups. If there's a launch for a new product, the public relations specialist 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.
Public relations specialists typically specialize in a specific skill -- such as crisis management -- or industry -- such as health care.
- A bachelor's degree is considered the minimum level of education for this career, and a master's is generally required.
- Certification is not required in this field.
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers
These professionals plan, direct and coordinate a wide range of activities that help maintain a favorable public image for their organization or client. In some cases, they may create campaigns to raise public awareness of specific issues, usually with the goal of raising funds for special projects or nonprofit organizations.
Because of the high level of communication skill required to work with both the public and fundraising efforts, public relations and fundraising managers should become experts in sales and marketing, customer service, communications and media, and the English language. Social perceptiveness, listening skills and reading comprehension are also good qualities to have for anyone considering this career.
- A bachelor's degree is the typical requirement for entry-level work in this field, although many professionals in this field also have a master's degree.
- Public relations managers can become certified through the Public Relations Society of America, although it is not typically required or expected. The International Association of Business Communicators also offers credentials in this field for people who want to display their advanced level of expertise.
A good publicist knows that it really is all about how you look at things. These professionals work to gain coverage for clients big and small, spreading brand awareness and preserving reputation. They might try to provoke excitement about a new actor's recent movie, thereby generating higher ticket revenue and increasing that actor's fame and career opportunities. Or they might organize a merger launch that makes a desperately floundering company look like a hotbed of growth and progress, thereby soothing clients into supporting that company and saving it from bankruptcy.
- Typically, publicists start their careers in public relations.
- A bachelor's degree is the typical starting point for entry into this field. Employers prefer candidates with a communications degree or a degree in English, business or journalism. Certification isn't required for this career.
Communications Salaries and Career Outlook
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Public Relations and Fundraising Managers||79,160||$132,630||N/A|
|Public Relations and Fundraising Managers||79,160||$132,630||7.8%|
|Public Relations Specialists||244,730||$70,190||6.4%|
Communications Associations and Organizations
Individuals who want to increase their job prospects or specialize in a specific area of communications may want to seek out advanced certification. Associations and organizations that offer these types of opportunities include:
- Public Relations Society of America — The Public Relations Society of America offers a wide range of resources along with opportunities for professional development. They also offer the opportunity to earn Accreditation in Public Relations (APR), which can help you stand out among your peers.
- International Association of Business Communicators — This association maintains a plethora of resources for those in communications and business, as well as professional development webinars and guides. The International Association of Business Communicators also offers certification opportunities for professionals in this field.
- Society for Technical Communication — The Society for Technical Communication features a three-tiered professional certification that lets you become certified as a foundational member, practitioner, or expert. They also offer resources, summits, and networking opportunities.
- Global Communication Certification Council — This council offers access to professional certifications that can help communications majors improve their job prospects and solidify their expertise in their respective fields. A Communication Management Professional (CMP) certification and a Strategic Communication Management Professional (SCMP) certification can both be earned through this council.
- Bachelor of Science in Communication, University of Phoenix, http://www.phoenix.edu/programs/degree-programs/arts-and-sciences/bachelors/bs-com.html
- Communications Study Associate Degree, Colorado Christian University, http://www.ccu.edu/ccu/communicationstudies/associate/
- Doctorate in Communication, Culture, and Media, http://drexel.edu/coas/academics/graduate-programs/communication-culture-media/doctorate/
- Online Master of Science in Communication, Purdue University, https://online.purdue.edu/comm/masters-in-communication
- Public Relations and Fundraising Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/public-relations-managers.htm#tab-1
- Public Relations Specialists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/public-relations-specialists.htm Technical Writers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/technical-writers.htm