Communications Degree: Requirements & Career Prospects

Communications Degree: Requirements & Career Prospects
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Effective communication is an important tool for any operation, from startups to large-scale organizations. Getting the point across is important in ensuring business processes are running smoothly. From internal communications to mass media, human interaction is vital in any industry.

Therefore, communication experts are in demand, especially in the modern world. They possess a wide range of skills, from crafting the right messages to developing communication channels. Students who are considering a career in communications can expect to work in marketing, sales, corporate communications, and media. They can also consider working in product development, writing, training, customer service, and more. Even for those in other career paths, excellent communication skills provide key advantages against competitions.

This article takes a closer look at the discipline and what students should expect when they consider a degree in communication. It will explore various paths in education and training, including popular post-graduate accreditations. At the end of the article, readers should have a solid idea of whether a career in communication is right for them.

What is a Communications Degree? Table of Contents

  1. What is a Communications Degree?
  2. Why Pursue a Communications Degree?
  3. Key Considerations in Pursuing a Communications Degree
  4. What Can You Do With a Communications Degree?
  5. Top Universities and Colleges for a Communications Degree
  6. Top Communication Certifications and Accreditations to Consider

What is a Communications Degree?

A communications degree is developed to teach effective communication and how it applies to industries such as business, media, and law, among others. It can be considered as an interdisciplinary program as it involves coursework in marketing, advertising, journalism, public relations, and more. Aside from communications-related courses, it also involves training in the liberal arts covering sociology, political science, and psychology.

Moreover, this includes studies in the application of communication in business processes, human interactions, and mass dissemination of information. A part of that training also involves honing analytical skills, writing, speaking, and more. Some programs may also include contemporary topics, such as the role of communication in a technology-driven world. These are among the reasons why, despite job market uncertainty, earning a major in communication remains a popular choice among undergraduates (Hoag et al., 2017).

It is important to note, however, that a communications degree is vastly different from a degree in electronics and communications engineering (ECE). The latter focuses on the design, conceptualization, development, and implementation of computer, electronic, and communication systems, products, processes, and services. ECE programs are typically composed of mathematics, engineering, computer science, and physics.

Bachelor of Arts vs. Bachelor of Sciences

Depending on the educational institution, a communications degree may be available under bachelor of arts or bachelor of sciences. The degree concentration typically determines whether a communications degree is offered in B.S. or B.A. While most, if not all, degree programs include core communication courses, they eventually differ in advanced topics.

But, what is the difference between a B.A. and a B.S.?

Bachelor of Arts in Communication

Many communications degrees are offered as a bachelor of arts. Students are required to take various liberal arts subjects on top of the core communication courses. They usually have to fulfill requirements in literature, history, social sciences, humanities, and foreign languages.

Some colleges and universities allow students to choose their subjects of interest and develop their curriculum to promote holistic learning. However, these usually require fewer credits than a B.S. degree.

For example, a B.A. in Communications concentrating on journalism develops a student’s writing, editing, and production abilities. Furthermore, they also study various fields such as investigative journalism, digital publishing, legal communications, media ethics, social media, and others.

Bachelor of Sciences in Communication

A bachelor of science in communication is a more specialized degree compared to a B.A. program. It typically requires more credits as it involves a more in-depth study of a major or a degree concentration. Unlike a B.A. degree, students have fewer opportunities to take classes outside their degree concentration as they typically take advanced training on specific subjects and skills.

A B.S. degree usually focuses on scientific or technical topics. For example, a B.S. in Communication concentrating on technical and science communication prepares students in topics, such as technical writing for hardware or software products, grant and proposal writing, and technical content design. It may also include communication research in medicine, science, engineering, and other related fields.

Types of Communication Degrees

There are various areas that communication majors can specialize in. Some of the most popular degree concentrations include:

  • Broadcasting/Television/Radio – Communication programs focusing on broadcasting prepare students for a career on T.V. and radio. Most of the classes are hands-on such as broadcast news, production, programming, web content broadcasting, and more. It may also include directing, hosting, and other similar skills.
  • Journalism – This specialization often focuses on writing and researching in the field of journalism. Classes may include writing for various media (T.V., radio, or print media), reporting, social media, electronic media, ethical writing, and more. Some institutions have their own journalism schools that provide more in-depth studies, including theoretical studies and research.
  • Advertising and Marketing – Students with an interest in communication and business should consider a specialization in marketing or advertising. Courses include training in advertising for businesses, organizations, products, and more. It may also include creative topics such as product development, media communication, and others.
  • Public Relations/Organizational Communication – Public relations is the discipline of managing communication between an organization and the public. This concentration combines theoretical and practical studies. Public relations and organizational communication are both essential to how businesses communicate internally and externally. As such, classes may include writing, editing, publication, outreach, image development, or related subjects.

Why Pursue a Communications Degree?

So, what skills do you need to thrive in a communications-related career path? Do industries need communications experts? Is it worth pursuing a communications major? This section will list these factors down as well as discuss some of the reasons why you should pursue a communications degree.

Skills Suited to a Major in Communications

While skills can be trained during classes, interest in developing these skills is essential in order to succeed when majoring in communications. Just like any discipline, it requires a wide range of abilities. Some of the skills that you should have or are willing to develop if you are interested in a communications degree are as follows:

  1. Qualitative and quantitative research skills – Communications involve strategic planning, research, and data analysis. This means, qualitative and quantitative research are essential core skills in order to take advanced courses in the program. These abilities will also allow you to adapt to various roles in many industries, from media to advertising.
  2. Speaking skills – Human interaction is also essential to communication. As such, speaking skills are necessary to engage other people. Communication majors develop their speaking skills, which range from one-on-one engagement to speaking in front of an audience.
  3. Writing skills – Aside from speaking, writing is another essential communication skill honed in this industry. Depending on the career path, students learn how to write for various purposes, from journalism to technical writing.
  4. Interest in media or marketing – Communication majors also learn about different communication channels and different forms of media. They are also trained on how to apply various communication concepts and skills to different industries.

Communication is Valuable in Any Industry

Soft skills are generally overlooked. However, communication is deeply integrated into most, if not all, industries. LinkedIn lists people management, collaboration, and persuasion as some of the most important skills that employees need to be successful (Ruggeri, 2019). These soft skills are all rooted in effective communication.

Companies and organizations deal with emails, meetings, interviews, and phone calls on a daily basis. As such, they need an expert in internal communications to facilitate a seamless flow of information to the different parts of the business. Making sure that people and teams communicate effectively ensures productivity, and lessens miscommunication (Clampitt & Downs, 1993). Research shows that formal communication programs with formal channels are linked to the productivity of the employees (Litterst & Eyo, 1982).

Furthermore, the same organizations also need advertising, marketing, and media relations. These various forms of external communications are needed to disseminate information to potential customers, spread news, and even influence the public’s perception. Communication experts design strategies and delivery methods in order to maximize the effectiveness of human engagement (Saunders, 1999).

For example, the entire field of corporate communication focuses on the development of corporate identity and image (Riel & Fombrun, 2007). It combines internal and external communications to create and maintain the company’s positive reputation. Communication experts research and strategize the messages that the organization delivers to its members and the public. They also need to ensure that the implementation of the communication campaigns aligns with the reputation of the company (Foreman & Argenti, 2005).

Source: Gatehouse

Key Considerations in Pursuing a Communications Degree

Now that you have made up your mind about taking a communications degree, you will need to know important details, such as various requirements, length of degree programs, and financial costs. Furthermore, if you are interested in pursuing further studies after the undergraduate program, the master’s and doctorate degrees have specific requirements as well.

Results of the 2018 Survey of Journalism and Mass Communication Enrollments indicate that enrollments in both undergraduate and master’s degrees in journalism and mass communications continued to be relatively steady over the 2015-2018 period; however, PhD enrollments experienced significant decline over the same period (McLaughlin et al., 2020).

Colleges and universities in different countries have their own requirements for applicants. However, you are expected to fulfill the following requisites or their equivalence in your country or state:

Undergraduate Degree – Typically, there are no degree-specific requirements when applying for an undergraduate degree in communication. However, educational institutions have specific admission requirements, such as:

  • Completion of secondary education (or its equivalence).
  • A minimum GPA of 2.5 (or its equivalence in your country’s grading system).
  • Minimum scores in English proficiency exams, such as TOEFL and IELTS (required for foreign students from non-English speaking countries).
  • Minimum scores in college admission exams such as the ACT and SAT.
  • Core writing or speaking courses are taken during the freshman year.

Master’s Degree – Higher education in communications means more advanced and focused learning. As such, colleges have degree-specific requirements, including:

  • A relevant bachelor’s degree.
  • A minimum GPA of 3.0. Some schools accept a minimum GPA of 2.5 (or its equivalence in your country’s grading system).
  • Proof of academic research and/or writing, such as an undergraduate thesis.
  • A personal essay or statement that covers topics such as academic background, academic and professional goals, and more.
  • Some institutions require a minimum Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) score to measure aptitude. 
  • Minimum scores in English proficiency exams such as TOEFL and IELTS (required for foreign students from non-English speaking countries).
  • Resume as proof of work experience (required in career advancement programs such as P.R., advertising, or marketing).

Doctoral Degree – If you want to further specialize and conduct original research, then a PhD is a great opportunity to do so. It is also suitable if you are interested in a career in academics such as teaching or research. As such, schools have strict requirements for doctoral degree applicants, such as:

  • A completed (or in the process of completing) relevant master’s degree.
  • Completed graduate-level research such as thesis as proof of academic writing and research.
  • Statement of purpose or an essay.
  • Proven professional experience in the field.
  • Minimum GPA of 3.5 (some colleges accept a minimum GPA of 3.0).
  • Recommendation from past professors, advisers, or supervisors.
  • Some institutions require a minimum Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) score to measure aptitude. 
  • Minimum scores in English proficiency exams such as TOEFL and IELTS (required for foreign students from non-English speaking countries).
  • Some educational institutions will require PhD applicants to attend an interview with the program director or admissions committee.

Cost of Communications Degree

The cost of a communications degree varies depending on location and institution. However, in this article, we will assume the cost in the United States. Make sure to check the current financial cost and aid in your college or university of interest.

Additionally, some institutions offer on-campus, off-campus, or online programs. These can affect the costs of the course credits per semester. It is also good to note that some programs are offered in both full-time or part-time capacity. These are great if you are planning to work while studying. Financial aids and scholarships are also available for students in need.

To give you an estimate, a communications degree costs about $24,000 per year in the United States in 2016 (Hoffman, 2000). Public schools offer lower tuition fees between $5,000 to $20,000 a year for state residents. Out-of-state residents usually pay between $15,000 to $35,000. Additionally, private schools have higher fees, which can be anywhere from $20,000 to $45,000. Graduate school fees vary even more based on the institution, specialization, and minimum credit requirements per semester.

Source: Data USA

Length of Communications Degree

Just like most undergraduate degrees, a communications degree often takes four years to complete. However, different factors impact the length of completion, such as internship, curriculum, program type, and more. Some colleges also offer flexibility in terms of the minimum credits required every semester.

Off-campus and online programs offer even greater flexibility. Students who are also working prefer these institutions as they have the freedom to adjust their schedule every semester. Some may even provide opportunities to graduate faster if relevant professional experience can be presented.

What Can You Do With a Communications Degree?

While communication experts are usually underappreciated, most industries require their experience and skills. After all, emerging technologies are changing how people and businesses communicate.

There may be needs in various industries, but are there roles available to communications majors? What awaits graduates of communications after their education? You may ask yourself, “what can I do with a communications degree?”

Having a communications degree is definitely advantageous for different career paths. A communications degree is increasingly becoming valuable, especially in today’s interconnected world. Some of the most popular career options for communications graduates are as follows:

Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations

Public relations, advertising, and marketing are popular industries for communications experts to get into. The increasing demand for services from these industries ensures continuous growth. For example, global spending on marketing services in 2018 alone reached $457.62 billion.

Source: GroupM

In recent years, specialization communication courses like advertising and public relations continued to achieve growth and demand worldwide. This is due to factors such as the transforming media environment, emergence of non-traditional students, increasingly competitive job market, and the overall changes in the global economy (Quesenberry et al., 2015). Their expertise in both traditional and new communications are valuable in advertising and marketing campaigns, social media, print, T.V., and more.

Communications professionals develop campaigns, craft messages and brands, research new methods, and plan strategies. They are involved in various steps, from planning to implementation. Some of the most popular positions in these industries are:

  • Writers ($50,000/year)
  • Public relations specialists ($45,000/year)
  • Advertising experts ($52,000/year)
  • Marketing specialists ($54,000/year)
  • Graphic designers ($45,600/year)
  • Media buyers ($46,800/year)
  • Promotion experts ($39,500/year)

Media, Journalism, and Broadcasting

Another popular option for communications graduates is a career in media, journalism, or broadcasting. Their expertise in research, writing, and analysis are essential in producing shows, crafting broadcast news, and developing pieces for printed media. 

Furthermore, their understanding of various forms of media and information makes them suitable for journalism. They are tasked to craft stories from events, opinions, and other human interests while maintaining ethics and professionalism. The most popular jobs in these industries include:

  • Writers and copywriters ($58,400/year)
  • Editors ($52,100/year)
  • Broadcasters ($49,400/year)
  • Investigative analysts ($41,700/year)
  • T.V. and radio announcers ($37,400/year)
  • Journalists ($44,400/year)
  • Producers ($64,300/year)

Business and Industrial Relations

Some graduates prefer entering the corporate world and focus on business and organizational communications. They formulate communication strategies that align with their organization’s goals. As such, they can be found working in internal and/or external communications. 

Aside from their communication skills, their experience in social science, psychology, and business are important in mediation, presentation, and negotiation. Some of the most popular positions are:

  • Communications managers ($65,100/year)
  • Mediators and negotiators ($61,000/year)
  • Sales executives ($55,700/year)
  • Labor relations experts ($78,200/year)
  • Internal communication managers ($65,100/year)
  • Marketing and external relations specialists ($49,100/year)

Politics, Government, and NGOs

Communication experts also serve important roles in public administration through various government offices and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Politics require expertise in communicating with the public while maintaining a certain image and reputation. As such, graduates of communications programs are vital to such projects and campaigns as they understand the subtleties of public engagement. 

Communications experts can develop messages to voters and constituents, launch campaigns for projects, and engage with various groups of people with diverse backgrounds. Some of the positions that you can fulfill in these industries are:

  • Public servants ($108,500/year)
  • Campaign managers ($53,400/year)
  • Lobbyists ($77,900)
  • Press secretaries ($60,200/year)
  • Community relations specialists ($49,100/year)
  • Speechwriters ($91,400/year)

Top Universities and Colleges for a Communications Degree

While your overall success depends on your skills and diligence, studying in one of the leading schools in communications can provide the necessary advantage, especially if you are planning to enter a competitive industry.

The Quacquarelli Symonds (Q.S.) World University Rankings has compiled the best schools in communications and media studies. The ranking is based on several indicators, including employer reputation, research impact, and academic reputation, among others.

The top universities in the world combine these indicators to create holistic curricula, great internship opportunities, and world-class research initiatives. For example, the University of Amsterdam, the top in the world, hires esteemed researchers as lecturers and offers a broad range of topics, such as Corporate Communication, Persuasive Communication, and Political Communication. On the other hand, the University of Southern California’s students intern in the biggest organizations such as 20th Century Fox, CBS Television Distribution, Freedom Writers Foundation, and more. Lastly, The London School of Economics and Political Science conduct research used by large corporations, such as Facebook, Google, Gates Foundation, UNESCO, and UNICEF, among others. The top 1o colleges and universities around the world in communications and media are as follows:

Source: Quacquarelli Symonds Limited

Top Communication Certifications and Accreditations to Consider

If you desire to start your career in communications right after graduation, you can consider taking certifications and accreditations. These are also available to those who graduated from other degree programs or those with experience in different disciplines. Preparing for certifications often requires training in specific topics and specializations. Consequently, accreditations provide an advantage as these often represent expertise in specific areas.

There are many certifications and accreditations available to communications majors. Some of the most popular certifications and accreditations for communications graduates include:

  • Accreditation in Public Relations – Sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America, this accreditation is available to P.R. professionals with five or more years of experience in the industry (recommended). They should possess an undergraduate degree or higher. Applicants will undergo various tests and interviews to evaluate their experience and skills. The certification, once granted, is retained for life.
  • Business Communication Certification – A business-centric certification is available in many educational institutions, both on-campus and online. It is composed of several graduate credits that include courses in business communication (writing and speaking), applied communication methods (i.e., conflict management, briefings, etc.), and techniques in public speaking. A minimum grade average and length of completion are often required to earn the certification.
  • Digital Communication Certification – Just like business communication certification, this is earned by finishing various graduate-level courses with a minimum grade average. Most programs are designed for managers or senior-level professionals. Training and classes focus on communication in an advanced technical landscape, which includes social media, branding, and content strategy. It also includes learning various digital tools, web technologies, digital content, and more.
  • Teaching Certification – Aside from standalone programs, teaching certifications are also offered alongside undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Education courses are included in the core curriculum. Such offerings aim to train students and professionals for a career in the academe and training focusing on communications.
  • Content Marketing Certification – Content marketing is one of the newer programs brought about by changes and innovations in digital content and related technologies. Some do not require students to possess bachelor’s degrees. Other institutions do not even require experience in the field. Courses and training include development, strategies, and research of various digital content. Furthermore, students will learn how to use tools in measuring the performance of content. It combines the creative and analytic parts of content creation and marketing. 

Is a Communications Degree Right For You?

A communications degree is one of the most valuable disciplines right now. Most industries require experts to facilitate effective communication. Additionally, skills in communication provide an advantage to any career. Majoring in communications also serves as a gateway to various fields of studies due to its interdisciplinary nature. Students can specialize in broadcasting, advertising and marketing, journalism, public relations, and organizational communications, among others.

A career in communications is equally exciting. Graduates have the option to enter various industries, such as business, corporate relations, media, T.V., radio, and broadcasting. Of course, they are also in demand in public relations, marketing, and advertising. Some even use their skills to enter politics, governance, and other roles in government offices.

Just like any discipline, you should conduct in-depth research about possible degree programs, accreditations, and certifications in communications. Make sure that you know the tuition fee and other costs, including potential scholarships and financial aids. Furthermore, explore the length of the programs and if they allow study-work arrangements. This will also help you to decide whether an on-campus or an online set-up suits your schedule.

References:

  1. Clampitt, P. G., & Downs, C. W. (1993). Employee perceptions of the relationship between communication and productivity: A field study. Journal of Business Communication, (1), 5-28. https://doi.org/10.1177/002194369303000101
  2. Foreman, J., & Argenti, P. A. (2005). How corporate communication influences strategy implementation, reputation, and the corporate brand: An exploratory qualitative study. Corporate Reputation Review, (3), 245-264. https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.crr.1540253
  3. Hoag, A., Grant, A.E.,  & Carpenter, S. (2017). Impact of media on major choice: Survey of communication undergraduates. NACADA Journal, 37 (1), 5–14. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-15-040
  4. Hoffman, C. M. (2000). Digest of Education Statistics. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
  5. Litterst, J. K., & Eyo, B. (1982). Gauging the effectiveness of formal communication programs: A search for the communication- productivity link. Journal of Business Communication, 19 (2), 15-26. https://doi.org/10.1177/002194368201900202
  6. McLaughlin, B., Gotlieb, M.R., & Cummins, R.G. (2020). 2018 survey of journalism & mass communication enrollments. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 75 (1), 131-143. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077695819900724
  7. Quesenberry, K.A., Coolsen, M.K., & Wilkerson, K. (2015). Current trends in communication graduate degrees: Survey of communications, advertising, PR, and IMC graduate programs. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 70 (4), 407-427. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077695815621735
  8. Ruggeri, A. (2019, April 2). Why ‘worthless’ humanities degrees may set you up for life. BBC.
  9. Saunders, M., Ph.D. (1999). Linking external communication & organizational effectiveness. Organizational Development Journal, 17 (4), 35-40. Google Scholar
  10. Van Riel, C. B. M., & Fombrun, C. J. (2007). Essentials of corporate communication: Implementing practices for effective reputation management. Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge.

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