A communications degree has the potential to apply to almost any subject, discipline or professional setting. From interpersonal relations and professional interactions to mass media and social engagement, communications is the study of the rules, signs, and social structures used to convey and receive meaning.
That’s pretty universal stuff when you think about it. From traditional forms of verbal, physical, and written communication to more complex concepts like internal group dynamics, mass communication and social media, the field of communications intersects with the fields of psychology, sociology, linguistics and even politics. This means that a communications degree can lead to a wide range of career options.
A communications degree focuses on effective communication through a variety of means, including print, web, social media, mass media, and the spoken word. There are many types of communications degrees, at every degree level and with a number of specializations available like political communication, health communication, mass media, journalism, and more. A communications degree touches on a variety of relatable, intellectually stimulating, and enjoyable subjects, including news journalism, entertainment production, marketing, event planning and many other fields that revolve around transmitting, sharing, or exchanging ideas.
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor in order for its students to receive federal financial aid.
For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?
- What is Regional Accreditation?
- Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
- The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies
- Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
- The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
- What Is National Accreditation?
- National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency-based education, or other education models that operate under a for-profit model.
To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.
For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.
- What is Programmatic Accreditation?
- Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the website for any of the above accreditation agencies. Each provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs. You can also take a look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.
Or, to learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
What Types of Communication Degrees Are There?
Associate Degree in Communications
The program for an associate degree in communications will typically require you to complete 60 credit hours, or roughly the equivalent of two years of coursework. You’ll learn how to hone both your writing and speaking skills while learning the leading communication theories, the history of mass media, and some of the technical skills required to work in the field. This is an excellent way to get started if you’re hoping to ultimately move into a four-year program, but it can also be a direct pathway into an entry-level position. For instance, pursuing a communications degree at a community college can prepare you for work as a broadcast technician, a production assistant, or as a copy-editor for a marketing firm.
What Courses Will I Take in an Associate Program
- Basic Composition
- Digital Media
- Intro to Public Relations
- Introduction to Mass Communications
- Public Speaking
Bachelor of Communications
The bachelor’s degree in communications is the standard degree for those seeking a profession in media, broadcasting, marketing, journalism, or public relations. This four-year degree—typically requiring 120 credit hours—is among the more popular liberal arts degrees, both because of the subject matter and because it can serve as an entryway to a wide spectrum of professional possibilities. In addition to introductory-level education in the leading theories, history, and technical dimensions of communication, a four-year communications degree offers you the opportunity to study more sophisticated subjects like interpersonal relations, brand management, and linguistics. You should also be prepared to spend a lot of time working on both your written and verbal communication skills.
What Courses Will I Take in a Bachelor’s Program
- Business Communication
- Current Issues in Journalism
- Media Ethics
- New Media Technologies
- Organizational Communications
- Public Relationships Campaign Planning
- Social Issues in Communication
- Technical Writing
What’s the Difference Between a BA and a BS in Communications?
At the bachelor’s level, there are two types of communication degrees. The bachelor of arts (BA) in communications is the standard degree for most students seeking a career that involves writing, marketing, promotions, journalism, or public relations. You’ll pursue an education in communication theory alongside a selection of humanities courses. The bachelor of science (BS) in communications focuses on the technology and science used in modern communication and might be the ideal path if you’re working toward a future in production, sound engineering, or as a broadcast technician.
Master of Communications
Because many career paths in communications are immediately accessible to those with a bachelor’s degree, the master’s degree is somewhat specialized. A master’s in communications degree is the program for you if you are still working to sharpen your technical writing and presentation skills, if you have a vested interest in conducting more intensive research in your field, or if you aspire to work with an educational mentor in a specific subject area. This is also a good option if you’re an aspiring media or communications educator as you may live in a state that requires a master’s degree just to sit for a teaching certification exam. The same is true if you hope to become a university professor in the field, in which case, you might also continue on to earn your doctorate.
Moreover, a degree from this two-year graduate program can help to strengthen your credentials as you enter the job market. That said, you should be sure that this is necessary for your chosen path before you dedicate the time and money to an advanced degree. In fields like journalism, public relations, or marketing, you might actually benefit more from entering directly into your field of work first. As you move up in your profession, find out if there are specific advanced degrees that might make you a candidate for promotion or increased salary. Some companies will even provide some tuition assistance if you’re willing to make a long-term commitment.
What Courses Will I Take in a Master’s Program?
- Communication Research Methods
- Digital Culture and Communication
- Leadership and Communication
- Marketing and Statistical Analysis
- Media, Policy and Politics
- Strategic Communication and Ethics
- Survey Design and Analysis in Communication
What’s the Difference Between a MA and an MS in Communications?
At the master’s level, there are two types of communication degrees. The master of arts (MA) in communications is the more popular advanced degree in the field and provides a continuing focus on the theoretical and applied use of communication in real-world settings. The master of science (MS) in communications provides a greater focus on scientific research methods relating to the design, analysis, and leveraging of statistical data in various aspects of communication as well as some of the technical dimensions of the technologies that drive modern communication. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in business communication, some MA programs may offer an MBA as part of a dual degree program. This opportunity will vary by school.
Ph.D. in Communications
As a doctoral-level student in communications, you’ll focus largely on conducting research and completing a dissertation in a specialized area of interest. Your goal as a Ph.D. student in communications is to create research that demonstrates your understanding of conventional wisdom while also adding some new insight to the field. You’ll work closely with a mentor as you develop this research. Completion of your Ph.D. in communications degree program will qualify you to instruct on your chosen area of specialization—be it mass media, journalism, public relations, etc.—at the university level. You would also be qualified to work for research institutes, think tanks, or advocacy groups dedicated to causes like journalistic freedom, brand/consumer relations, and privacy protection.
What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
A communications degree gives you a wide array of professional options, which means there is no specific professional license that you’ll need to practice your craft. That said, there are some cases where certification may be a necessary addition to your communications degree, or at the very least, could improve your knowledge, qualifications and appeal to employers.
If you’re working to become a broadcast technician, find out what certifications you might need to demonstrate your technical knowledge and experience. Today’s broadcast profession is deeply entwined with the rapid advancement of telecommunications, computing, and social media technologies. Operating a camera, a soundboard, or a database might require a very specific certification. You’ll need to inquire with your professors and professional contacts as you advance in your specific area of expertise.
If you plan to teach journalism, broadcasting, or other communications subjects in a public or higher education setting, you’ll need to sit for the state licensing exam in your state, which will require you to have earned at least a bachelor’s degree (a master’s degree in some states). If you are an education major, there’s a good chance you’ve completed a teacher certification program as part of your bachelor’s degree that allows you to sit for a licensing exam. If your undergraduate degree is in communications, you’ll probably need to complete an alternative teacher certification program first. Once this is complete, you will qualify to sit for the licensing exam in your state. Some states use a national exam like PRAXIS, while others employ their own licensing examination. We would advise visiting the Department of Education for your state to find out more.
Public Relations Certifications
Public relations is the perfect example of a field in which special licensing or certification is not necessarily required but could give you a leg up on the competition. The Public Relations Society of America, in addition to serving as the preeminent professional association for PR professionals, also confers the Accreditation in Public Relations on those who pass an examination testing competency in management, ethics, media relations, and other key skills. While this certification isn’t required to practice your profession, the credential could go a long way with employers or clients.
Whatever path you choose, before entering into a licensing or certification program, be sure that it is awarded by a reputable association or group. Most associations or groups will require you to complete an education program or workshop to earn your certification.
What Can You Do With a Communications Degree?
At this point, you’re probably asking, “What can I do with a communications degree?" Your communications degree can be the key to one of many challenging and exciting Media and Communications Careers. For more detail, check out a few of the top careers in your field:
- Art Directors
- Broadcast and Sound Engineering Technicians
- Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators
- Graphic Designers
- Interpreters and Translators
- Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts
- Technical Writers
- Writers and Authors
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Communications Degree?
Your earning potential with a college degree in communications will depend as much on your chosen path, ambition, and ability to stand out in your field as it will on your communications degree itself. Many of the fields connected with media and communications offer median salaries within a similar range of one another. Your potential for growth in this field will also depend on your own ingenuity and your ability to distinguish yourself from others once you are within your profession. Popular industries for communications work include film production, publishing, and marketing.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a quick look at the median salaries as of 2018 for some of the most popular career choices for those with a degree in communications. Here’s a sampling:
|Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts||$43,490|
|Broadcast and Sound Engineering Technicians||$43,660|
|Interpreters and Translators||$49,930|
|Film and Video Editors and Camera Operators||$58,990|
|Public Relations Specialists||$60,000|
|Writers and Authors||$62,170|
Are There Professional Communications Associations or Societies I Should Join?
As noted in the section above, your prospects in the field will depend on your ability to stand out from the crowd. One great way to do this is to constantly make and sustain personal connections. Communications is not just conceptually about how you interact with others. It’s also the most immediate practical component for advancing your career. Networking is a big part of this profession, whether you’ve channeled your skills into broadcasting, public relations, marketing, etc. Professional associations are a great way to create new networking opportunities. Look for communications associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration. Below are a few of the leading associations that you might consider joining:
- IEEE Professional Communication Society (IEEE)
- IEEE is “the trusted voice for engineering, computing, and technology information around the globe.” With more than 423,000 members in over 160 countries, the IEEE is the largest association concerned with education, standards, technology, research, and conferences relating to electronic communication.
- International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR)
- IAMCR is the preeminent worldwide professional organization in the field of media and communication research. Its focus is the promotion of global inclusiveness within “the best traditions of critical scholarship” in the fields of media and communications.
- International Communication Association (ICA)
- ICA is an academic association for scholars interested in the study, teaching, and application of all aspects of human and mediated communication. With more than 4,500 members in 80 countries, ICA has been officially associated with the United Nations as a non-governmental association (NGO) since 2003.
- National Communication Association (NCA)
- NCA is the largest national organization dedicated to communication and works to advance the discipline that studies all forms, modes, media, and consequences of communication through humanistic, social scientific, and aesthetic inquiry. NCA serves scholars, teachers, and practitioners by enabling and supporting their professional interests in research and teaching. Additional membership benefits include access to NCA’s 11 academic journals, its generous set of data resources, and its well-attended annual conference.
- Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
- PRSA is the nation’s largest community of public relations professionals as well as a resource where public relations and communication professionals can learn about current issues, news, popular topics, and effective strategies for leading the public relations industry.