What Is a Communication Degree?

by Genevieve Carlton
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Communication degrees teach students how to craft messages for the right audience at the right time.

What is a communication degree? Communication majors study journalism, mass communication, public relations (PR), and corporate communication. Technical communication courses train majors for careers as technical writers or internal communication specialists, while PR classes lead to more public-facing careers.

This guide covers different kinds of communication degrees, available career paths, and the earning potential for communication majors.

What Kinds of Communication Degrees Are There?

Colleges offer communication degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and each degree leads to different opportunities. For example, a bachelor's in communication meets the requirement for entry-level work as a PR specialist, while a master's degree helps communication professionals advance to supervisory and decision-making roles.

Within the broad field of communication, degree-seekers often focus on a specialty area, such as media communications, PR, or journalism. A generalist communication major often takes electives in all of these areas to build a strong interdisciplinary foundation.

Communication degrees strengthen interpersonal, writing, and research skills and learn to communicate in several styles and mediums. For example, communication majors study mass communication, corporate communication, and social media. The degree also requires strong critical thinking and analytical abilities.

Certificate Program in Communication

A certificate program in communication offers focused study on a niche area within the field. Offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, certificate programs typically take around one year to complete and include a tailored curriculum without general education requirements. Some accelerated programs only take a few months. Professionals can use certificates to move into new fields or advance in their current roles.

Within communication, students can pursue certificates in technical communication, business communication, social media marketing, and other focus areas. After completing certificates, professionals often move into roles as social media managers, technical writers, and internal communication specialists.

Associate Degree in Communication

An associate degree in communication introduces college students to core areas of communication, including public speaking, interpersonal communication, and mass communication. Other common courses include intercultural communication and communication law.

Learners also complete general education requirements in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences to strengthen their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Earning an associate degree generally takes two years. After completing the degree, graduates can work as administrative assistants, sales associates, and customer service representatives. They can also transfer into bachelor's programs to advance their education and qualify for more jobs.

Bachelor's Degree in Communication

A bachelor's degree in communication prepares graduates for entry-level roles in communication careers as writers, PR specialists, strategic communication specialists, and editors. Undergraduates take foundational courses in mass media, journalism, corporate communication, and PR. Many also specialize their degrees by focusing on mass communication, social media, or political communication.

Completing a bachelor's degree typically takes four years of full-time enrollment. Transfer students with prior college experience and those who choose accelerated programs may finish in less time.

What's the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science?

An undergrad can pursue either a bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS) degree in communication. Both degrees prepare graduates for careers in journalism, PR, marketing, and writing. However, the coursework and graduation requirements differ depending on the degree.

A BA typically includes additional arts, humanities, and social science coursework, and most BA programs also require foreign language credits. A BS program, in contrast, includes more social science, natural science, and mathematics general education requirements. Thanks to its focus on more analytical subjects, a BS may offer stronger preparation for research analyst careers.

Master's Degree in Communication

A master's degree in communication offers focused, graduate-level coursework in communication theory, PR, and communication leadership. Master's students often specialize their degrees by choosing specialty coursework in strategic communication, fundraising, crisis communication, or social media. Most master's programs also incorporate a master's exam or thesis.

Earning a master's degree generally takes two years for full-time students, although an accelerated program can shorten the length of the degree. With a master's degree, graduates can move into managerial positions as PR managers and fundraising managers.

What's the Difference Between a Master of Arts and a Master of Science?

Graduate students can often choose between master of arts (MA) and master of science (MS) degrees in communication. Some universities offer both degrees.

An MA and an MS largely overlap in curriculum and length. Some universities require a foreign language or thesis for their MA programs, while an MS typically includes more analytical courses. MA and MS degrees in communication typically take two years, and both degrees lead to careers in marketing, PR, journalism, and writing.

Doctoral Degree in Communication

A doctorate in communication provides advanced research and critical analytical training. During a doctoral program, communication graduate students specialize in focus areas such as mass media, journalism, or communication theory. After completing several years of coursework, doctoral students take comprehensive exams and write original dissertations that contribute to the field.

Earning a doctorate requires several years of study. Most doctoral candidates spend 4-6 years completing the coursework, examination, and dissertation requirements. With a doctorate, graduates can work as communication professors and in other roles in academia. The degree also leads to opportunities in research and communication management, including as a director of communication.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Communication?

A communication degree builds strong writing, research, and communication abilities. The degree leads to careers in several fields, including marketing, corporate communications, and PR. Graduates can also work as journalists, writers, and editors. The degree's emphasis on effective communication also offers a strong footing for careers in business, education, and politics.

This section explores some of the main industries for communication majors, along with courses that prepare graduates for opportunities in these fields.

Marketing

Marketing professionals research consumer demand, sales strategies, and potential markets for new products or services. Marketing careers require strong research and analytical skills. For example, market research analysts and marketing managers often evaluate sales trends and customer data to increase profits.

A communication degree with coursework in PR, marketing, statistics, and business helps professionals enter the marketing profession. A master's degree helps professionals advance their careers and specialize their skills.

Internal Communication

Specialists in internal communication identify organizations' communication needs and improve efficiency in delivering information to employees and promoting company strategy internally. The field requires training in business communication, internal communication theory, and corporate communication technologies, including two-way channels.

A bachelor's degree in communication prepares graduates for entry-level roles in internal communication. Positions with decision-making or supervisory responsibilities may require a master's degree.

Public Relations

PR professionals help build a strong public image for their organizations. They interact with the media, run social media accounts, and communicate with the public. Within PR, professionals can also write speeches and press releases, analyze PR programs, and answer information requests from media sources.

A bachelor's in communication degree with coursework in PR prepares graduates for entry-level professional roles. Employers looking to fill managerial positions may prefer candidates with master's degrees.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Communication Degree?

Communication majors can pursue careers in PR, journalism, advertising, writing, editing, and marketing. Salaries range in these fields depending on the title, professional experience, location, and degree level. In 2019, PR specialists earned a median salary of around $61,000 per year, while PR managers made a median salary of over $116,000 per year.

The table below shows the median annual salary and projected job growth for common communication careers. In addition to these careers, a communication degree can lead to opportunities in business, politics, the public sector, and the nonprofit sector.

Communication Career Outlooks
Career Median Annual Salary (2019) Projected Job Growth (2019-2029) Typical Required Education
Public Relations Specialists $61,150 7% Bachelor's
Editors $61,370 -7% Bachelor's
Human Resources Specialists $61,920 7% Bachelor's
Writers 63,200 -2% Bachelor's
Market Research Analysts $63,790 18% Bachelor's
Postsecondary Teachers $70,630 3% Doctoral
Technical Writers $72,850 7% Bachelor's
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers $135,900 6% Bachelor's
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations

NCA members include practitioners and scholars who specialize in all areas of communication. The association hosts conventions and events, provides publications, and offers professional resources. NCA student organizations connect communication majors with working professionals to help them transition into the workforce. AEJMC represents over 3,700 educators, practitioners, and students working in journalism and communications. Dating back to 1912, the association work to promote communication research and education. AEJMC hosts workshops, networking events, and an annual conference to connect members. The organization's resources also include teaching tools, career development advice, and research resources. ICA promotes the study of human communication by encouraging scholarly research. The association counts more than 4,500 members across 80 countries around the world. ICA's many publications include journals, handbooks, newsletters, and annual reports. Members also benefit from the career center, which connects job-seekers with career opportunities. Students qualify for membership discounts. IABC specializes in business communication. The association provides professional certifications, a resource library, an online magazine, and a conference with networking opportunities. Members also benefit from learning and career guidance resources. Its professional development programs, including the IABC academy and communication certification programs, help members launch and advance their careers.

Accreditation for Communication Programs

Prospective applicants should research accreditation before applying to a program or school. Regionally accredited colleges meet the highest standards for educating communication students. Accredited schools offer educational, financial aid, and professional benefits for students.

Most communication programs do not hold programmatic accreditation. However, the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications does offer accreditation for mass communication programs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Kind of Job Can You Get With a Communications Degree?

Communication majors work in fields like PR, journalism, marketing, and advertising. The degree also leads to employment for writers, editors, and human resources specialists.

What Is a Major in Communications?

A communication degree emphasizes strong persuasive reasoning, analytics, and communication skills. Majors also study effective writing, journalism, editing, and mass communication.

What Is the Difference Between Mass Communication and Communication?

Both fields focus on the exchange of information between individuals. Communication is more of an umbrella term, while mass communication emphasizes broad circulation, often through media sources. In a mass communication program, students learn about media, journalism ethics, and related laws. A communication degree often incorporates courses in mass communication with additional classes on business communications, PR, advertising, and technical communication.

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.

Header Image Credit: Marcus Chung | Getty Images

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