Communications is easily the most popular humanities major. Next to a business degree, it’s also one of the most common go-tos for people who aren’t sure what they want to do yet. Why, you ask? Communications is specialized, but it’s also highly transferable.
And it’s no wonder so many people turn to communications studies. For centuries, literature and culture have glorified the art of clearly expressing our ideas. The fact that ancient texts still influence us today stands as a testament to the value of communication. And we see the importance of modern communication every day in the media—with both positive and negative examples.
Sociologist Charles Horton Cooley called communication “the mechanism through which human relations exist and develop—all the symbols of the mind, together with the means of conveying them through space and preserving them in time.”
Basically, without communication, every other field would be crippled. People won’t embrace and rally behind ideas they don’t understand. Don’t believe me? Try sharing your thoughts on social media.
But if communication is so valuable, what do you do with a communications degree? Colleges will be happy to tell you “Well, anything!” And while that might be kind of true, it’s not very helpful.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward answer. The most broadly applicable majors are also some of the hardest to connect to specific careers. So if you major in communications because you don’t know what you want to do, it may only postpone your problem.
Still, we’re going to walk through the components of a communications degree and look at some of the ways it translates into a career.
Spoiler alert: we’re also going to point you in a different direction. If you’re interested in any of these careers, odds are there’s a better path to it. (At the very least, a more specialized communications degree.)
A quick overview of a communications degree
A vital part of communications is research and analysis, so in any COM program, you should learn how to effectively support or counter ideas with reliable evidence. Your studies won’t just focus on the theory of communication. Through extensive presentations, debates, speeches, and papers, you’ll learn to clearly formulate your thoughts and articulate them—and to critique the communication of others.
The medium and context of any communication has a huge impact on how you present your message. So COM majors will likely get familiar with social media, advertising, film, news media, journalism, public relations, and other channels organizations use to communicate their message.
Since communications is heavily rooted in relationships, you’ll probably find that your program emphasizes the value of networking. Building professional relationships has significant applications for just about any career.
Here are some of the subjects you might study within a communications degree program:
- Mass communication
- Professional presentations
- Persuasion and social influence
- Public relations
- Laws of communication
- Communication technology
- Media and design
- International communication
- Research methods
To make your degree more applicable to a particular career path, your program may also offer specializations. In such a broad, popular major, specializations can be an important differentiator between you and the competition.
Here are some specialization options you might have:
- Communication studies
- Media production
- Public relations
Since the major is so broad, communications classes can help you explore each of these areas to find the field you want to get into. The challenge is that while communications has overlap with these areas, a lot of these concentrations are more dependent on specialized skills and knowledge you won’t find in a communications program.
What skills do you learn as a communications major?
“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Obviously, a communications degree program is going to teach you how to communicate. Whether you want to become a better speaker or writer, this is one of the ways you can learn the craft.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers says verbal communication is the most valuable skill to employers.
Some people are naturally better communicators, but it’s not just some ability that you either have or you don’t. It’s a skill you develop through study and practice. You’ll be equipped to analyze and thoughtfully respond to communication even when you’re “out of your element,” because you’ve learned how to break down and dissect both the written and spoken word. And since everyone has to work with people, this is one of the main things that makes this degree so transferable.
To do well in a communications degree program, you’ll also need to develop your creativity. Pat answers and regurgitated arguments won’t get you very far in high-level communications courses. Sometimes cold hard facts are enough to make the most compelling case. But often, those cold hard facts need a context that matters and an interpretation that sticks.
This is where visual storytelling becomes so powerful. In the ever-changing world of media, the way you present your message can completely change whether or not it’s even heard, let alone received.
Similarly, communications courses teach you to think strategically. No matter where your communications degree takes you, you’ll be able to draw from a well-stocked toolbox of communication techniques. Every organization has a message, and every message has a purpose (I hope). A communications degree gives you the right tools for the job.
Now let’s take a look at what you can do with those skills.
What jobs do communications majors get?
When you start looking into COM-related careers, there are two things you’ll probably notice:
- A lot of people seem to suggest the same handful of jobs.
- A lot of these jobs are more related to other majors or require additional education in a separate field.
That’s not to say that communications majors don’t have great options. This is a widely applicable degree—it just doesn’t have a designated career. If you get a degree in education, it’s pretty safe to say you’re going to be a teacher. But with a degree in communications, your skills and expertise can help you just about anywhere—they just might not be the prerequisite skills or expertise you need for a particular career.
Still, a communications degree can get your foot in the door of some pretty specialized fields. We’re going to take an honest look at several of these popular job prospects for COM majors using data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. We’ll show you each job’s growth rate and median salary, and talk about ways communications can set you up to succeed in it.
Reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts
Median salary: $38,870 per year
Job growth rate: -9%
Until a moment ago, I’d never seen a career with a negative job growth rate. And -9% isn’t just a little bit negative, either. The national average for all careers is about 7%. Unfortunately, these three professions are in decline because the industry is changing. Advertising revenue for newspapers, radio, and TV is falling.
Ever try to read a newspaper online? Some are hurting for cash so bad that you can’t even find the article between all the ads. (Which is a really terrible way to get advertising revenue, by the way.)
Most people who land in one of these careers hold a degree in either journalism or communications. But if you’re passionate about journalism, the reality is you might be better off building your own brand than counting on one of these jobs. As journalism-related jobs decline, the positions that remain are going to be flooded with over-qualified candidates.
In fact, building your own brand may be the only way to get noticed without having years of experience in the industry. If you’re prepared to put in the work, keep in mind that building a brand takes a long time. It’s a side hustle—until it’s not.
But yeah, you probably don’t want to shoot for a job like this unless you’re going to college for free.
Public relations specialist
Median salary: $58,020 per year
Job growth rate: 6%
A public relations specialist helps organizations present their best image. When an organization has a big achievement to share or needs to get ahead of public criticism, PR steps in to prepare press releases, plan events, and relay information to the media. PR specialists also coordinate interviews with executives and help enforce an organization’s brand.
With a background in communications, you’ll be prepared to help organizations understand what they’re communicating to the public through their actions, advertising, and marketing. You’ll analyze and improve how the organization is perceived by the local community and their clients.
This is one of the roles communications is probably best suited for. This entire role is built around what an organization is communicating and how people are responding to it. The brand is your message, and every piece of communication needs to reflect that.
There are several paths to a PR specialist role. A degree isn’t always required, but most PR specialists have a bachelor’s degree in subjects like public relations, communications, journalism, or English. PR is sometimes offered as a specialization within a communications degree, but even if it’s not, communications should give you the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in a role like this.
Social media specialist
Median salary: $58,020 per year
Job growth rate: 6%
Also known as a social media coordinator or manager (and probably several other titles), this position is a good fit if you have a communications degree. When you take the helm of an organization’s social media channels, you’re publicly speaking on their behalf.
But you’re not just scheduling a sea of posts days, weeks, or months in advance. You’re also going to draw on your interpersonal skills to provide customer service. Depending on how big your brand is, you could be responding to numerous messages throughout the day, working with people from several different departments to give consumers the information they need.
Most likely, you won’t just be in charge of Facebook or Twitter. At the very least, you’ll probably do both. But you might wind up running Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and yes, even Google Plus (supposedly people use it). If your organization has multiple brands and only one person running social media, you can probably expect your time to be divided between them. You’ll also be the go-to person to experiment with new social media platforms.
That might sound stressful (and it is), but having a communications degree will prepare you to switch contexts and stay on brand, so the right message goes out through the right channel. Communications is one of the few degrees that prepares you for a role like this. Business is one of the only others.
Median salary: $61,240
Job growth rate: 2%
While the job growth rate is only about one-third of the average for all careers, most organizations need good writers. (Some just don’t know it yet.) Copywriters write blog posts, email campaigns, website copy, landing pages, ebooks, magazine articles, advertisements, product pages, and anything else an organization uses to communicate with their audience.
A communications degree prepares you to communicate through a range of mediums, and with a few persuasive writing courses under your belt, this career could be a good fit for you.
Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers
Median salary: $127,560 per year
Job growth rate: 9%
Most advocates of communications degrees will tell you that COM majors are well suited for management because of their strategic thinking skills and their ability to synthesize information. Communication is a vital part of management, but keep in mind: most organizations aren’t going to hire a manager fresh out of college.
This is the fifth highest paying career in the U.S. If you want this job, you’re going to need relevant experience, not just a degree. You can certainly land plenty of entry-level jobs in a wide range of organizations with a communications degree. But if management is your goal, communications might not be the best path to get there.
Being able to distill and disseminate information is valuable, but in the business world, that’s more of a supplemental skill than an expertise. It makes better marketers, better advertisers, better accountants, better project coordinators—better everything, really. But if you want to manage any aspect of an organization, it’s more helpful to have an academic background in how an organization works. So if this is your dream job, I’d recommend choosing a business degree. Otherwise, your first job might feel like going to school all over again.
Should I major in communications?
Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it. Organizations have a lot to gain from hiring people with communications degrees, but it really is more of a supplemental degree. If you have the option to double major, this could work well with some kind of business degree—like human resources—or another specialized degree like political science or media relations.
If you’re already well into your communications degree, I’d encourage you to build your course load around the career you’d like to pursue, and if possible, specialize. Even if your program doesn’t require an internship, talk to faculty or alumni and try to line one up in your desired field. An internship will probably play a bigger role in actually landing you a job than your classes will. With such a broad education, it’s a good idea to get some experience that more directly pertains to your field.