What Does a Career in Communications Entail?
A position in communications entails a professional level of skill in developing effective messaging that can reach many different groups. This includes the general public and any other audiences that an organization seeks to reach and engage. This field includes elements of marketing, writing, journalism, business administration, and public administration. A job in communications can take you into private, public, or non-profit organizations. There are lines of communication that face outward to the public and other organizations - often called mass communication - and, in the same way, there are lines of communication that primarily face inward and reach employees and other members of the organization.
At nearly every level, this field is hands-on. Professionals may begin as entry-level, with an undergraduate degree, or they may be middle- or high-ranked employees with master’s degrees. The career of a communication professional builds on experience. When selecting a program of study, students should include a plan for internships and studies that promote learning by doing.
Components of A Successful Career In Communications
Professionals with a communications degree must have quick and incisive minds. They must develop the art of critical self-assessment to keep their work/product relevant to its purpose. The below-listed items represent skills you'll need for success in this field.
- Attentive listening is the foundation for understanding and successful interpersonal relationships and is vital when dealing with consumer or employee needs.
- With today’s technological innovations, writing and oral presentations include evolving forms like video, imaging, and global marketing.
- Critical thinking and creativity are essential to problem-solving.
- Understanding the Internet and engagement in technological innovation.
Modern Communications Tools
In today’s public and private sector business environments, communication is often a computer-based activity rather than a public speaking activity. The use of software is everywhere in today’s work environments, and students must master the more common types such as word processing and presentations. Research assistance software is also high on the list of necessary knowledge and this includes legal research software, data analytics, human resources, mass media, and social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Students may want to consider that, what skills they have can affect their career options going forward.
How to get a Career in Communications
Is Communications Right for You? The field is so broad that nearly everyone can find some interest in one or more fields using communication experts. Communications are essential to every type of business activity.
Education is the key to entering the field. A good entry degree is a bachelor’s degree in combination with internships or other hands-on experience.
Getting experience is the best way to explore the real-world work environment for communications jobs. These exposures offer opportunities for networking and referrals.
Your first communications job is an important step. The first job could follow from contacts and experience gained in real-world placements like internships or projects.
Professional organizations will help students learn about the industry and gain exposure to opportunities and networking.
What is the difference between a Communications Specialist and a Communications Manager?
In a typical organizational structure, a manager has a higher position than a specialist. The specialist would usually work with one or more other specialists and work at the direction of a team leader or manager. They would handle tasks such as drafting press releases, preparing information and summaries, and developing messaging concepts.
The communications manager has more responsibility than a specialist, supervising a staff of employees, and having general control over communications functions. These functions include public relations, employee relations, external relations, and government communications. In today’s high-tech environments, digital communications may dominate traditional areas like advertising, branding, and customer relation content. Digital communications bring new opportunities and responsibilities for communications managers. They can involve international scopes of operations.
Typical Communications Degree Requirements
The typical educational requirement is an undergaduate communications degree, focused in a relevant subject area like public relations. There is a communications major, but it is a broad area that students can narrow into more specific areas within their degree program such as marketing, social, or mass media communications, along with some schools that offer communications majors in digital communications.
Hands-on experience can be just as important as a communications degree with a specialization. Internships can open doors to jobs and careers. Projects, collaborations, and other real-world type experiences are excellent additions to a solid resume of education and coursework.
Typical Communication Certifications Needed or Recommended
There are no typical certification requirements for communications because the field is broad and the work situations vary. However, students that gain certification in certain tools and skill areas can have a significant advantage in the early career stages and on a long-term basis. These tools can include foreign language training, and experience with software systems and applications. Certification is proof of skills, training, and knowledge and demonstrates a commitment to learning and self-improvement.
Academic Standards for a Communications Degree :
- The Associate Degree in Communications requires about 60 credit hours of accredited coursework.
- The Bachelor’s Degree in Communications can be either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree. The B.A. Communications degree is a well-rounded approach featuring literature, general knowledge, and cultural studies. The B.S. degree emphasizes math, science, and information technology. The communications degree requires about 120 credit hours of which 60 hours are in required general education coursework. Communications or related majors require 30 credit hours and completion of a designated core of coursework.
- The Master’s Degree in Communications requires a degree in communications or a related field. Students can complete the typical master’s curriculum in 12 to 24 months. If done online or part-time, then the course completion can vary from one year up to six years at some institutions.
Exam/Experience Needed for a Communications Specialist/Manager/Director
There is no entrance exam for communications specialists or communications management positions. The typical educational paths include advertising, marketing, digital communications, journalism, and public relations. An internship or any hands-on project is an excellent way to gain a foothold in the field.
Communications specialist positions can be entry-level to mid-level depending on the organization. Newcomers may get supervision and limited responsibility for tasks and assignments. Specialists work in teams, particularly in large organizations that report to a team leader, manager, or director level supervisor.
Communications Manager positions are mid to senior level in most organizations. These important executives usually have responsibility for an organizational function such as digital communications, social media advertising, or external communications.
Communications Director positions are senior-level and, in large organizations, they typically control an organizational process such as advertising, marketing, or public relations. Director level positions have primary organizational responsibilities for internal and external communications, communication strategies, and may often be a spokesperson for the organization.
Important Questions to Ask
How long does it take to earn a Communications bachelor's degree online?
A communications degree can be a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science. Students can typically complete either type of degree in four years of full-time study either online, on-campus, or in a combination of both. Many part-time students take more time to complete their degree than full-time attendees, and a term of six to eight years is well within the range of typical experiences. When selecting a school, students should assess their potential for finishing the degree within the period permitted. Working parents, business owners, and caregivers are among the many types of students that require more than four years to complete a degree in communications. The time spent is justified by the career advantages for improving an existing profession or entering a new line of work or business.
How much does a Communications bachelor’s degree cost?
The average costs of an undergraduate degree depend on the school and location because the cost of living varies with the city, state, or region. The average for the 2017-18 school year was $35,000 for private four-year schools, $9,970 for in-state students at public schools, and $25,620 for out-of-state students at public schools.
Communications Bachelor's Degree Coursework
The titles of courses vary from school to school, but the core subjects include the below.
- Media, Culture, and Societies
- Introduction to Communications
- Media Economics
- Communications Policy and Regulation
- Research Methods for Communication
- Media Processes and Effects
- Journalism and Law
- News and Reporting
- Digital Media
- Elective areas include International Business, Marketing, Business Management, Business Organizations, Politics, and Public Administration.
Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?
Communications includes many other disciplines like economics, public relations, advertising, business, and marketing. The field of communications is broad. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes ten occupations including writers, technical writers, reporters, and news analysts. Given the wide range of occupations in the field of communications, students should determine whether the school under consideration has the preferred major courses of study. Communications includes technical, broadcast, and media subjects; it also has traditional topics like advertising, marketing, and public relations.
How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?
The average attendance figures show a trend towards longer tenure at four-year schools. Students should look up the graduation rate of the schools under consideration. The graduation rate is a significant predictor of your experience. The US Department of Education offers the College Scoreboard; this portal provides transparency on the costs of education. The significant national trend is towards longer periods of attendance that push the typical experience towards the six-year completion level rather than the traditional four-year pattern. Four-year public institutions show 35% graduate in four years while 58.6% finish at the six-year mark. Four-year private schools show a 53% graduation rate at four years and 58.6% at the six-year marker. The additional time spent in matriculation adds to the costs of a four-year degree and can greatly increase student debt at graduation.
What kind of accreditation does the program hold? How is it regarded in the field?
Accreditation is an essential part of getting a degree. It affects the value of the degree because it promotes acceptance of educational achievement by a wide group of employers, businesses, governments, and educational institutions.
There are two types of accreditation; they are institutional accreditation and program accreditation. Institutional accreditation looks at the entire school, and program accreditation looks at one program within the school.
Institutional accreditation, in turn, has two branches- the national and regional accreditation.
- Regional accreditation is often considered the best. This type of accreditation covers most of the top colleges and universities in the US. Regional accreditation covers most research-based public and private colleges and universities.
- National accreditation covers non-traditional schools including online schools. It looks to a national framework for comparing schools rather than a specific region. National accreditation has two branches; they are the career or technical schools and the faith-based institutions. National accreditation is not as widely accepted as regional accreditation. Most employers and government programs accept national accreditation although some regionally accredited schools do not accept credits from nationally accredited schools.
- Program Accreditation covers a specific academic program such as a master’s degree in Business Communications. Program accreditation has the same positive impact on jobs, salary, and outlook as regional accreditation.
Some areas of communications are technical. These include photography, film and video editing, technical writing, and some digital communications. These fields can benefit from extensive coursework in those subjects with hands-on experience.
Students can qualify for communications jobs and careers by educational achievement at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree levels.
Associate Degree in Communications
The associate degree is the first educational level for a communications career. These two-year degrees can help qualify you for an entry-level position. It typically requires 60 credit hours total, 18 hours in the communications major, with six hours of related electives. The other 36 hours consist of general education courses. The A.A. degree can reduce the time needed for a B.A. or B.S. degree.
- Interpersonal and Business communications review the business environment and effective presentations.
- Critical thinking prepares students to engage in problem-solving.
- Writing and oral communications help students function in real-world settings.
Bachelor’s Degree in Communications
The B.A. or B.S. in Communications prepares students to enter the workforce as writers, public relations specialists, and print or broadcast journalists. Some students choose concentrations to refine their career focus like politics, healthcare, or public administration.
- Management communications involve groups, teams, internal, and external communications.
- Digital platform communication is an involved and growing area as marketing, engagement, and strategic planning can revolve around social media.
- Presentations occur in many firms and settings. Persuasive speech is a vital tool in communications.
Bachelor’s concentrations include public relations, marketing, and digital communications.
Master’s Degree in Communications
The Master’s degree prepares graduates for mid-level to upper-level positions. At the Master’s level you will home communications skills and add knowledge to enable organization-level thinking, problem-solving, and strategic planning.
- Global communications
- Advanced Research Methodology
- Social Media Management and Communications
Master’s level concentrations include social media marketing, analytics, and marketing.
Earning Potential for Communications Degree Fields and Occupations
The difference in salaries based on levels of education is revealing. At each level of educational attainment, the median compensation figure reflects a distinct advantage. The below-listed items describe salaries and educational levels, from a comparison of education level and average median compensation based on a 2017 survey of jobs and salaries.
Communications Fields of Study Median Salaries
|Field of study||Entry-level||Mid-Career Median|
|Advertising and Marketing||$38,858||$84,400|
|Marketing and Communication||$39,100||$87,700|
Communications Salaries by Occupation
At the entry level, communications occupations typically require an undergraduate degree. Students can enter some technical fields without a B.A. or B.S. with some technical background. At the mid-career level, professionals with about ten years of experience reach higher income levels and often have mid-level to senior level positions. The late career stage brings greater rewards and responsibility, and many professionals occupy senior level positions at this point.
Some mid-level to senior level positions require a master’s degree or an extensive background and set of experience. Experience is an important factor in communications occupations. It is a foundation for advancement and greater rewards and job satisfaction.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies media and communications occupations into these ten representative categories.
- Announcers - broadcast and ceremonial roles that announce information and lead proceedings.
- Broadcast and sound technicians manage hardware and systems that support broadcast communications.
- Film editors manipulate images to produce effective messaging.
- Technical writers produce technical copy such as instructions and reports.
- Reporters and correspondents broadcast news and analysis.
- Interpreters and translators provide all forms of communications across language barriers.
- Public relations specialists connect organizations with internal and external audiences.
- Photographers manage a form of visual communications.
- Writers and authors develop content for print, video script, and digital media.
- Editors prepare many forms of content for publication and distribution.
Salary by Occupation
|Occupation||Entry Median Salary||Mid-Career Median Salary||Late Career Salary|
|Social Media Manager||$45,640||$59,800||$61,257|
|Social Media Specialist||$40,504||$49,800||$50,817|
High school seniors and college students can compete for scholarships for general scholastic achievement. Some scholarships focus on people with particular ethnic heritage, location, immigration status, or gender. The below itemized list of six scholarships focus on students in or about to enter one or more fields of communications study.
Six Noteworthy Scholarships in Communications
Students pursuing careers in communications have many scholarship opportunities. While the list below contains private funds, nearly every school or college that offers communications courses provides scholarships. Students should consult their list of possible schools to determine the availability of scholarships for communications majors.
New York Women in Communications Inc. Foundation Scholarship Program
The New York Women in Communications Foundation Scholarship Program helps empower women attempting to enter one or more fields of communications. The program accepts residents of New York that are undergraduates majoring in communications or high school seniors about to enter an undergraduate program. The program awards scholarships in amounts of $2,500, $5000, and $10,000 to 15-20 women each year. The program selects students based on academic and community performance, achievement, personal background, and demonstrated financial need. The annual deadline for filing applications is January 31 of each calendar year.
The MillerCoors National Scholarship
This communications program has an annual filing deadline of May 27 each calendar year. The MillerCoors National Scholarship focuses on Hispanic students. Eligible students must be juniors or seniors attending college and enrolled in a communications, marketing, or business program. The Fund works with a group of partner schools. To qualify, students must be a US citizen, have a 3.0 or higher GPA, and maintain full-time enrollment. The number of awards varies from year to year.
The Electronic Document Systems Foundation
The EDSF offers scholarships for students pursuing degrees in the fields of document management and graphic communications. The foundation awards more than 40 scholarships each year, and the decisions rest solely on academic achievement. The scholarship awards range from $1,000 to $5,000 per year. The Foundation administers many honors including the Lowe Scholarship at $2000, the $1,000 Cartun Scholarship, the $2,000 Wayne Alexander Memorial Scholarship, and the $5000 OutputLinks Communications Group Woman of Distinction Scholarship.
The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences
This national organization offers scholarship opportunities for students of television and broadcast journalism. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences total benefits are more than $40,000 per year. Among the larger NATAS programs are the Jim McKay and Mike Wallace Memorial Scholarships. The Academy awards these $10,000 scholarships in honor of these legendary broadcasters. The Academy presents two $10,000 scholarships every year to high school graduates to pursue a communications-related bachelor’s degree. The awards support students that intend to begin a career in television. Other students can compete for and receive awards from the Academy that total about $20,000 per year. The Academy determines awards based on academic achievement.
National Association of Black Journalists, NABJ Scholarships
This journalism association offers seven scholarships ranging from $1,500 to $2,500 per year. The funds support minority students seeking a career in journalism.
The NABJ Scholarships include the below-listed awards.
- Allison E. Fisher Scholarship for $2,500
- Carole Simpson Scholarship for $2,500
- DeWayne Wickham Founder’s High School Scholarship for $2,500
- Larry Whiteside Scholarship for $2,500
- Les Payne Founder’s Scholarship or $2,500
- NABJ Scholarship in the amount of $2,500
- Visual Task Force Scholarship for $1,500
National Association of Hispanic Journalists
The Hispanic journalist’s association offers scholarship benefits of $1,000 – $2,000. The association awards the four below-described scholarships annually.
- NAHJ General Scholarships Ruben Salazar Fund for college-bound high school seniors, college undergraduates, and graduate students pursuing careers in English or Spanish-language print, photo, broadcast, or online journalism.
- NAHJ Ford Motor Company Fund Scholarships awards amounts up to $2,000 for students to pursue careers in journalism. Students must have a 2.5 or higher GPA, and be college-bound high school seniors, college undergraduates, or graduate students.
- NAHJ PepsiCo Scholarships provides awards up to $2,000 to support students seeking careers in print, broadcast, online, and visual journalism. Eligible students must have a 2.5 or higher GPA. The scholarships go to college-bound high school seniors, undergraduates, and graduate students.
- NAHJ Sports Journalism Scholarship is a $2,000 annual scholarship to support students that seek to work in the field of sports journalism. The awards go to eligible college undergraduates and graduate students with a GPA of 2.5 or higher.
Professional Communications Organizations
The National Association of Broadcasters is an advocacy group that promotes radio and television communications. The association provides education, training, and fosters innovation that improves communications content and methodology. The NAB offers unique advantages for students and young professionals for networking, learning, and opening career paths.
The Society of Professional Journalists hosts a student branch of the organization that opens its resources for aspiring print, media, and digital journalists.
The National Communication Association is an organization that studies and promotes communications as a discipline. NCA works with teachers, students, and practitioners supporting research, networking, and information. The NCA promotes communication as a tool for improving the quality of life through free and ethical communications.
The Association of Women in Communications is an organization that promotes the role of women in the vital communications industry. AWC was founded in 1909 at the University of Washington. The advocacy organization seeks to promote innovation and women’s involvement in communications. AWC offers scholarships, education, and training in addition to networking opportunities.
The Digital Communications Network represents thousands of participants from various backgrounds and from more than 30 countries. The Network tackles the tough and intriguing problem of the impact of digital communications on modern societies. The DCN offers networking, thought leadership, and education on trends and shifts in the communications industry. This includes critical assessments of the usages of modern communications in the information age.
Choosing an Accredited College
Accreditation means a lot for life during and after college. Accredited schools offer high-quality education that employers and other educational institutions can accept as proof of your abilities. Accreditation affects financing. The Department of Education restricts federal student loan programs to accredited colleges, schools, and universities.
Online vs. On-Campus vs. Hybrid Education
Students today have a wider range of choices than previous generations. They can complete college degrees at quality institutions entirely online. The freedom and flexibility of online education appeals to people that cannot easily separate from other obligations and attend school full-time or part-time on a physical campus. The flexibility of online education stems from its usually asynchronous format. Students can access online class work and resources from anywhere on the Internet. They also do not need to do so at a specific time.
On-campus learning involves students gathering in classrooms or lecture halls to participate. The advantages of on-campus learning include association with other students and a different type of interaction with faculty and school resources like libraries. Further, some types of financial aid depend on a physical presence such as work-study programs and graduate assistant positions.
Does the College Have Post Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?
When considering a college for a communications degree, students should look ahead and consider the support for jobs and careers. Many schools offer extensive assistance to students and graduates to promote job opportunities and career advancement. These programs include providing a system for employers to review resumes and schedule interviews. Support programs can involve alumni and the entire university or school family of corporate and private supporters.
Why You Need to Consider How Rating/Accreditation Can Affect Your Salary
The rating and accreditation of the school affect the acceptance and respect given your degree from employers, recruiters, and other educational institutions. Regional accreditation of the institution and the program is the best combination. National accreditation works well, particularly for faith-based institutions and career type schools. Students that plan to get a graduate degree or other education beyond their current degree program should strongly consider regionally accredited institutions.
- US Department of Education, Accreditation in the United States
- CHEA, Accreditation and Recognition
- Wikipedia, Director of Communications
- US Department of Education, College Scorecard
- NCES, Digest of Education Statistics
- LinkedIn, Sept 28, 2017 “Here’s How Your Degree, And Your Skills, Can Impact Your Salary”
Business Degrees & Career Paths