Communication forms the fabric of society and dictates human interaction at all levels, including individuals, communities, and nations. Accordingly, communication as an academic major offers a versatile skill set that prepares graduates for a wide variety of careers in many industries, such as business, advertising, media, and public relations. However, even with such widely applicable knowledge, finding the right job after graduation can be a challenge. In general, the earlier you prepare for the job search, the better your chances are to find an appealing position. Even as an undergraduate, it never hurts to make professional connections that might serve you in the future. This guide outlines the general education requirements and job outlook for communication majors at all levels of study. You'll find information on communications major salary prospects, common fields of employment, and resources for communication professionals, along with an overview of many of the jobs you can get with a communications degree.
Skills Gained in a Communication Program
The communication of information forms the basis for many professional fields, and a communication degree builds high-level skills applicable to almost any industry. Communication professionals develop their skills through many avenues, including academic education, on-the-job training, and professional certifications. Beyond simply speaking or writing effectively, communication studies encompass the analysis, interpretation, and transmission of information, ensuring the field's continued relevance. Below, you'll find an overview of some of the most important communication skills.
- Interpersonal Communication
At its core, the discipline of communication explores how individuals and groups exchange information, and interpersonal communication forms a large part of this study. Communication students learn to examine what creates effective interpersonal communication and where problems and misunderstandings occur.
- Public Speaking
Whether it's a teacher addressing a group of students or a government official addressing the nation, most levels of society depend on effective public speaking. The communication discipline explores the tenets of persuasive speaking and compelling arguments, as well as the strategies that speakers use to reach audiences.
Written communication is another major component of effective communication. Communication professionals learn to organize and present their ideas in writing, gaining the skills and strategies necessary for success in all types of written communication.
- Problem Solving
Problems often hinge on ineffective communication or misunderstandings. Communication studies involve examining the factors that lead to problems and determining strategies to fix them. Communication professionals also explore the role information plays in problem-solving and determine strategies to combat misinformation and miscommunication.
- Analytical Thinking
Since communication depends on information, the ability to analyze various types of information and draw conclusions serves an important role for communication professionals, who must examine the content of messages and their method of transmission. Analytical thinking makes it possible to see many sides of an issue and devise unique solutions to address problems.
Why Pursue a Career in Communication?
Modes and methods of accessing information have evolved dramatically in the past few decades, and today's communication professionals face many new challenges and opportunities that make the field appealing. Digital technology makes it easier than ever to reach consumers, but more difficult to hold their attention, creating unique tasks for those in advertising, public relations, and other communication fields.
Given the prevalence of communication in modern society, it should come as no surprise that communication jobs rank highly for salary and career advancement prospects. Regardless of the product or service, almost all industries use communication practices to reach consumers. Moreover, government agencies and nonprofits also employ communication tools to spread messages to the public. Graduating with a communication degree provides you with many job opportunities in various fields, including industries not commonly associated with communication, such as education, grant writing, and event planning. In general, communication careers offer opportunities to exercise creativity and innovative problem-solving in a stimulating work environment. The rapidly changing nature of the field also rewards those who continuously educate themselves and develop new skills. The most creative, forward-thinking communication professionals go far in the industry.
How Much Do Communication Majors Make?
Salaries for communication majors vary as much as the field itself, and many factors affect earning potential, including location, industry, job function, experience level, and education level. In general, communication majors can expect to earn higher salaries the longer they work and the further they progress in the industry. Earning an advanced degree, like a master's or Ph.D., typically makes it possible to enter the field at a higher level and with a higher initial salary. However, the industry in which communication majors find employment can also have a significant impact on base salary and earning potential.
Meet a Communication Professional
Riah Lawry Associate, VALEO PR
I studied journalism and media communication with a minor in public relations at Asbury University, a small school in Kentucky with an incredible Olympics internship program. My first job out of college was at a tech and marketing company in Charlotte as a corporate communication specialist. It was fast-paced and way over my head. I loved it; this was clearly the right field for me. After a year and a half there, I moved to Atlanta and worked at a chemicals manufacturing company, also in corporate communication. Frustrated with the politics and slower nature of large companies, I decided to take a risk and move into the agency side of communication. Earlier this year, I joined VALEO, a startup in Atlanta with three employees and a huge passion for embedded communication, as an associate. It's been my best decision yet.
What do you find most fulfilling about a career in communication?
Everyone has a story to tell. My main goal as a communication professional (and the reason I work long hours and drink way too much tea and coffee) is helping my clients tell their stories at the right time to the right people in the right place. I get to wear many different hats during the process of telling these stories, from social media expert to investigative journalist. At the end of the day, I am helping someone share what's important to them. That's what gets me excited. I'm crazy about unearthing and sharing a good story.
What types of people excel in this field?
I wouldn't consider myself the "stereotypical" PR person. My idea of a good day is wearing jeans, reading super long articles about current events, and planning weekend hiking trips. If you have good people skills, are passionate about writing, and can multi-task, you're going to do great. Focus on creating an online image via LinkedIn, a blog, and a portfolio. Network like crazy. Write every day. And learn how to interview well for jobs. It makes all the difference.
What was the job search process like after earning your degree?
There's lots of competition for communication jobs. That's why networking is paramount. Just do it. My first job was a result of keeping up connections with a company where I'd interned my junior year in college. I reached out to a mentor I'd met with during my internship, and she created a job for me in corporate communication. That I know of, I was the only one who interviewed for the job; and I got it. My other two jobs came from emailing the recruiter or hiring manager directly with examples of my work and a pitch for why I'd be an excellent fit for the company. They were personalized, persuasive emails.
What challenges do you face at work on any given day?
It's hard for me at times to keep up with so many moving pieces and projects at different stages. I've had to learn to be more organized and better at project management. That's something I'll keep learning as I become more advanced in my career. I'm still a newbie by some standards (I have four years of experience).
What additional advice would you give to a student considering a career in communication?
Most communication jobs are not glamorous. But it is so much fun. I love my job. I love interacting with so many people and learning about companies and industries I didn't even know existed before. If you're passionate about public relations or storytelling of any sort, you're going to do great. Don't be discouraged if you don't get the first job you apply for. Keep applying and keep reaching out to your network. Eventually, something will appear. It's going to be a crazy ride. Have fun!
How to Work in the Communication Field
Earn Your Degree
Most positions in the communication field require at least a bachelor's degree. For higher level positions, many companies may require a master's degree or substantial work experience. It may be possible to enter the field with an associate degree, but you're unlikely to go far unless you're simultaneously earning a higher-level degree.
A communication program builds a variety of skills applicable to many industries. The typical communication curriculum features widely applicable skills, such as research, writing, public speaking, interpersonal communication, and problem-solving. The degree also builds more specialized knowledge focused on the practices and processes of transmitting information; exploring topics such as media psychology, politics, digital media methods; and the relationship between media and society. Some programs may also include concentration options in areas such as journalism or public relations. These specializations build the same general knowledge, but also include advanced studies into specific areas of communication. Most programs also include elective options that enable students to explore other aspects of media and communication, such as human virtual representation, social media, voting and the media, communication policy and regulation, and foreign correspondence.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Be a Communication Professional?
While completion times vary between programs, it generally takes about two years of full-time study to complete an associate degree and about four years of full-time study to complete a bachelor's degree. However, several factors affect the duration of a communication program, particularly with online learning. Some schools offer online degrees in an accelerated format that enables students to take a heavier course load and complete their degree faster. Some programs may also arrange students in cohorts, which are groups that complete the same set of courses together in sequence. Cohorts offer a deeper sense of academic community, but they also make course scheduling less flexible. Other programs allow learners to pursue their own course of study and complete their degree as quickly or as slowly as they choose. Whether online or on campus, an associate degree usually requires about 60 credits, while a bachelor's degree usually requires about 120 credits.
Concentrations Available for Communication Majors
Advertising uses communication to reach and influence consumers, which might include designing a new ad campaign or revamping a company's public image. Advertisers also determine how to best market products and devise innovative ways of engaging with consumers through technology and social media.
Median Salary: $58,325
Journalists communicate the news in a fair, unbiased, and ethical manner. This involves performing research, interviewing sources, and creating compelling news stories that also convey information efficiently. Journalists may publish their work through print, television, radio, or online.
Median Salary: $39,296
- Public Relations
Public relations professionals work to maintain a healthy public image for organizations, ideas, or individuals by attempting to influence public perception by communicating favorable information about their clients. The field includes everything from writing press releases to organizing focus groups.
Median Salary: $46,566
- Sports Communication
Sports communication uses the tools of professional communication for the field of athletics. Communication majors employed in this field may work for professional teams and leagues or sports broadcasting organizations. Sports communication encompasses many different jobs, including marketing and public relations.
Median Salary: $36,456
- Digital Filmmaking
Digital filmmaking situates communication theories in the context of audio and video production for film and television. Filmmaking majors study the skills necessary for effective messaging, including visual communication and media literacy. They may work on commercials, promotional videos, films, and television programs.
Median Salary: $59,388
- Visual Communication Design
As its name implies, visual communication focuses on communicating with audiences through images. And with the advent of online and multimedia technologies, the field encompasses virtually every form of communication that uses images, including billboards and television advertisements.
Median Salary: $64,939
What Can You Do with a Communication Degree?
For professionals in the communication industry, education level largely dictates the potential career path. An associate degree may be enough for an entry-level position in the field, but it likely won't allow you to ascend to the highest levels of management. In general, a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for careers with potential for advancement, though more elite leadership positions may require a master's degree or many years of experience. It may be possible to pursue further education while still maintaining a career, and some companies even pay for employees to earn advanced degrees for professional development. In some cases, top directors in the industry may hold doctorates, but typically a master's degree enables advancement to the top tier of leadership. The charts below outline some of the most popular positions for each degree level, along with a summary of their average salaries.
Associate Degree in Communication
An associate degree typically won't be adequate for significant career advancement, but it is a great first step toward a bachelor's degree. It's often possible to complete an associate program while holding down a job, particularly through online education. Associate-degree holders seeking communication positions may find their options are limited, but many entry-level positions do exist. Average salaries for associate degrees sit on the lower end of the pay scale, but some positions, such as technical writer or executive assistant, offer competitive salaries.
- Office Manager
Office managers organize the basic functions of an office environment, such as scheduling meetings, ordering office equipment, and maintaining facilities. Communication majors make use of their problem-solving and analytical thinking skills for this position.
- Client Services Representative
These professionals serve as a link between upper management and a company's clients, determining the needs of both parties and maintaining productive relationships. Client services representatives must understand effective communication practices so they can correctly identify clients' needs and ensure effective strategies for meeting them.
- Executive Assistant
Assisting top executives, these professionals typically answer phones, organize documents, prepare reports, screen visitors, and schedule meetings. Executive assistants facilitate interactions between their bosses, other executives, and clients, so they need a strong understanding of communication practices to ensure that a business operates smoothly.
- Sales Associate
Typically working in retail environments, sales associates interact with customers, operate cash registers, respond to questions, and serve as the public face of a retailer. These associates use their communication skills to determine the needs of customers and interact with them in an accommodating, respectful manner.
- Technical Writer
Technical writers create manuals and other support documents that help the general public understand complex technical information. These writers need a deep understanding of effective communication and strong writing skills, which help them translate specialized technical information into generalized instruction that laypersons can understand.
Bachelor's Degree in Communication
Most competitive communication positions require at least a bachelor's degree. The bachelor's curriculum moves beyond the introductory courses of the associate level and into more specialized skills, such as organizational communication, public relations, rhetorical analysis, and media communication. Graduates with a bachelor's in communication may find employment in a wide variety of industries and positions, and the degree offers generally competitive salaries and potential for career advancement. However, many upper-level management positions may only be open to those with a master's degree or ample experience.
- Communications Specialist
Communication specialists develop and maintain an organization's relationship to the public. They may be responsible for producing press releases, managing information output, maintaining public relations, and determining social media strategies. Communication specialists occupy many roles in a company, and at lower levels, they may focus on just one aspect of an organization's communication strategy.
- Public Relations Specialist
Similar to communication specialists, public relations specialists focus on an organization's relationship with the public, with an emphasis on maintaining a positive public image. PR specialists may be responsible for developing image-building strategies along with more specific duties, such as speech writing and creating press releases.
- Marketing Communications Specialist
These specialists coordinate an organization's public communication strategies with an emphasis on marketing for managing relationships with clients and customers. Marketing communication specialists may promote their organization during events, develop marketing strategies, coordinate promotional materials, produce marketing copy, and organize social media efforts.
- Online Marketing Content Writer
Online content writers create digital content for blogs, websites, social media, emails, and other channels of digital communication. These content specialists need to have strong written and verbal communication skills, and they must determine the needs of the consumers and the organizations for which they create content.
- Social Media Specialist
One of the newer professions in the communication industry, social media specialists help companies develop strategies for online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. These professionals must stay current on developments in the social media sphere as techniques for reaching consumers constantly evolve.
Master's Degree in Communication
A master's degree is the gold standard for many communication careers, unlocking the potential for management positions that boast more responsibility and higher pay. Moving beyond the foundational knowledge of a bachelor's, a master's in communication explores advanced communication theory, preparing graduates for high-level analysis and oversight of an organization's communication strategies. The degree may include the option to focus on a specific area of communication, which can open specialized career pathways, such as media communications jobs or organizational communication jobs. Salaries at the master's level are typically high, and the degree is adequate for most career paths outside of academic research.
- Communications Director
Operating at higher levels of management, these highly trained specialists are responsible for organizing and directing most aspects of an organization's communication strategy, typically overseeing many other employees. Directors concentrate less on individual aspects of communication strategies and more on the big picture, and they also interact with other executives frequently.
- Marketing Communications Manager
These managers oversee marketing strategies and devise plans to increase their organization's market share. Typically responsible for the most important aspects of a company's marketing strategy, they may commission market research studies, direct market analysis processes, and make the final call on strategies for pricing and budgeting.
- Public Relations Manager
Often focused on media relations, PR managers are responsible for maintaining a company's public image, typically directing a team of PR specialists. Their duties may include organizing press conferences and answering public questions, developing PR strategies, and writing speeches for company executives.
- Senior Copywriter
Typically working at the highest levels of an organization's creative department, senior copywriters develop ideas for communication campaigns and dictate much of an organization's written voice. They often serve in an editorial capacity, supervising junior copywriters to help them develop their writing skills.
- Community Relations Manager
Functioning in a similar capacity to a PR manager, community relations managers work to develop and maintain an organization's relationship with community members, rather than just consumers. Like PR managers, they interact with the media to create a positive public image for their organization. These managers often oversee a company's charitable contributions and volunteer programs.
Doctoral Degree in Communication
A doctoral degree in communication typically prepares graduates for positions in corporate research and academia rather than the direct engagement of lower-level degrees. For students interested in interacting with the public and shaping an organization's public perception, a doctoral degree may be too abstract, but for those interested in exploring the psychological, social, and economic processes underlying communication, the field offers the opportunity to develop new methods and concepts for organizations to use. After earning a doctorate, many communication majors continue in academia, performing their own research and teaching classes. Others may take research positions with companies, and in some instances, progress to the top levels of management.
- Postsecondary Professor
Employed at colleges and universities, postsecondary professors hold the highest level of knowledge in their field. At the beginning of their careers, professors typically spend more time teaching and training future communication professionals. As they progress and gain tenure, most professors dedicate more of their energy toward communication research.
- Senior Researcher
Senior researchers dedicate their energy to new research in the communication field, examining the effectiveness of existing practices and exploring new approaches to communication through qualitative and quantitative research. Researchers may be employed at colleges, think tanks, nonprofits, or private companies.
- Research Fellow
Research fellows often work under senior researchers, performing research on communication concepts. The position of fellow typically offers less freedom as these academics may perform their research as dictated by organizational needs or under the direction of senior researchers. However, they may also have leeway to explore their own interests.
- Public Relations Director
Operating at the highest level of an organization, PR directors are responsible for dictating a company's overall communication strategy, overseeing dozens of employees depending on the size of the organization. They direct overall PR strategies and assign tasks to lower-level employees.
- Chief Communications Officer
The chief communication officer (CCO) serves as the head of all communication for an organization and is the executive to which all other communication executives report. Overseeing communication processes on a macro level, CCOs work to ensure that a company's overall message remains consistent across all channels of communication, including within the organization itself.
Unexpected Careers for Communication Majors
Given the versatile and widely applicable nature of communication skills, many professionals find work in fields outside of business or public relations. Many communication degree jobs employ the field's major skills but apply them to a totally different industry, such as education, grant writing, or publicity. In general, just about any industry relies on communication with clients, the public, and employees. Widely applicable skills, such as written communication, public speaking, problem-solving, and analytical thinking, are likely to serve any industry, providing communication professionals with many opportunities in the public and private sectors. The table below outlines some unconventional careers for communication majors, along with typical salary expectations. It's possible to enter any of these fields with a bachelor's degree, but as with most careers, an advanced degree can help you distinguish yourself from the competition and command a higher salary.
- Event Planner
Event planners coordinate large-scale social events, including weddings and conventions. Planners must determine the needs of event guests and interface with many other professionals to organize the events.
Median Salary: $45,419
- Director of Alumni Relations
Alumni directors oversee most operations related to alumni services at colleges and universities. They may be responsible for organizing social events, coordinating various services for alumni, and determining methods for alumni fundraising. Communication skills help alumni directors determine effective outreach strategies to best reach former students.
Median Salary: $61,203
Publicists work to create a positive public image for their clients who are typically celebrities, public figures, and other individuals with a prominent social presence. Similar to public relations, publicity involves communicating through various media channels to ensure the most favorable coverage for a client.
Median Salary: $44,589
- Contract Negotiator
As their job title implies, contract negotiators negotiate contracts between different groups and individuals--typically employees and organizations. Mediating between different entities, negotiators need strong communication skills to determine the needs of different parties and ensure both sides approve of the contract terms.
Median Salary: $69,985
- Grant Writer
Typically working with nonprofits, grant writers utilize high-level communication skills to secure funding for their organizations. Communication majors typically thrive in the grant writing field, as they use their skills to distinguish their organization's identity and present the best image to potential funding sources.
Median Salary: $45,735
Where Can You Work as a Communication Professional?
Several factors affect the career options for a communication professional, including location, industry, setting, and population. Salary and career prospects vary widely depending on a combination of these factors. For instance, a communication specialist seeking employment in the education sector in Nebraska will likely have a harder time finding employment and command a lower salary than a similarly qualified specialist in the software sector in San Francisco.
Location typically has a significant impact on career prospects and earning potential for communication professionals. Factors such as licensing requirements, average salary, prominence of various industries, quality of life, and cost of living all play a role in career decisions for many workers. In general, major urban areas offer higher salary levels and more expansive career prospects, but this comes as a trade-off for a higher cost of living. Less populous areas typically feature fewer job prospects but also boast a lower cost of living, which can be a deciding factor for some communication professionals.
- Software as a Service Development
Working with subscription-based software programs, communication professionals in this industry determine the needs of clients and develop strategies for increasing the visibility of their organization's own software products.
Average Salary: $63,218
- Advertising, Branding, and Sales Promotions
Communication majors shine in the advertising industry, where they dedicate their skills to consumer engagement strategies, public relations, the development of brand identity, and a variety of other tasks.
Average Salary: $54,052
- Marketing and Media Management
This field focuses on strategies for reaching consumers through digital channels. Communication professionals in media management often focus on social media content, viral marketing, and other innovative methods for consumer engagement.
Average Salary: $51,138
In the education field, communication serves to build a positive public image for schools and to identify the needs of students and parents. Communication staff may also take a public relations role and interact with the media when necessary.
Average Salary: $50,369
- Financial Services
Communication professionals in the finance industry work to distinguish their firms from the competition, creating a positive brand identity and exploring strategies to meet the financial needs of clients.
Average Salary: $62,685
The healthcare field utilizes communication methods in many ways, including attracting clients and informing patients of new treatment options.
Average Salary: $61,519
How Do You Find a Job as a Communication Professional?
The communication industry offers strong job prospects, but searching for careers with a communications degree can still be a difficult process. Your college's career center can help you with resume preparation and interview training, as well as potential connections to job openings. Networking with other professionals both during and after school can also serve you in your job search, helping to identify opportunities and sometimes giving you an edge over the competition. Many online resources exist to aid communication professionals, including organizations such as the American Marketing Association, the International Association of Business Communicators, and the National Communication Association. Membership in these groups offers career resources such as networking events and specialized job listings. In general, you're likely to find the most job offerings for communication jobs with PR firms, media organizations, and businesses of all types. However, the versatility of a communication degree makes it possible to find employment in most sectors.
Professional Resources for Communication Majors
- Public Relations Society of America: One of the premier associations for public relations and communication professionals, PRSA hosts more than 21,000 members across the country. The organization offers networking events, professional development seminars, educational resources, job listings, and a variety of professional licenses and certifications.
- Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management: Representing over 160,000 public relations practitioners and academics worldwide, the Global Alliance seeks to unify PR professionals, raise global professional standards, and increase communication between professionals around the globe. The organization also supports education and research initiatives.
- American Association of Advertising Agencies: Centered on the intersection of creativity and commerce, the 4As offers many resources to the advertising community, including events, research, leadership training, and education programs for high school and college students. The organization also provides resources for specific industries, such as automotive and travel.
- American Communication Association: A virtual organization for professionals and scholars, the ACA emphasizes the role of technology in the communication field. The organization brings professionals together to share knowledge and build community, and is also free to join. The ACA publishes a peer-reviewed journal focusing on communication studies.
- Association of National Advertisers: The ANA supports individual advertising professionals, companies, and the industry as a whole. Members benefit from conferences, a vast library of training and education materials, professional publications, training sessions, and communication with industry experts.
- The Association for Women in Communications: Supporting women in the communication industry, the AWC promotes leadership, fosters a strong sense of community, and enables information exchange and skill sharing. Along with conferences, educational resources, and a job board, the AWC also offers mentorship opportunities for emerging communication professionals.
- International Communication Association: Operating for more than 50 years, the ICA boasts more than 4,500 members in 80 countries worldwide. Dedicated to communication scholars, the organization hosts both regional and international academic conferences and publishes six peer-reviewed journals that focus on new research in human and mediated communication.
- Social Media Association: The internet and social media have transformed the practices of professional communication and public relations. The SMA works to help members navigate the ever-changing world of social media. The organization offers seminars, conferences, and educational resources, along with a job board that connects communication professionals to social media career opportunities.
- Internet Marketing Association: Founded in 2001, the IMA serves digital marketers and professionals involved in sales, business, creative development, and other communications-related industries. Arranged around principles of integrity, professionalism, education, and communication, the organization offers events, information and skill sharing, and professional certifications, with chapters all over the world.
- International Public Relations Association: Operating for over 60 years, the IPRA serves as a transnational society for public relations professionals, hosting global conferences with a focus on PR practices in established and emerging countries. Along with professional resources and events, the organization also offers awards that recognize excellence in international public relations.