Communication forms the fabric of society and dictates human interaction among individuals, communities, and nations. Accordingly, communication as an academic major offers a versatile skill set that prepares graduates for a 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 pose challenges. In general, the earlier you prepare for your job search, the better your chances of finding an appealing position. Even as an undergraduate, you can benefit from establishing professional connections that can 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 communication major salary prospects, common employment fields, resources for communication professionals, and an overview of many of the jobs you can get with a communication 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 academics, 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. See below for 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 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 can 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.
Problems are often created by ineffective communication or misunderstandings. Communication studies involve examining the factors that may 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 transmission methods. Analytical thinking makes it possible to see an issue's many sides and devise solutions to address problems.
Why Pursue a Career in Communication?
Modes and methods of accessing information have changed dramatically in the past few decades, and today's communication professionals face many new challenges and opportunities in this dynamic field. Digital technology makes it easier than ever to reach consumers but more difficult to hold their attention, creating challenging tasks for those in advertising, public relations, and other communication fields.
Given the prevalence of communication in modern society, communication jobs rank highly in terms of salary and career advancement prospects. Regardless of the product or service, almost all industries use communication practices to reach consumers. Government agencies and nonprofits also employ communication tools to spread messages to the public.
Graduating with a communication degree opens the door to 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 field's rapidly changing nature rewards those who continuously educate themselves and develop new skills. The most creative, forward-thinking communication professionals can 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 can affect a worker's earning potential, including their location, industry, job function, experience level, and education level. In general, communication majors earn higher salaries the longer they work and the further they progress in the industry. Earning an advanced degree, such as a master's or Ph.D., typically makes it possible to enter the field at a higher level and with a higher initial salary. Additionally, the industry in which communication majors find employment can also significantly impact their 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 has 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 multitask, 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 a lot 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 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
Many positions in the communication field require at least a bachelor's degree. For higher-level positions, companies may require a master's degree and/or substantial work experience. You can enter the field with an associate degree, but you're unlikely to reach high-level positions unless you earn a more advanced degree.
A communication program builds a variety of skills applicable to many industries. The typical communication curriculum develops widely applicable competencies, such as research, writing, public speaking, interpersonal communication, and problem-solving skills. 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 in specific communication areas. Most programs also include elective options that enable students to further 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, students can generally complete an associate degree in about two years of full-time study. It takes about four years of full-time study to complete a bachelor's degree. However, several factors can affect a communication program's duration, 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. Alternatively, some programs may arrange students into cohorts, which are groups of learners who complete the same set of courses together in sequence. Cohorts can offer a deeper sense of academic community, but they also make course scheduling less flexible.
Still other programs allow learners to pursue their own course of study and complete classes at their own pace. 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 to Communication Majors
- Advertising: Advertising uses communication to reach and influence consumers. This may 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.
- Journalism: Good journalists attempt to 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.
- 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. Responsibilities include everything from writing press releases to organizing focus groups.
- 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.
- 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.
- Visual Communication Design: This concentration focuses on communicating with audiences through images. With the advent of multimedia technologies, the field has grown to encompass virtually every communication form that uses images, including billboards, online campaigns, and television advertisements.
|Visual Communication Design||$51,000|
What Can You Do With a Communication Degree?
For professionals in the communication industry, a worker's education level largely dictates their potential career path. An associate degree may be enough for some entry-level positions 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 and/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 a master's degree often enables advancement into the top tier of leadership. The tables 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 can be a great first step toward finding a job or earning a bachelor's degree. Individuals can often complete an associate program while working, particularly through online education. Associate degree holders seeking communication positions may find their options are limited, but some entry-level positions exist. Average salaries for associate degrees sit on the lower end of the pay scale, but some positions still offer competitive salaries.
- Office Manager
Office managers organize an office's basic functions, such as scheduling meetings, ordering office equipment, and maintaining facilities. Communication majors employ their problem-solving and analytical thinking skills for this position. Individuals may be able to qualify for jobs at smaller companies with an associate degree.
- Client Services Representative
These professionals serve as a liaison 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. Thus, they need a strong understanding of communication practices to ensure that a business operates smoothly. An associate degree may qualify workers for this position at some companies.
- 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.
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 areas, such as organizational communication, public relations, rhetorical analysis, and media communication.
Graduates with a bachelor's in communication may find employment in a variety of industries and positions, and the degree can lead to competitive salaries and the potential for career advancement. However, many upper-level management positions may only be open to those with a graduate degree and/or ample experience.
- Communications Specialist
Communications specialists develop and maintain an organization's relationship with the public. They may be responsible for producing press releases, managing information output, maintaining public relations, and determining social media strategies. 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, 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 consumers and organizations.
- 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. They typically oversee many other employees. Directors concentrate less on individual aspects of communication strategies and more on the big picture. They may frequently interact with other executives.
- 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 and helping 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. 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. Individuals interested in exploring the psychological, social, and economic processes underlying communication can pursue a doctorate. Graduates have the opportunity to develop new methods and concepts for organizations to use. After earning this degree, many communication majors continue in academia, performing their own research and teaching classes. Others may take research positions with companies.
- 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 develop new ideas and strategies in the communication field, examining the effectiveness of existing practices and exploring new approaches to communication through qualitative and quantitative research. Researchers may work at colleges, think tanks, nonprofits, and private companies.
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 take advantage the field's major skills but apply them to a totally different industry, such as education or publicity.
Most industries rely on communication with clients, the public, and/or employees. Widely applicable skills, such as written communication, public speaking, problem-solving, and analytical thinking, are likely to be useful in any area, 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; however, 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.
- 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 alumni services, and determining methods for alumni fundraising. Communication skills help alumni directors determine effective outreach strategies to best reach former students.
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 favorable coverage of a client.
- Contract Negotiator
These workers 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.
- Grant Writer
Typically working with nonprofits, grant writers use high-level communication skills to secure funding for organizations. Communication majors can find success in the grant writing field, using their skills to distinguish an organization's identity and present the best image to potential funding sources.
Licensure and Certification
While generally not required, some communication professionals can showcase their skills and stand out from the crowd by obtaining licensure and/or certification. For example, workers can earn accreditation from the Global Communication Certification Council, the Society for Technical Communication, or the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).
For students interested in public relations positions, obtaining the Accreditation in Public Relations credential indicates professional expertise, dedication, and knowledge of industry best practices.
To demonstrate expertise and showcase their leadership skills, business communication managers may earn certification as a Communication Management Professional or Strategic Communication Management Professional.
Learners completing the three-tiered Certified Professional Technical Communicator certification demonstrate their expertise and ability to apply industry best practices in their technical communication roles.
Where Can You Work as a Communication?
Several factors affect the career options for a communication professional, including their location, industry, and setting. Salary and career prospects vary widely depending on a combination of these variables. 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, 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 these benefits usually come with a higher cost of living. Less populous areas typically feature fewer job prospects but also boast lower costs of living, which can be a deciding factor for some communication professionals.
- Information Technology (IT) Services
Professionals working in IT services handle many roles. They might manage an organization's IT projects, develop software, oversee upgrades and installations, coordinate training, or provide help desk support.
Average Salary: $78,000
- 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: $56,000
- 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: $72,000
- 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: $77,000
The healthcare field utilizes communication methods in many ways, including attracting clients and informing patients of new treatment options.
Average Salary: $62,000
How Do You Find a Job as a Communication Graduate?
The communication industry offers strong job prospects, but searching for careers with a communication degree can prove challenging. Your college's career center may offer resume preparation tips, interview training, and potential connections to job openings. Networking with other professionals — both during and after school — can also help your job search, making it easier to identify opportunities and give you an edge over the competition.
Many online resources exist to aid communication professionals, including organizations such as the American Marketing Association, International Association of Business Communicators, and National Communication Association. Membership in these groups offers career resources like networking events and specialized job listings. In general, you're likely to find the most 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Supporting women in the communication industry, 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, AWC also offers mentorship opportunities for emerging communication professionals.
Operating for more than 50 years, 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.
The internet and social media have transformed the practices of professional communication and public relations. 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.
Founded in 2001, the IMA serves digital marketers and professionals involved in sales, business, creative development, and other communication-related industries. Arranged around principles of integrity, professionalism, education, and communication, the organization offers events, information and skill sharing, professional certifications, and chapters all over the world.
Operating for over 60 years, 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.