What can I do with BA in communications?
January 23, 2009 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Hi, I'm sophomore college student thinking about majoring in communications. When I get out of college what can I expect when I graduate? What kind of jobs will be open? What kind of demand can I expect? What kind of salary can I expect? Should I think about going on after college for some sort of further education?
posted by AZNsupermarket to Education (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
To be honest, among many people I know, there's a perception that communications is an easy major and its graduates aren't particularly useful upon graduation. (Disclaimer: I do know some very talented communications people and don't mean to say they all suck) However, that perception would totally change if I knew you'd done some internships during college in that field -- maybe, like some of the communications majors I knew, at a graphics design company, or in the marketing and communications department at a small business or school. I think you'll be in much better shape and stand out quite a bit among your peers if you can point to real application of your communications major, rather than just being able to say, "Yeah, I got a BA." Because there are a lot of people that can say that last part.
posted by olinerd at 1:24 PM on January 23, 2009

A degree in communications isn't a degree that teaches you and indoctrinates you in a trade like engineering, architecture or even teaching. Its a general degree like psychology, political science, english, sociology...ad nauseum.

It doesn't necessarily PREPARE you for grad school, law school, etc, but it becomes an option since the degree is so general.

If you study what you ENJOY, you'll do well in whatever you want to pursue.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:24 PM on January 23, 2009

The kind of job you'd be looking at is Public Relations; writing press releases/newsletters, dealing with how your company is viewed from the outside, fixing customer perceptions if they've had difficult dealings with your company in the past. It is usually a pretty demanding job without much pay.
posted by ijoyner at 1:29 PM on January 23, 2009

Mass media jobs will probably pay more than other options such as entry level jobs in journalism. Demand is ok now, since all hell has broken loose in the world and there is a lot of media coverage going on for one reason or another. Otoh, a lot of the world is going through various recessions, so jobs are scarce. It can get competitive if you are in PR but the job market will be all the more competitive in two years anyway, so just do your best, and be proficient in tech work. You can look up payscale online but entry level is entry level. I'd say go for graduate school. A graduate degree is worth what an undergrad degree was 50 years ago.
posted by johannahdeschanel at 1:29 PM on January 23, 2009

If you expect to have a high-paying job waiting for you when you come out with a communications degree based on the degree alone, you may be very disappointed.

If you get a communications degree in addition to work you've done in a communication/marketing/teaching/etc. field, the job you get after graduation will be dependent on the work you did before the degree, the side work and projects you did while you were getting the degree, and any portfolio you may have to show.

That kind of degree is a check mark in the box labeled "haz degree?" more than it is an accomplishment that stands on it's own as a qualification for any one career field.
posted by SpecialK at 1:30 PM on January 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Do you mean communication or communicationS?

At my university department, communication is a social science with a quantitative focus. I think that our grads would probably do better in the real world if they emphasized this rather than getting mixed up with people who studied communicationS. Our program prepares people to go on to grad school, but not much else (IMHO). We don't teach anything about journalism, marketing, or writing.

But, our grads tend to get jobs in PR, marketing, and BS office jobs that are the same ones that everyone else with a degree in psych, soc, poli sci, English, or whatever get. There are a million jobs that just require someone to have a BA in something.

If I were a freshman or sophomore in college right now, I'd think about what your end goal is. What do you want to do every day? And then find a major that will help you get there. IMHO, getting an econ or business degree is the most practical of all degrees. Just about any job will require that you have some financial knowhow at some point and then you can become more flexible from there.
posted by k8t at 1:37 PM on January 23, 2009

To kind of expand on what everyone else has said...

I have a degree in communications... I was a secretary in college and an EA after college... and now I work with Oracle systems. Go figure.

I'd suggest interning heavily. That will probably help you get some kind of foothold after graduation and will definitely help you network.
posted by jerseygirl at 1:40 PM on January 23, 2009

Take advantage of every internship possibility that you can.

Among those I know who received recent communications degrees and now have jobs in the business, there were internships at National Public Radio, Maryland Public Televions, several metropolitan radio stations, several major daily newspapers, and Fox News (...I know, but it helped her get her real [very good]) job.

I have a number of friends in the news business and solid internships on your resume count for a lot.
posted by imjustsaying at 1:54 PM on January 23, 2009

A graduate degree is worth what an undergrad degree was 50 years ago.


Today, two graduate degrees are worth what one used to be.
posted by jgirl at 1:56 PM on January 23, 2009

I have a science communications degree (a little specialized, but a communications degree none the less) and think that the major skill that has given me a leg up in every job interview is that I am a proficient graphic designer. You should learn to be one too. Smaller companies LOVE someone who can write their brochures and design them too. Also, like everyone else has said, internships, college jobs that aren't delivering pizza and any other somewhat responsible work experiences related to communications are the best thing you can do for your career. As a sophomore you still have time to get some valuable work experience in before graduation-take advantage of this even if the work hours mean your grades will slip a little, you will be glad you have the experience under your belt and on your resume.
posted by mjcon at 2:35 PM on January 23, 2009

Your do not mention what particular track or focus your Communication(s) major would be so it is hard to give specific advice.

1) as mentioned upthread, intenships will make or break you. You need to get more than one just so you can determine which track or particular jobs you may want in the field;

2) If you were a Technical Communication or Professional Communication major I would ask about your portfolio of work. PR students, as an example, should have at least samples of writing a press release. Actually, thinking about it, even the Media Studies students need to have solid internships and portfolios now a days;

3) For many fields of communication, including PR, editing, technical/science communication and design, a solid grasp of writing and proofreading capabilities are a must. Firms weed people out if they cannot do a basic function such as, proofread and edit, a sample press release, a design sample or any other written work;

4) Until you know what specific field or area it is hard to give you salary estimates. For example the median salary for a Technical Writer is 68K, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What it is for other fields of Communication may vary widely;

5) This is a career counselor at your University kind of questions and they maybe able to give you more precise advice since they understand your potential major and your local job conditions better than us strangers on the internet.
posted by jadepearl at 2:52 PM on January 23, 2009

I consider myself a Communications major even though my school didn't offer that exact degree track (I majored in English, art, and sociology). The jobs I interviewed for post-graduation were mostly in PR, marketing, publishing, or straight-up "communications manager/director/etc". I graduated in 2005, fwiw.

I ended up with a title of communications coordinator. Day-to-day, I create multimedia resources (brochures, easy web stuff, some video editing) for a non-profit. Most other applicants I was up against had decent writing skills and relevant background, but my subset of tech skills set me apart. Organizations that used to have print newsletters are now experimenting with social networks and the like, so my younger age was actually an asset.

As others have said, get as much experience as you can via internships and summer jobs, but start thinking early about what in particular draws you to the field. Communications can be a lot of creating annual reports and general desktop publishing, or you it can be much more research-oriented with lots of statistics and surveying. Are you a creative type, or more detail-focused? Do you enjoy interacting with people, or would you rather squirrel away at a desk somewhere? Communications is a large umbrella that covers many areas.

Regarding your other questions, I started around $30,000 and am up to $40,000 two years later. I'm in Michigan, and it was my first "real" job after college at a time when the state was already tanking. I considered graduate school, but decided it would ultimately work against me as an entry-level employee. Most openings I found asked for a B.A. and 3-5 years of experience.
posted by meghosaurus at 4:37 PM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

University/college is not a trade school. They don't train you to do any job in particular, unless you go to a professional school (law school, engineering, medical school, library school, teacher's college). I really wish the folks who work in high schools would underscore this.

With just a degree, in pretty much anything, you have no particular job prospects. If you can pair your degree with an internship, a work term, a degree from a professional school or a diploma marking you has having a particular trade or skill, you'll be better off, but don't expect any college degree to to make you instantly in demand in any industry. Your first degree is like your high school diploma; you need it to get to other things.

If you have a professional degree, your previous degree(s) will have more value. For instance: if you get an MLIS, which is required of librarians, a first degree in anthropology and a master's degree in forensic science will make you much more valuable.

There are two ways to go about undergraduate degrees; either you decide what you want to do now, and construct your education around that, or (more commonly), you take whatever is most interesting to you, and wait another 4 years, grow up a bit more, and see what direction you want to head in. A good undergraduate program should shape you in a million different ways, most importantly in learning to think, synthesize information, read deeply and thoughtfully, be creative, be difficult to confuse and fool, and solve problems in interesting ways. Any program you choose should give you that, if you're willing to take it. Those skills will always make you more desireable as an employee.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:41 PM on January 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you want to go into PR, writing marketing copy, that sort of thing, an advanced degree likely won't help. As others have said, real work experience in that field is more valuable than academic study. So if you're interested in hands-on work like writing for business or online journalism, I'd highly recommend you start doing that sort of work now, either as an intern or a part-time job. Then when you get your BA, you'll be well ahead of many others, both in experience and ability.

I've hired writers for clients' businesses and my own, and I haven't seen any correlation between a graduate degree and the ability to write effective copy. In fact, if there's a correlation, it's a negative one, because the more academic papers people write, the more damage they seem to do to their ability to write concisely and powerfully.

In my experience, technical writing and marketing copy are about tied for pay. As an independent contractor, you might be able to charge a higher hourly rate for marketing copy, but the projects tend to be shorter, so you might not work as regularly. Journalism, including cool online stuff, pays less, sometimes a lot less.
posted by PatoPata at 5:34 PM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I majored in communications with a minor in political science.

I have worked as a technical PM for 15+ years as my day job. Before that I was in the entertainment business in a project management capacity.

Oh, and I write fiction and non-fiction.

You need to decide what direction you want to go in. Do you want to be in journalism? Radio? Television? Cable? What kind of journalism? Public relations? What do you want to do? I thought I was going to be a journalist so I hustled and worked internships and wrote for the college paper and freelanced for little local publications. It wasn't until I got out and through a series of subsistence jobs, ended up heading into the entertainment industry.

Thousands of graduates will have "communications" degrees, I'm sorry to say. And you will all be competing for the same dismal low-paying entry-level jobs - UNLESS you start to differentiate yourself now.

Communications is not like going to law school. You need to decide on a direction and start striving for it NOW. Not after you graduate.
posted by micawber at 6:13 PM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a communications professor and head of my Dept's internship program, I can't stress the importance of internships enough (as several posters have also noted). Jobs in communications have changed drastically over the last few years, and the bad economy has only accelerated the trend towards freelance-based work (as opposed to full-time employment with benefits). The most reliable way to go after these jobs is to have had as much internship experience as possible, not only to discover the nature of the professional working world (which is considerably different than being a student) but also to develop contacts and a network of people who you can call on for job information. I encourage my students to try as many different internships, in as many different fields, as they can so they have the chance to see what's out there and where their skills and interests lie.
posted by quintno at 7:56 PM on January 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a communication undergrad. I live and work near a large city, but not a major metro area, like NY or LA or something. if you live and go to school in a larger area, there will probably more opportunities for work/interships in your field (and more people looking to those fill those spots of course).

a degree in communication is pretty much a degree in rhetoric. it's like combining sociology, psychology, and linguistics - which makes for some pretty interesting class material.

myself - i am working in IT in a job i stumbled onto on craigslist. it was sheer luck. otherwise, i'd be working in HR, which is the other professional work experience i've had. i wasn't able to do internships during school because the ones i could find didn't pay enough - or at all! unfortunately, i needed to work because i did not have help from my family. i know a couple students from my class who found jobs after graduation thru internships they had.

by the way, Rahm Emanuel has a master's in speech from Northwestern, which has one of the better communication programs in the country. i forget who else i've heard has degrees in communication, but often top political folks do. that's one job where being able to analyze messages is very handy!
posted by sio42 at 6:58 AM on January 26, 2009

Very late to the party here, as usual...

I have a communications degree (earned it 12 years ago) from an average state university and have held jobs as varied as the following, in order: corporate concierge, wedding planner/catering manager for a series of hotels/venues, director of sales for an entertainment agency, leasing agent and marketing director for a property management firm, corporate communications coordinator for a large real estate development firm, then finally, freelance event planner and owner of a DJ company. As you can see, my degree led me to a pretty varied group of job opportunities, but it wasn't any kind of golden ticket to anything particularly high-paying, either.

My particular university offered a concentration in either business/marketing or in television/radio production. I chose the latter because I was lazy and thought it would be easier or more "fun," but in retrospect I really wish I'd gone the business and marketing route. I think that would present more of a likelihood for higher income later. Of course, if you're really passionate about working on the creative side of things, go for it, but hopefully your school will have better equipment than mine did!
posted by justonegirl at 1:36 PM on January 26, 2009

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