What it means to have a communications degree

SO YOU HAVE A COMMUNICATIONS DEGREE - WHAT NOWAs a comms grad, I’m used to being mocked and looked down upon. Being one of the supposedly more intellectual types in high school, the reaction to my choice was pretty predictable. Why not go to a more prestigious university? Because it doesn’t have a communications course and I can’t do what I want to do there. Why not do a BA – isn’t that the same thing? No. And between paying for an arts degree with no clear end goal, and a scholarship for a comms degree with a defined major (in my case, journalism), the choice was easy. Had I gone the other way I would probably have close to zero realistic employment options now. I say this without intending to contribute to the arts hate. Communications and Arts are often seen as waffly, copout options. Which stems from ignorance, really. Degrees in architecture, med, law – they all offer pretty clear cut pathways. So, I’m here to say…

Comms grads are:

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  • Editors
  • Writers
  • Publicists
  • Designers
  • Marketers
  • Advertisers
  • Producers
  • Managers
  • Consultants

Just to name a few options.

They may work in radio, TV, magazines, digital, or newspapers – or they might work in politics, nonprofits, education, startups or big business. The 2.0 world is a media-savvy world – and every organisation needs to communicate with customers, stakeholders, the press and more.

Some even make buttloads of money. Just like the humble arts grad, we have a lot of transferable skills. We also learn a ton of practical skills. Internships and work experience are part of the whole package, and we learn to use industry-standard software – programmes that are actually in use on the job.

So if you’re thinking, “I have a communications degree – now what?” let’s be honest, you’ve probably left it a bit late, but as you can see, there’s no shortage of possibilities.

While the narrow focus of the Communications faculty sometimes frustrated me, it was also a blessing in some ways. It’s industry-focused, kind of like a trade (which makes sense as some of these are professions once learned by on-the-job training or apprenticeship but now require a qualification in most cases).

So, what are some of the lesser known facts/job options in your field? The older I get, the more careers I learn about – so many more exist beyond the ones you learn about growing up.

(In response to Darwin’s Money. Krystal also presents her view here.)

17 thoughts on “What it means to have a communications degree

  • Reply Sense May 12, 2011 at 15:09

    Scientists have to be everything–we have to be sales people and find our own funding, be super creative and come up with ideas for research, we have to be accountants and make up and stick to budgets, we have to be artists and draw maps for papers, design posters for conferences, be excellent writers to convey our methods and results so that other scientists can understand and build upon our findings, and, finally, be really good communicators and cheerleaders and get the media and public excited and interested in our discoveries, so that our findings help humanity and fulfill their purpose. It is a humongous job that details much MUCH more than just nerdy data-collecting, lab-coat wearing, number-crunching minutia. it is very interesting, all of the parts I didn’t see while studying for my degrees…

  • Reply centsofacountrygirl May 12, 2011 at 15:40

    I’m a Geography grad, and I often get asked if I can a/read a map or b/make maps. While I can do both of these things, I’m actually an Environmental Planner and I do everything from writing environmental assessments to designing community environmental programs.

  • Reply Investing Newbie May 13, 2011 at 02:14

    I was a Spanish major and I’m currently a Financial Analyst. While I am not the biggest fan of the BA because it doesn’t really present itself as offering real opportunities for employment, I was able to take a broad range of classes that were intellectually stimulating and tooled me up to be a writer and have excellent analytical skills. Not to mention, I’m fluent in another language. That’s very good everywhere.

  • Reply Alotta Lettuce May 13, 2011 at 04:37

    ooooooh doggy! I’ve got a lot to say on this topic, as a communications degree holder. Me thinks I better start cooking up a post!

  • Reply Two Degrees May 13, 2011 at 04:38

    You might like this WSJ article from Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip.


    It’s a pretty good read, but there’s some controversy around him, his article and an alias on MeFi.

  • Reply Amber from Girl with the Red Hair May 13, 2011 at 11:14

    My degree isn’t even as broad as Communications since I actually do have a JOURNALISM degree. BUT I still consider it very versatile and I’m SO GLAD I took such a versatile path. I LOVE my current job and can see myself here for at least a few more years but when I do make the choice to change careers I know I have a lot of options.

    If you get a nursing degree, sure you have a clear cut path to go on, but what OTHER options do you have? Pretty much none without going back to school..

    • Reply Janet September 12, 2012 at 09:25

      well I have a Bachelors in Nursing and I am a nurse (duh), a sales rep for a medical products company, a substitute teacher for a public school and a National Speaker for EMS Education Conferences. All with a nursing degree. And I didn’t even mention the 30 different types of nurses there are out there.

  • Reply Six Degrees of Communication « A Lotta Lettuce May 13, 2011 at 13:44

    […] after, two of my favorite bloggers and fellow communications degree holders – Krystal and eemusings chimed in with their take on the situation – ones based on experience rather than, um…a […]

  • Reply First Gen American May 13, 2011 at 22:58

    Hmm..what I don’t understand is that I have writer friends who are both communication degree holders and journalism majors. I can’t say that I know the difference between the two degrees.

    I’m an engineer and contrary to popular belief, we don’t know how to fix everything. Because of the complexity of where technology is these days, most people are highly specialized in a particular niche.

    I’d also like to mirror what sense says. Most engineers aren’t technical for their whole lives. They eventually end up in manager, marketing or sales roles. It’s a good stepping stone for a lot of different career paths.

    • Reply eemusings May 14, 2011 at 11:52

      I have no idea how it works in the States, but here you cannot get a Bachelor of Journalism, just like you cannot get a Bachelor of Accounting or a Bachelor of History. Instead, you get a Bachelor of Communication studies, majoring in Journalism, a Bachelor of Commerce, in accounting, a Bachelor of Arts, in History. Communications is the faculty, or the area, if you like. At my uni, there were a very few people who didn’t get into a major for whatever reason, and simply graduated with no declared major (generic Comms degree) but that’s more of a last resort.

  • Reply Financial Samurai May 14, 2011 at 02:26

    Communications is a fine, fine degree. Engineers generally have a chip on their shoulder b/c they believe they are smarter than everyone else, but then get pidgeon holed doing the grunt work and never ascending. As a result, they go and get an MBA to try not to limit themselves.

    • Reply Amanda May 20, 2011 at 04:40

      That sounds like my dad, a little… except then he got a job overseas again and never handed in his final paper to complete his MBA. Which didn’t go down well with mum.

      I totally get the whole “Being one of the supposedly more intellectual types in high school, the reaction to my choice was pretty predictable”, except in my case, at the last minute i chose to do a Bmus in Jazz Performance, rather than a LLB with an Arts degree. I still battle with my choice everyday, but heh, i gotta finish THIS degree first and then think about it.

      I think Comm degrees are fine – at least you know exactly what you’re doing. A huge misconception with the jazz degree is that we are all going to be jazz musicians as a life-time career. No. While a chunk of the students are jazz-obsessed and totally into it for life, the other chunk aren’t that into jazz and are simply doing it to be better musicians all-round. And then there’s me, somewhere in the middle. I’m so sick of hearing “what are you going to do with that?!” or “think of the money you’re missing out on!” (in ref to law), and I most especially hate Art students being snarky about a Music degree… I try and think of it this way – all us music students could have done Arts degrees, but Arts students couldn’t have done Music perf.

      Anyway, ramblings aside… It’s really good that you were focused on what you want to do to have gotten where you are now. Rather than let people sway you into something that wasn’t helpful for the field you wanted to work in.

  • Reply Link love (Powered by immunisations and new horizons) | Musings of an Abstract Aucklander May 14, 2011 at 16:46

    […] Post navigation ← What it means to have a communications degree […]

  • Reply Stephanie September 1, 2011 at 06:04

    Thanks very much for this post. The word “communications” is so broad, and something that everyone has to do, that many of us don’t understand what goes into a communications degree on the outset.

    (I like saying that I’m going for a BS in mechanical engineering and people not really questioning my choice. However, people in general don’t seem to fully understand what mechanical engineering is either. =P)

  • Reply Link love (Powered by bay runs and afternoon tea) | Musings of an Abstract Aucklander March 18, 2012 at 15:12

    […] Hopefully you got some internships and work experience under your belt along the way, because experience (and who you know) is what counts. If you were stupid, well, it’s not too late. But seriously. I’m assuming you don’t actually know what you want to do (something you’d ideally have figured out earlier, but oh well). If you can afford to, then do lots of experience at different organisations. If you need to start bringing in money, then you’re stuck taking the first decent job that comes your way, aren’t you? But seriously, all companies need to communicate with customers, stakeholders, the media, etc. I elaborate more on career pathways in communications here. […]

  • Reply Link love (Powered by doughnuts | Musings of an Abstract Aucklander May 7, 2012 at 00:48

    […] of class in the workplace; Outlined why I have no management aspirations; Talked about having a communications degree; Shared some of my favourite cheap eats in Auckland; Blogged about peak creative […]

  • Reply Learning to take criticism | Musings of an Abstract Aucklander May 22, 2012 at 22:59

    […] I was one of those high achievers – a big fish in a small school pond. Then I got myself a pretty practical degree. Unlike friends who did more creative courses, I never learned to get ripped apart and take heat at […]

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