Rising senior interviewed by U.S. News & World Report on the value of a degree in communications

A recent article by U.S. News & World Report, “What You Can Do With a Communications Degree,” featured Marymount Communication major and rising senior Brittany George.
The co-president of Marymount’s Lambda Pi Eta (LPH) Honor Society chapter, George also serves as one of only three members on the national LPH Student Advisory Board after attending the honor society’s annual national meeting in Baltimore this past November.
“Our department is proud to see her representing her major, our department and our University in this capacity,” said Dr. Megan McFarlane, Assistant Professor of Communication at Marymount. “This has been a tremendous opportunity for her.”
Continue reading for the full article by U.S. News & World Report.
Communication has arguably never been more robust, with manifold ways to share information in the digital era. But communication has also perhaps never been more complicated, with a daily deluge of information to sift through, tune out, verify or debunk – all at our fingertips thanks to the megaphone of social media.
Considering the blessings and curses of the information era, some communications experts see their field as a way to cut through the noise. A communications degree, they say, helps college students understand the world and how to navigate it. And it can also set students up for careers in a variety of fields.
Jobs Available in the Communications Field
“We like to think that a student with a communication degree is broadly situated to take on a number of different kinds of positions,” says Trevor Parry-Giles, a professor in the communication department at the University of Maryland—College Park and executive director of the National Communication Association, a not-for-profit scholarly society dedicated to supporting the discipline.
Those positions span the communications industry, reaching across the corporate world and stretching into nonprofits and public service:

  • Journalist
  • Public relations specialist
  • Speechwriter
  • Social media director
  • Broadcast engineer
  • Photographer/camera operator
  • Video/audio producer
  • Radio/podcast host
  • Event planner
  • Technical writer

What Students Learn as Communications Majors
Communications students “look at communications theory broadly,” Parry-Giles says. “In other words, what we know after about 3,000 years of thinking about how human beings send and receive messages to one another, and what are the factors that influence all of that.”
He adds that students may focus on communications in different contexts, such as health or science.
Kristen Nevious, director of the Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, frames the aims of her department in another way: “Our mission is to educate leaders of conscience in public communication.”
Students at Franklin Pierce learn the ins and outs of the communications field through hands-on work. Nevious notes a variety of opportunities for students to get involved, such as the campus radio, newspaper and livestreaming of athletic events. The university also has a political news unit that reports on the New Hampshire presidential primary, the nation’s first primary each general election cycle.
Nevious says students should seek out such opportunities in a communications program. “I think they should look for the opportunity to be exposed to the skills that employers say they need such as critical thinking skills, writing skills, interpersonal communication.”
Those skills are also stressed in the coursework students must pass in their degree program. Students should expect heavy doses of communications theory, research and writing-intensive projects, plus opportunities to get creative in their classes.
“It is very project based, which I personally enjoy. Yes, there are still papers and tests, but mostly, professors want you to experience different aspects of Communications and offer more hands-on experiences, rather than just talking about it,” Brittany George, a rising senior communications major at Marymount University in Virginia, wrote in an email.
“Expect to be creative and work hard,” she adds.
That’s a message echoed by Samantha Burke, a rising senior communications major at Hastings College in Nebraska.
“A lot of my classes that I’ve taken, especially the last two years as I’ve moved into junior and senior year, have been very research-based and very independently driven,” Burke says, adding that she recently finished a 45-page paper, which indicates the degree to which communications programs can be writing-intensive depending on a student’s chosen track.
Neither George nor Burke were communications majors when they arrived on their respective campuses, but both realized the field fits their interests. They’re also on different paths, a testament to the versatility of the communications field.
Burke intends to pursue an academic career in communications while George is highly interested in broadcast journalism.
It should go without saying that students will learn communication skills, but what exactly does that look like? Ultimately, students should expect to learn the tools of the trade for their particular pathway in communications, whether that’s heavy on the technical side such as audio or video production, or more theoretical for students interested in the research component.
Students should also look for internship opportunities or other ways to get hands-on experience while in school, Nevious says.
Career Outcomes for Communications Graduates
Forget about the multimillion-dollar deals that cable news anchors sign. Those are grand exceptions, not the norm.
“We’re about in the middle of the pack in terms of employability and salary over the long haul,” Parry-Giles says.
What does middle of the pack look like? According to a salary survey conducted in 2019 by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, students graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communications in the class of 2020 can expect to make a projected average starting salary of $56,484 a year.
But communications degree aspirants should know that the pay can swing significantly between different types of jobs in the field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts is $43,490 a year, per recent data, compared with a median of $61,150 for public relations specialists.
BLS data also shows the number of journalism jobs falling 10% between 2018 and 2028 while public relations positions are projected to rise 6% in the same period.
Parry-Giles emphasizes that students need to be flexible and prepared for a workforce filled with unknowns as the industry, and the technology alongside it, evolve. A good communications program will prepare students for a career rather than a job, he says.
How to Get Started in the Communications Field
Inspired students don’t have to wait until college. Opportunities are often available in high school. Communications experts suggest joining the student newspaper, participating in speech and debate teams, volunteering at a public access TV channel or another local organization. In the absence of a student newspaper, try writing for the school’s literary magazine or whatever digital offerings are available.
Burke advises students to take as many writing classes as possible in high school and further sharpen those skills during college.
And George encourages students to find their niche. “My best advice that I have learned so far would be to find yourself and be yourself in the field. Communications is a very unique major, giving you the opportunity to pursue many different job types,” she wrote.
“In saying that, find the parts of Communications that you enjoy the most, and take off with it.”