Communication is at the forefront of everything we do in society, from the choices we make as consumers to the organizational and interpersonal communication we encounter on a daily basis in our work settings. From business development, public relations, and marketing to health care administration, political communication, journalism, and technology, communication and careers in communication touch all of these sectors, and more.
This Guide to Careers in Communication outlines the types of careers that are common in the field of communication. It also explores the different kinds of academic training and degree programs that can prepare students for impactful careers in numerous industries. While the careers outlined in this guide are presented as being distinct, there is often overlap between different fields and careers in communication. For example, while health communication can be classified as a distinct field, many health communication roles require skills and training in marketing, public relations, and technical communication. Similarly, political communication often employs mass communication methods and digital communication technologies to disseminate political messaging to stakeholders and the public.
This guide serves as a starting point in students’ research of potential careers in the many different fields of communication, and also links to the wealth of information available on MastersinCommunications.com, including interviews with premier scholars in communication studies, Technical and Health Communication Hubs which contain information and careers and training in these fields, and our in-depth guides on scientific, medical, and environmental communication.
Search Communication Programs
Fields and Careers in Communication
Communication is what connects all aspects of our society—from the corporate and consumer realms to politics, health care, academia, and the arts. As the field of communication is broad and diverse, it is not possible in this guide to fully represent the variety of all sub-disciplines and potential careers that may be available to students and professionals who study communication or one of its sub-disciplines. However, several of the major areas within communication are outlined in the sections below with each section containing information about the field, potential career options, and skills required for those careers.
Business and Organizational Communication
Business Communication is defined as communication that facilitates the operation and growth of businesses and organizations of all types, from large corporations to startups, small family businesses, and non-profit organizations. This field is comprised of both internal and external-facing communication and media.
Internal Business Communication
Internal business communication includes all of the communications that take place between employees at a company, as well as those between leadership and employees. This includes human resources, employee training and development, team management, and crafting leadership messaging. Companies who are facing challenges in terms of their internal business communications might hire organizational communication specialists, or turn to their human resources or employee education staff. Examples of internal business communication include but are not limited to:
- The onboarding program a company uses to orient new employees, which includes employee trainings and explanation of benefits.
- The key messaging that corporate leadership communicates regarding the company’s mission and/or developments in a company’s financial performance.
- Email and other written communications that take place between members of the same department or team, as part of team and project management.
Potential Careers in Internal Business Communication
- Human Resources Specialists help manage employee recruitment, retention, and well-being in corporate environments. They are often responsible for crafting internal communications that translate the ideals of leadership into a productive work culture, including onboarding documents and training materials, company-wide announcements, and corporate events.
- Communication Specialists work with leadership to tailor important internal and external messaging to ensure it is consistent with the mission statement and overall objectives of their organization.
- Account Coordinators oversee client accounts and manage the majority of communications between their employer and the client to which they are assigned. They handle contracts and correspondence and also coordinate communications between their team’s leadership and their clients.
Skills Used in Internal Business Communication Careers
- Interpersonal Communication: Professionals specializing in internal business communication need to have strong skills in employee training and support, navigating team and organizational challenges, and resolving disputes.
- Event and Program Management: Internal business communication professionals must be able to collaborate with colleagues and leadership to develop and implement training programs, corporate events, employee wellness programs, surveys for employee satisfaction, etc.
- Critical thinking Skills: Individuals in this area must be adept at identifying areas for improvement to foster employee productivity, morale, and support.
- Written and Oral Communication: Professionals in these roles must discuss issues with leadership and employees, host trainings, and assist in the writing of contracts and other important internal business documentation.
- Reading Comprehension: For reviewing and understanding rules and regulations relevant to organizational settings.
External Business Communication
External business communications include marketing, public relations, advertising, and business-to-business communication. Marketing and advertising are important because they enable a company to reach its target customers, helping to determine how much money a company can make from its goods and/or services. Public relations and business-to-business communication are also crucial forms of business communication because they manage a company’s relationship with its stakeholders, which include investors, the public, and other businesses.
Overlapping with but distinct from marketing, advertising, and public relations is brand management, which is defined as an organization’s overall strategy for increasing the perceived value of its brand. Effective brand management requires skillful marketing, advertising, corporate messaging, and public relations strategy to maintain and increase people’s trust in and loyalty to a particular company or brand. Examples of external-facing business communication include:
- A marketing campaign that a company might develop to promote its new product. This campaign might include social media promotion, web content, promotional videos, and print media.
- Press releases detailing new developments in a company’s financial status, corporate policies, environmental impact, or other area that is relevant to the company’s stakeholders, as well as the public.
- Negotiations, contracts, and other business-to-business communications between two companies, wherein one company is selling a customer relationship management system to the other and helping integrate the software with the purchasing company’s existing systems.
Potential Careers in External-Facing Business Communication
- Media Planners help grow businesses through the development of media plans and strategies. They also analyze user data to arrive at actionable insights that shape media planning, account management, and campaigns.
- Public Relations Specialists handle the all public-facing communications strategy for an organization, serving as a liaison between their organization and the public, as well as other stakeholders. Public relations staff write press releases, speeches, and responses to media requests for comment.
- Marketing Managers/Directors, also known as Media Managers or Directors, craft and implement marketing content strategies, often using data analytics to shape the content and design of their messages to engage consumers.
- Social Media Analyst/Manager/Strategists analyze users’ interactions with their company’s social media accounts to craft social media content strategies, including advertisements and announcements, as well as responses to public customer comments and queries.
- Brand Managers focus specifically on an organization’s brand, which is distinct from but related to an organization’s marketing and public relations strategies. Brand managers work to ensure that all of a company’s products, services, media, and communications align with their desired organizational identity and mission statement. This requires working with product design, human resources, marketing and public relations teams.
Skills Used in External Business Communication Careers
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO): External business communication professionals must know how to target audiences based on the keywords these audiences use to find information on search engines such as Google.
- Data Analytics: Professionals in this field must know how to use and interpret data including social media traffic and engagement to develop effective plans for engaging consumers via social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
- Written Communication: Marketing and advertising professionals must know how to write compelling catch-phrases, informative content, commercial scripts, and other marketing and advertising content, while public relations and brand managers need to write clear and effective content that upholds the reputation and mission statement of their organization.
- Graphic and Visual Design: Knowledge of how to create graphics, videos, interactive content, and other multimedia features that engage audiences and pique their interest in the company’s products, services, and/or brand is a useful and desired skill for this profession.
- Event Planning and Management: Some marketing, advertising, and public relations professionals also oversee the logistics around promotional events or partnership-building events for key stakeholders.
Communication Studies is defined as the advanced academic study of human communication processes and how they impact human behavior across different contexts. Scholars in this field use both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies to examine communication phenomena in order to help fellow scholars, communication practitioners, and the public to better understand communication’s role in and impact on all facets of society—from political and cultural to economic, health/medical, and commercial, among others.
The field of communication studies is quite vast and diverse, encompassing scholarship on interpersonal communication, corporate communication, mass communication, political communication, science communication, and more. Examples of impactful research that scholars of communication studies have conducted include but are not limited to:
- The investigation of the most effective interpersonal communication methodologies to use in patient-provider contexts (read more about this topic in our interview with Dr. Elaine Wittenberg).
- A study of the words and symbols that are used to convey patriotism in different public parks throughout the United States, and how these representations of patriotism connect to views of masculinity, femininity, politics, and ethnic and racial equality.
- An examination of the relevance of foundational communication theories and the work of literary scholars in the fields of public address, corporate/business communication, and political communication (read more about Dr. Steven Beebe’s research in these areas in our exclusive interview).
- The differences in cultural approaches to intergenerational communication (for example, communication between children and parents, children and grandparents, or non-related individuals from different generations), and how these differences impact family dynamics and individuals’ personal values.
- The role of family communication in the prevention of substance abuse amongst adolescents, and the types of communication and communication contexts that are most effective at this prevention (for more information on this area of research, read our interview with Dr. Margie Skeer).
As the above examples illustrate, communication studies can have a significant impact on people’s understanding of effective communication in a variety of contexts. The insights that communication scholars achieve and publish can help health care practitioners better treat patients, managers improve their communications with their teams, and help prevent or resolve relationship struggles between family members. Independent of direct industry and societal applications, however, the field of communication studies is also compelling because it furthers our knowledge of how we interact as humans in complex societies.
Potential Careers in Communication Studies
- Professors of Communication conduct research of communication phenomena in their area of specialization (ex. health communication, political communication, culture and communication, etc.), publishing their findings in scholarly journals. They also typically teach courses at the undergraduate and/or graduate levels on communication scholarship, theories, and methodologies.
- Community College Professors focus on teaching almost exclusively, as they are typically not required to conduct research and publish their findings. Community college instructors in communication design curricula and teach courses in areas such as public speaking, political communication, health communication, interpersonal communication, media writing, digital communication, and more.
- Communication Consultants are scholars of communication who apply the expertise they have developed through their research and teaching experience to the corporate sphere as communication consultants. Communication consultants design lectures and training sessions for their clients concerning topics such as effective executive or leadership communication, streamlining team or organizational information flow, or revamping a marketing or public relations strategy. Communication scholars in areas such as health communication or political communication might also help health care organizations or political campaigns, respectively, with their expertise.
Skills Used in Communication Studies Careers
- Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed-Methods Research: Communication scholars and professors design and implement advanced research studies that examine communication phenomena and their effects.
- Written and Oral Communication: Researchers in this field must be adept at writing and editing their research and results for publication, presenting their findings before colleagues, and teaching students or company employees key theories and concepts of communication.
- Team Management Skills: Scholars of communication often collaborate with colleagues and facilitate discussions and collaborations between students, corporate clients, etc.
- Curriculum Design and Implementation: To develop and deliver communication concepts, theories, and skills in an effective and actionable way, both in academic and corporate settings, communication studies professors must know how to structure their courses.
- Mentorship: Supporting students, colleagues, and clients and forging positive working relationships is a crucial responsibility in this field.
Health communication is defined as any communication that supports, promotes, or otherwise impacts human health and the practice of medicine. This includes, not only patient-provider communication (i.e. the communication that doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, and other medical personnel have with patients and patients’ families), but also organizational communication within healthcare settings such as hospitals and community health centers. Moreover, health communication encompasses mobile health apps, health marketing, and public relations content that helps navigate the relationship between health-related organizations (ex. hospitals, pharmaceutical organizations, medical equipment companies) and their stakeholders.
Health communication is extremely important and is becoming a more prominent field due to the fact that health care and health insurance are issues of primary concern to most Americans. In an interview with MastersinCommunications.com, Dr. Bruce Lambert, who directs the Master of Science in Health Communication program at Northwestern University, explained, “Healthcare is a $3 trillion part of the United States economy. It represents between 15-16 percent of gross domestic product, and affects the life of every single American. Whether we are healthy or sick, healthcare consumes an enormous amount of resources and it profoundly shapes our destinies. […] And our healthcare system is badly broken in ways that the communication arts and sciences are able to help repair.” Examples of health communication in practice, and its impact on health outcomes, include but are not limited to:
- The communication between different members of a health care team when discussing a patient’s condition and collaboratively developing a comprehensive treatment plan.
- The organizational communication between administrative leadership at a hospital and medical staff.
- The communication between health care providers and their patients, including explanations of preventative care measures, diagnoses, treatments and operations, and medication.
- The dosing instructions and drug information that pharmaceutical companies release to doctors and their patients, both in the form of pamphlets and online content.
- The educational and marketing content that a health-related startup creates to inform and engage potential consumers.
- Press releases that a government agency disseminates to the public regarding public health risks and how to address them.
- Public health campaigns designed to educate vulnerable populations about issues such as drug use prevention, sexually transmitted diseases and ways to prevent their transmission, and/or environmental impacts on health and how to mitigate them.
As the above examples illustrate, health communication is a diverse field that incorporates organizational communication, marketing and public relations, interpersonal communication, and digital communication. As a result, there are many different types of professions that involve health communication. For more information on health communication, including case studies and frequently asked questions, please refer to our Health Communication Hub, as well as our Guide to Science and Medical Communication.
Potential Careers in Health Communication
- Corporate Wellness Specialists assist companies either as an internal employee or as a contractor in the design and implementation of company wellness programming, including all promotional media content and messaging, event design and coordination, and ongoing fitness and nutrition programs for employees and their families.
- Communications Specialists at Hospitals, Pharmaceutical Companies, and other Health-Related Organizations provide internal and external-facing communication strategy and services for their companies. They craft press releases, informational content for their organization’s website, and important correspondence between organizational leadership and other stakeholders.
- Health Marketing Specialists are marketing professionals who work for a health or medical-related organization, whether that is a behavioral health or counseling mobile app, a medical device company, or a local community health center. Their job is to identify ways to access potential consumers and also connect with existing customers to ensure they remain interested in their company’s products or services.
Skills Used in Health Communication Careers
- Written and Oral Communication Skills: Health communication professionals must know how to convey important ideas to patients, health care providers, health care administrators, and other stakeholders within the medical and health care systems.
- Organizational Communication: Health communication specialists must help leadership in health care organizations to improve information flows between departments, teams, and individuals.
- Functional Knowledge of the Health Care System: Health communication professionals must understand the role that communication plays in optimizing medical services and the health care system, and how health communication contributes to the overall mission of optimizing human health outcomes.
- Data Analysis: Many health communication professionals design their communication strategies from analyzing data on patient or consumer engagement and health outcomes in a variety of contexts.
- Digital Media Design: The ability to develop visual, audio, video, or other multimedia content for marketing or educational purposes is a desired skill in this field.
Technical and Scientific Communication
Technical communication is defined as all types of written, oral, and visual content that explain technical or scientific concepts, provide specialized instructions on how to use tools or machinery, or communication that leverages a significant degree of technology in its design and dissemination. Communication in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, as well as health and medical communication, qualify as technical communication because they all concern specialized concepts not readily understood by the public.
A subset of technical communication is scientific communication, which is defined as all forms of communication that concern scientific concepts, such as scientific research articles, journalistic articles on science concepts, and environmental and sustainability marketing. Examples of technical and scientific communication include but are not limited to the following:
- Online instructions on how to use a specific type of cloud-based software.
- User manuals for electronic equipment such as a computer, a dishwasher, or a vacuum.
- Grant proposals requesting funding for scientific or medical research, and which outline the applicants’ previous research, current plans for further investigation, and the import of this research to society at large.
- Journal articles that describe research on scientific topics ranging from protein-to-protein interactions within human cells to the classification of stars within our solar system.
- Medical communication such as pharmaceutical and medical device instructions.
- A news feature that describes the phenomena that are contributing to climate change, and which projects the impact of climate change on different habitats worldwide.
As the above examples illustrate, technical and scientific communication is a diverse field that overlaps with other areas of communication, including health communication, journalism, and organizational communication. For more information on technical communication and scientific communication, please refer to our Technical Communication Hub and our Guide to Science and Medical Communication. In addition, for a detailed look at a sub-set of scientific communication that has a focus on environmental science and sustainability, please read our Guide to Environmental Communication.
Potential Careers in Technical and Scientific Communication
- Technical Writers and Editors create instructional and other informative content on subjects in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. They can create both consumer-facing content (ex. user manuals and online support pages), as well as internal content (ex. instructions for employees at their organization on how to use specialized internal tools).
- Editors of Scholarly Journals select, review, and edit articles submitted by professors and researchers for publication. In general, these individuals must have training in the area in which their journal specializes, whether that is cellular biology, sociology, ecology, or political science.
- Environmental Advocacy Specialists write public-facing content and develop campaign strategies to spread awareness of environmental issues such as pollution, climate change, fires, drought, deforestation and depletion of other natural resources.
Skills Used in Technical and Scientific Communication Careers
- Functional or expert knowledge of one’s field: Technical writers and editors should have a strong understanding of the field about which they write, whether it is medical writing, scientific research writing, mechanical instructions, computers and technology, or a different area.
- Strong written communication skills: Technical and scientific communication professionals must translate complex scientific, technical, and/or medical concepts into easily understood prose for the average reader.
- Graphic or other multimedia design skills: In general, technical writers and editors should have knowledge of how to represent technical or scientific concepts in visual form.
- Critical thinking: To create instructional and/or informative content that is detailed yet cohesive and also well organized, technical communicators need to employ critical thinking skills.
Political communication is defined as all forms of communication that concern politics and governance, which not only includes written policies and legislative proposals, but also campaign rhetoric that candidates use to garner support, politically partisan journalism and social media, and even political discussions held in classrooms and at home. With the advent of new communication technologies and the ability to broadcast political speeches, articles, and other content via online publications and social media, there has developed a pressing need for political communicators who are clear, ethical, and informative. In addition, as important as political communication is from a national perspective, it plays an increasingly significant role in the international arena, as countries’ governments have to navigate delicate relationships and collaborations through diplomatic and nuanced communication. Examples of political communication include but are not limited to:
- A presidential candidate’s campaign speech to potential voters.
- An op-ed piece that discusses a pressing political issue in local, national, or international contexts.
- The online media and print publicity content that a political advocacy organization releases to engage stakeholders.
- Proposed legislation that must clearly articulate the aims, logistics, and potential impact of the desired policy.
- Legal debates (both orally delivered and written) and court decisions.
- Communications between representatives at a United Nations conference when discussing pressing global environmental, medical, sociopolitical, and economic issues.
Given the importance of political communication to the history of human civilization and the current trajectory of our national and global community, scholars have also studied this field extensively. For more information on presidential communication, political communication research, and other related fields, please refer to our Introductory Guide to Research in Political Communication and our Guide to Presidential Communication Research.
Potential Careers in Political Communication
- Political Speech Writers write speeches for political figures, including not only presidents and presidential candidates, but also governors, mayors, and other government officials. They convey important political arguments and concepts in engaging and accessible prose.
- Campaign Directors use their knowledge of effective political communication as well as local, state, national, and/or international politics to design and implement effective campaigns for political causes, administrations, or candidates. They oversee the production of campaign materials, political speeches and press releases, and responses to issues that are important to stakeholders.
- Political Journalists research and write articles on social and political issues affecting the public, with the aim of informing people and holding governmental bodies, large organizations, and public figures accountable.
- Lobbyists and Political Advocates promote the mission of organizations ranging from non-profits to universities, corporations, and government agencies through written communication as well as relationship building with key stakeholders.
Skills Used in Political Communication Careers
- Persuasive Communication: Political communication professionals need to write compelling arguments that further the interests of the organization, mission, and/or candidate they support. This requires them to understand the needs and interests of their target audiences, and the most effective rhetoric for connecting with these audiences.
- Research: To build well-supported arguments, political communicators need to understand how to research for relevant data on important sociopolitical, environmental, and/or economic issues. This might include conducting polls or surveys.
- Data Analysis: Many professionals in this field conduct research and data analysis on their target audiences to better understand what their concerns are. This might also include gathering and analyzing online web traffic data.
Journalism is defined as the presentation of news to the public, including online and print articles on current events; opinion pieces on key issues in politics, economics, science, and other fields; and both televised and radio newscasts. Historically, journalism’s role has been to provide transparency and important, actionable information about current events, as well as ongoing political, social, economic, and environmental issues. Today, journalism’s mission remains largely the same, though the field itself has expanded to incorporate a wide range of news sources, from blogs and social media to longstanding publications such as The New York Times, The Economist, and The Washington Post. Examples of journalism include but are not limited to:
- In-depth news articles on national and international political events, such as the United States presidential election and Brexit developments in the United Kingdom.
- Online and mobile media coverage of environmental issues and public health hazards, such as hurricanes impacting the East Coast or the wildfires plaguing California.
- Investigative news segments that delve into important but little understood issues, such as the recent #MeToo Movement.
- Political essays and op-ed pieces that express news editors’ views of particular issues or events.
- Journalistic documentaries that depict little known international issues, or which illustrate worlds otherwise inaccessible to the general public (for example, Planet Earth is a nature documentary that qualifies as journalism as well as scientific communication).
- Biographies of famous current or historical figures in culture, science, or politics.
In recent history, journalism has transitioned from primarily print, radio, and television media to being disseminated through online and mobile technologies. As a result, journalism as a field within communication overlaps significantly with mass and digital communication.
Potential Careers in Journalism
- Reporters research and write news stories for one or more news outlets. They pitch ideas to editors, conduct interviews, fact-check sources, and find ways to explain important events and issues to a broad audience.
- Newspaper and Magazine Editors oversee the work of reporters and writers, curating all content for publication and ensuring that all articles meet their organization’s standards for quality, transparency, and relevance.
Skills Used in Journalism Careers
- Research: One of the primary responsibilities of journalists is to conduct research for the articles that they write. This typically includes conducting interviews, finding and researching primary and secondary documentation, and searching databases both online and in-person.
- Strong Writing and Editing: Journalists must write and edit articles and therefore must be adept at reviewing and revising their own and others’ work.
- Multimedia Design: As much of journalism has transitioned online, more news outlets may be hiring people who have the ability to create videos, infographics, and other visual and/or interactive representations of information.
- Online/Web Analytics: Media companies, including news outlets, typically use web analytics software to measure user engagement and evaluate how well a certain article or news feature performs.
Mass Communication / Digital Communication
Mass communication broadly defined is any communication that is meant for dissemination to mass audiences. In today’s digital age, wherein much of print-based mass media has been replaced by web and mobile content, digital communication is often seen as being synonymous with mass communication; however, these are two distinct yet highly related fields. Digital communication is defined as the forms of communication that involve technology in their design and dissemination. This incorporates, not only email, websites, and traditional television, but also mobile apps, social media, and streaming content services.
Mass and digital communication intersect with almost every other area of communication. For example, as mentioned above, journalism is a form of mass communication that has become progressively more digital (to the point that most journalism is delivered through online and mobile means). Similarly, health communication, political communication, and external-facing business communication all employ mass and digital communication to reach their target audiences with important information. As such, many of the examples listed above for other types of communication are also in fact examples of mass communication, including:
- News articles about national and international events, distributed both through print newspapers and through websites and social media.
- Social media marketing campaigns that reach millions of viewers daily.
- Online instructions on how to use a particular cloud-based software, which is read by users of this software on a global scale.
- Scientific research articles that are available on PubMed or another website that allows the public to access scholarly literature.
As the above examples illustrate, mass communication is not so much a distinct field as it is a form of communication that runs through all other types of communication, helping them to access broad audiences and widespread impact.
Potential Careers in Mass Communication / Digital Communication
- Campaign Managers use their knowledge of how to engage mass audiences in order to design, launch, and oversee political campaigns for candidates, social causes, and organizations.
- Web Producers combine training in mass communication with an understanding of online media and web analytics to create websites and online content that engage readers and help organizations reach their goals.
- Marketing Specialists and Public Relations Specialists apply mass communication principles to the external-facing content they produce for consumers, investors, and other stakeholders.
- Journalists write articles that are intended for mass audiences, and which address important issues that are relevant to a wide readership.
Skills Used in Mass Communication / Digital Communication Careers
- Writing and Critical Thinking Skills: Mass communication professionals need to know how to place themselves in the position of their readers and tailor their writing accordingly, in order to create content that actually connects with their target audiences.
- Web Analytics: As most forms of mass communication are now delivered through the Internet and mobile devices, mass communication professionals should understand how to use web technologies to assess the performance of the content they create.
- Research: As with most communication professionals, from science writers to political campaign strategists, mass communication professionals need to be adept at researching the interests and needs of their target audiences, and/or the topics and issues they must write about.
Education and Training in Communication
There are myriad degree programs at the associate, undergraduate, and graduate levels that can prepare students for impactful roles in communication. In this section, we outline some of the major types of degree programs in communication and how they can help advance students’ careers in their chosen field.
Associate Degree Programs in Communication
Associate degree programs in communication, which are typically available at community colleges, prepare students for entry-level jobs in communication and media. Typically ranging from 50 to 70 credit hours, these programs can help students gain a fundamental understanding of the communication industry, as well as key theories, methods, and strategies in the field.
However, individuals interested in this field should note that many companies expect applicants to communication roles to have a completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a communication-related field. Depending on the school they attend, students may be able to transfer credits from their Associate Degree in Communication towards a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university.
Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Communication
Bachelor’s degree programs in communication combine general education requirements typical to a undergraduate degree with specialized coursework in one or more areas of communication. In general, these programs have major-specific courses in communication theory and research, which students complete before progressing to specialization and elective courses that match their academic interests and career goals. Possible majors commonly offered at universities for bachelor’s degrees in communication include but are not limited to:
- Bachelor’s Degrees in Communication typically have a wide variety of courses in some or all of the sub-fields of communication explained above (ex. health, political, and technical/scientific communication), allowing students to choose classes that give them the skills they desire.
- Bachelor’s Degrees in Mass Communication generally introduce students to mass communication theory and research, as well as mass and digital communication strategies that they can employ in different communication jobs. Some bachelor’s programs in mass communication have a more theoretical and research focus, while others are more applied or industry focused.
- Bachelor’s Degrees in Technical Communication combine principles of technical writing, editing, and information visualization with courses in publication technologies to prepare students to write instructional content, research and grant proposals, and other forms of technical writing to inform select audiences.
- Bachelor’s Degrees in Health Communication cover communication theories and strategies within the context of health care and medical organizations, such as hospitals, clinics, health-related startups, and community health centers. Students learn the principles of effective patient-provider communication, marketing and public relations as it relates to patient education and care, and team and organizational communication principles in medical settings.
- Bachelor’s Degrees in Political Communication prepare students to convey important political information and arguments effectively to the public, media professionals, and government personnel across different political situations and contexts. Students generally learn the framework of the American political system and the role that interpersonal, organizational, and mass communication plays in this system.
In addition, there are bachelor’s degree programs that, while not formally called communication programs, nevertheless are focused on a field within communication, such as public relations, marketing, or journalism.
- Bachelor’s Degrees in Marketing include courses in consumer data analysis, marketing strategy development, content writing and editing, and marketing campaign design and management. Students may learn about specialized topics such as search engine optimization (SEO), product management and promotion, business ethics, and brand building.
- Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism prepare students for careers as reporters and editors through courses in media law and ethics, storytelling both in writing and in other forms of media, the history of journalism, and the craft and process of news reporting, writing, and editing.
- Bachelor’s Degrees in Digital Media focus on teaching students the latest digital media technologies and how to leverage them across a wide variety of communication and media projects. Students learn web design techniques, animation, graphic design, electronic publishing, and web analytics strategies.
Students who earn a bachelor’s degree in the field of communication can often pursue entry level positions in many of the career fields noted above. With increasing professional experience and/or academic training, these individuals may be able to progress to more senior-level positions. However, some professionals choose to earn their master’s degree in communication or a related field in order to gain additional knowledge and training to help advance their careers.
Learn more about Bachelor’s in Communication, Bachelor’s in Marketing, and Bachelor’s in Mass Communication programs by exploring our Related Degrees section.
Master’s Degree Programs in Communication
Master’s programs in communication are ideal for students or communication professionals who wish to advance their careers in a sub-field within communication, or who wish to gain experience in advanced communication research. To this end, the coursework in master’s in communication programs tends to build off of foundational concepts introduced in students’ undergraduate courses and work experience, in order to help them step into more high-level strategic, managerial, and/or research roles.
Moreover, master’s in communication programs tend to have a wider variety of specialization options compare to undergraduate programs in communication. This is because master’s students typically have some work experience and a better idea of the areas of communication in which they would like to focus. However, many master’s in communication programs do accept students who have just completed their bachelor’s degree.
There are three main types of master’s in communication programs: those that focus on applied practice, those that focus on communication theory, research, and scholarship, and those that offer a hybrid of applied and theoretical coursework. Master’s in communication programs that focus on applied practice are suitable for people who want to advance in industry roles, while master’s in communication programs that focus on theory, research, and scholarly publication are designed for students who wish to pursue doctoral studies or teach at the community college level.
Programs that combine applied and theoretical coursework, or which offer students the option of tailoring their program of study to be more applied or more theoretical are ideal for students who want to gain training in academic research and communication theory, while also building industry-specific skills. While these programs may not allow students to delve as deeply into either the academic or the applied, relative to programs that have a dedicated focus or specialization, they can be useful for students who want to keep their options open with a broader skills set.
Below are brief descriptions of some common types of master’s in communication programs. For more information, click on the links below to go to our specialization pages. These pages provide sample curricula, sample course descriptions, and consideration students should take into account when deciding whether to apply.
Master’s in Communication Programs with an Applied Practice Focus
- Master’s Degrees in Strategic Communication typically offer courses in both internal and external communication leadership strategies, including team and organizational management, digital media campaigns and analytics, social media strategies, and context-specific courses such as communication for social change or strategic political advocacy. Find Master’s in Strategic Communication Programs.
- Master’s Degrees in Organizational and Business Communication focus specifically on promoting the success of businesses by clarifying, streamlining, and otherwise optimizing flows of communication within these organizations. Courses in these programs often cover corporate identity management, organizational crisis communication, digital media management, and business communication principles. Find Master’s in Organizational and Business Communication Programs.
- Master’s Degrees in Political Communication focus on helping students develop skills in clear and persuasive communication for public policy, campaigning, political crisis management, and legislative, executive, and judicial efficacy. Courses in these programs tend to focus on the American government, communication law and ethics, public policy management through communication, and campaigns and crisis management. Find Master’s in Political Communication Programs.
- Master’s Degrees in Technical Communication typically cover fundamental and advanced concepts in technical communication and editing, the principles of professional writing, and technical publication management. Students are sometimes able to specialize in areas such as grant proposals, instructional design, health or governmental communication, information visualization, or software documentation. Find Master’s in Technical Communication Programs.
- Master’s Degrees in Health Communication train students to engage with health care providers, patients, and other stakeholders in the health and medical industries to enhance patient outcomes and increase quality and accessibility of care. Students often take courses in the American healthcare system, health campaigns, patient-provider communication, health informatics, health care marketing and public relations, and risk communication. Find Master’s in Health Communication Programs.
- Master’s Degrees in Marketing Communication and Public Relations prepare students to design, implement, and oversee diverse marketing and/or public relations campaigns. Master’s degrees in public relations tend to include courses in media relations, crisis communication, and company-stakeholder relationship management. Master’s degrees in marketing communication tend to focus more on consumer behavior analytics, data-informed marketing strategy, brand management, and integrated marketing communications. Find Master’s in Marketing Communication Programs.
Master’s in Communication Programs with a Theoretical/Research Focus
- Master’s Degrees in Communication Studies train students to conduct advanced academic research to study communication in different contexts, with the aim of adding original scholarship and insight to the discipline. Students in these programs tend to study communication theory, quantitative and qualitative research methods, rhetoric and sociology, and specific theories of communication as they relate to interpersonal, organizational, political, health, and global contexts. Find Master’s in Communication Studies Programs.
- Master’s Degrees in Mass Communication can be both theoretical or applied depending on the focus of the curriculum. Theoretical programs prepare students to investigate the phenomena of mass communication as it occurs within different communities at the local, state, national, and/or global levels. Students take courses in the history of mass communication, the technologies that enable mass communication, and how mass communication has impacted our society. Find Master’s in Mass Communication Programs.
Master’s Programs in Related Fields
In addition to master’s in communication programs, there are also master’s programs in areas that are related to the field of communication, including:
- Master’s Degrees in Journalism help students build advanced research, interviewing, reporting, and news editing skills, and many of these programs also allow students to specialize in a particular area of journalism, be it the documentary form, sports journalism, newspaper or magazine features, or political journalism.
- Master’s Degrees in Marketing can be very similar to master’s in marketing communication programs, in terms of course curricula. However, they can also be more analytics focused, preparing students more for high-level marketing strategy through data analytics, rather than the development of marketing content.
- Master’s in Digital Media can include courses in content writing and editing, but the focus on digital often means that students take courses that prepare them to work in visual information representation, such as graphic design, video, and interactive technologies. Students in these programs might also take courses in public relations, marketing, or other areas of communication where digital media innovation is highly useful.
Learn more about Master’s in Digital Media, Master’s in Marketing, Master’s in Digital Marketing, Master’s in Public Relations, and Master’s in Social Media Marketing programs by exploring our Related Degrees section.
Doctorate Programs in Communication
Doctorate programs in communication, also known as Ph.D. programs in Communication, are generally ideal for students who want to enter academia as their career path. Candidates for Ph.D. programs in Communication typically hold a master’s in communication or a related field, and have a strong track record of research in one or more areas of advanced communication studies.
Courses in these programs are often more seminar-style, allowing students to discuss their areas of interest within the discipline with peers and faculty. Students are expected to learn more advanced research techniques and take on progressively more complex research projects and papers before completing their culminating dissertation, in which they work with a faculty committee to research and produce an original work of scholarship for potential publication.
Unlike bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication, Ph.D. programs tend to not have as many formal concentrations, at least nominally. Instead, students choose programs based on the research expertise of the program’s faculty and how it aligns with their own chosen area of interest. In some cases, students may even be required to state who they might like to work with in their application to the program. This ensures a program has faculty mentors who can help students with their studies and dissertation.
Certificate Programs in Communication
For individuals who want to gain a credential that can boost their professional qualifications, but who do not want to invest in an entire degree program, certificate programs in communication can be a viable option. Oftentimes, certificate programs are offered by universities that offer master’s programs in communication, the difference is that students only complete a portion of the degree requirements. Some schools offer certificate programs with a set curriculum of three to five courses (although there are certificates that only require one or two courses), while others allow students to select courses from electives that are part of the schools’ undergraduate and graduate degree programs in communication.
For example, a school that offers a master’s in technical communication might offer a corresponding certificate in technical communication that requires neither the foundational theory and research coursework, nor the culminating master’s thesis; instead, students of the certificate program may choose any five courses in technical communication that they feel would help them advance their career. There are numerous certificate programs from reputable universities that allow students to specialize further in areas such as health communication, social media management, integrated marketing communications, or digital media.
Finally, some certificate programs allow students who complete the certificate to apply those credits towards a master’s degree in communication. For example, as noted above, a student might complete five courses as part of a technical communication certificate and then decide to take five additional courses to earn their master’s degree. For schools that offer this option, students who complete the certificate often have fewer admissions requirements compared to students applying directly to the master’s program.
Learn more about graduate certificate programs in communication, health communication, science communication, and technical communication in our FAQ section.
The Importance of Professional Organizations
In addition to academic preparation and on-the-job training, connections with professional communication organizations can be one of the most effective ways to advance one’s career in the field. Professional organizations and associations provide the following benefits:
- Access to a wealth of professional development and research resources, including journals and other publications, and continuing education courses.
- Connections to professionals in communication who can both provide useful insight and also expand students’ perspective on what types of careers are possible in the field of communication.
- Access to communication conferences, career fairs, and other events that provide a platform for networking, job searching, and honing one’s professional qualifications with the support of fellow members.
Examples of professional organizations in communication include but are not limited to the following:
- National Communication Association is one of the most established communication organizations in the United States, and serves practitioners, scholars, and teachers of communication through academic publications, research and professional resources, advocacy on behalf of the profession, a career center, and numerous conventions and events. Visit the National Communication Association website.
- International Association of Business Communicators maintains a strong global community of business communication professionals through an online academy with professional development courses, a career center, international conferences, and advocacy for the profession. Visit the International Association of Business Communicators website.
- Public Relations Society of America has members in all 50 states represented in 110 chapters nationwide. This organization offers professional development programs, advocacy for the public relations profession, and seeks to foster a culture of mentorship and mutual support amongst its members. Visit the Public Relations Society of America website.
- Association for Women in Communications is an organization with over a century of history in supporting and advocating for women in the communication profession. Members of this organization benefit from exclusive academic and professional resources, conferences and professional development events, job listings, and networking and mentorship between members who are committed to supporting the advancement of women in communications. Visit the Association for Women in Communications website.
- Society for Technical Communication is one of the oldest and largest technical communication associations worldwide. Its mission is to promote the advancement of technical communication in industry as well as in scholarly research. Members of the STC benefit from online continuing education courses, a Mentor Board, an exclusive job bank and other career resources, annual conferences, and numerous technical communication publications. Visit the Society for Technical Communication website.
About the Author: Kaitlin Louie is the Managing Editor of MastersinCommunications.com, and creates informational content that aims to assist students in making informed decisions about graduate programs. She earned her BA & MA in English from Stanford University.