What is a Communication Degree?

On June 14th, 2021, I graduated from the University of Washington with a B.A. in communication. Since that fateful day, I have been asked on numerous occasions what exactly a degree in communication entails.  Before I start telling all inquiring parties to “google it,” I thought it only fair to throw my undergraduate experience into the pile of search results that they will undoubtedly discover.  So, what is a communication degree?

First of all– it depends.  

In general, communication students study how people interact and communicate, but the particular kinds of interactions students focus on vary from university to university and program to program.

Some students study mass communication, which can include concentrations in journalism, public speaking, marketing, digital media production, and more. Other students focus on interpersonal communication, which includes communications among people, groups, and communities.  Students studying interpersonal communication might focus on communication dynamics in different workplaces, communities, and cultures and the impact of these communication practices.

If you are curious about the communication program at your current or prospective school, I encourage you to reach out to advisors or students from your school’s department of communication.  Since communication is such a broad subject, I can only speak to my experience as a communication student at the University of Washington, Seattle.  

So, what does the communication program at the University of Washington (UW) look like? 

The UW’s Department of Communication offers two undergraduate majors, one in communication and one in journalism.  UW’s journalism program focuses more on learning the foundations and ethics required to be a good journalist and then building a portfolio.  Meanwhile, the communication major allows students more freedom to focus on communication theories and research methods in areas like interpersonal, nonverbal, and political communication, which are not necessarily fundamental to being a good journalist. 

The Department of Communication requires students to take theory courses, which explore existing theories on how people communicate and interact and the impact of these communication practices.  Students also take methods courses that introduce them to communication research methods and allow them to contribute their own research to the existing body of communication knowledge.  

Overall, I found most communication courses writing-intensive, with a moderate amount of reading and very easy, often open-notes tests.  If you’re someone who struggles to memorize facts, suffers from testing anxiety, or genuinely enjoys writing, you could thrive as a communication major.  

I chose to major in communication with a concentration in political communication.

Here’s my experience:

I took classes in rhetoric and American public address as part of my concentration.  In these classes, I analyzed the persuasive methods that politicians have used throughout history and the consequences of these methods.  I also took courses in public speaking, journalism, and mass media law, which allowed me to apply these persuasive methods legally and effectively in my content creation. 

During my senior year, I took several courses in communication research methods and had the opportunity to apply these methods in a capstone research project. 

So, what did I learn?

Through my undergraduate education, I learned how to read and interact with academic texts, complete research through surveys, interviews, and critical analysis, and write efficiently, effectively, and persuasively.   I also conquered my fear of public speaking and learned how to be a good team member and manage my time effectively.  

All that being said is a degree in communication worth it?

Depending on what you hope to achieve in college–absolutely! A degree in communication is a great stepping stone for students hoping to begin careers in journalism, copywriting, HR, internal communications, SEO, and marketing.  That being said, a communication degree alone will not be enough to set you apart when applying for jobs.  So, my recommendation to any prospective communication majors is to make sure you devote time to developing professional skills and building a strong portfolio while in college.  You can do this through clubs, minors, certificate programs, internships, volunteer opportunities, and personal projects.  

At the end of the day, communication programs tend to be less intensive than many STEM programs, which should give you plenty of time to explore professional development opportunities outside of school. 

I hope this article was helpful to anyone who’s curious about the study of communication. If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out.

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