Home Careers Communication as a College Major and a Career (Part I)
Communication as a College Major and a Career (Part I)

Communication as a College Major and a Career (Part I)


By Dr. Bjorn Mercer
Program Director, Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts, American Public University

This is the first article in a three-part series on the collegiate discipline of communication and its potential career fields.

Communication is one of the most flexible disciplines of study that students can take in college. Some 2,000 years ago, people needed to communicate. A thousand years ago, people needed to communicate.

And 100 years ago, people needed to communicate. Just as today, people need to communicate. No matter what the year, humans have had to communicate to exist and be successful in the world.

Start a communication degree at American Public University.

What Is Communication?

What exactly is the field and discipline of communication? Communication is unique because it falls into both the humanities and the social sciences at the same time. It is among the humanities because it includes rhetoric, “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.” Most of the humanities incorporate rhetorical communication in their curricula.

Communication is part of the social sciences because it is all about interacting with others. A great deal of psychology goes into communication along with sociology, anthropology and political communication, all of which are always extremely important. It is one of those human activities that is truly universal, yet as a skill it is one of the most difficult to gain proficiency and almost impossible to truly master.

Earning a college degree is a transformational experience. Ideally, by the time you have completed your degree, you have changed noticeably because of the diversity of ideas and people with whom you have interacted and to whom you have been exposed.

But college is also about skills acquisition. So what skills do you learn when you study communication?

Before we look at the skills, we will look at the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). Every few years, the AAC&U surveys business executives and hiring managers about the skills new college graduates need to be successful. From the 2018 survey, the following are the “very important skills” hiring managers say all recent graduates need:

  • 90%: Able to effectively communicate orally
  • 87%: Able to work effectively in teams
  • 87%: Can apply knowledge/skills to a real-world setting
  • 87%: Ethical judgment and decision-making
  • 85%: Able to work independently (prioritize, manage time)
  • 85%: Self-motivated, initiative, proactive: ideas/solutions — critical thinking/analytical reasoning
  • 78%: Able to communicate effectively in writing

Oral and Written Communication and Ethics

The primary skill that helps people, effective oral communication, includes public speaking. In a recent PayScale survey, 39% of managers felt new graduates did not have adequate public speaking skills (only writing fared worse for hard skills). Not only are public speaking skills important, but most college graduates are not prepared to communicate well even after college.

One of the ways to study oral communication is to take classes and workshops on it and to use the AAC&U Oral Communication VALUE rubric as a standard: “Oral communication is a prepared, purposeful presentation designed to increase knowledge, to foster understanding, or to promote change in the listeners’ attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors.”

Using this rubric, faculty can help students improve. With lots of practice students will be able to deliver a presentation that 1) increases knowledge, 2) fosters understanding, and 3) promotes change in the listeners’ attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors. Students who can develop their public speaking skills to accomplish all of these goals will truly be successful.

Communication Also Helps Develop Ethical Judgment and Decision-Making

Another skill that communication helps is ethical judgment and decision-making. Acting ethically is one of the most important things we do; there are countless complexities, however, when it comes to communicating ethically. By studying communication, especially communication ethics, students review the concept in countless other courses to ensure that they communicate ethically and responsibly.

Written Communication Is Another Required Universal Skill

Another required universal skill is written communication. Because so much of the field is about communicating in easy-to-understand language, a great deal of practice goes into written communication. If it is writing about communication ethics, cultural communication, crafting news releases, writing a journalism article, writing for social media or websites,  professionals must know how to write well for any and all audiences.

Many Aspects of Communication Can Be Learned While Studying for a Degree

There are many other aspects of communication that can be learned when studying for a degree in communications. Cultural and gender communication is extremely important.

As professionals, we must know how to craft messages that do not exclude any culture or gender. In addition, there are many subtleties in that type of dynamic communication. Here are other aspects that are important in their own right:

  • Small Group Communication
  • Family Communication
  • Healthcare Communication
  • Rhetorical Communication
  • Rhetoric
  • Public Relations

Journalism and Mass Communication Training Are Still Extremely Important

One popular aspect of communication is journalism. Journalism and mass communication have long been the cornerstone of the field and are still extremely important.

Having the best possible journalistic training is critical in today’s 24-hour news cycle. So if students want to study journalism or mass communication, there are numerous “J-Schools” around the country that specialize in this type of training.

In addition to journalism, mass communication is important and often gets a lot of attention because of local and cable news. Being able to deliver information that is truthful and accurate yet interesting is an important skill for anyone who wants to go into this career field.

In addition to TV, radio is still important. With the internet and the advent of podcasting, being able to communicate with a mass audience is easier than ever. Like journalism, there are specific colleges that specialize in mass communication training.

In the next article, we will review the importance of communication from the perspective of various business writers and why communication is important for everyone’s career success.

About the Author

Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an MBA from the University of Phoenix. He writes about culture, leadership, and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.



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