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Question: What Are the Different Types of Communication Degrees?

Answer: Advertising, global, health, intercultural, interpersonal, journalism, marketing, media and digital media, organizational and corporate, political, public relations, rhetorical studies, strategic, and technical are areas of study and training that are encompassed by the larger field of communication or communication studies. Each of these areas of study represents a communication specialization that may be offered as part of a communication degree program.

What is Communication?

Communication refers to the theories and processes by which information is conveyed between individuals, within groups, and in other societal and organizational settings. As an academic discipline, communication straddles the social sciences and the humanities, incorporating theories of psychology and human behavior, as well as critical methodologies for interpreting texts and determining meaning. Communication is also deeply rooted in the study of media, including the various tools and technologies we use to communicate with one another and to reach a mass audience. The aim of communication studies is to develop a scientific understanding of the psychological processes and technologies that impact how messages are sent and received, and how the information contained within those messages is processed and understood. Communication specialists and professionals apply this knowledge as an interpretive tool, and to develop strategies for persuading, convincing, informing, and otherwise influencing others.

Communication Degree Programs

Communication is studied and taught at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels, often in departments or schools dedicated to media and communication studies. Because communication is a broad area of study, individual schools and departments may focus on different aspects of the field. Theories of communication, which include information theory, rhetorical theory, and semiotics, are foundational to developing grounding in the processes and applications of communication. Learning these theories is often the starting point for students in communication degree programs.

Some communication programs emphasize the further study of communication theories and their application to addressing and solving real-world problems in social, political, technological, and global contexts. Other programs may specialize in the business applications of communication theory, which include advertising, branding, marketing, and public relations. There are also programs that target print, broadcast, and online media technologies and their impact on messaging in commerce and politics. In addition, the study of media technologies may include instruction in production techniques, the manipulation and deployment of imagery, journalism, and other uses of written and verbal communications.

Communication Specializations and Master’s in Communications Degree Programs

There are numerous specialization and subfields within communication. These specializations and subfields become increasingly important at the master’s degree level, which is where students are generally preparing for careers in the field. A bachelor’s degree with major in communication studies may offer some specialized training in journalism, broadcast and digital production (radio/television/internet), public speaking, and/or mass media/marketing. However, master’s programs are typically where students receive in-depth training in one or more of the professional applications of communication theories.

The National Communication Association (NCA), a non-profit professional organization that was founded in 1919, maintains a list of communication specializations that currently details 17 distinct yet related areas of research and training. These specializations include:

  • Applied Communication: The general use of communication theories and practices to better understand and address real-world problems.
  • Communication Education: The application of communication theories in the classroom to create better modes of instruction.
  • Electronic & Digital Media: The different media platforms and technologies that are used in interpersonal and mass communications, how these technologies function, and their impact on information processes.
  • Health Communication: Communication theories applied in healthcare settings.
  • International & Intercultural Communication: Communicating across national and international borders and with people from different social, political, and cultural backgrounds.
  • Interpersonal Communication: The complex processes of communication between individuals, including how body language and verbal cues are processed.
  • Legal Communication: Communication theory applied in the context of the legal system, courtrooms, and other areas of the law and criminal justice.
  • Mass Communication & Media Literacy: The uses of print, radio, television, and online technologies to reach large audiences, and how mass audiences process and understand the messages they receive.
  • Mediation and Dispute Resolution: Theories of conflict and argumentation and how they can be applied to resolving disputes and forging mutual understanding.
  • Organizational Communication: Theories of how people communicate within an organization and the application of these theories to improving the function of businesses and other types of organizations.
  • Performance Studies: The study of performers, audiences, and texts in the context of popular entertainment and other forms of public performance.
  • Political Communication: The use of communication tools among citizen groups, politicians, the news media, and other actors in the political ecosphere.
  • Public Address: The use of rhetorical tools to convince, persuade, and influence people through public presentations and oratory.
  • Public Relations: The management and mediation of relationships between organizations and various sectors of the public using the tools of communication.
  • Rhetorical Criticism: The analysis and critique of rhetoric and its use to convey messages in the public and private spheres.
  • Small Group Communication: The use of communication theory to better understand the interactions of small groups and improve communication in these groups.
  • Visual Communication: Visual data and its uses in communicating messages and ideas.

While many of the NCA’s communication specializations may be addressed in a master’s in communication degree program, they are typically subsumed and incorporated into broader professional areas of communication studies. These areas include:

  • Business & Organizational Communication: Theories of communication and their application in businesses and other organizational settings to effectively convey information, convince and persuade others, resolve conflicts, and achieve clearly defined goals.
  • Journalism & Media: The practices of journalism and news reporting and their place within the larger media environment, their role in societal and political contexts, and how the power of mass media is harnessed and deployed.
  • Politics & Public Relations: The art and science of messaging, branding, and using language, visual data, and other tools of communication to convince, persuade, and otherwise influence the thinking and actions of others.
  • Advertising & Marketing: Using the tools of communication and media technologies to sell and market goods, products, and services to targeted consumers and mass audiences.
  • Electronic & Digital Media Production: The technical aspects of working in various communication media, including radio, film, video, television, and online platforms.
  • Strategic Communication: The coordination of an organization’s internal and external communication assets to promote long-term messaging, branding, and/or business objectives.
  • Interpersonal Communication: The study of different modes of communication, the cultural and societal factors that impact these modes of communication, and how this affects the communication of information and ideas between groups and individuals.

Different types of communication degree programs provide different kinds of specialized training. Students aiming for a career in business may want to consider programs with a focus on organizational communication, marketing, and/or interpersonal communication. Students interested in the production side of communication should look into programs that emphasize media technologies and production techniques and/or journalism and media studies. Those looking to work in the political sphere or in the private sector as a company spokesperson or a communications advisor may want to explore programs that emphasize public relations, political communication, and/or strategic communication. It is also common for communication departments and schools to offer several tracks at the master’s degree level, so one program may include two or more optional areas of specialization.

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