Communication is one the fastest growing and most popular majors in the United States and around the world, but is it for you? I used to be a communication professor, so maybe I can help you decide.
First of all, it’s important to understand what communication is. This discipline basically does two things. It teaches students to look critically at the social, personal, and political implications of communication processes. These processes include interpersonal interactions, online interactions, political rhetoric, and media messages. Second, the major teaches students how to become better communicators. This happens in classes such as public speaking, group communication skills, and television production.
What many students don’t realize is this: many, if not most, communication departments focus more on the critical side and less on the skills side. While many students are there to learn practical skills, many professors are interested in teaching critical analysis. These can lead to some conflicts in expectations.
Thus, if you take a class about the media, there’s a good chance you’re not going to learn much that will help you specifically in a broadcasting job. Instead, you’ll be focusing more on how the media impact society.
So should you major in communication? This depends on both your personal interests, and what a particular department has to offer you. First, ask yourself this—are you interested in the critical side of communication, or the “hands on” side, or both? Once you figure this out, find a department that matches your interests. If you’re mostly just interested in learning how to be successful in public relations, find a department that emphasizes this (but expect to take classes about the critical side as well). If you’re interested in the critical side, find a department that emphasizes this (but expect to take public speaking and a few more practical classes as well).
On a completely different note, here’s something you should consider before you major in communication: it’s a very popular major! This means that at many colleges and universities, it’s very difficult to get into the classes you need. At the last school where I taught—Colorado State University—many students weren’t getting any upper level classes until their senior year, which means they had to load up on lots of difficult comm classes as they were trying to graduate and find a job. The major’s popularity also means that class sizes can be large, which is a problem in classes where you’re supposed to be learning communication skills. Before choosing this major, talk to faculty members and other students about how difficult it is to get into classes.
Communication is a unique major in that is giving students the opportunity to study communication from a critical, liberal arts perspective, as well as a practical one. If this interests you, take a few classes and see what you think. However, try to find a department that is as skills-oriented or as critical as you prefer, and keep in mind the problems that come with a popular major.