Understanding what an online media communications degree can do for you and how to select the ideal school or program can improve the odds of achieving your personal and professional goals. Our guide gathers the most important information about communication media studies curriculum, careers, and program selection.
Overview of Media Communications Degrees
An interdisciplinary liberal arts degree, media communications focuses on the history of mass media, the different kinds of mass communication, and their effects on society. Baccalaureate media communications programs look at the creation processes of popular media, and students can often select a concentration to further adhere to their professional goals (e.g., audio production, journalism, marketing, media sales). Most online media communications degrees do not require in-person campus components, though students can enrich their education by participating in independent hands-on experiences when possible.
Ideal candidates for communication and media studies schools include individuals with a passion for popular culture and human communication, those with goals of working in a media industry, and those simply seeking a college program that provides a flexible range of career options upon graduation. Successful communication and media studies graduates go on to work in film and television, journalism, marketing, radio broadcasting, public relations, and social media occupations. The world's increasing demand for quick and easy access to global information and entertainment ensures a steady presence of media occupations in years to come. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an average industry growth rate of 6% from 2016-2026.
Applying to accredited universities for a bachelor's degree in media communication studies typically does not require an extensive, complex process. However, prospective students should make sure they review admission requirements of each target school thoroughly and apply as early as possible to allow time for any unforeseen issues that could arise, such as lost paperwork or delayed processing.
Admission to a bachelor's program requires submission of an online or mailed application and payment of an application fee ($20-$90, depending on the school). Students must submit high school transcripts or the GED equivalent showing proof of graduation with a cumulative GPA. Additionally, if you took any college courses in the past, arrange to have official transcripts sent to the admissions office of your prospective school.
Most bachelor's programs require applicants to include valid ACT or SAT scores from a test taken no more than five years ago. Specific schools or programs may waive some requirements for nontraditional students, while others may require additional materials from all applicants, like essays, personal statements, letters of recommendation, or relevant portfolios. Check with each of your prospective institutions to make sure you follow all admission policies and guidelines.
What Will I Learn?
Major concepts covered in the best communication media studies programs include the history and development of mass media and the importance and influence of media around the world. Students develop the necessary skills to analyze media messages critically, use creative problem solving in professional situations, and employ media and mass communication strategically in various contexts. Students look at real-world media writing and production, and they study the more abstract areas of media theory to get a well-rounded, interdisciplinary understanding of the industry and its output.
Earning an online media communications degree requires the completion of 120 credit hours. Degree plan details vary depending on the school you select, but you can generally expect to take 45-60 credits of general education courses (math, science, English literature and composition, history, political science), 24-40 credits of media communications studies courses, up to 30 credits of open electives, and around 12 credits of concentration-specific classes, if applicable.
The sample courses listed below provide a look at the learning outcomes of a media communications major. Note, however, that specific course titles and content may vary from one school to the next.
Introduction to Media Production
Students examine fundamental tools and techniques used in the creation of mass media. Depending on the program, introductory courses in media production may act as a broad survey of various production processes, or students may choose a specific course focus, such as audio production, video production, or production for journalists.
History of Mass Communication
A course on the history of mass communication surveys the field's roots: for example, the ancient creation of symbols, the invention of the printing press, and the history of mass communication in America, from the colonial period to the modern day.
Media literacy courses promote active, critical engagement with media rather than simple consumption. Students develop knowledge and skills to recognize media bias, investigate the design and strategy of a message, and understand the influence media has on the world around them. Some media literacy courses focus exclusively on digital media.
Diversity in Media
Media courses on diversity may focus on race and ethnicity, gender, culture, and sexual orientation. Often delivered in a seminar format, students analyze media treatment and portrayals of diverse groups and individuals, examine and understand media bias and source evaluation, and consider how modern media forms both reinforce and challenge stereotypes.
Law and Mass Media
Vital for any aspiring media professional, a course on the law and mass media examines the scope of the First Amendment and how various governmental agencies and independent organizations exert control over the media industry. Students may also study the value of a free press, media rights and responsibilities, and journalistic integrity.
Media and Society
Media and society courses look broadly at ways media impacts us. Students may examine and compare the reach and impact of broadcast media, print media, and social/digital media on individuals, communities, and the world at large, encouraging critical thinking in students' future consumption and creation of media.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Media Communications?
College graduates with a communication and media studies degree have the skills to pursue a variety of fulfilling, lucrative careers, both within and outside the bounds of the most popular mass media industries. The sections below explore professional skills you will gain during the program and career options for which these competencies prepare you.
Among the skills you might develop during your college experience, a few of the most valuable interdisciplinary skills for media and communication career seekers include an understanding of media production processes, critical and analytical thinking, and the capacity for problem solving.
Understanding how media forms are developed and distributed allows program graduates the flexibility to enter multiple communication fields, including journalism writing, social media marketing, radio or television broadcasting, or public relations. The interdisciplinary nature of an online media communications degree encourages an even larger range of career opportunities. Experts in media and communication often find employment in marketing and public relations departments for large businesses, working to foster thoughtful and effective corporate messages or product advertisements.
Finally, and perhaps most vitally, a graduate's ability to approach media with an analytical and critical mindset ensures their ability to innovate, problem solve, and take notice of issues -- whether in promoting cultural diversity, calling out source bias, facing threats to the free press, or creating tomorrow's new interactive media outlets. Media and communications professionals must be flexible and savvy to work in an industry under constant development, scrutiny, and public attention.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Some of the most popular media and communications jobs include those in broadcast news, journalism, and public relations. Television news reporters, writers of print or digital news, company and celebrity publicists, sound or broadcast engineers, film editors, and even camera and microphone operators represent vital occupations within the media industry.
Despite liberal arts degrees traditionally getting a bad rap for leading to low job prospects in the real world, the critical thinking and analytical skills possessed by mass communications, English, and history majors remain highly sought after by employers in all sectors. If you can't find a job directly in the media industry, consider pursuing marketing and advertising, project management, or research and analyst occupations.
Reporter, Correspondent, or Broadcast News Analyst
Annual Median Salary: $40,910
Also called reporters and correspondents, journalists arrange and conduct interviews and write news stories for television, print, or digital outlets. Broadcast news analysts, or anchors, lead radio or television news programs and participate in discussions with others to help interpret stories for listeners.
Public Relations or Fundraising Manager
Annual Median Salary: $111,280
Public relations and fundraising managers work extensively to elevate the public image of a client or company. Public relations managers accomplish this goal through writing press releases and conducting interviews, while fundraising managers develop and arrange events and campaigns to solicit public support and donations.
Public Relations Specialist
Annual Median Salary: $59,300
A public relations specialist acts as a liaison between an organization and the public -- drafting press releases, responding to media queries, maintaining an organization's image/identity, and evaluating public perception through social media and other avenues.
Advertising, Promotions, or Marketing Manager
Annual Median Salary: $129,380
Managers in advertising, promotions, or marketing develop and implement programs that elevate public interest in a service or product. This role involves intensive planning, negotiating, creative problem-solving, budgeting, and collaborating with others.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Media Communications?
A baccalaureate online media communications degree can lead to entry-level careers within and outside the media industry. Many individuals working in media advance to mid-level and leadership roles through networking, longevity or experience in the industry, and natural growth of their resume or portfolio. Those hoping to climb the ladder to more senior-level positions do not necessarily need to pursue a graduate degree. Some employers may explicitly prefer applicants with advanced degrees, but others fill managerial roles with candidates who only hold a bachelor's, provided they possess the experience and proven track record needed for the job.
Obtaining a master's does provide professionals with additional skills and abilities, but ultimately, the decision to enter an advanced program in communication media studies must depend on your individual goals and situation. No hard-and-fast rule exists to answer this question.
Accreditation for Media Communications Bachelor's Programs
Most prospective college students understand the importance of enrolling in a regionally or nationally accredited institution. Accreditation can affect everything from transferability of credits to the professional merit of your diploma. Schools can take additional steps to ensure the quality of their academic offerings by pursuing programmatic accreditation. Programmatic accreditation evaluates the standards and quality of individual programs.
The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) provides this type of accreditation for undergraduate and graduate degrees in mass communication, journalism, and related fields. While programmatic accreditation from ACEJMC does ensure the independent evaluation of learning objectives and curriculum, student services, and faculty qualifications, students should remember that programmatic accreditation is voluntary. Not all programs have ACEJMC accreditation.
Media Communications Professional Organizations
In an industry as fast-paced and highly scrutinized as mass media, professionals in the field must find trusted sources to stay updated about industry developments. Supporting larger organizations who hold power in government lobbying also helps ensure the protection of the free press. Professional associations and organizations exist to support journalists, broadcasters, and others working in media. Membership often comes with added benefits like access to exclusive online communities and job boards, in-person networking opportunities, and professional development training.
American Press Institute
This nonprofit organization, affiliated with the News Media Alliance, was founded in 1946 with the mission of sustaining a free press. Today, API provides assistance to journalists across the country through research, publications, training, and tools. No membership is required for access.
National Association of Broadcasters
This leading organization advocating for news broadcasters in Washington, D.C., works on behalf of the interests of members in federal government processes. Along with insurance discounts and networking opportunities, NAB provides free legal and technology support to members.
The Association for Women in Communications
Founded in 1909, AWC promotes the advancement of women in all communication fields and works for the protection of First Amendment rights. Membership includes access to online networking, the AWC job board, in-person chapter meetings, and professional development webinars.