The world needs great communicators.
Excellent communicators know how to think critically about communication. They analyze the ways it impacts and shapes emotions, motivations, knowledge — whether it’s written or visual, in person, in print, or online. They know how to interpret the messages coming in and how to craft the messages they send out.
That’s what you’ll learn in Communication Studies. A Communication Studies degree is a great steppingstone to pursue any passion you’ve got. Every field you can think of — arts and entertainment, sports, health, business, science, and technology — relies on skilled communicators to help foster understanding within an organization and to get its message out to the world beyond.
If you’ve been wondering whether Communication Studies is right for you, this is the article for you. In it, you’ll learn more about the program from our Chair of the Communication Arts Department, Prof. Rob Danisch (he/him), and get some advice from two recent Communication Studies grads.
Meet our alumni
Negin Safdari (she/her) is a recruitment and search enablement lead at Artemis, a recruitment agency that works exclusively with Tech for Good companies.
In high school, Negin suddenly realized that she did not want to be a social worker, “like I had imagined since I was nine. I had a career crisis at 17! One of the reasons I chose Waterloo was because you don’t have to pick a major right away — I took a range of different courses, and Communication Studies pulled me in.”
Why Communication Studies? “The courses were so applicable to life. They were general enough that they could lead to multiple careers, but specific enough that it wasn’t just abstract concepts — I was learning real, tangible things that I could apply to whatever I do.” Negin graduated with a BA in Speech Communication (now called Communication Studies) and Business in 2019 and was recruited to Artemis by a fellow Communication Studies grad.
Carly Stanisic (she/her) holds a BA in Speech Communication and Business (’20) and leads product design at Explo, a San Francisco-New York-based startup that builds configurable dashboards for app developers.
“I really enjoyed English and the process of articulating thoughts in essays, and I was interested in visual art but didn’t want to commit to it as a career,” says Carly. “But what really drew me to the program was co-op.” Carly thought she was interested in marketing, but “I wanted to be able to try things out. And I was really excited about the idea of earning money — that was very motivating!”
After a marketing co-op, Carly realized her true passion was user experience (UX) design. Waterloo’s Centre for Career Action helped her pivot into design-focused co-op placements at PointClickCare, PlanGrid in San Francisco, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in Redwood, California — and that’s where she met the founder of Explo.
How do I know if a Communication Studies degree is right for me?
Are you into drama club? Debating? Have you worked for the school newspaper, or student council? Are you your friend group’s party planner? (Have your teachers sometimes had to ask you to, uh, pause communicating for a while?)
“Our Communication Studies students tend to be outgoing, they’re social, and they like talking to people. That’s a fundamental part of the program,” says Prof. Danisch. “We include lots of interactive assignments, public speaking, small group work — and that’s often what our students end up doing in their professional careers, too.”
Or — do you have a hobby or side gig designing games? Are you into digital art and design? The department offers a second major called Communication Arts and Design Practice. It’s an experiential program that can help you transform that passion into a career in digital design, product design, UX design, and more. You can also opt for an eight-course Digital Arts Communication minor if you want to major in something completely different. Either way, you’ll learn how to design, develop, and test a range of digital media and graduate with a portfolio and the interpersonal skills to succeed and advance wherever you land.
What do communications majors do?
In most communications programs, students perform critical analysis of a wide range of media — from print journalism and film to podcasting and social media — and learn how to make it, too.
At Waterloo, Communication Studies is a little different. “Most programs in Canada emphasize the critical study of media,” says Prof. Danisch. “Waterloo’s program has that, but we also place emphasis on embodied communication. Interpersonal Communication, Persuasion, Small Group Communication, Public Speaking: these courses are core for us.”
Courses like Media and Environment Communication, Crisis Communication, and The Organizational Consultant can help you target a job or field you’re interested in. Comms students interested in design can hone their skills in hands-on, experience-driven courses like Introduction to Game Design, User Experience Design, and Digital Storytelling. And Waterloo’s co-op program lets you test drive your career before you commit, while making industry connections and earning a salary.
In Interpersonal Communication, you’re paired with a partner at the beginning of the year and you meet once a week just to talk — and then you analyze the progression of the relationship, applying theories that you’re learning. It’s such an interesting experience.
The courses were applicable to life. They were general enough that they could lead to multiple careers, but specific enough that it wasn’t just abstract concepts — I was learning real, tangible things that I could apply to whatever I do. Even personally — how to be in a friend group, how to travel with family — it’s so applicable to everything!
What jobs can I get with a communications degree?
Waterloo’s communication majors develop practical skills that are highly prized in any workplace, and that give our students a significant advantage in the job market.
Marketing, public relations, and journalism might be the first fields that come to mind. But Waterloo Communication Studies grads are also often found in sales and human resources. Design-minded grads might work as product designers or digital content creators. And whatever their profession, Prof. Dansich notes that Waterloo grads often move quickly into management positions thanks to their communication skills.
Jobs and careers for Communication Studies and Digital Design grads can include:
- Advertising account manager
- Brand strategist
- Communications coordinator
- Content strategist
- Digital content creator
- Digital marketing strategist
- Event planner
- Health educator
- Human resources specialist
- Legislative assistant
- Media planner
- Product designer
- Sales manager
- Social media manager
I’m always impressed by how fast our students move from an introductory level job to a management position, and it’s because they’re so good at working with other people.
Communication Studies taught me not to be afraid of powerful figures. The way you communicate to a VP is not the same way you communicate to your fellow co-op students. What I learned is always to ask, 'What effect do I want to have?' And work backward from there.
What about higher ed after a communications degree?
Some Communication Studies grads go on to an MBA program and others may pursue advanced degrees that build on their Communication Studies program like Waterloo’s Master in Rhetoric and Communication Design (RCD) or Stratford School’s Master of Digital Experience Innovation (MDEI). And grads interested in pursuing a Ph.D. open up additional career pathways in higher education.
And Prof. Danish notes that some grads take a one-year Public Relations or Marketing diploma to target the career they want.
It’s an amplifier for whatever field you choose. Being able to build relationships with people, being effective in group situations — so much of work is collaborative. Especially in tech. No matter what role you’re in, being a more effective collaborator is the foundation for being able to do your job well: getting the information you need from people, building the relationships you need. It makes everything easier.
If the job that you’re going for is in a constantly changing environment — like most business and industries — what stays constant is having to work with people. Communication underlies everything you’ll ever do. Especially in our new hybrid digital/in person world.
If a communications program sounds like a good fit for you, learn more about Communication Studies →