An Overview of Communications Courses: Real Students’ Stories
This article is based on first-person accounts from Kiya Norman, a sophomore at Wake Forest University; Drew Bartelstein, a sophomore at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications; Justin Levine, a junior at the University of Michigan; Katie Garder, a student at the University of Arkansas; and Moriah Kofsky, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
If you’re considering a communications major, you may be wondering about the classes that you’ll be taking, both required and elective. In this post, we explore the kinds of courses taken by students majoring in communications.
Courses for Communications Majors
Justin: I think most programs will have at least one prerequisite course that you have to take. During that course, you might ask yourself, “Why do I have to take this if it doesn’t align with my interests?” For example, I knew that I was interested in film, so sometimes I felt like a few of my required courses weren’t necessary.
But there is a reason that you take those courses. The way that my school is structured, you take a communications course that basically covers the history of communication, ranging from the mid-1800s with the invention of telephones to radio and television and everything that we see today. Another prerequisite course also explores the history of communication but from a more psychological perspective, discussing communication’s impact on society.
I think that these courses are important because they hone your interests and push you in a direction that’s more concrete and well-suited to what you’re actually interested in. You learn a bit of everything, and then you can pick out the things that you’re really into and take more courses related to those topics.
Katie: Yeah, similar to Justin, my program had a prerequisite course, “Fundamentals of Journalism.” It enabled me to understand the basics of news writing and prepared me for the mid- to upper-level writing courses, where I got more practical experience.
My two favorite required courses were toward the end of my core requirements. The first was a communications campaigns course, where we worked with an actual client and proposed rebranding strategies for their nonprofit. It was a wonderful real-life experience that summed up all the courses that we had taken in graphic design and writing.
The second was a practicum capstone course called, “Ag Publications,” which is offered every two years and enables students to write for the college’s magazine. I was able to write two stories and do photography, and ultimately, I had a story picked as the cover story. Those real-life experiences were incredibly valuable as a cumulative experience for all the courses that I had taken.
Communications Class Sizes
Kiya: Wake Forest is a private school, so most of our courses, even a few of the general ones, are considered small. They generally don’t get much larger than 20 or 30 students per class. They can, however, get smaller. I had a class in one semester that only had six people in it, and I’ve had classes with 12 or 15 people. Other majors tend to have large class sizes, such as biology.
My communications classes involve cooperation and working with other people, giving and receiving feedback, and practicing communication in general. In introduction courses, the smaller class sizes enable more communication and teamwork among the students, which has been interesting and helpful to experience.
Drew: Syracuse is similar to Wake Forest because it’s a private school too. Many of our classes start big and then become smaller as you become an upperclassman.
Specifically for the Newhouse School, the classes start at around 100 people in the biggest lecture. During freshman year, we take the main intro classes that introduce students to the Newhouse School and the communications field as a whole. Then, as you move toward junior and senior year, you’re narrowing your emphasis, so the classes are smaller, with a maximum of around 10 students in certain classes.
Most of the electives are also small classes. My Spanish class had 20 students, for example. I think that’s a special thing about private schools: the opportunity to connect to other students and professors on a deeper level. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, we still had group projects and got to communicate with our peers. I think that’s a beneficial part of having smaller classes.
Katie: The college that I’m in is the College of Agricultural, Food, and Life Sciences, which is where the agriculture communications focus falls under. My classes are extremely small. I would say that the largest class that I’ve ever had was 20 students total. On average, my classes have around 10 students. The only time that I ever have a large lecture hall class is with one of the more campus-wide classes, such as psychology or sociology.
The format of my classes is super interactive. I don’t take many notes. Most of the time, it’s just engaging in conversation. During the pandemic, we still had group projects and worked together virtually. Ultimately, my classes are incredibly communal, which is something that I love and have benefited from.