Best Online Master’s Degrees in Communications: 2016

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Program Options, Career Paths & Salaries in Communications

Using words and images to influence others is a powerful skill. Companies succeed not just because of the quality of their products but because of their ability to sell them with targeted communications strategies. A master’s in communications can open doors for students who wish to pursue or enhance careers in public relations, advertising, branding, corporate communications or human resources — fields that are expected to grow 12 percent between 2012 and 2022. Find out how a master’s degree in communications can improve your career.

Timeline of an Online Master’s in Communications

Getting in: The Application Process

Professionals seeking a master’s in communications must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school, and many programs require a minimum amount of work experience. With so many programs available, application requirements vary greatly, so students should research each school on their short list to determine exactly what requirements are needed. Below is a list of typical requirements:

  • GRE scores

    Colleges and universities may require applicants to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) for entrance into a master’s in communications program. Many programs will waive the GRE requirement for applicants with five or more years of work experience.

  • Transcripts (paper/electronic)

    Students must request official transcripts from prior college experience and send them to the graduate program. Many master’s in communications programs require a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or above for admission.

  • Resume

    A complete history of work experience and internships should be compiled and written in resume format. Graduate programs will use this information to determine whether to admit applicants and sometimes whether to waive the GRE requirement based on years of work experience.

  • Statement of purpose

    The statement of academic purpose addresses applicants’ objective in pursuing a communications degree, the specific skills they will bring to the program, and an explanation of which aspects of the program may present challenges.

  • Supplemental essay

    The program may require a supplemental essay covering a topic chosen by the program’s administration. The essay may, for example, ask applicants to share their opinion on a case study or describe the most significant professional challenge they have faced and how they overcame it.

  • Academic interview

    Some programs may require an interview with an academic advisor as part of the application process, in which applicants can express their personal and professional interests in the communications field.

  • Letters of recommendation

    Students should work with current or former advisors or faculty members to gather letters of recommendation. Applicants can also request letters of recommendation from supervisors or managers who they have worked with in relevant professional experience. The letters should address students’ ability to think critically, to analyze and organize complex information, and to write fluently.

  • Proof of financial support

    Some schools may require proof of how students will finance their graduate education.

  • English language proficiency

    Applicants who are not native English speakers may be required to take the TOEFL, IELTS or PT Academic exams to prove English proficiency. Some master’s in communications programs set minimum score requirements to assure that international applicants have strong English language abilities—a crucial skill for successful communications students.

Year 1

During the first year of a master’s in communication, students will take graduate-level core classes in combination with electives from different concentrations. The focus will be on both building a foundation in communications and exposing students to each of the areas of concentration. Topics may include strategic communications, crisis communications, ethics, communication theory, strategy, planning or social media. Near the end of a student’s first year, they may have the opportunity to discuss their concentration plan with an advisor.

Year 2

After the first year, most core classes will be completed, and students will have the option to select more elective courses, typically within their given concentration. These courses dive deeper into communications topics and vary greatly depending on the program. Many programs offer different tracks, including marketing communications, media and entertainment management, health and social change, international and intercultural communications, new communication technologies and organizational and strategic corporate communications. The final year of a master’s program is also designed for students to complete their thesis, capstone project, or practicum requirements in order to demonstrate their ability in communications.

Testing & Graduation Requirements

The graduation requirements go beyond courses to focus on ensuring students have learned the proper skills and knowledge to have a successful career in communications. Most schools choose from the following options when putting together the graduation requirements for an online communications master’s program:

  • Thesis

    Some programs require master’s of communications students to produce a written thesis. A thesis is an original, systematic and scholarly study of a significant communication problem. Students identify a problem, explain the significance of the study, describe their methods of gathering original information, analyze the results, draw conclusions and typically offer recommendations for further research. Completing a thesis requirement generally prepares students to continue their studies with a PhD in communications.

  • Oral Defense

    In some cases, online students are required to defend and present their thesis to a committee. During this time, the members of the committee ask questions about the completed research and field of study and the student has the opportunity to defend their research, analysis, and conclusions.

  • Communication Capstone

    Students may be required to complete a capstone project as a stand-alone requirement or in addition to a thesis. Students are presented with a communication issue and are then expected to research the topic, design a solution to, and develop an action plan. Examples of capstone projects include websites, interactive displays and multimedia presentations.

  • Complete Graduation Application

    The easiest graduation requirement is filling out and submitting an application for graduation. Many schools recommend that this application be filled out at least one semester before the anticipated graduation date.

Search Online Master’s Degrees in Communications

Online communications master’s degrees are quite popular, so it can be overwhelming to research the schools that offer one. Use this handy search tool to narrow down the options by location, degree level, school type, tuition rates and even student population. Use it to create a short list of schools.

Student Population:
School Type:
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The Return on a Master’s in Communications: Career & Salary

A master’s in communications is a versatile degree, and graduates are not limited to one field or industry. Moreover, this is truly a degree that can be applied to almost any position. Here are some of the more common careers — and the academic concentrations that lead to them.

Concentrations
Digital Marketing

As new technologies, social networks and communications methods emerge, roles focused on digital marketing and communications will continue to grow. Students with an interest in digital marketing can apply their master’s in communications by focusing on strategic planning, content strategy, social media and analytics.

Career:
Social Media Manager
Social Media Manager

Plans social media updates, manages company reputation online, and builds relationships with customers.

Content Strategist
Content Strategist

Manages and creates various content pieces, including email, blogs, social media and Web content. May manage or produce videos and photography. Measures how the content performs and resonates with customers and potential customers.

Digital Marketing Manager
Digital Marketing Manager

Manages online marketing strategy, including pay-per-click advertising, inbound marketing, social media strategy and online brand engagement.

Government

There are many job opportunities for public relations and communications specialists in the public sector. From national government to local parks and recreation agencies, opportunities abound for students who want to use communications to serve the public.

Career:
Public Information Officer
Public Information Officer

Coordinates communications or acts as the spokesperson for certain government organizations. The primary responsibility of a PIO is to provide information to the media and public as required by law and according to professional standards.

Community Relations Manager
Community Relations Manager

Forges a relationship between an organization and a community, often by attending meetings and/or building online communities. May craft and disseminate communications materials such as fliers and press releases.

Communications Consultant
Communications Consultant

Provides assistance to organizations seeking to create communications programs or campaigns.

Health Communications

There are many opportunities for communications professionals in the health fields. Positions can be found at government agencies, hospitals, nonprofits and other care facilities.

Career:
Public Information Officer
Public Information Officer

Coordinates communications or acts as the spokesperson for certain government organizations. The primary responsibility of a PIO is to provide information to the media and public as required by law and according to professional standards.

Community Relations Manager
Community Relations Manager

Forges a relationship between an organization and a community, often by attending meetings and/or building online communities. May craft and disseminate communications materials such as fliers and press releases.

Communications Manager
Communications Manager

Manages communications campaigns and may manage a team of communications and marketing professionals.

Public Relations Manager
Public Relations Manager

Provides oversight of public relations activities and strategic direction. Liaises with media professionals and organizational leadership.

Marketing

Marketing combines skills such as writing and the visual arts to create promotional campaigns that are directly tied to an organization’s goals. Marketers measure campaign success in a variety of ways, including online analytics, surveys and brand engagement.

Career:
Marketing and Advertising Strategist
Marketing and Advertising Strategist

Creates, manages and measures effectiveness of marketing and advertising campaigns.

Digital Marketing Manager
Digital Marketing Manager

Manages online marketing strategy, including pay-per-click advertising, inbound marketing, social media strategy and online brand engagement.

Content Strategist
Content Strategist

Manages and creates various content pieces, including email, blogs, social media and Web content. May manage or produce videos and photography. Measures how the content performs and resonates with customers and potential customers.

Social Media Manager
Social Media Manager

Plans social media updates, manages company reputation online, and builds relationships with customers.

Director of Corporate Communications
Director of Corporate Communications

Leads and directs a team of communication professionals. Provides guidance and strategic direction that aligns with a corporate mission.

Public Relations

Public relations professionals help organizations maintain their public image. They work closely with company leadership to create messaging that leads to positive media exposure.

Career:
Public Relations Manager
Public Relations Manager

Provides oversight of public relations activities and strategic direction. Liaises with media professionals and organizational leadership.

Communications Consultant
Communications Consultant

Provides assistance to organizations seeking to create communications programs or campaigns.

Director of Corporate Communications
Director of Corporate Communications

Leads and directs a team of communication professionals. Provides guidance and strategic direction that aligns with a corporate mission.

Potential Salary Increases with a Master’s Degree

A communications master’s degree prepares one for a variety of career paths in writing, editing and public relations. Additional experience and education can open up many new paths for these professionals throughout the course of their careers. For instance, Gonzaga University reports that more than 50 percent of graduates from its master’s in communication and leadership studies program were able to take on new responsibilities at work, and 32 percent were promoted within a year after earning their degree.

Just 24 percent of communications specialists have a master’s degree, according to Salary.com. But with employment of public relations specialists expected to increase by 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, investing in a master’s degree in communications could be a sound investment. Public relations managers have even better job prospects, as seen in the numbers below:

Growth potential 13%
Average salary $101,510

Additional Resources & Links

There are many resources for students seeking to learn more about communications, network with current practitioners, or find communications templates and resources.

  • AdAge

    A Buzzfeed for advertisers, this website posts profiles of top agencies, media campaigns and marketing trends.

  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

    CDC’s “Gateway to Communication and Social Marketing Practice” is a toolkit for communications professionals to build health communications campaigns.

  • Hubspot Blog

    With the motto “where marketers go to grow,” Hubspot has featured posts on marketing advice, templates and case studies.

  • Journal of Health Communication

    The Journal of Health Communication, produced by George Washington University, publishes academic information about this specialized communications subset.

  • National Information Officer Association

    The NIOA, which is explicitly for public information officers, provides educational resources, professional networking opportunities and training events.

  • The PR Coach

    Public relations professionals can get tips of the trade and news updates, as well as the inside scoop on available jobs.

  • PRSA.org

    The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is geared toward both public relations professionals and college students hoping to enter the PR realm. It serves as the standard bearer of excellence in the field by offering attractive professional development opportunities.

  • Shankman.com

    Peter Shankman is a public relations expert. On his website, he provides his outside-the-box thoughts on all things PR.

Best Online Master’s in Communications Degrees

An impressive number of colleges and universities offer online master’s degrees in communications. Deciding which school is right for you might not be easy, so use our rankings to get started.

Discover which programs rose to the top of the list for Best Online Master’s in Communications Degrees for 2015-2016, and find our methodology here.

RANK COLLEGE SCORE TEACHER/STUDENT RATIO COST GRADUATION RATE
1 Purdue University-Main Campus 100.00 12:1 73%
2 North Carolina State University at Raleigh 97.75 16:1 75%
3 Northwestern University 97.00 7:1 93%
3 Johns Hopkins University 97.00 9:1 93%
3 Columbia University in the City of New York 97.00 6:1 95%
3 Bethel College-Indiana 97.00 12:1 70%
7 Gonzaga University 96.75 11:1 83%
8 University of Southern California 96.00 9:1 91%
8 University of Florida 96.00 21:1 88%
10 Ithaca College 95.75 11:1 78%
10 Asbury University 95.75 12:1 68%
12 Webster University 95.50 13:1 64%
13 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 94.75 19:1 84%
13 Marist College 94.75 16:1 78%
15 Queens University of Charlotte 94.50 10:1 62%
16 Concordia University-Wisconsin 94.25 13:1 61%
17 Washington State University 94.00 15:1 67%
17 University of Denver 94.00 11:1 76%
17 Southern Methodist University 94.00 11:1 77%
20 East Carolina University 93.75 18:1 59%
21 University of Colorado Boulder 93.50 18:1 70%
21 Canisius College 93.50 12:1 68%
23 Elmhurst College 93.25 13:1 74%
24 Drexel University 92.00 10:1 67%
25 South Dakota State University 91.75 17:1 57%
26 Rochester Institute of Technology 91.50 13:1 63%
26 Notre Dame of Maryland University 91.50 11:1 58%
28 Spring Arbor University 91.25 12:1 54%
28 Southern Utah University 91.25 18:1 50%
30 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire 90.50 20:1 68%
30 The New School 90.50 10:1 60%
32 University of Central Missouri 90.00 18:1 53%
33 Syracuse University 89.75 16:1 80%
33 North Dakota State University-Main Campus 89.75 19:1 56%
35 Oklahoma State University-Main Campus 89.50 20:1 61%
35 Capitol Technology University 89.50 12:1 41%
37 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus 89.50 18:1 60%
38 Lasell College 89.00 13:1 57%
38 Illinois Institute of Technology 89.00 13:1 65%
40 Troy University 88.75 15:1 35%
41 University of Colorado Denver 88.00 16:1 40%
41 Seton Hall University 88.00 14:1 66%
43 West Virginia University 87.75 21:1 57%
44 Austin Peay State University 87.50 18:1 37%
45 Quincy University 87.25 13:1 49%
45 Northern Arizona University 87.25 18:1 52%
45 Liberty University 87.25 18:1 50%
48 Concordia University-Saint Paul 86.75 15:1 46%
49 California Baptist University 86.25 18:1 55%