Online Communication Degree Programs: Information and Resources

  • To find the basics of online degree programs in communications, as well as key details all prospective students should know before and after enrollment.
  • To learn how degree programs in communications work at each level (associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate), including common classes, certification options and more.
  • To locate scholarships, internships and expert resources specific to communications. Locate free massive open online courses (MOOCs) and professional organizations for students and seasoned communications pros.

Communication as an academic field commonly refers to the study of human communication in all of its forms, from face-to-face verbal and non-verbal communication to media and mass communication. The fields that fall under the communication heading include mass communication, public relations, advertising, broadcasting, journalism, linguistics, film, writing and many others.

Degree programs in Mass Communication and Communication Studies have been a staple of major private colleges and state public university systems for decades, and it is easy to understand why. An undergraduate communication degree can act as a solid foundation for entry into any number of occupations and professions, as well as provide the necessary prerequisite for advancing into postgraduate degree programs in more specific courses of study.

Online Communication Degree Options

Communication Studies lends itself well to distance learning. As a result, communication programs are extremely popular with primarily online degree providers, as well as with traditional colleges and universities, a growing number of which are venturing into the distance education market. The following is brief description of the types of online communication degree programs currently available:

  • Associate Degree: An associate degree in communication (typically titled as Associate of Arts in Communication Studies) provides a basic foundation for understanding communication theory and its practice. Besides general education course requirements, associate degree students take classes in subjects such as introduction to journalism, media and public relations, advertising and digital media management. Graduates with an AA in Communication Studies are qualified for entry-level positions in a number of fields, including business, marketing, technical writing and social work. Distance-learning associate degree programs in communication are offered mostly by primarily online providers, although a small number of public community and state college programs can also be found.
  • Bachelor’s Degree: Online bachelor’s degree programs in communication (both B.S. and B.A. in Communication Studies) move beyond the introductory-level classes offered with associate’s degrees, and include coursework in public speaking, broadcasting, writing, diversity in media and more. Students may also be required to choose an area of concentration such as public relations, journalism, digital media or political communication. Career opportunities for bachelor’s degree holders are relatively plentiful and include jobs in business and retail sales, marketing, event management, community relations, public service, journalism, political and speech writing, media studies and more. Distance learning bachelor degree programs in communication are abundant, offered by public and private colleges and universities throughout nation, as well as major for-profit primarily online providers.
  • Master’s and Doctoral Degrees: Beginning at the master’s level, students will find a more specified and diverse selection of communication-related degrees with titles such as Master of Communication Management, Master of Science in Marketing & Communication, Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication, and Doctor of Philosophy in Technical Communication and Rhetoric. Postgraduate degrees in communication are often unnecessary for career advancement in most fields, with the possible exception of teaching and post-secondary academics.

Key Elements of Online Communication Degrees

When assessing an online program in communication, potential students need to ask numerous academic, economic and technological questions. Does this program fall in line with my career goals? Can I afford it? Do I have the necessary tech to get a program up and running? In addition to these core questions and issues, every student, no matter the subject or study level, needs to assess the following:

  • Accreditation: There are two primary forms of accreditation: institutional and academic. Institutional accreditation refers to accreditation of the entire college or university and is conferred by one of six U.S. Department of Education regional accrediting agencies. Academic accreditation refers to accreditation of a specific degree program within a college or university. In regard to communication degree programs, academic accreditation is primarily the responsibility of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism (ACEJMC). While academic accreditation by the ACEJMC is advantageous, institutional accreditation by a regional agency is critical. Students should avoid communication degree programs that are not regionally accredited.
  • Specialization: As mentioned earlier, associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in Communication Studies provide the holder with a solid general foundation in the communication field that can be applied to a number of occupations. Students who have decided on a more specific career path (such as journalism or political communication), however, may be better served in pursuing a course of study in those particular areas (such as an associate’s degree in journalism or bachelor’s degree in political science.)

The variety of available professional certifications and credentials in communication is as diverse as the field itself. Most professional certifications are specific to certain communication-related fields, such as public relations or journalism. The following is a list of some of the most popular professional communication-related certifications:

  • Accreditation in Public Relations (APR): APR certification indicates that the holder has mastered the knowledge, skills and abilities required to develop and deliver strategic communication. APR holders are required to commit to learning through continuing education, serving as volunteers or through service in other professional development activities. An APR candidate must be a member of a participating organization, and involved in the professional practice of public relations or in the teaching or administration of public relations courses at an accredited college or university.
  • Association of Image Consultants International (AICI): The Association of Image Consultants International is a professional association of personal and corporate image consultants worldwide. AICI offers three levels of certification (AICI First Level Certification, AICI Certified Image Professional, and AICI Certified Image Master) each aimed at validating the credential holder’s credibility within the image industry and with clients.
  • DMA Certified Marketing Professional (DCMP): Sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association, the DCMP certification requires that a candidate attend an in-person seminar or complete ten 90-minute online modules and seven additional intermediate/advanced modules, as well as pass a certification exam.
  • ISO Certification for the Global Communication Profession: The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is currently in the development stages of a new professional certification to replace its 40-year-old Accreditation for Business Communicators (ABC). The new credential will comply with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 17024 standards for the global communication profession.

Other commonly held credentials in the communication field include:

  • Accreditation in Public Relations + Military Communication (APR+M)
  • American Society of Veterinary Journalists (ASVJ) Certification
  • Certified Broadcast Captioner (CBC)
  • Certified Broadcast Meteorologist (CBM)
  • Certified eMarketer (CeM)
  • Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP)
  • Certified Public Relations Counselor (CPRC)
  • National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) Certification
  • Professional Researcher Certification
  • Radio Marketing Professional Certification

Communication Internships/Practical Experience

The marketplace for jobs today is extremely competitive regardless of the profession. More than ever, a job seeker who can include substantive previous work experience on his or her resume will have a significant advantage over the competition. For college students, that experience often comes in the form of a summer internship or in-term co-op position with a major firm or corporation.

Many communication schools incorporate internships into their degree programs, but some do not. Students studying communication, therefore, may be on their own when it comes to landing a quality internship position. If you are considering an online degree, be sure to check with each provider to determine whether or not its degree program can set you up with a quality internship or co-op position.

Open Online Communications Classes

Argumentation and Communication

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This self-paced seminar course is an intensive writing workshop that focuses on argumentation and communication. Students will learn to write and present cogent, persuasive arguments and other analytical frameworks through reading and writing assignments that stress the connections between clear thinking, critical reading and effective writing.

Communication Skills for Academics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This self-paced course is designed to acquaint students with the guidelines for the creation of well-crafted academic communications, provide an opportunity to practice communication skills and receive feedback from colleagues, and to learn about professional norms for a range of activities that surround the academic enterprise.

Community Journalism

Cardiff University

This five-week course is designed to be an introduction to community journalism, offering insight and practical skills for those individuals interested in community and hyper-local journalism. Topics include setting up a community website, creating content, establishing a workflowand managing an online community.

Comparative Media Systems

Saylor Academy

Comparative Media Systems is a ten-unit course designed to introduce students to various academic theories, cases and models to make sense of local and global media development. The course will also provide a working knowledge of how media are operated and regulated under varied political and economic influences.

CMC11: Creativity & Multicultural Communication

SUNY/Empire State College

This 13-week course utilizes the concepts of connectivism and connective knowledge, and explores their application as a framework for theories of teaching and learning through discussions of creativity and communication. Course participants may use a variety of technologies including blogs, RSS Readers, UStream, Facebook, and more.

Economics of the Media

George Mason University/MR University

This course is designed to help students make sense of modern media by providing insight into the structure of media firms, the nature of their products and how they make money. Topics include media bias, and how government affects the structure of media through policies such as net neutrality, copyright and TV regulation.

Introduction to Mass Media

Saylor Academy

This 15-unit course offers a fairly comprehensive examination of the evolution and impact of the media, primarily in the United States. Each of the major traditional media (television, newspapers magazines, etc.) and new media (social media, internet, etc.) are examined from their conception to their present and future possibilities.

New Media Trends in Hospitality

Canvas Network

This self-paced course, taught by Bill Carroll, Senior Lecturer at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration and CEO of Marketing Economics, teaches students how organizations can meet the challenges of the rapidly-evolving, technology-driven world of hospitality media management.

  • Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS) Foundation

    The ATAS Foundation offers over 40 industry-wide internships to undergraduate and graduate college students. These positions provide students with in-depth exposure to professional television production during an eight-week summer period in Los Angeles. Past hosts have included ABC Studios, CBS, Fox TV, Nickelodeon, and E! Entertainment.

  • American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

    The AAAS is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and advancement of science and science education. The AAAS offers a wide range of volunteer and paid internship positions, including several for writers with Science Magazine. Students should have completed their undergraduate education or be in their senior year when they apply.

  • A+E Networks

    A+E Networks is a media corporation that owns and operates a number of television networks that provide programming in the United States and around the world. Internships at A+E expose students to the cable and entertainment industry in areas that include programming, marketing, production, distribution, public relations and more.

  • CBS Corporation

    CBS offers internship positions in virtually every field of the media and entertainment business. Paid positions are available throughout the year in New York City, Studio City, California, and at corporate-owned television stations in cities like Atlanta and Denver.

  • Cosmopolitan Magazine

    Cosmopolitan, the international magazine for women, offers seasonal internship positions to college undergraduates interested in magazine publishing. Interns assist editors with research and reporting, transcribing interviews, calling in products, providing administrative support to staff and more. Positions are available in Cosmo’s New York City offices.

  • Disney/ABC Television Group

    The Walt Disney Company offers both summer internship and six-month co-op positions at company locations in New York City and Burbank, California. Summer internships are available to undergraduate and graduate students, while co-op positions are open to recent college graduates. All internships and co-ops are paid positions.

  • Hearst Magazines

    Hearst Corporation is a multi-media conglomerate that publishes newspapers and over 300 magazines worldwide. Hearst Magazines offers spring, summer and fall internships to college undergraduates that allow students to develop experience and skills in a variety of areas including fashion, marketing, editing, sales, art and more. Students must earn college credit for these internship positions.

  • Lucasfilm

    Lucasfilm is an American film and television production company located in San Francisco. Internships are typically available in the San Francisco Bay Area and at the company’s Singapore studios. Positions are open to undergraduate juniors and graduate students currently enrolled in an academic program that they will return to upon completion of their internships.

  • National Public Radio (NPR)

    NPR is a non-profit media organization that syndicates programming to public radio stations throughout the United States. NPR offers internship positions to undergraduate students and recent graduates with research and writing skills in a variety of corporate departments. NPR internships are paid positions that can additionally earn students academic credit.

  • NBCUniversal

    NBCUniversal internships provide students with real-world experience and opportunities at one of the world’s largest media and entertainment companies. Internships are available in a host of areas including film, television, marketing and broadcast journalism. Positions are located in New York City, Los Angeles and at a number of local television stations throughout the nation.

  • Paramount Pictures

    Paramount Pictures offers paid internship positions to junior, senior, and graduate (MBA, MFA, JD) students in a number of its departments, including interactive marketing, digital entertainment, home media, creative advertising, publicity, distribution, studio operations and more. Positions are available in Los Angeles and at offices around the world.

  • Scholastic

    Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of children’s books, provides paid summer internships to junior and senior college students, as well as graduating seniors, at its corporate headquarters in New York City. These eight-week positions offer students the opportunity to gain experience in a variety of Scholastic businesses.

  • Simon & Schuster

    Simon & Schuster is one of the largest English-language publishers in the world, with over two thousand titles published annually. Year-long internships are available in New York City, and require 16-20 hours of work during the spring and fall semesters, and full-time employment during the summer. Students must receive academic credit from their college or university for these positions.

  • Thomson Reuters

    Thomson Reuters is a news, information and media corporation headquartered in New York City. Through its Reuters Global Journalism Internships, Thomson Reuters offers paid positions that provide students with a “crash course” in business, political and general news reporting. Positions are available in Asia, Europe and North America.

  • Time Warner

    Time Warner is the world’s largest media conglomerate corporation. Internship positions are available in any number of Time Warner companies and divisions, including HBO, Time, Inc., Turner Broadcasting, Warner Bros., and at Time Warner itself. Time Warner’s College Associate Program is a ten-week summer program offered at all of the company’s primary locations, including New York City, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

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