Online Master's Programs in Mass Communication

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Updated on: 11/22/2018

Mass communication involves the transmission of information and ideas on a large scale, usually for corporate, organizational, or commercial purposes. Online master's in mass communication programs build on the theoretical framework of undergraduate programs, providing you with the advanced research and investigative skills necessary to design, implement, and assess media messaging. Due to the widespread use of social media and other forms of global connectedness, mass communication careers continue to expand.

By earning a graduate degree in mass communication, you can prepare to assume business leadership roles. Additionally, if your professional goals lay in media arts, master's credentials enable you to pursue higher-paying work in script writing and television directing.

This guide covers a variety of topics, including financial aid options, degree types, course offerings, and available specializations. You can also learn about career and professional development opportunities.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Mass Communication Program?

Online master's in mass communication programs typically take two years of full-time study to complete, requiring distance learners to accumulate around 30 semester credits. Additionally, some colleges and universities offer accelerated pathways or degree-completion programs that enable learners to earn their master's degree in as few as 12 months. Distance education programs offer flexible education opportunities that often appeal to working professionals. While remote learning may seem removed from university support, online students benefit from the same administrative resources and faculty attention as their campus-based peers.

Mass communication encompasses many fields, such as business, cultural studies, and international politics. For this reason, curriculum design can vary widely depending on a department’s focus and faculty expertise. Regardless, graduate students can expect to receive fundamental training in investigative techniques, including how to direct focus groups and analyze survey results. Students also delve into industry-specific research methods and ethical concerns, including media law and digital privacy. Learners who pursue an online master's in media communications develop practical skills like copywriting, while also learning how film and television representation can affect race, gender, and social constructs.

What common courses are offered in a master’s in mass communication program?

Specific course topics differ by school, and students typically individualize their degree plan by taking electives or choosing a specialization. However, most graduate mass communication students take core classes in areas like media studies, cultural identity theory, strategic planning, and qualitative research methods. Students can also look forward to completing practicum or thesis requirements. The list below details five common mass communication courses.

Communication Theory

An important class for all mass communication students, communication theory explores the origins, characteristics, and consequences of human communication in verbal, non-verbal, and written forms. Students learn about media from a theoretical standpoint, exploring how to design and convey mass messages. Learners also develop evaluative tools centered on epistemology and axiology.

Media Law and Ethics

Students tackle legal issues related to media and communication in the U.S., particularly mediated messages published through public and digital channels. Topics include freedom of speech, invasion of privacy, copyright and intellectual property, defamation, reporter's privilege, and information access. By analyzing these topics, students develop an ethical framework for their professional conduct.

Communication for Leadership

In this course, students cultivate strategic communication skills and learn about the interrelationship of ideas, events, and people. Participants also learn about organizational culture, group communication theories, and interpersonal conflict and resolution. This topic proves particularly helpful for aspiring marketing directors, advertising specialists, and project managers.

Contemporary Public Relations

This class teaches the foundational principles of public relations used in private, public, and government sectors. Students explore the field's social science roots and different types of public relations campaigns. Using case studies, participants explore ways to foster and maintain positive relationships through genuine public engagement. Additional topics include internal messaging, crisis communication, and investor relations.

Advanced Media Writing

This course helps students develop their written communication skills for a variety of formats, including blogs, features, news releases, e-pitches, brochures, websites, microsites, longform essays, and analyses/critiques. Through skill-centered workshops and peer revision, students learn about all steps of the writing process, from conception to revision and publishing.

What exams or projects should I expect?

Online master's in mass communication programs emphasize research and application in practical scenarios. In addition to content discussion and case study analysis, graduate students can expect to complete group projects based on topics like mass media and its effects on individual opinion and social trends. Furthermore, graduate programs often require learners to participate in internships, where students pursue practice-based learning with businesses, philanthropic organizations, and government agencies.

Class projects and practica provide the scaffolding for culminating experiences in the form of an integrative capstone project or a research-based thesis. Here, working with faculty advisers, students develop and execute communication campaigns. To earn their degrees, students may also need to complete a comprehensive oral or written exam.

What specializations are available in a master’s in mass communication program?

Online master's in mass communication programs often offer a media studies specialization. Graduate students may also specialize in a sub-field, such as health communication, strategic communication, or political communication. Some degree candidates opt for a more business-focused track, concentrating on advertising, human resources, or public relations.

Health Communication

Students analyze how health information affects individuals, communities, public policies, and organizational functions. Learners also develop evidence-based communication skills by constructing public health messages and campaigns. Classes may include program planning, branding health services, and cultural concepts of health and illness. With a health communication education, students can pursue positions as healthcare consultants, patient advocates, and pharmaceutical advertising agents.

Journalism

Students strengthen their interview and reporting skills and create multimedia articles and presentations. The journalism specialization also explores the field's social impact and the roles journalists play in the news industry and society at large. Classes consist of feature writing, copy editing, and public affairs reportage. While requirements vary by program, journalism students generally complete internships with news outlets and publishers.

Digital Media

In this specialization, students develop their writing and graphic design skills to create content for websites, mobile applications, and social media platforms. Learners integrate these skills with data analytics, ensuring their work facilitates consumer engagement and bolsters brand recognition. Coursework may cover digital culture, motion graphics, and mass media and society.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Mass Communication Degree?

Because graduates can apply their communication knowledge and skills to so many areas, they can pursue an array of career opportunities. For example, after completing specialized coursework, students can work in print and digital journalism, combining written communication with visual art to become photojournalists. Mass communication majors may also pursue business-related work, assuming roles as marketing, advertising, public relations, and human resources specialists. Additionally, they can opt for media careers and become art directors, film producers, and television writers. However, students should keep in mind that a graduate-level education does not guarantee career entry or advancement. Employers often hire candidates with relevant professional experience and certification/licensure.

Marketing Manager

These business leaders create and implement programs to generate public interest in products and services. They negotiate contracts, conduct market research studies, and plan promotional campaigns. Marketing managers also work with department heads and teams to discuss strategies and budget allocation. These professionals may specialize in advertising — working with private firms — or focus on promotions. On top of a master's degree, students may need to earn professional certification from an organization like the American Marketing Association (AMA).

Public Relations Manager

These professionals conceive, plan, and direct campaigns that enhance the public image of their clients or employers. Public relations managers usually occupy consulting roles, helping clients write public speeches, handle media inquiries, and protect crucial information. They also oversee general management functions, such as creating budget reports and training employees. Additionally, by specializing in fundraising, professionals can work for community and nonprofit organizations. To pursue this career, students should consider earning graduate credentials and licensure from the Public Relations Society of America.

Technical Writer

Also known as technical communicators, these professionals create instructional manuals, journal articles, and how-to guides that explain complex information. They may also oversee dissemination, standardizing information and ensuring that it travels through relevant communication channels. Technical writers often work for software manufacturers, healthcare organizations, multinational corporations, and research institutes. They may also specialize in a particular form of writing, such as grant or medical writing. Technical writers often pursue licensure from the Society for Technical Communication.

Interpreter/Translator

Interpreters work in spoken or sign language, while translators convert written language. Professionals in this field must convey equivalent concepts and definitions as well as the tone and style of the original language. Thus, interpreters and translators must possess accurate social and cultural knowledge of the languages in question. These professionals sometimes pursue careers in specific industries, such as working for healthcare facilities as medical communicators or in legal settings as judicial specialists. In addition to graduate academics, students should consider completing specialized training through organizations like the American Translators Association or the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters.

Market Research Analyst

These business professionals analyze market conditions to discern the potential sale of a product or service, factoring in pricing standards, buyer demand, and consumer demographics. As data experts, market research analysts gather information through surveys, focus groups, and opinion polls. They analyze and convert this information into reports and presentations for non-technical audiences. Some analysts work with marketers to create research-supported advertising campaigns. Individuals pursuing this career often benefit from earning a master's degree and certification from the Marketing Research Organization.

An online master's in mass communication program covers advanced coursework and provides students with opportunities to conduct research and engage in hands-on training. Graduates can look forward to higher salaries and improved job opportunities. To further bolster their career outlook, students and professionals should also consider joining a professional organization. Membership usually entails an annual fee but can provide access to academic awards, internship placement programs, and research support. Some of these organizations also provide continuing education programs for working professionals, such as AMA’s bootcamps and training series.

American Marketing Association

Founded in 1953, AMA advances marketing excellence through strategic research and industry standardization. Members benefit from e-learning resources and professional training. They can also attend community events and peruse an online job board.

Association for Business Communication

ABC connects professionals through special interest groups and regional chapters. Member benefits include access to career listings, research-based journals, and grant opportunities. Mass communication students can participate in networking events and award competitions.

International Association for Media and Communications Research

IAMCR promotes global inclusiveness and academic excellence through educational outreach. Members collaborate through working groups in areas like the political economy and rural communication. The association also provides research and travel grants.

National Communication Association

NCA disseminates information through 11 academic journals and a resource database. Members enjoy access to grant opportunities, national conventions, and career guidance. The association also operates academic honor societies and student clubs.

Society of Professional Journalists

Established in 1909, SPJ supports its 7,500 members by advocating for freedom of press and information. The society provides ample training opportunities through partnerships with companies like YouTube and Facebook. Members can also receive career guidance and look at job listings.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Mass Communication?

According to PayScale, mass communication professionals who hold a master's degree earn an average salary of $62,000. However, salaries vary depending on a worker’s location, industry, and qualifications. The table below displays salary ranges for five common careers in this field. Marketing and public relation managers — who hold leadership positions — earn the highest median annual salary.

Job Title Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Marketing Manager Less than $48,150 $129,380 More than $208,000 +10%
Public Relations Manager Less than $61,130 $111,280 More than $208,000 +10%
Technical Writer Less than $42,410 $70,930 More than $113,810 +11%
Interpreter/Translator Less than $25,620 $47,190 More than $82,290 +18%
Market Research Analyst Less than $34,510 $63,230 More than $122,770 +23%

Source: BLS 2018

The careers above represent some of the fastest-growing opportunities for mass communication professionals. Based on the importance of data-driven decision making in all business sectors, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 23% growth for market research analysts. This number exceeds the average for business operatives by about 14%. Similarly, interpreter and translator positions stand to increase by 18% due to broadening global ties and strong international trade relations. Technical writers, public relation managers, and marketing managers should also benefit from similar growth patterns.

The Center on Education and the Workforce reports that the education level of professionals in public relations, mass media, and journalism significantly affects their earning potential. Mass communication professionals who possess a bachelor's degree earn about $54,000 a year, while workers who hold a master's earn about $68,000. This $14,000 rise in annual salary shows that workers with an advanced degree see their wages increase by an average of 26%.

Online Master’s in Mass Communication Program Accreditation

To confer valid degrees, colleges and universities must maintain certain educational standards and earn national or regional accreditation. The ED and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation oversee these accrediting agencies. For-profit and vocational schools typically earn national accreditation, whereas nonprofit colleges and universities generally apply for regional accreditation. Regional accreditation — typically considered to be more prestigious — is awarded by one of six organizations, depending on a school’s location.

On top of national or regional accreditation, individual programs at a school can earn specialized accreditation. For example, online master's in mass communication programs can receive recognition from the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC). More than 100 programs currently hold ACEJMC accreditation. To earn this recognition, programs must satisfy nine professional education standards. By earning an accredited mass communication degree, students ensure their training aligns with current industry standards. Holding an accredited master's degree also allows professionals to sit for certain certification and licensure exams.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Mass Communication Degree

Earning an online master's in mass communication requires a significant investment of time and money. Fortunately, many funding opportunities exist that can help reduce the expense of an advanced degree. Sources include government aid, university awards, and private scholarships. Many graduate students can also take advantage of research and teaching opportunities, which provide valuable work experience and financial incentives.

  • Federal Financial Aid

    The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) allows students to apply for many types of aid simultaneously. Graduate students may qualify for a variety of loans, including the Federal GRAD Plus Loan and the Federal Stafford Loan.

  • Institutional Awards

    Graduate students should ask prospective schools about merit- and need-based awards. To attract online students, some colleges and universities reserve certain scholarships for distance learners. Additionally, mass communication students at some schools may qualify for exclusive financial aid opportunities. For example, Arizona State University provides over 30 awards through its Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

  • Private Scholarships

    Professional and nonprofit organizations also offer students financial support. Qualification criteria vary but generally relate to a learner’s degree type, career goals, and/or academic achievement. Funders may also require candidates to hold membership with their organization. Mass communication students can sometimes find scholarships for specific sub-fields or access awards based on identity characteristics, such as scholarships offered by the Asian American Journalists Association.

  • Fellowships and Assistantships

    Because graduate education focuses on hands-on skill development, master's degree candidates can often access fellowship and assistantship programs. These merit-based awards typically require students to complete work related to research, teaching, or civil service. Students can apply for graduate assistantships through their colleges, while professional organizations generally fund fellowships, such as opportunities provided by the Global Investigative Journalism Network.