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Discover Different Online Master’s in Communications Programs
With the constantly evolving state of technology, so evolves the ways in which we communicate. For that reason, master’s in communications programs around the country are following the trends by ensuring their programs match the ever-changing nature of communication. Likewise, the plethora of high-quality distance learning options makes these programs accessible to working professionals who can put their newfound skills to use almost immediately in the workplace. Graduates of online master’s in communications programs position themselves for career and educational advancement by boosting their leadership skills, honing their strategic thinking and planning abilities, and gaining the ever-important capacity to understand communications technology. If you’re considering an online master’s degree in communications, keep reading to learn about the top schools, what to expect in a program and the potential careers you could pursue post graduation.
AdvertisementAffordableCollegesOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
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No matter the career path or specific interest, a student can find an online communications program that will fit their professional needs and interests. Because of the advancements in technology, there is an abundance of high-quality programs that can be completed from anywhere in the world. The following are the top communications programs in the United States. Data to complete this list was generated from the Department of Education and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, and program descriptions are based on each school’s published information.
As one of the top communication schools in the country, USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism also boasts the best online master’s program, Master of Communication Management. The program is designed for mid-career professionals and acknowledges the broad scope of communications careers through its six areas of focus: marketing communication, media and entertainment management, health and social change communication, international and intercultural communication, new communication technologies and organizational and strategic corporate communication. The curriculum is incredibly flexible with only three required courses of eight total. The remaining five courses can be fulfilled by taking any course within the communication management program, two of which can be taken outside the School of Communication. This flexibility allows students to concentrate in their desired area, but also build crucial skills outside their immediate concentration that would help them advance in their field. For example, while a student may concentrate in health and social change communication, they could also take courses related to new communication technologies in order to build important digital communication skills relevant to the health field. Because the program is self-paced, students can take from one to four years to complete it (with a maximum of three courses per term).
“Data-driven strategy” and “real-world application” are central to the communication management program. The program strives to teach students to understand and analyze data deeply as a foundation for making important decisions. The program emphasizes experiential learning as most students work while they’re in school and can apply those newfound skills in real time that can lead almost immediately to career advancement. 100 percent of 2016 online communication management graduates found employment within one year of graduating as senior account executives, market research analysts and media directors, to name just a few examples.
Purdue’s Brian Lamb School of Communication’s online M.S. in Communication program is designed for communications professionals wishing to advance their career and, to ultimately, earn higher salaries. Courses are taught by a faculty of practitioners who are experts – and currently working – in the fields which they teach about. These experienced faculty offer insight and knowledge that students can apply to real world settings immediately.
The program has two concentrations – strategic communication/public relations and integrated communication and advertising – making it an excellent match for prospective students working in public relations, advertising, marketing or corporate communication or those interested in transitioning into one of these areas. The program highlights communication with a global audience, ethical principles underlying communications and social media engagement which is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the field.
This 30-credit, 10 course online program can be completed in about 20 months. There is a general track where students take three core courses and seven electives. In the concentration track, students take the three core courses, then three courses from their chosen concentration (strategic communication/public relations or integrated communication & advertising) and four elective courses. The elective course list has an array of options that are specific to public relations, marketing and organizational development, but it also offers courses in strategic communication and social media and healthcare communications.
The student body itself offers a great deal of opportunity for building professional relationships. Graduates that have gone through the program work at organizations and companies such as UNICEF, NCAA and Coca-Cola. By joining the student body, a student joins a strong and connected alumni network of communications professionals.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s M.S. in Health Communications program is designed specifically for people in the health communications field. Current students can come from healthcare operations, marketing and public relations or even social work. This is a theory-focused program designed to give health communicators insight into the latest research in health communications and the tools to apply those theories in their profession. The areas of study explore the relationship between communications and health in interpersonal relationships (e.g. doctor-patient, social networks, familial networks), in healthcare organizations and mediated contexts (e.g. health campaigns or behavior change methods).
This two-year program (full-time, part-time is an option) requires 32 hours of coursework (28 hours completed within the Department of Communication) taken 100% online in asynchronous courses. The required courses include “Health Communication Research Methods 1 and 2” and the final capstone project. The rest of the program is entirely up to the student and their professional interests from the areas of exploration previously mentioned. The capstone would conclude the student’s work in the program by giving them the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge to their healthcare issue of choice. This could come in the form of a literature review, creating a webinar series, the design of an organizational intervention, designing a media campaign or implementing a project the student designs that would apply what they learned in the program.
Strong advantages of this program are its small cohorts and close interaction with faculty. While most interactions occur through the online courses, the program maintains those close connections to ensure professional networking and growth takes place among the cohort members and with faculty.
Quinnipiac’s online M.S. in Interactive Media and Communications is an excellent fit for working professionals who want to move into a career in digital media or for students who would like to update their knowledge and apply their new skills to their existing career. Digital media is essential in today’s communications marketplace and this program brings digital storytelling to the forefront by not only preparing students to be “creative thinkers” and “visual leaders,” but also to help students establish the almost-requisite digital presence with an online portfolio of work through the capstone project. The diverse set of fields from which the student body comes helps bring myriad perspectives to the coursework. Students may be studying alongside others from various career backgrounds, such as musicians, fine artists, designers, computer programmers, journalists or public relations professionals.
Through coursework, students explore a variety of aspects of digital media including web design, social media analytics and digital audio, video and graphics. The flexible program structure allows students to work through the program in a way that is most useful to them and their career. To graduate, students need 30 credits. This includes the nine-credit core (“Foundations in Graduate Studies,” “Writing for Interactive,” and a master’s capstone) and seven elective courses. Elective offerings vary but can focus on visual storytelling, social media, understanding audience, and audio and visual design among many others that would be relevant to a career in digital media. To further advance their careers and appeal to prospective employers or help advocate for a promotion, students have the option to pursue two graduate certificates in social media and user experience design which can be integrated into the program.
Because the program is so focused on high quality digital media, students can be confident that program faculty will use the most advanced online learning technology. Students can take all of the coursework online, but there are available courses on Quinnipiac’s Connecticut campus for those interested in participating in person for a portion of the program. And finally, the practice-based capstone is unique in that, instead of one project at the end of the program, it is a portfolio showcasing the student’s accumulated work. For many jobs in digital media, a web presence is required in order to be even considered for the position. This capstone allows students to graduate with a high-quality, web-based portfolio that they can immediately take into the job market.
Northeastern’s M.S. in Corporate and Organizational Communication is an excellent fit for almost anyone wishing to advance or start their career in communications, but might appeal even more to professionals in the fields of public relations, corporate communications, human resources or non-profit communications especially in an international context. The program prides itself on basing coursework on the latest research and communication trends, providing interactive learning formats and offering experiential learning opportunities. Course offerings are diverse and flexible with eight concentrations: social media and online communities, public relations, human resource management, usability/user experience, project management, leadership, cross-cultural communication, and leading communication strategy and development. Faculty teaching these courses are communications practitioners skilled in bringing their real-world knowledge from the non-profit sectors to the online classroom.
The program also emphasizes its unique experiential learning opportunities which are essential to online learning. Those opportunities include a choice of two 12-week capstone courses. One they describe as an online “co-op at work” experience which is a project designed around the student’s current workplace. The other opportunity is excellent for those new to communications – a virtual consulting project. Another elective course offered that falls within the experiential learning category is the international field study experience. This would appeal to a student who could travel internationally (or who is already based at an international location) to conduct a field-based research project.
The 15-course degree can be earned through full- or part-time enrollment, which would take about two to three years to complete. Applicants do not need communications experience as the curriculum includes core courses to bring those students into the field quickly. A unique feature to the program is the recognition of prior certifications in the pubic relations and human resources field through credit transfers. Students with accreditation in public relations, or APR, receive a credit transfer of nine quarter hours (a 20% savings) and must complete only 12 of the 15 required courses. Human resources professionals with SHRM-CP certification receive three quarter hour credits (6% savings) and must take 14 courses and students with SHRM-SCP save six quarter hours (13% savings) and must take 13 courses.
Loyola of Maryland’s M.A. in Emerging Media program does what the program title suggests – it focuses on how the media and communications landscape evolves and develops. While much of the program touches upon the important areas of most communications programs (e.g. strategic thinking and best practices in communications), it also provides an important opportunity to focus on the social responsibility of a communications professional and understand how that applies to one’s area of work within the context of modern media. For example, there is coursework to think critically about how to use social media effectively and how race, class, gender and ethnicity impact an audience’s access to mediums of communication including technology (an example course offering is “Social, Political, Economic, and Cultural Issues in Emerging Media”) and legal, ethical and regulatory issues relevant to new media (e.g. copyright and piracy, net neutrality, free speech and privacy).
Students will need 33 credit hours (nine three-credit courses and a six-credit capstone project) to graduate. Full-time students can complete the program within 12 months and part-time students taking one course at a time can complete in 44 months. For students who wish to visit Loyola’s Baltimore campus, there is an optional two-week summer residency course with the first week focusing on content creation and the second focusing on ethics in emerging media. This residency includes hands-on learning opportunities, field trips around Baltimore and nearby Washington, DC and expert panels.
Another unique offering from this school is its health communication certificate program that would be ideal for communications professional working in the health field (note: the program is currently pending MHEC approval because it is a new program). This program requires five three-credit courses that could be completed in just under a year. Many students continue on to complete the full master’s program (just six more courses) upon successful completion of the certificate.
UF has an incredibly comprehensive M.A. in mass communication program with seven, highly focused specializations. Boasting graduate degrees “for the digital age,” it offers a track for almost any communications professional. Available specializations include audience analytics for market analysts and researchers, political communication for communications professionals working in politics or public affairs, web design for digital media professionals or graphic designers, digital strategy for digital marketing professionals, public relations for market analysts and public relations professionals, global strategic communication for international development professionals or communications directors working for global corporations and social media for professionals in any communications field wishing to gain new skills in the medium.
While credit requirements are different within each specialization, students need between 33 and 38 credit hours to graduate, typically taking two to three courses per 12- to 16-week term. Each program is taught by industry professionals who also serve as the curriculum advisory board for each specialization. Some specializations have more core requirements than others, but elective courses often overlap. For the global strategic communication specialization, which has a strong component of cross-cultural communication, students can also choose another concentration to dive deeper into a specific area.
A unique element to the social media specialization is that students receive Hootsuite certification. The public relations program has an educational and mentoring partnership with APCO Worldwide, a global communications consultancy. Students in this specialization will learn from and work on APCO Worldwide projects and have connections to the company's top executives throughout the world.
According to Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communication, its M.S. in communications innovation is designed for “high-potential professionals” who have “mastered their craft” and “want to design its future.” This 24-month executive-style program is structured almost like a successful collaborative corporate environment where up to 10 students per cohort participate in their learning as they would a think tank. The program thrives on a student body from diverse professional backgrounds that strengthens both the learning and the teaching in the program. Students who have graduated from the program have gone on to become teachers, corporate vice presidents, television producers, organizational development managers, communications directors, cross-cultural communications experts and sustainability managers among a variety of other professional backgrounds.
The focus on innovation is highly intentional. In 2015, the Park School commissioned a communications innovation study where 148 senior executives from the communications field were surveyed. The study found that 82% said that innovation plays a significant role in driving their business forward. Many of those surveyed also expressed concern about keeping up with the ever-changing dynamic of technology in communications and wanted to gain more insight into leadership, social media, analytics, running international teams and developing personal public relations through speaking engagements. The communications innovation program strives to ensure their students graduate with a solid foundation in all of the above.
This 24-month full-time hybrid program requires 32 credit hours of online, asynchronous courses and five long-weekend intensive courses at different sites. Past intensives were held in Austin, TX with the SXSW education conference, in Portland, OR for social networking and in Burbank and Anaheim, CA for an environmental storytelling intensive. One other unique aspect of the program is that students graduate with credentials to teach college-level courses.
Liberty University has two master’s communications programs with distinct focuses: M.A. in strategic communications and M.A. in communications. The strategic communications program is designed for marketing, public relations, social media and promotions professionals who want to gain a stronger foothold in effective media outreach. The master’s in communications is designed for professionals interested in developing their leadership, management and professional communications skills for their business, non-profit or public service roles. Both programs require 36 total credit hours. Previously earned, approved program hours (up to 50%) may be transferred. All online courses are eight weeks long.
Through the strategic communications program, students will gain the skills to create action-oriented messaging for their business’ audience. There is a strong focus on the latest digital media and outreach methods through hands-on projects that blend theory and practice. The program concludes with either a final “Challenge Examination” or a capstone project.
The master’s in communication program focuses on building skills in research, writing and presenting to train students to be effective communicators. The marketable skills and knowledge will give students an excellent advantage for promotions into external-facing roles at their organizations. This program is an excellent fit for those in public service or ministry roles that require an understanding of cross-cultural engagement, as well as anyone working in crisis communications or politics. Example courses include “Conflict Analysis and Resolution,” “Communication in Nonprofit and Christian Ministry” and “International and Intercultural Communication.” Students who complete the master’s in communication will also be prepared for doctoral studies or K-12 and college-level teaching.
University of Missouri’s online M.A. in communication program is a great fit for professionals with at least three years of journalism- or communications-related work experience who want to take their career to the next level. Online master’s students may choose from four areas of study: health communication, interactive media, media management and strategic communication. Each of these programs are designed to give communications professionals the skills and knowledge to succeed in leadership roles in print media, broadcasting, corporate communications and public relations among a variety of other roles. Graduates of the program immediately become a part of a vast network of industry executives and innovators. Faculty are also practicing journalists and communications professionals who provide valuable insights into career advancement in the field.
Each area of study requires 37 credit hours. While courses are all online, the small group projects allow students to gain valuable insights from their colleagues. The health communication focus is a great fit for communications professionals in the health fields wanting to advance in their field and take their organization to the next level. The interactive media study area not only provides valuable skills in digital messaging, but also goes in-depth on the psychological, social, ethical and legal issues regarding the roles and effects of digital news, advertising and public relations on society. For students who have significant professional experience and want to delve into management in publishing or advertising, the media management focus would be ideal. Finally, the strategic communication study area is excellent for those who have a great deal of practical communications knowledge, but want to delve deeper into theory and research through these five principles: strategic planning, technology, relationship building, global/multicultural communications and building a communications portfolio.
SDSU’s online master of mass communication (M.C.C.) program is specifically directed towards mid-career professionals working in journalism or strategic communications. It’s designed to focus on new media and has added emphasis in navigating the diverse nature of communications. Students come from a variety of backgrounds including print, broadcast, marketing and public relations.
The program follows a cohort model, where students take most courses together typically with 15 students per class. Each semester includes two back-to-back eight-week courses. Students have a couple completion options. The first is to complete the program with 32 credit hours and conclude with a professional project where they choose a profession-related problem, propose a solution and then carry out a creative project. This is designed to be applied towards their current work and should help position them for advancement. The other option is to complete the program with 36 hours of coursework that would require building a professional portfolio of course-related projects along the way. Because the program is focused on practical skills that can be applied immediately, at least half the courses students will take must be skills-based (e.g. health campaigns or opinion writing).
Unique to the SDSU program are the learning objectives that are geared specifically toward building awareness around diversity, inclusion, global communications and ethics as it relates to communications. For example, three objectives from the program include:
Demonstrate an understanding of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and, as appropriate, other forms of diversity in domestic society in relation to mass communications
Demonstrate an understanding of the diversity of peoples and cultures and of the significance and impact of mass communications in a global society
Demonstrate an understanding of professional ethical principles and work ethically in pursuit of truth, accuracy, fairness and diversity
While these elements are likely introduced in most of the required coursework, three courses specifically focus on these objectives: “Media Law Case Studies,” “Women in Media,” and “International Media.”
The University of Alabama’s online M.A. in communication studies program is focused on the specialization in organizational leadership. Students who complete this program excel in understanding and managing organizational dynamics and management-level communications by providing training in leadership. This is a great fit for prospective students wishing to position themselves in higher-level leadership positions within their career. The coursework covers theory and practice essential to organizational leadership including public discussion, negotiation, persuasion and interpersonal communication. Graduates of this program will leave with skills and knowledge that will help them become better leaders.
The program requires 30 credit hours (12 of which are within the organizational leadership specialization). The coursework is pre-determined for the online program. Examples of core theory courses include “Gender and Political Communications and Technology,” “Culture” and “Human Communication.” Organizational leadership specialization course examples include Conflict and Negotiation and Group Leadership. Once initial coursework is complete, students complete a professional project designed to be completed within their current professional environment.
Located about 60 minutes from New York City, Sacred Heart’s M.A. in strategic communications and public relations has a hybrid program that, while requiring in-person courses, the blended courses and “innovative scheduling” (i.e. offering face-to-face classes combined with online sessions) make for a program that works with a student’s busy schedule. This flexible schedule allows students who live in and around New York City the flexibility to continue to work in their field and develop skills in three concentrations: corporate communication and public relations, digital media public relations, and political communication and multimedia production. The diverse nature of the coursework gives students the freedom to tailor their degree to their career goals. Courses also offer students the opportunity to think critically about how the public digests information and how that plays a role in their work in communications. Examples of courses offered include “Crisis Communication,” “Gender, Identity, and Media,” and “Race, Politics, and Media.” Graduates work in or go on to careers in non-profit management, crisis communications, event planning, political communication and corporate social responsibility among others.
The program requires 36 credit hours and can be completed within one year as a full-time student (attending class two nights a week) or in two years as a part-time student (attending class one night a week). After coursework is completed, students can choose either an internship or a capstone project that can be completed within a student’s workplace to help advance their career. Students leave the program with a tangible portfolio that will demonstrate their skills in digital media. A bonus of the program is that all students receive a MacBook Pro on which they’ll receive training on the platforms they’ll need to know to advance in the field.
St. Bonaventure has one of the few master’s of integrated marketing programs in the country. Whether a prospective student is new to marketing, wanting career advancement or purely wants to become an expert marketing manager, the program will help students build a personal brand. Its promotional video gives concrete examples including making writers into copywriters, artists into art directors, and proteges into mentors. The program and coursework are built around “five pillars of personal marketability”:
Peer study: Through the diverse professional backgrounds of the student body, deep peer-focused learning occurs
Debate: Coursework challenges students to think on their toes and learn how to defend their marketing strategies
Connection: The network of professionals from the program become immediate connections during and after the program
Reputation: Bonaventure prides itself on its strong reputation and valuing of students’ time by providing top-notch instruction
Confidence: Through consistent practice of marketing skills, feedback from students and faculty, and excellent instruction, students build and exude confidence in producing high level work
The online degree program focuses specifically on business communications and can be completed in less than 12 months by taking two courses per semester. Graduates are able to coordinate and integrate marketing tools into their work. These include marketing, public relations, business communications, promotions, package design and e-commerce. Upon completion of the coursework, students are required to complete a comprehensive integrated marketing communication plan.
Queens University of Charlotte’s M.A. in communication program is offered through one of the leading communications schools in the country, the James L. Knight School of Communication. This degree is based on the foundation of theory and practice in both soft and technical skills necessary in a modern workforce. The university’s website succinctly explains that the program “emphasizes universal truths of communication and how to adapt them to complement fast-moving, fast-changing technologies and trends.” Soft skills such as interpersonal and cross-cultural communication are emphasized, as well as a strong sense of collaboration and building mentorships between faculty and students. As a result, graduates should excel in any field requiring communicating with others – from corporate managers, entrepreneurs and public relations professionals to educators and non-profit leaders. In addition to the main coursework, students have an option to concentrate in integrated digital strategy which builds knowledge and skills in digital and social media tools through four courses: “Complete Strategic Communication for Global Audiences,” “Creative and Networks,” “Organizational Identity” and “Brand.”
The program requires 36 credit hours, or 12 courses. The integrated digital strategy concentration requires one more course on top of that, making the total requirement 39 credit hours or 13 courses. Throughout the program, students build a digital portfolio and are required to complete a capstone that demonstrates their ability to turn communication theory into practice. Capstone projects are diverse and depend on the interests and career focus of each student. Examples of past projects include: “Rebranding Diabetes: Creating a conversation shift through stigma reduction in online and social media,” “Journey from social media visual to social justice movement: The meaning & meme-ing of #BlackLivesMatters,” and “The art of storytelling and emotional branding: A rhetorical analysis of the Dove campaign for real beauty.”
UNT’s Mayborn School of Journalism offers a unique, accelerated, M.S. in digital communication analytics for public relations, marketing and advertising professionals. The coursework is specifically designed to provide a foundation in data management that’s essential in creating effective marketing and advertising campaigns. By combining courses in statistics, big data and data visualization with courses in journalism and marketing, students leave the program knowing how to translate data into compelling storytelling through a variety of campaigns.
The program requires 36 credit hours, 24 of which are required courses that include a variety of quantitative research courses, social media analytics and computer graphics for mediated communication among others. In addition to these required courses, students can take 12 hours of electives within the Mayborn School of Journalism to expand on their career interests.
The Mayborn School of Journalism had the honor of receiving the Equity & Diversity Award from the accrediting body, Association of Education and Journalism and Mass Communication, because of its “measurable success and innovation in racial, gender and equity and diversity.” The school hired more faculty of color and female faculty to ensure greater representation and included courses on race and gender in the media and integrated diversity and cultural sensitivity within its general coursework. Because of this concentrated work, students can be confident they are receiving an education that reflects the diversity of our society.
SUU’s M.A. in professional communication prides itself on being a professionally-focused program that can be completed fully online. It focuses on building a personal interaction between students and faculty that isn’t compromised by its online format. The program is designed for almost anyone whose job performance relies on excellent communication skills, from marketing to non-profit management. Students study messaging, message construction, dissemination and carrying out messaging goals. The program is rooted in the ever-changing and dynamic nature of the communication field through technology.
The master's degree requires 36 semester hours of coursework to graduate, 18 of which are core courses (including “Applied Communications Theory” and “Professional Writing and Presentations”), 12 semester hours of electives (which could include “Communication & Popular Culture,” “Professional Social Media” and “Visual Literacy & Application” to name a few examples) and a six semester hour capstone. While the professional communication program offers a wide variety of electives, business-focused master’s students also have the option to take courses within the MBA program upon faculty approval. For their capstone projects, students have three options depending on what they would like to get out of the degree. For students interested in academia or who intend to complete a doctoral program, they may take the research-focused thesis track; there’s an internship option for students who want to gain experience in a field different from their current environment and finally, a professional project is an excellent way for students to advance where they currently work.
Stevenson’s M.S. in communication studies is a program designed for working professionals who want to dive deeper into communication theories and understand how to apply them within their current profession. Because the coursework is fairly broad, the degree can be applied to a variety of professions. Some examples Stevenson notes include business, media, education and law or politics. The coursework involving communication ethics can be applied to careers in business such as human resource management, corporate communications and organizational consulting. Because of the focus on writing, public speaking and problem-solving, students wishing to advance in media and communications can apply their newfound skills to public relations, brand strategy or marketing management (which Stevenson points out is a high-demand career of 2016). Educators can expect to develop their interpersonal skills and abilities of coherently and clearly explaining complex topics to a wide variety of audiences that can be applied to advance careers as administrators, educational advisors or communications and public affairs directors within the education sector. Because careers in law and politics requires exceptional analytical and interpersonal skills, this program can help students advance themselves in careers as legislative aides, public information officers or campaign managers.
The program requires completing 36 credit hours of core courses. Examples of courses include “Cultures and Communication,” “Communication and Ethics in the Public Sphere” and “Nonverbal Communication” among a variety of theory-focused courses. Students may choose between a research thesis or a capstone project that can help advance them in their current work.
A professional advantage for some students is the unique reduced-tuition partnerships offered with employers and academic institutions (most of which are located in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington, DC). If a student’s company or institution is not a current partner, there may be a way to work with an employer to partner with Stevenson.
Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Journalism prides itself on being one of the pioneers in communications education and they see the online master’s in communications program (or Communications@Syracuse) as essential to expanding their reach and preparing students for the new media landscape. The mostly online program requires two in-person weekend-long immersion courses throughout the program which offers three specializations: public relations, advertising, and journalism innovation.
The public relations track will help students advance their strategic marketing skills with an important focus on digital messaging and social media. Graduates from this specialization can expect to position themselves for careers in non-profit public relations, corporate communications and government communications. The advertising track also builds on strategic marketing skills but further helps advance a students’ expertise in advertising campaign development through courses such as “Strategic Principles and Practices” and “Digital Branding and Strategy.” And last, the journalism innovation track provides insight and practice in digital innovation and how technology affects the way news and media are consumed. Courses in data analysis and emerging media platforms will help build expertise.
Each student takes 18 core course credits (six three-credit courses), nine credits (three courses) within their specialization and complete a final capstone project. In addition to the core and specialization courses, all specializations require two weekend-long immersion experiences, which are in-person courses that take place in different locations around the world. These courses provide in-person networking with students and faculty and immerse participants within an important communications topic through guest lectures from industry leaders and hands-on experiences. Students are encouraged to attend the annual campus-based immersion and then may choose from the offerings from around the world. Example sites and topics include a course on disrupting the status quo through strategy and innovation in Seattle, WA, a course on sustainability in Costa Rica and a course on political communication in Washington, DC.
Point Park’s M.A. in communications technology has a strong focus on what they call “social interaction technologies.” While all students engage in basic communications theory and practice, the two concentrations – social media and applied practices – are specifically centered on technology. Social media explores best practices and helps students develop cohesive and professional social media campaigns within their communications career. In the applied practices concentration, students delve into visual communication technology, web publishing and global communication. Elements of social media will also be discussed in the applied practices concentration, but not as deeply as within the social media concentration.
The online program requires 36 credit hours and typically takes two to three years for students to complete online. All courses are taught by industry experts who not only provide a strong theoretical foundation but are also able to bring insights into real-world application.
This profession-focused program prepares graduates to become experts in a variety of fields including public relations, technical writing, marketing, broadcasting and market research. For students interested in continuing on to a doctoral program, the applied practices concentration is an ideal option for creating a strong academic foundation.
ECU’s M.A. in communications is a health communication-focused program created with the lofty goal to make a difference in the health fields by training professionals from healthcare and health-related fields to become exceptional communicators. The program notes that ECU identified the pressing need to “study the health of our children, citizens, and communities from a communication perspective.” This program is their response. Their two primary goals are to integrate communication theory and practice and to influence the field of health communication. Graduates of the program have gone on to become leaders in healthcare and the non-profit sector. They also leave the program exceptionally well-prepared for doctoral work.
The program requires 30 credit hours that can be done entirely online, but students are also free to take courses in person if they’d like to travel to the beautiful Greenville, NC campus. Courses include focuses on media and health communication, interpersonal communication (including doctor-patient communication), intercultural communication and health advocacy among others. Once completing the initial coursework, students can decide to complete the program through a thesis track (six-credit research course with a final paper) or the non-thesis track, which includes twelve credits of additional electives.
Clarion’s M.S. in mass media arts and journalism is a broadly-focused program that would appeal to anyone working in the communications sector wishing to dig deeper into theories and apply their skills in real time. Students can expect to develop more expertise in communications strategy including building effective marketing campaigns, professionalize their skills in relevant communications technology including social media and engage in critical discussions around ethics in the fields of communications and journalism. Clarion’s mission to provide “transformative, lifelong learning opportunities through innovative, nationally recognized programs delivered in inclusive, student-centered environments” is reflected in the program structure, coursework and interactive nature of its online courses. It also hopes to create the country’s next crop of communications leaders.
This 36-credit program could take as little as 18 months for a student to complete while still working in their current job. Students will take the foundational communications, public relations and journalism theory courses, as well as courses in society, law and media technology, advanced public relations writing, management of the communication process and mass communication research. Students also have one elective course and can choose either a thesis or research study.
Texas Tech’s master’s in strategic communication and innovation came out of the College of Media & Communication’s ambitious strategic plan to create a program that was accessible to all students no matter where they lived. Flexibility is a key focus of the program and for anyone wanting to advance in their communications career. As a result, student choice is the centerpiece – students decide where to study, when to study, when to start and course load. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and admitted students can start at the beginning of any term. The asynchronous model lets students carve out the time that works best for them rather than requiring them to be in front of the computer at a specific time.
The master’s program feeds right into the college’s mission, which is to educate and prepare students for future careers in various communication industries while also earning recognition as a leader in media and communication education, research and service.
The program requires 30 credit hours which are designed to prepare students for senior level positions. There are seven required courses and three electives. The curriculum has a strong focus on digital communications and global engagement. Because the program is designed for high-level communications professionals, the flexibility honors students’ precious time while still emphasizing skills and coursework so students can complete the program with a professional portfolio that will help them advance in their career.
Mississippi College is a Christian university that bases much of its programs on the founding faith of the institution. This is true for the master’s in communications programs and is specifically mentioned in the coursework for communication ethics courses which stem from Christian teachings as they relate to ethics. The most flexible of the programs is the integrated communications program where students can design their coursework based on their personal and professional interests. Thirty-one semester hours are required to complete the generalist program. Required courses take up 13 semester hours that include foundational courses in communications and public relations as well as a final convocation paper. Beyond the required courses are 15 credit hours of three-credit communication electives (five courses) and three credits (or one course) of an out-of-department graduate elective. Recommended elective courses include negotiation, intercultural communications and science communication among others. The master’s in professional communication in health services communication (M.S.C.) combines courses from the communications department and health services administration program that positions students to become leadership in health communications. The M.S.C. also requires 31 semester hours to complete but has a distinct track with 16 semester hours of required core courses that are foundational to communications, a three-credit elective (a choice between negotiation and science communication), and 12 semester hours of health administration courses. The health administration courses focus on the fundamentals of organizational communications and legal and administrative aspects of healthcare services.
Lasell’s M.S. in communication program offers flexibility to complete a degree within 12 to 24 months in either completely online or a blended program between online and on their Newton, MA campus. Regardless, all classes are capped at 23 students to encourage interaction between students and personal attention from faculty. Students may specialize in any of the three concentrations: health communication, integrated marketing communication, or public relations.
The health communication concentration combines lessons in public health, public policy, marketing, management, and communications theory to provide students with a strong and diverse foundation in the field. The goal of this specialization is to create a professional workforce that is positioned to make waves in the health communications field. They do this through hands-on collaborative projects that provide real-world insight such as creating a Zika safety campaign or addressing policies on international travel regulations. The integrated marketing communication concentration focuses on building strategic planning and knowledge around consumer behavior and brand development. The public relations concentration is rooted in developing the skills to translate messages and building relationships between agencies (be it media, government or non-profit) and their target communities. Each of these concentrations have a strong foundation in theory and strive to build leaders in their fields as directors of marketing, directors of communication, social media managers or communication campaign strategists.
The program, no matter the concentration, requires 36 credits of coursework. The core curriculum is 21 credits of foundational courses, nine credits of concentration-specific courses, six elective credits and a practice-based capstone course.
What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Communications Program
The overarching skill a student can expect to gain from any online master’s in communications program is strategic thinking. While from the outside the term “strategic” could feel arbitrary, it’s essential to a management and senior-level skillset in many careers and is especially important in the field of communications where a professional must be able to think in the long-term, create a cohesive communications plan and be able to effectively analyze the outcomes of the plan. A communications professional, to use an effective cliché, must be able to see the forest through the trees. In other words, while a communications professional has day-to-day responsibilities, they still need to maintain a macro-level perspective. These professionals must also be able to effectively communicate with their various target audiences as well as their internal audiences (e.g. administrators, bosses, executive members).
Coursework for online master’s in communications programs is almost always geared towards some level of strategic thinking, whether it be focused on the workplace, global engagement or technology. As an example, many programs require a foundational marketing course as part of the core curriculum. Students begin by discussing theories around effective marketing campaigns and then engage in a project to learn how to create a communications strategy based on those theories. This type of strategic planning is emphasized in much of the coursework in which students engage.
Using USC’s online master of communication management as an example, core coursework focuses on theory and applied research. Examples of potential courses – or topics since specific course names will vary by school – students may see in a graduate level communications program include:
Foundations of effective public relations writing
Uses of communication research
Communication, attitudes, values and behavior
Communication in work settings
Practicum (other schools may require a thesis or other type of capstone project)
The core curriculum may look a bit different depending on the program or school, but in all cases, coursework is designed to prepare students for their career of interest, whether it’s management, consulting, public relations or marketing.
Additionally, many programs offer concentrations so students can gain highly specialized skills and knowledge in a particular area of interest. Some example specializations include the following (note that the specialization titles, much like course names, may vary by school/program, but these are the overarching topics covered through specific tracks):
Marketing, public relations and advertising
At most colleges, the topics of marketing, public relations and advertising will be separate specializations. While similar in basic theory, the specific outcomes may differ. The coursework for each of these concentrations often focuses on branding (whether it be for an organization, a person or a product) and carrying out an effective marketing, public relations or advertising campaign. In most cases, understanding the audience is essential. These specializations also include an element of data collection and analysis since market research is an important piece of marketing, public relations and advertising.
International, global and intercultural communications
Many programs include specializations in international or intercultural communications, which can apply to almost anyone working in a global environment or with people from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Marketing professionals may want to choose this track if they wish to learn more about appealing to a global audience. Additionally, many master’s programs with this specialization include elements of intercultural communications, which are intended to give students the skills to work effectively with people from all backgrounds.
New media or new communication technologies
Because the nature of communications is dynamic due to the constantly evolving media landscape, online master’s in communications programs have the unique flexibility to shape program coursework to this environment. Colleges do this by providing specializations in new media or new communications technologies which includes tools for connecting a dispersed and globalized workforce, digital branding and marketing in the new media landscape and, in many cases, specializations specifically focused on social media. Because so much information is communicated through social media, communications programs are responding by not only offering courses on social media, but also providing entire concentrations in the medium. In these specializations, students can expect to become up-to-date on effective digital media communications as well as the ethics involved in being a professional communicator in the modern information age.
A variety of programs offer specializations designed specifically for professionals in the health sector, which is increasingly relying on communications technology. Students pursuing this concentration could use their skills to work in health at the community level (e.g. community health workers), in hospital administration (e.g. hospital communications directors) or as healthcare providers (e.g. nurses, doctors, physicians assistants, etc.). The specialization is designed to provide a foundation in strategic communications – such as through designing a behavior change campaign around a specific health concern – as well as to understand the nuances of interpersonal communication in all elements of the healthcare system (from doctor-patient interactions to a hospital’s interactions with the surrounding community).
Because most online master’s in communications programs are designed with working professionals in mind, students who are currently employed have the opportunity to immediately apply their new skills. The coursework is often project-based and meant to be applied within the student’s current work context. For example, in a marketing course, a student who is assigned to identify a target audience for an organization and develop a marketing strategy geared toward that audience could utilize their current work as the basis for the assignment.
In the last year, most master’s programs require a final project. If one specific type of final project is not mandated, students usually have a choice for this requirement – typically between a research-focused thesis, an internship or practicum (particularly in programs that are more theory-based) or a final capstone project.
These options are available in a select number of programs. The capstone project, however, is almost universally offered as the final graduation requirement, mostly because of the focus on real-world professional application. Capstone projects are designed by the student with faculty approval and guidance and are a way for students to demonstrate their mastery of a key concept within the field. This ability to immediately put skills into practice can position the student for career advancement almost immediately by way of a promotion at their existing organization/company or to strategically identify and pursue other areas of interest. While a capstone is required in almost all programs (or alternatively, a thesis or internship), there are some programs that require a final professional portfolio, which is essentially a selection of projects completed throughout the program and presented in a professional fashion, such as on a website or other digital source. What is central to all of these options, though, is the outcome – to demonstrate mastery in the field as well as utilize newfound skills in a way that professionally benefits students the most.
Online master’s in communications programs are often self-paced and require between 30-36 credit hours (which equates to between 10 to 15 courses) that could take from one (full-time) to three (part-time) years to complete. While the progression of the program is often up to the student and what courses are available each term, there are consistent elements to almost all communications programs:
Core course requirements: Most programs have a slate of required core courses (typically three to six), which cover fundamental theories and concepts (e.g. Foundations of Communication or Foundations in Marketing, Communication Ethics, etc.).
Electives: Outside the core requirements, students may choose electives that suit their interests and supplement their communications education. In some cases, at least one course may be a course offered from a different department (for example, a student may want to take a business course), but typically most electives must be taken within the communications department.
Specialization courses: These are optional but if a student chooses to pursue a specialization, courses will be targeted to a particular area of the field so students can hone their skills.
Final graduation requirement: As noted previously, almost all programs have a final capstone (or thesis/internship) credit that is required upon completion of all other coursework.
While this format is typical for most online master’s communications programs, there are a few that do not offer electives and require all students to take the same courses.
What Can I Do with a Master’s in Communications Degree?
Career paths for someone with a master’s in communication are as plentiful as there are means of communication. In fact, the leadership skills gained through a communications degree could be applied to almost any field, but there are a number of areas to which the degree can be directly applied. A master’s degree can open up many possibilities in fields such as the following:
Communications Management Every organization needs someone to effectively tell their story and get it out into the world and because of that, one can find a communications director or manager position in almost all fields. In most cases, a master’s in communication is not only valued, but may even be required. These positions are largely responsible for overall messaging and creation of communications strategies for a company’s or organization’s brand. Because of the constantly evolving state of technology, digital communication is becoming increasingly important. For that reason, students interested in communications management should look into programs that have a strong area of focus on technology and digital communications (which could include website management, social media communications or video and audio production). A strong skill set in digital communications could set an applicant apart from the rest. Another important skillset in communications management is internal communications. In effect, the student learns how to interact with a company’s employees in order to build morale and increase longevity of a workforce. Internal communications is also important to help employees buy in to a company’s mission and values and, in turn, become ambassadors for the company’s brand. Associations that may be of interest for someone interested in communications management are The American Communication Association, Communications Media Management Association, the International Association of Business Communicators, the Public Relations Society of America (which also organizes the Association/Non Profit Section for non-profit communicators) and the American Marketing Association.
Health Communications A career in health communications can include community-based communications as a public health worker or managing an entire hospital’s communications strategies as a hospital administrator. A variety of communications programs offer specific tracks for health communicators. Community-based health workers or public health professionals will benefit from understanding how marketing skills can be applied to health such as designing a behavior change strategy like a smoking cessation campaign. Hospital administrators and healthcare communications managers must understand the many ways in which a healthcare institution interacts with the public (e.g. the interactions with the surrounding community, interactions with patients and interactions among and between other institutions in the community). The communications manager must have a strategic vision and understand how to position the hospital to work best with all stakeholders. These skills are central to health communications master’s programs. The Society for Health Communication is an excellent resource for those interested in this career path. Additionally, the Public Relations Society of America has a section specifically for the health sector called The Health Academy.
Public Relations Public relations professionals work on behalf of an organization, company or individual to earn media coverage to get a brand’s story out into the world either through the media or through speaking engagements. Most corporations have an in-house PR person/team or hire an external PR firm to either be the face of the corporation and/or coach representatives or leaders from the company. PR professionals also have an added role of engaging in crisis communication. For example, if a CEO of a company or a politician is involved in a scandal, the public relations officer is often tasked with representing the company or the individual and will work with the media to minimize the damage. Because communication is at the heart of the public relations profession, a master’s in communication provides training around building a public relations strategy. Many former journalists enter this profession because of their background in the media, and a master’s degree adds upon their reporting and writing skills to give them the skills to develop a strategic vision. A prospective student interested in public relations but without a journalism background may want to consider a program that is linked to a journalism program. Anyone interested in public relations should look into joining the Public Relations Society of America.
Marketing Marketing professionals are responsible for building a brand on behalf of a company. They mostly work in paid advertising as opposed to someone working generally in communications management who works on more comprehensive communications campaigns rather than short term, targeted marketing campaigns. Marketing professionals work closely with market research analysts to understand the audience and public’s interest to build a specific campaign. A master’s in communications would give someone interested in marketing the skill to envision an overarching message and carry out a cohesive campaign. Students interested in marketing may also want to look at taking courses in market research to gain insight into how data is gathered and analyzed. The American Marketing Association is a great resource for someone interested in this type of career.
Market Research Market research analysts are needed in almost every industry to collect and analyze qualitative and quantitative data to promote a brand or sell a product. Advertising agencies work with market research companies to learn how their brand is used to inform advertising campaigns. In politics, market research can be conducted to identify important issues for constituents. And in the non-profit sector, market research can be utilized to understand supporters of an organization’s work and build a communications campaign around that. Because market research is designed to inform a strategic communications vision, a master’s degree would give emerging or prospective market research analysts the important skills of analyzing and communicating the data collected in a concise and clear way. Prospective students interested in market research should look for programs with a data collection and analysis concentration. Insights Association is the largest association for the market research field and is a great resource for career advancement. Additionally, because market research is tied closely to marketing, someone interested in this career should look into the American Marketing Association as a resource.
Human Resources Management Human resources managers and directors are needed in almost any mid- and large-scale company or organization to oversee workforce management and development efforts. The field is large and very diverse – potential areas could include employee recruitment, benefits management, training and employee development among other directions, all of which require top-notch communication skills. An example of where a master’s in communications could set someone apart is in recruitment marketing where a recruiter must understand their audience (i.e. potential employees) and what would appeal to them in order to attract the best candidates possible. Another emerging area in the human resources field is employer branding which focuses on building a strong company or organization brand that attracts high quality applicants. Because of the importance of technology in communications at any level, human resources managers will be more likely to advance when they have a strong understanding of content marketing as well. This includes, but is not limited to video creation, website development and creative technological strategies to engage an audience. Finally, a master’s in communication also helps build internal communication skills, which are essential in employee engagement where human resources managers develop important systems and structures to retain high quality employees and support them in their work. Prospective students interested in this career path should look at programs that emphasize internal communications and marketing technology as part of their coursework. The Society for Human Resources Development is an excellent resource for anyone interested in this field as they not only offer networking opportunities, but additional certifications as well.
Other careers in communications
A master’s in communications can be applied to almost any career and it’s difficult to summarize in just a few descriptions. The following are additional examples of jobs in which a master’s in communications can be applied:
Community relations manager
Political campaign director
Social media director
Fundraising or development director
Foreign service officer
International development communications strategist
How Much Money Can I Make with a Master’s in Communications Degree?
With an online master’s in communications, the opportunities for real-time advancement are huge. A student can work towards career advancement while going to school and the following salaries show the earning potential for select careers. These salary statistics are a combined assessment from PayScale and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2017 employment data.
National data from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce shows a significant salary difference between a bachelor’s and a master’s degree for people in communications and journalism careers. The following shows the difference in earning potential between a bachelor’s and a master’s for communications graduates in 2015.
Median salary for bachelor’s degree
Median salary for master’s degree
Advertising and public relations
Communications and mass media
Human resources and personnel management
Business management and administration
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national employment outlook for careers in communications is trending higher than average (ranging from 9% to 20% growth depending on the position) between 2016 and 2026. When looked at by location, the growth rate of communications careers trends even higher. These are broken down by career path in the table below.
Salary rates in communications fields often depend on the required skills of a position. Prospective students should look at those specific skills and look into programs that will help them develop the required skillset and apply it in their current or future positions. Communications DirectorProjected growth rate
10% national employment outlook (May 2017 BLS). PayScale notes the employment outlook as high as 55% in San Francisco and 37% in Dallas.Skills developed through a master’s in communications program that will positively affect salaries (according to PayScale career analysis)
20% national employment outlook for “Medical and Health Services Managers” (May 2017 BLS). Skills developed through a master’s in communications program that will positively affect salaries (according to PayScale career analysis)
14% national employment outlook for “Management Analysts” (May 2017 BLS).Skills developed through a master’s in communications program that will positively affect salaries (according to PayScale career analysis)
10% national employment outlook (May 2017 BLS). Median salary according to PayScale is $82,000, but BLS measures the median income at $111,000Skills developed through a master’s in communications program that will positively affect salaries (according to PayScale career analysis)
10% national employment outlook (May 2017 BLS). PayScale assesses the outlook between 26-60% outlook in a variety of large metro regions (e.g. Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco)Skills developed through a master’s in communications program that will positively affect salaries (according to PayScale career analysis)
9% national employment outlook (May 2017 BLS). According to PayScale, the employment outlook for HR managers is even higher (up to 33%) in large metro regions including Boston, New York and San Francisco.Skills developed through a master’s in communications program that will positively affect salaries (according to PayScale career analysis)
10% employment outlook (May 2017 BLS). PayScale shows that the employment outlook is up to 50% in Minneapolis and 40% in Philadelphia.Skills developed through a master’s in communications program that will positively affect salaries (according to PayScale career analysis)
Strategic planning (34%)
Team leadership (6%)
Training management (3%)
Organizational development (2%)
Online Master’s in Communications Program Accreditation
ACEJMC accredited institutions have a stamp of quality on them. This is important in any program, but it’s essential in an online program as accredited institutions can guarantee a high quality education no matter the method in which it’s pursued.
How to Pay for a Master’s in Communications Degree
Because online master’s in communications degrees have flexible schedules and are built for working students, one can continue working full-time while in school. This is a huge advantage, but it’s just one way of funding a graduate degree. Other options prospective master’s students should look into include:
Employer benefits for education
Many large companies or organizations provide tuition assistance for education and training that’s relevant to one’s current position. Because most master’s in communications programs help you apply the skills developed almost immediately, an employee can pitch the tuition assistance as a way to directly benefit their job performance in real time. Contact someone in the human resources or staff development and training departments to learn more about those benefits. This likely won’t cover all tuition, but it could cover a significant portion.
Learn about communications-specific scholarships at Scholarships.com. Student loan and scholarship opportunities
This government program forgives the remaining balance on federal Direct Loans for those who work for government and 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organizations and meet other specified requirements. To plan ahead or to see if you qualify, visit the U.S. Department of Education.
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