Why Earn a Master’s in Communications?
A master’s in communications can open a great number of career opportunities. Just take a look to see how you can use this to advance your career in marketing, PR, healthcare, or education. How you use the degree is completely reliant on what you want to achieve. You can choose from a number of specializations or earn a dual MBA while you finish your communications master’s. Propel yourself forward in your current career or make a hard turn into something you’re interested in elsewhere. The sky’s the limit.
Business Degrees & Career Paths
Earning a master’s in communication helps graduates prepare for jobs in a wide range of industries from journalism and mass media to corporate communications, politics, and more. Students with some work experience under their belt can use this degree to open doors and advance in their career, improve their writing and communication skills, and become a better researcher and presenter.
The main benefit of earning a master’s in communications is, this degree gives students a versatile, transferrable skill set; it’s equal parts general communications skills and expertise, which means, unlike getting a degree in engineering or nursing, you’ll have a lot of flexibility after graduating. Depending on what you specialize in, you may learn more about organizational communication, marketing, advertising, journalism, public policy, and leadership.
There is a long list of skills you’ll develop further in a communications program, but many of them won’t necessarily land you a better job or advance your earnings much more than earning a bachelor’s degree. Unless you’re getting a master’s in a specific area of communications, the main benefit of returning to school is to advance your expertise in the field or remain relevant. While the versatility of a communications degree is one of the more attractive things about this field, it also makes it hard to prove that earning a master’s degree has a high return on investment.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, master’s graduates earn roughly $224 more per week than their peers with a bachelor’s degree. So, the degree may well be a good investment, but there’s no real need for communications professionals to have this credential, and it might be more affordable to take classes here and there to brush up your skills or learn more about emerging technologies and best practices.
We’d recommend this path for prospective students who have an idea of how they might use this degree, but not so much for people returning to school because they don’t know what to do or believe that merely earning a master’s degree will help them dramatically increase their earnings.
Overview of a Master's in Communications
What Communications Master’s Degrees are Available?
There are two types of master’s in communications programs. The first is an applied master’s in communication, which focuses on practical skills that you can use within a career setting. The second is a theoretical master’s program, where the focus is more on theory and social science. The latter option is ideal for those pursuing academia, in which case, you might opt to study something like media studies or some other research-based discipline. In an applied program, you’ll learn more about marketing plans, PR strategies, and so on.
Theoretical degrees may be a stepping stone toward earning a degree, but you’re looking at a challenging career path, most likely aiming you to become an educator or researcher.
Beyond the two clear “types” of degrees available, at the master’s level, there are a whole host of specializations to choose from. Though your options will vary based on school, here are the most common options.
- Health Communications:
Several schools offer a health communications program, which prepares students to work in communications roles within healthcare or medical setting. Students will dive deeper into communications basics like public relations, speech writing, and written communications, as well as learn how to promote social change and educate the public about health issues. Students may also develop their ability to conduct advanced research so that they can write and speak about medical concepts with some authority.
- Media and Mass Communications:
A master’s in mass communication tends to come in the form of an applied program, focusing on theory and research, primarily learning about media strategies across disciplines such as journalism, marketing, public relations, social media, and corporate communications. This concentration may be a solid choice for students who wish to advance their marketing skills—and get hands-on training to develop new media strategies and understand a broad range of communications methods.
- Communications Studies:
Communications studies take a more scholarly approach to learning. This concentration is more akin to a liberal arts program, where the focus is on developing critical and analytical skills through research projects, writing, and more. Communications studies programs are more theoretical than practical, focusing on social sciences, as well as culture, politics, and deep scholarly dives into how people communicate with one another. This option may be a good choice for those considering becoming a writer or journalist, as well as those who wish to pursue an academic career.
- Corporate Communication:
Corporate communication is a specialization typically offered as part of a communications studies program, and it focuses on preparing students for roles within the corporate sector. Potential career paths include spokesperson, publicity manager, campaign director, public administrator, marketing specialist, or consultant. This degree is ideal for students who want the flexibility of a general degree but want to gain practical experience they can take into a corporate setting.
Typically, applicants need to submit a GRE score and a transcript proving that they earned their bachelor’s degree. GPA requirements will vary by institution, and you might need to have some communications experience, whether that’s the major indicated on your bachelor’s degree, a history of taking overlapping classes, or experience in the field. Related majors like public relations, journalism, marketing, or advertising should be sufficient prerequisites, as there is a lot of overlap across these disciplines.
How long does it take to earn a Communications Master’s?
Most master’s degree programs in the US take about two years to complete. Communications is an area with a lot of variation, so there might be some differences based on the school you attend and the concentration that you select. It’s worth mentioning that some online programs offer an accelerated degree where students can earn a master’s in a year or even 18-months.
There are other options, such as the dual degree program at Syracuse University, where students can earn a master’s degree in communications, along with a master’s in another subject like advertising or journalism. That process, according to the school, takes about three years if students take the full-time course load as intended. There are also programs that offer a master’s in communications/JD, which gets students both a law degree and an MA or MS.
Potential Careers in Communications with a Master’s
A master’s in communications can prepare students for a broad range of career opportunities. Many of these jobs don’t necessarily require a master’s degree, though that advanced credential may help you land more lucrative opportunities in the field or be seen by employers as a more attractive candidate.
- Marketing Communication Manager:
A marketing communication manager is a professional that works to promote an organization, creating materials like social media content, blog posts, and other items. This person will manage marketing initiatives, manage budgets, and monitor trends. They also need to understand their customer and stakeholder demographics so that they can deliver the company message in the most effective way possible. While marketing communications managers must be skilled communicators, this role is more about managing others than creating anything themselves.
- Brand Manager:
Brand managers rely on a range of skills and strategies to develop a plan to promote a brand and increase its competitiveness. In this role, you’ll need to possess a blend of business skills, marketing savvy, and communications knowledge. You’ll set objectives, develop strategies, and execute projects that support a broader marketing effort. While this role is relatively similar to a marketing manager or communications manager, brand managers may spend more time dealing with consumers, as well as conducting research and interviews to uncover what people want from a brand.
- Communications Specialist:
A communications specialist generally works for one company, managing their internal and external communications. This may include things like job descriptions, memos, notes, press releases, and some marketing materials. A master’s degree offers more opportunities in a director or executive role.
- Communications Consultant:
A company might hire an outside communications consultant to help them improve their image, branding, or how they are perceived in the media. In this role, you’ll work with leadership to develop strategies aimed at increasing sales, boosting reputation, and creating a streamlined branding experience. Consultants might work for a consulting firm and, within that organization, work with a range of clients on projects with varying scopes, timelines, and goals. Other consultants may opt to open their own firm or work on a freelance basis.
Options to Advance
Communications-related jobs don’t typically require a master’s degree. Marketing, advertising, and writing jobs are often awarded based on prior work experience and your ability to drive results or create high-quality work. So, a master’s degree can be a great way to hone existing writing skills or learn about changes in your industry, but the credential itself isn’t necessarily a requirement for most roles.
That said, earning a master’s degree could open certain doors. For example, a master’s degree will allow you to choose a hyper-specific area of study, like healthcare communications or corporate communications, which could help you position yourself as an executive or expert in your field. You might also opt for a master’s if you’re interested in teaching communications at a college level, though in that case it might be worth comparing master’s programs to doctoral programs.
Additionally, if you’d like to open a business, a master’s degree may well be a great way to demonstrate expertise as you build it. Sure, your work will need to speak for itself, but advancing your education can help you get your foot in the door and provide valuable networking opportunities.
Best Master’s of Science in Communications Programs
Just about every major college and university in the US has some type of communication program. At the master’s level, there is a wide range in specializations that may play a role in which school you choose to attend. Specialties range from cultural communications to health communications, an emphasis on broadcast, public relations, or social media.
Syracuse University is a private university located in Syracuse, NY. The school boasts a wide range of communication degrees at both the graduate and undergraduate level spanning a variety of areas including communication studies, broadcast journalism, audio arts, public relations, communications management, media, and education. According to the school’s website, some degrees are aimed at preparing students for an academic career, while others are designed to help students develop an advanced understanding of the industry—preparing them for management-level roles in the corporate world.
Boston University offers a few different communication-focused graduate programs. There’s an MS in Mass Communication Studies, another in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Marketing Communication Research, as well as related fields like Journalism, Media Studies, Advertising, Media Science, Public Relations, Media Ventures, and more. According to the University website, students will focus on communications strategies, written and oral, as well as spend more time developing their digital media skill set.
University of Texas – Austin
UT Austin is a top-rated public school that offers a Master’s in Communication Studies that covers three core areas: interpersonal communication, organizational communication and technology, and rhetoric and language. Students may work toward a dual degree, specializing in a related subject such as advertising, radio and film, communication sciences, or journalism.
University of Central Florida
UCF’s master’s programs give students a choice between pursuing a career in academia or the private sector. UCF is dubbed a Best Value School by The Princeton Review and offers a Master of Science in Communication across several areas, including Interpersonal Communication, Health Communication, Strategic Communication, Public Relations, Social Media, and Intercultural Communication.
Traditional Schools Offering an MS in Communications
Because there are so many for-profit schools offering online master’s degrees, we opted to put together a short list of well-known schools that have regional accreditation and offer online courses.
Arizona State University
Arizona State University offers an online communications degree designed for working professionals in the business and non-profit worlds who wish to improve their leadership skills, communication, and strategic planning capabilities. According to the ASU website, the master’s degree program includes interactive video lectures.
Georgetown’s online master’s in communications is a 30-credit program designed to help students advance in their careers. Students have the option to enroll in PR and corporate communications, and the program centers on crisis communications, digital analytics, public relations writing, and communications research.
This degree isn’t the most affordable, it clocks in at about $45k, however, it will help you prepare for a tangible career path—think marketing, PR, social media, and so on—likely in a more advanced capacity than if you were to enter the path with a bachelor’s degree alone.
Northeastern University offers a Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication, which is designed to give students the skills, knowledge, and hands-on experience needed to succeed in the world of corporate communications.
This program allows students to choose from three concentrations: Public and Media Relations, Social Media, and Cross-Cultural Communication. What’s more, students who already have SHRM, CMP, APR, or HubSpot Academy Certification can receive up to 20% in transfer credit.
Washington State University
Washington State University offers affordable, online degree programs for students looking to advance in management, public relations, communication, and advertising and allows students to customize their degree by taking courses that relate to interests and career goals.
University of Florida
The University of Florida offers an online master’s in communication through the school’s College of Journalism and Communications. Students must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college and can earn a master’s in mass communication with an emphasis in global strategic communications, or they can choose to pursue a combined MBA program. Online courses focus on strategic communication, communication ethics, brand management, and more.
Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University offers a wide range of online degree programs, including a Master of Arts in Communication, which promises to give graduates a blend of practical and applied knowledge and the ability to choose from a handful of concentrations. Those concentrations include digital communication, health communication, political communication, public and media relations, applied research in communication, and corporate and non-profit communication.