Communication is central to all aspects of society, from the political realm to health care and the corporate sphere. Graduates of master’s in communication programs are prepared to craft and mediate important communications between corporations, between the government and the public, between organizations and their members, between companies and their employees, and between companies and consumers. MastersinCommunications.com, provides students interested in master’s in communication programs, including master’s in strategic communication, health communication, corporate and organizational communication, and political communication, with the academic and career information they need to make informed decisions about their graduate education.

Defining Communication and Its Importance: Communication vs. Communications

The field of communication is defined as the creation, dissemination, and mediation of written, oral, and visual communication between different parties. These parties can be as small as the people within a group, or as large as the millions of people reading a website or news article. The field of communication is not to be confused with the field of communications, which typically refers to the development and maintenance of technological systems that transmit information, such as telephone systems, radio transmissions, data transfers, and fiber optics. While communications as a field is focused on technology, communication focuses on human interaction and how to optimize it through effective rhetoric and strategies that employ multiple forms of media. (Note: While the majority of graduate programs in the field of communication are master’s in communication programs, some colleges and universities do use the term master’s in communications or master’s in mass communications to refer to these programs.)

Effective communication is the foundation of all important interactions and transactions that occur in society, from company negotiations to political advocacy and institutional change. Graduates of master’s in communication programs are prepared to excel in a wide variety of roles. Examples include corporate communication specialists, policy advocates, grant writers, journalists, public relations specialists, medical and health writers, marketing researchers, and more.

Important Considerations in Communication: Applied vs. Theoretical, Corporate/Organizational vs. Social Advocacy

For students researching master’s degrees in communication, programs can generally be divided into thematic categories that are separate from program specializations. It is important to understand these themes so that students can choose a program that aligns with their professional and career goals. Programs can be categorized into applied communication programs versus theoretical and research focused programs. In addition, there are programs that focus on the strategies and techniques used to promote a company or organization (e.g. public relations, marketing, organizational leadership, media management…) versus programs that focus on social advocacy and using communication to improve society.

Master’s in applied communication programs focus on preparing students for careers in industry through courses that focus on concrete skills development. On the other hand, master’s in communication theory and research programs often concentrate on giving students the skills and theoretical background to engage in advanced communication research. Research-based programs also typically prepare students to pursue doctoral education in the field of communication.

Students should note that while some program specializations are more clearly defined as applied versus theoretical (e.g. strategic communication versus communication studies), others may cover theoretical and applied/practical communication concepts equally, or give students the choice to pursue either an applied or a theory-based focus of study. For example, a master’s in mass communication program may have a professional/applied track and a theory/research track. In addition, some programs allow students to customize their program through choosing applied and/or theoretical courses for their elective requirements. Due to these variances, students should thoroughly research programs to understand the concepts, principles, and methods they can expect to learn before applying.

Types of Master's in Communication Programs

Are you Interested in:

The spectrum and program categories outlined above are general and meant to serve as a tool to help students better understand the types of programs that fit their academic and professional goals. There may be exceptions, in which programs that are typically considered more theoretical also have applied coursework, and vice versa.

Specializations in Master’s in Communication Programs

With the advent of new technologies and forms of media, including social media, smaller independent news outlets, and company and consumer blogs, there are now more ways than ever to make an impact through compelling communication. Master’s in communication programs give students the knowledge and skills to stay abreast of the latest developments in communication, so that they can further their career in a field that is constantly evolving. Many master’s in communication programs offer students different specialization options so they can tailor their graduate education to their professional and career interests. Individuals can now find master’s of communication programs in:

  • Communication Studies, Interpersonal Communication, and Communication Theory
  • Strategic Communication
  • Political Communication
  • Health Communication
  • Business, Corporate and Organizational Communication
  • Global and International Communication
  • Media Communication and Mass Communications (including Digital Communication)
  • Public Relations and Marketing Communication
  • Communication Informatics
  • Technical Communication

These programs typically have a similar core set of courses that teach students the fundamentals of effective communication, such as research, persuasive rhetoric, behavior change through communication, and communication strategies for the public and private sectors. After students complete their core coursework, they take courses that are specific to their professional interests. To learn more about the common specializations for master’s in communication programs, please refer to our Master’s in Communication Specializations section.

Master’s in communication programs are typically comprised of 30-50 course credits, which students can complete through either a full-time or a part-time course of study. These programs tend to be fairly flexible in terms of how many courses students take per term, which is helpful for students whose professional obligations may require them to study part-time for some or all of their enrollment. Depending on how many courses students take per academic term, they can expect to complete their master’s in communication program in 14 to 36 months.

Master's in Communication Specializations

Master’s in Communication Studies and Interpersonal Communication

Master’s in Communication Studies programs teach students how to analyze communication’s role in social, economic, and political contexts, and how to apply rhetorical strategies in these settings.

Master’s in Global Communication and International Communication

Master’s in Global Communication and International Communication train students to be effective communicators in such contexts as global marketing and PR, international politics, and activism.

Master’s in Health Communication

Master’s in Health Communication programs teach students how to develop effective health campaigns and educate patients, providers, and the public on health issues.

Master’s in Media and Mass Communication

Master’s in Mass Communication and Media Studies programs teach students the principles of media management, the history and theory of mass communication, and digital storytelling strategies.

Master’s in Organizational Communication

Master’s in Organizational and Corporate Communication programs teach students about organizational leadership and communication, including training, crisis management, and public relations.

Master’s in Political Communication

Master’s in Political Communication programs train students in the fundamentals of political campaign management, policy development and advocacy, and crisis communication.

Master’s in Public Relations and Marketing Communication

Master’s in PR and Marketing Communication programs include courses in marketing and public relations principles and the methods for designing media campaigns.

Master’s in Strategic Communication

Master’s in Strategic Communication programs teach students about strategic storytelling and project management in organizational settings, public relations and marketing, and interpersonal communication.

Master’s in Technical Communication

Master’s in Technical Communication programs teach students to write, edit, and manage scientific, technical, and medical publications, such as research proposals and instructional materials.

Campus, Hybrid, and Online Master’s in Communication Programs

With advances in distance learning technologies, students can now choose between programs with different course delivery formats that are compatible with their schedule and other professional and personal obligations. Below is a summary of the main types of master’s in communication programs.

Campus Programs

Campus programs, as the name suggests, require students to attend classes on a physical campus. For students who live near a college or university that offers a Master’s in Communication program (or who plan to relocate for graduate school), these are traditional on-campus programs that require students to travel to campus to attend live classes and lectures. Campus programs can be particularly beneficial for students who prefer interacting with program faculty and peers in-person, and having the structure of classes on a physical campus. Being a part of a larger campus community and its attendant resources (e.g. career center, library, etc.), can also prove useful and beneficial to students’ learning. However, this type of program tends to be the most limiting in terms of students’ schedules, because students must block off times to travel to campus for classes, examinations, group projects, and meetings with faculty members. In addition, a campus-based program may not be an option for students who do not live near a university that offers a program, or for students who cannot routinely travel to campus for personal reasons (e.g. due to family obligations, financial limitations, disabilities) or professional reasons (e.g. work or travel requirements).

Online Programs: Fully Online (100%) and Limited Campus Visits

Fully Online Programs: In contrast to campus programs, 100% online programs grant students a great degree of flexibility by removing the need for students to travel to campus to attend classes. Online programs mainly utilize two forms of instruction–asynchronous and synchronous. All online programs have asynchronous components, which are pre-recorded lectures, course modules, and other educational materials that students can access at any time. Synchronous course components include any course element that requires students to be online at a specific time–for example, to participate in a discussion, attend a live lecture or take a live timed exam.

Some online master’s in communication programs contain solely asynchronous components, while others incorporate synchronous elements to enhance student engagement with the content. When deciding between programs that do or do not have synchronous instruction components, students should assess whether they would prefer flexibility in terms of when they listen to course lectures, or would they prefer more live lectures that allow them to ask instructors questions in real-time and discuss course content with their peers. Programs that mainly utilize asynchronous instruction typically use online discussion forums to promote student-instructor and student-student interactions. In addition, instructors may still hold live office hours where students can ask questions either over the phone or through video conferencing.

Online Programs with Limited Campus Visits: Online programs with limited campus visits are similar to fully online programs, except they require students to attend a limited number of on-campus sessions or intensives. These intensives, which typically span a weekend to a week in length, give students the chance to meet their classmates as well as program faculty in-person, and to engage in interactive learning activities and networking events. Campus visits also allow students to feel more a part of a larger academic community; however, they require time and typically travel costs are not included in program tuition and fees.

MastersinCommunications.com, defines an online program as one that requires two or fewer visits to campus per year. Any programs that have online courses but which require more than two campus visits per year are classified as hybrid programs.

Online / Hybrid Programs

Online/Hybrid programs are programs that have the majority of their instruction online, but require students to attend several on-campus sessions each year. Any program that requires 3 to ~5 campus visits per year is defined as an Online/Hybrid program. MastersinCommunications.com created this classification to ensure that students could easily identify online programs with 0-2 versus 3-5 required campus visits per year. This distinction may be important for students considering out-of-state online programs as travel to in-person sessions is often not included in tuition costs or university fees.

Hybrid / Blended Programs

Hybrid programs are programs that mix on-campus and online course components, giving students the benefits of a campus-based program, but with less flexibility than online programs. Hybrid programs encompass a wide range of program types, from programs that have on-campus courses and online courses to programs that have online courses that require students to visit the campus multiple times during the term (for example, once a month). (Programs that require students to visit the campus once per week are classified as campus programs unless they contain the option to take some courses online.)