Answer: There are two main differences between master’s in communication studies programs and master’s in mass communication programs. First, as the name implies, master’s in mass communication programs place a greater focus on mass communication and media studies, while master’s in communication studies programs generally have a much broader breadth of study. The second key difference is that communication studies programs tend to take a more theoretical approach to the study of communication, while mass communication programs typically focus more on applied communication skills.
The majority of communication studies programs include coursework in communication theory and research methods. These programs can be highly theoretical, focusing heavily on social science research as opposed to professional skills. There are also “hybrid” programs that blend study of communication theory with applied skill development. Due to the breadth of potential course offerings, students pursuing a master’s in communication studies typically learn about a variety of topics. They may even have the ability to build their own program, taking various complementary courses that prepare them for their desired profession.
Students earning a degree in mass communication typically take courses specific to the fields of mass communication and media studies. While mass communication programs with a theoretical focus do exist, these programs tend to combine coursework in theories of mass communication with applied skill development in areas such as media management, digital media, or social media. For students certain they want to work in a profession related to mass communications, a master’s degree in mass communication is the best option, as these programs produce knowledgeable experts in the subject. Despite this key difference, graduates of either program might pursue similar roles upon graduation, including positions in public relations (PR), marketing, corporate communications, or radio and television production.
|Featured Online Master's in Communication Studies and Mass Communication Programs|
|Johns Hopkins University||Online Master of Arts in Communication with Optional Concentrations in Applied Research in Communication, Public and Media Relations, Political Communication, Health Communication, Digital Communication, and Corporate and Non-Profit Communication|
|Queens University of Charlotte||Online Master of Arts in Communication with an Optional Integrated Digital Strategy Concentration|
|Maryville University||Online Master's in Strategic Communication and Leadership with an Optional Concentration in Emerging & Digital Media|
|Southern New Hampshire University||Online Master of Arts in Communication with Optional Concentrations in New Media & Marketing, and Public Relations|
|Syracuse University||Communications@Syracuse Online Master of Science in Communications with Specializations in Advertising, Public Relations, and Journalism Innovation|
Master’s in Communication Studies
Students pursuing a master’s in communication studies should expect a wide variety of course offerings. Programs can vary extensively in curricula, but most involve a mix of interpersonal communication, group communication, PR, training and development, organizational communication, communication education, and mass communication courses.
Due to the breadth of courses offered in a communication studies program, students rarely focus on one topic alone. Instead, they generally take a mix of courses and explore a variety of subjects related to their area of interest. For example, a student interested in becoming a PR executive might take courses in PR, organizational communication, and mass communication.
Graduates of communication studies programs tend to find positions in marketing, PR, corporate communications, or training and development. Many students also focus on mass media, and move into jobs producing programming for radio or television. Finally, some continue their studies at the doctoral level, advancing to PhD programs where they will produce original research, teach, and prepare for a career in academia.
As previously stated, the coursework in a master’s in communication studies program tends to be broad. Check out the list of example courses below to gain a better understanding of the type of topics typically covered. Keep in mind, this list is meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive. Prospective students should be sure to contact individual programs before applying to learn about specific course offerings.
|Example Courses in a Master’s in Communication Studies Program|
|Communication Theories||Intercultural Communication|
|Quantitative Research Methods||Communication and Social Advocacy|
|Qualitative Research Methods||Foundations of Communication Education|
|Rhetorical Research Methods||Communication in Issues of Gender, Race, and Social Equality|
|Rhetorical Criticism||Seminar in Organizational Communication|
|Investigating Health Communication||Media and Cultural Studies|
|Foundations of Family Communication||Special Topics in Film and Television|
|Advanced Strategic Messaging||Visual Communication in Public Relations|
|Foundations of Mass Communication||Seminar in Nonverbal Communication|
|Seminar in Media Effects||The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication|
|Interpersonal Communication Theory||Persuasive Rhetoric and Social Influence|
|Interpersonal Narratives||Ethics in Communication|
|Computer Mediated Communication and the Hyperpersonal Model||Leadership in Communication|
Master’s in Mass Communication
While pursuing a master’s in mass communication, students can expect to take a variety of courses related to mass media, with the breadth of mass media being defined differently in each program. In some cases, courses have a strong focus on radio, television, and journalism. In others, the coursework takes a broader approach, including the internet as a form of mass communication with courses like web design principles and social media analysis. Some programs might also include a focus on film, offering courses such as screenwriting or history of contemporary cinema.
Graduates with a master’s degree in mass communication might work in a variety of fields, finding employment in print journalism, broadcast journalism, public relations, marketing, or advertising, to name just a few possible options. Some students will continue their studies following graduation, earning a PhD and becoming academicians who conduct mass media research and educate students on the subject.
As previously mentioned, coursework in a master’s in mass communication program can vary, however, there are some common areas of focus. Most programs include courses in broadcast journalism, media law and ethics, theory of mass communication, mass communication research, media effects, media management, public relations, and editorial writing. For a better idea of topics commonly covered in a mass communication master’s program, check out the list of examples courses below.
|Example Courses in a Master’s in Mass Communication program|
|Mass Communication Theory||Research Methods in Mass Communication|
|Communication, Technology and Society||Multicultural Campaigns|
|Multimedia Storytelling||Media Theories|
|Data Creation and Analysis||Media and Cultural Studies|
|Audience Analysis||Global Health and Development Communication|
|Media Planning||Multicultural Health Communication|
|Data Scraping||Narrative Film Production|
|Multimedia Writing||Video Editing|
|Media Ethics||Communication Law and Public Policy|
|Digital Graphic Design||Interactive Project Management|
|Women and Film||Design and Production|
|Film and Broadcast Documentary||Risk and Crisis Communication|
|Narrative and Longform Journalism||News Media and the First Amendment|
|History of Contemporary Cinema||Brand Management|
|Cultural Jamming||Foundations of Public Relations|
|The Press and Propaganda||Literature of Journalism|
|Professional Journalism||Documentary Production|
Master’s in Communication Studies vs. Master’s in Mass Communication
There are two primary differences between a master’s in communication studies program and a master’s in mass communication program. The first of these is breadth of course topics offered, while the second is the extent to which each program focuses on theory or application. Students should also note that, at many universities, these two types of programs are offered by different departments or schools. For example, it is not uncommon for a university to have a Department of Communication or Communication Studies and a separate School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
In terms of breadth, a master’s in communication studies tends to be very broad. As discussed earlier communication studies programs tend to cover a wide variety of topics, even if they offer specializations. This results in students learning about multiple fields within communication, such as interpersonal communication, family communication, and health communication, for example. Students might even take courses in more disparate fields, like mass communication or family communication. In contrast, master’s in mass communication programs take a far more focused approach. While programs might vary the scope of what is considered “mass communication,” students typically do not take courses in subjects like interpersonal communication, unless they do so outside of their department as an elective.
The second important difference between these two programs is the extent to which they take a theoretical or applied approach to the study of communication. As the names imply, theoretical programs emphasize theory and academic research, while applied programs focus on application of coursework to real-world problems. The latter of these tends to prepare students for professional work following graduation, while the former prepares students for PhD programs. Typically, master’s in communication studies programs take a more theoretical approach, while master’s mass communication programs take a more applied approach. However, it is important to note that this is a scaled difference. Many mass communication programs include study of theory, and many master’s programs offer coursework in applied communication. On average, though, there tends to be a greater concentration on theory in master’s in communication studies programs and a greater emphasis on application in master’s in mass communication programs. In any case, it is important for students to research different programs carefully and speak with faculty or advisors in order to make sure they choose one with a curriculum that aligns with their academic and professional goals.