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.

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 TheoriesIntercultural Communication
Quantitative Research MethodsCommunication and Social Advocacy
Qualitative Research MethodsFoundations of Communication Education
Rhetorical Research MethodsCommunication in Issues of Gender, Race, and Social Equality
Rhetorical CriticismSeminar in Organizational Communication
Investigating Health CommunicationMedia and Cultural Studies
Foundations of Family CommunicationSpecial Topics in Film and Television
Advanced Strategic MessagingVisual Communication in Public Relations
Foundations of Mass CommunicationSeminar in Nonverbal Communication
Seminar in Media EffectsThe Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication
Interpersonal Communication TheoryPersuasive Rhetoric and Social Influence
Interpersonal NarrativesEthics in Communication
Computer Mediated Communication and the Hyperpersonal ModelLeadership 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 at the doctoral level with the goal of earning a PhD, so that they can continue in academia to 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 TheoryResearch Methods in Mass Communication
Communication, Technology and SocietyMulticultural Campaigns
Multimedia StorytellingMedia Theories
Data Creation and AnalysisMedia and Cultural Studies
Audience AnalysisGlobal Health and Development Communication
Media PlanningMulticultural Health Communication
Data ScrapingNarrative Film Production
Multimedia WritingVideo Editing
Media EthicsCommunication Law and Public Policy
Digital Graphic DesignInteractive Project Management
Women and FilmDesign and Production
Film and Broadcast DocumentaryRisk and Crisis Communication
Narrative and Longform JournalismNews Media and the First Amendment
History of Contemporary CinemaBrand Management
Cultural JammingFoundations of Public Relations
The Press and PropagandaLiterature of Journalism
Professional JournalismDocumentary 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.