Answer: Yes – Many colleges and universities offer graduate certificates in communication and its related specialties. Generally speaking, graduate certificate programs are shorter and less rigorous than master’s in communication programs. They also tend to be a cost-effective alternative to pursuing a full degree in the field. Students who wish to earn a graduate certificate in communication have a variety of options to choose from. This includes programs in health communication, strategic communication, organizational communication, and more. Students can also pursue graduate certificates online or on-campus, depending on the program.

Graduate certificates in communication give students the opportunity to further their education in specific subsections of the field without the commitment and cost of a full-length degree program. They may be a good option for those interested in gaining new knowledge to advance their career or earn a new position that might not require a master’s. For example, an account manager at a marketing agency looking to transition into a position where they execute strategic communication campaigns could pursue a certificate program to gain the hands-on experience needed to earn such a position.

Likewise, a graduate certificate in communication can be an excellent fit for someone who is in a non-communication field, but wants to advance their communication skills. While social workers, accountants, and nurses are unlikely to have a formal communication education, they all work in fields where advanced communication knowledge could help them better serve their customers, clients, or coworkers. In cases such as these, a graduate certificate might make more sense than a full-length degree program.

Since they require less time and credit hours, graduate certificates also enable a portion of the population to advance their degree who could not otherwise. They can be a good fit for those unable to commit to a graduate degree that might take several years to earn. Likewise, graduate degrees can be cost prohibitive for students who do not have an assistantship from their respective universities. For those unable to afford a master’s degree, graduate certificates have filled a gap by lowering the cost required to advance one’s education.

Finally, graduate certificate programs are also a good option for students who have already earned a master’s degree and would like to further their education and gain experience in a new specialization. For example, a student who earned their master’s in communication studies and is interested in transitioning to a career in health communication might pursue a graduate certificate in health communication to bolster their qualifications and learn more about the field. This could also work for students who earned a master’s in public health and want to gain additional experience in health communication.

Requirements to Earn a Graduate Certificate

To earn a graduate certificate in communication, students must fulfill a variety of requirements in their respective program. First, a certain number of credit hours must be completed, which typically ranges from nine to 18. In some cases, students may be able to transfer credit hours from other programs, but this is typically limited. Second, students need to maintain a minimum GPA throughout their studies, usually 3.0 or higher. Sometimes this requirement has the caveat that a student must earn at least a B in each course. Other times, a program might require that a student only earn one or two C’s throughout his or her program.

Types of Graduate Certificates in Communication

There are a wide range of graduate certificate options available to students in the field of communication. This gives both current and aspiring professionals the opportunity to focus on topics that will help them advance in their specific career paths. Below are some of the more common programs offered by schools across the US:

  • Graduate Certificate in Communication (General): Some universities offer general graduate certificates in communication. The coursework in these programs can vary significantly, given the general focus and short program length. Courses might cover areas such as communication theory, media effects, organizational communication, interpersonal communication, strategic communication, or health communication, to name just a few possible topics.
  • Graduate Certificate in Business Communication: These programs aim to give students the skills they need to develop impactful proposals, presentations, and reports in business settings. Additionally, graduates typically learn how to deliver effective speeches, manage conflict in organizations, and develop persuasive messaging.
  • Graduate Certificate in Digital Marketing or Digital Media: This certificate program combines marketing courses like Integrated Marketing Communications and Marketing Communications Strategy with study of digital marketing topics such as data mining and analytics.
  • Graduate Certificate in Health Communication: Students pursuing this certificate generally learn about health promotion, education, and literacy. This results in a curriculum focused on changing audience behaviors as they relate to health and healthcare.
  • Graduate Certificate in Organizational Communication: Students who earn a graduate certificate in organizational communication learn how to effectively lead and motivate teams, manage conflict within organizations, and improve decision-making across various organizational contexts.
  • Graduate Certificate in Public Relations: This concentration focuses on media relations, researching target markets, building media plans, and managing organizational reputation. Students learn how to effectively manage the exchange of information between an organization and the public, as well as deal with any PR crises that might arise.
  • Graduate Certificate in Sports Communication: Sports communication certificate programs combine strategic communication courses such as Writing for Social Media with sports-specific courses like Sports Writing and Sports Psychology. This curriculum is designed to prepare students for building communication plans within the context of a sports or sports media organization.
  • Graduate Certificate in Strategic Communication: This certificate combines study of advertising, social media management, international public relations, visual communication, and crisis communication. Together, this curriculum prepares graduates for roles that involve developing strategic communication campaigns.

Example Curricula for Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Communication

The following table includes example curricula for several graduate certificates that can be completed online. These should be used for examples purposes only, as individual program requirements can change over time.

School - Certificate ProgramCourses
Arizona State University - Online Graduate Certificate in Technical CommunicationSix Courses (18 credits):
  • Fundamentals of Technical Communication
  • Principles of Visual Communication
  • Principles of Web Authoring
  • Principles of Technical Editing
  • Two to three additional electives
Northern Arizona University – Online Graduate Certificate in Communication StudiesSix Courses (18 credits):
  • Communication Theory and Application
  • Graduate Study in Communication
  • Four additional electives
Purdue University Online - Online Graduate Certificate in Strategic Communication ManagementThree Courses (9 credits) - Example Electives:
  • Seminar in Strategic Communication (Required)
  • Seminar in Crisis Communication
  • Strategic Communication and Social Media
  • Communication and Leadership
  • Seminar in Global Strategic Communication
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign – Online Graduate Certificate in Health CommunicationFour Courses (12 credits) - Example Electives:
  • Introduction to Health Communication
  • Health Communication Research Methods
  • Health and Family Communication
  • Provider-Patient Communication
  • Health Communication Organizations, Professions and Policy
  • Successful Health Campaigns
University of Minnesota – Online Graduate Certificate in Technical CommunicationFive Courses (15 credits):
  • Introduction to Graduate Studies in Scientific and Technical Communication
  • Writing with Digital Technologies
  • Usability and Human Factors in Technical Communication
  • Information Design: Theory and Practice
  • Editing and Style for Technical Communicators

Admission Requirements for Graduate Certificates

The admission requirements for a graduate certificate in communication will vary by program. Schools typically require students to submit a copy of their undergraduate transcripts, a resume or C.V., a personal statement and/or writing sample, proof of English proficiency, and several letters of recommendation. Depending on the program, students may also need to complete an interview with a program advisor. It is worth noting that many programs have a minimum undergraduate GPA threshold applicants must meet in order to be considered for admission. This varies from program to program, but is most often a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. Unlike full-length master’s degree programs, most certificate programs do not require GRE scores. Students should be sure to fully research the admissions requirements of any program before applying.

Graduate Certificate vs. Graduate Degree in Communication

Those interested in earning a graduate certificate in communication are also likely to be considering a graduate degree in the field, so it is worth noting the differences. The first is found in the admissions requirements. Broadly speaking, the admissions process for a graduate degree is more rigorous than it is for a graduate certificate. Graduate degree programs may require the GRE, while most certificates do not. Likewise, the GPA requirements tend to be slightly higher on average for graduate degree programs.

The second difference is highlighted when discussing the rigor of these two program types. As one would expect, a certificate program is significantly shorter than a graduate degree program. As mentioned before, graduate certificate programs typically range from nine to 18 credits. In contrast, graduate degree programs typically require 30 to 45 credit hours. Additionally, most graduate programs also include a capstone requirement, such as a thesis, applied project, or comprehensive exam, that students must complete in order to qualify for graduation. This is usually not the case in certificate programs.

The third difference results from the possibilities each credential affords graduates. When graduating from a master’s program in communication, students have the option to continue their studies at the doctoral level. On the contrary, students who earn a graduate certificate in communication are not able to directly progress to a Ph.D. program (unless they apply to a master’s/Ph.D. program). Likewise, a graduate degree is generally recognized as being a more meaningful achievement, and rightfully so. As previously discussed, the rigor of a master’s program is greater than that of a certificate program.

For students who are not ready to commit to a master’s program, some schools offer the option to start in a certificate program and transition into a master’s degree based on the work completed and credits earned while pursuing the certificate. The University of Colorado Denver, for instance, has a certificate program in strategic communication that gives graduates the option to transfer 12 of their credits towards a master’s degree program should they choose to continue their studies. Similarly, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities offers a graduate certificate in technical communication that requires students to complete five courses, all of which can be transferred towards their Master of Science in Scientific and Technical Communication program. Students interested in this route should be sure to earn their certificate from an accredited college or university, and confirm that their credits are eligible to transfer into a master’s program at that same university or a different one.

*Disclaimer: It is important to note that most graduate certificate programs are not eligible for financial aid. However, schools can apply to the U.S. Department of Education for financial aid eligibility for their graduate certificate programs. Therefore, some programs offered by some schools may be eligible for financial aid. Students interested in financial aid for a graduate certificate program should reach out to each school they are considering about whether the specific graduate certificate they are interested in has been approved for financial aid eligibility. It is possible a program at one school has achieved eligibility while the same program at another school has not.