Answer: Yes – There are currently no master’s in communication programs offered online in the United States that require a thesis. At this time, lists 104 online master’s degree programs in the field, and not one of them explicitly requires students to complete a thesis in order to graduate. While some programs offer students the opportunity to write a thesis as their graduation requirement, it is included as one of two or more capstone options. In an online master’s in communication program, capstone options most often include a project, portfolio, comprehensive exam, or internship. There are also online programs that have no capstone requirement. Capstone options and requirements vary by program, so students should be sure they fully understand what is expected of them before applying.

The capstone requirement is a major component of most master’s degree programs in communication whether they are offered online or on-campus. Students typically spend a significant amount of time working on this project, which may take one of several different forms. The most common capstone options are:

  • Thesis
  • Publishable papers
  • Applied project
  • Comprehensive exam
  • Internship
  • Portfolio

Some programs also require students to enroll in a capstone course, where they work on their capstone under the guidance of faculty or instructors. It is also not uncommon for students to earn credit hours towards graduation for completing a thesis or applied project (typically three to six credits).

A thesis is a lengthy research paper, in which students identify an issue within the field of communication and form a hypothesis around it to study with extensive research. The process of conceptualizing, researching, and writing a thesis often spans the entire second half of a student’s master’s program, and these papers regularly end up being over 100 pages long. During the development of their thesis, students typically work with a committee comprised of three or four faculty members who help guide them through the process. In most cases, students then must defend their completed thesis in front of this same committee, answering in-depth questions about their research and conclusions.

As mentioned above, no online master’s programs in communication or any of its related specializations currently offered by schools in the United States include a thesis as a mandatory graduation requirement. There are, however, some traditional on-campus programs that do require students to complete a thesis. These are typically programs with an academic or theoretical social science focus, designed for students intending to further their studies at the doctoral level. In many cases, graduates of these types of programs go on to work in academia or research. As such, researching and writing a thesis is often great preparation for their future careers.

Some programs offer students the choice to write several publishable papers as their capstone requirement. These are also research-based projects, but not as extensive as a thesis. Each publishable paper is typically much shorter than a thesis, however, the multiple papers put together may be comparable in length. Students go through a similar process when developing a publishable paper, applying communication research methods and theory to a real-word issue in the field in order to form an original analysis. This capstone option may also be a good choice for students considering a PhD program or career in research, as well as those who wish to fully investigate or complete a study they began earlier in their master’s program.

An applied project is one of the most common capstone options in many online master’s in communication programs. As opposed to a thesis or publishable papers, which are more theoretical and academic in nature, the applied project, or praxis, is geared toward students who intend to enter the professional world following graduation, or current working professionals looking to further their careers. In completing an applied project, students still identify and attempt to solve an actual problem in communication or their particular specialization. The major difference is that they then produce a tangible product meant to address this issue, as opposed to a paper detailing their solution. This final product may take many different forms, such as a training video, marketing or communication plan, employee handbook, website, mobile application, or documented consultation with a business or organization. Students often pursue a project that aligns with their career goals after graduation, as these can be prominently featured on one’s resume. Since many online programs are designed for working professionals, most online students complete an applied project instead of a thesis, even when both options are available.

Another capstone option commonly offered by online master’s in communication programs is the comprehensive exam. Students who choose this as their graduation requirement must successfully pass an extensive examination, testing them on their knowledge of topics covered in the program. These exams typically include questions pertaining to core communication theory and research methods, as well as questions focused specifically on one’s degree concentration (e.g., organizational communication, technical communication). The question set is often customized for each student by a faculty committee, and may include both a written and oral component. While the exam itself may take most of a day to complete, and students can expect to spend a significant amount of time preparing for it, this capstone option still requires less time overall than a thesis or praxis. As such, the comprehensive exam is often a great option for working professionals or students otherwise too busy to devote time to an extensive research project. Programs that offer students the choice between a thesis/project or a comprehensive exam may, however, require those who take the exam option to complete additional courses.

There are also some online programs that offer students the chance to complete an internship or portfolio as their capstone requirement. These are both fairly straightforward. Students who pursue an internship go to work for a business or organization related to their particular field of study. This hands-on experience allows them to apply what they have learned in the program in a real-world professional environment, all while gaining valuable training they can include on their resume. At the conclusion of their internship, students typically must submit a summary or other deliverable detailing their experience in order to satisfy their graduation requirement.

The portfolio, on the other hand, is generally a collection of projects, papers, or other work a student completed during their time in the program. These may be assignments directly related to a course they took, or projects completed outside the program itself, such as at their job or during their free time. The requirements for a portfolio and what it must include to qualify a student for graduation vary by program.

Finally, there are a few online master’s in communication programs that do not require any capstone project for graduation. In these programs, once students complete all the required courses and meet the credit requirements, they are eligible to graduate, assuming they are in good standing.

To learn more about many of the capstone options discussed above, check out our in-depth Guide to Understanding Capstone Options.