Answer: Communication studies is a field of academia that examines the process of human communication, including the creation, delivery, and receiving of both verbal and non-verbal messages. At its core, communication studies cuts across socio-economic, political, and cultural contexts, dealing with how meaning is generated in interpersonal, private, public, and mass communication settings. It is a multi-disciplinary area of practice that blends a number of interrelated disciplines, such as mass communication, health communication, intercultural communication, political communication, communication and rhetorical theory, scientific communication, gender studies, and interpersonal communication.
Communication professionals leverage rhetorical theory, strategies, and techniques to analyze, shape, manage, and effectively communicate messages in personal interactions and across professional arenas. These skills allow public relations specialists, educators, advertisers, fundraisers, lobbyists, political consultants, community affairs managers, market researchers, writers and editors, journalists and other communication professionals to convey and adapt messages to a wide range of audiences, contexts and settings, and implement efficient communication initiatives – whether advertising campaigns or grant proposals – in nearly every industry. Graduates with a master’s degree in communications studies might pursue employment in politics, advertising and marketing, public relations, public and legislative affairs, healthcare, financial services, journalism, broadcast television, entertainment, government and non-profit, or more.
In addition to this, communication studies is a broad area of academic research. Scholars in the field explore a multi-disciplinary array of subjects, including quantitative and qualitative research methods (e.g. audience studies), historical and critical communication theory, cultural studies, media theory (e.g. media ecologies), rhetorical criticism, social advocacy, public discourse, and textual analysis. Researchers might also consider how communication intersects with other disciplines, such as economics, gender, psychology and sociology, English and journalism, health, or science. For example, a communication scholar could study how social profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook influence the job screening process, or examine how the rise of digital news impacts voter preferences and voting behaviors. Another possible area of research might be how mobile devices are shifting teaching pedagogies in today’s high school and higher education classrooms.
Master’s in Communication Studies Programs
Master’s degree programs in communication studies introduce students to the central concepts and theories of human communication, as well as the research methodologies used to analyze both verbal and non-verbal interactions. Students gain an understanding of the rhetorical strategies behind effective message creation, and study how messages are received and interpreted by various audiences. These programs may offer curriculum in several communication disciplines, including interpersonal communication, rhetorical criticism, conflict and negotiation, family and gender, popular culture, and more.
Most communication studies master’s programs cover topics across the communication spectrum, such as communication theory, writing for media professionals, new communication technologies, political language, quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, organizational communication, conversation analysis, principles of rhetorical theory, intercultural communication, and more. Through coursework and research projects, students develop skills in communication (e.g. how to communicate effectively in different settings and contexts), research (e.g. how to formulate research questions to support arguments), and critical analysis (e.g. how to leverage communication theories to understand how audience-based considerations influence messaging).
While there are master’s in communication studies programs that focus on applied skill development in communication techniques and strategies, many place a greater emphasis on research to prepare students for doctoral-level studies in the field. In these types of programs, students might study the changing nature of family identity in the 21st century, research how teacher communication behaviors can influence instructional outcomes in high school classes, or examine how language boundaries between two countries impacts refugee resettlements during a period of international crisis or war, to name just a few possible avenues of inquiry.
For more information about master’s in communication studies programs, including example curriculum plans and degree requirements, please refer to our Master’s in Communication Studies Programs page.
Skills for Graduates with a Master’s in Communication Studies
The table below illustrates several professional skills students can expect to develop through their studies:
|Interpersonal communication||Advanced presentation|
|Critical thinking and decision-making||Research and analytics|
|Qualitative research||Quantitative research|
|Organizational and problem-solving||Writing and verbal communication|
Careers in Communication Studies
A master’s degree in communication studies can lead to a variety of careers in the public and private sectors, government, and non-profit work, in fields such as marketing, public relations, K-12 and higher education, communication consulting, information technology, social and digital media, financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing. Graduates might pursue employment opportunities with consulting firms, public relations agencies, hospitals and healthcare providers, publishing organizations, community organizations, marketing research companies, local, state and national government agencies, or any other business or organization in need of trained communication professionals. Additionally, they could consider working in academia, helping advance scholarship in both communication theory and practice, and teaching classes at institutions of higher education. Many communication studies graduates also pursue a doctorate in the field after completing their master’s program.
Below are descriptions of a few possible career paths for graduates of a master’s degree program in communication studies:
- University Professor: Tenure-track professors conduct original research in communication, developing new knowledge and scholarship around how humans communicate. They also teach courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, advise students, serve on committees, present at conferences, and oversee other scholarly work.
- Community College Professor: Community college professors teach communication courses at two-year academic institutions on either a full- or part-time basis. They are responsible for developing course curricula, assignments, and assessments, as well as evaluating students’ progress and working directly with those who need additional help with the material.
- Digital Media Specialist: Digital media specialists use their knowledge of communication in the digital and online space to create audience-based marketing strategies. They develop, launch, and evaluate marketing campaigns through display marketing, paid media, and other channels. Their job duties might include conducting research into audience behaviors, writing copy, purchasing media, or devising the overall approach to marketing campaigns.
- Communication Consultant: Communication consultants work with companies to improve and streamline their internal communication channels (e.g. human resources and employee training, communication between leadership and employees, messaging between different departments within a company, etc.), as well as external communications (e.g. public relations, marketing practices, etc.). They might help companies adjust employee training practices or aid in clearing up issues around a company’s mission, purpose, or relationship with consumers or the general public.
- Human Resources Director: Human resources directors use their knowledge of human interactions, behavior, and psychology, as well as their training in interpersonal communication, to support a company’s employees. They work to ensure that employees feel safe in the workplace and engaged in their work and their professional development, by developing employee training manuals and seminars, coordinating employee and leadership events, and ensuring that lines of communication within the company run smoothly.
- Public Relations Director: Public relations directors are in charge of a company’s public identity and reputation, and manage the company’s relationships with consumers, investors, companies, and other stakeholders. PR directors and their staff craft press releases and other informational content that explain developments within the company and addresses any concerns the public may have about a company’s performance or the quality of its products/services.
- Non-Profit Leader, Political Lobbyist, or Social Activist: Leaders of non-profit organizations, lobby groups, and social advocacy groups have a strong understanding of sociocultural issues (such as poverty, unemployment, gender inequality, and racial prejudice) and the role that communication can play in addressing these issues and improving society. They work with teams to create social advocacy campaigns, community education programs, fundraising initiatives, and other projects that advance their organization’s mission, while communicating with other organizations and the community to spread awareness about social problems and form productive partnerships.