Answer: Mass communication (or communications) can be defined as the process of creating, sending, receiving, and analyzing messages to large audiences via verbal and written media. It is an expansive field that considers not only how and why a message is created, but also the medium through which it is sent. These mediums are wide-ranging, and include print, digital media and the Internet, social media, radio, and television. Mass communication is multi-disciplinary in nature, incorporating elements of related fields such as strategic communication, health communication, political communication, integrated marketing communications, journalism, and more. For students who are interested in working in mass communication, or studying it as an academic field, there are numerous bachelor’s and master’s in mass communication programs offered by colleges and universities across the United States.

Mass communication professionals use their knowledge of rhetorical principles and strategic media practices to develop, share, and evaluate effective messages targeting large audiences. Public relations specialists, journalists, broadcast professionals, advertisers and marketers, content writers, graphic designers and illustrators, public health educators, corporate media managers, and other media professionals use mass communication strategies on a daily basis to craft and launch strategic communication plans — from broadcast news to online marketing campaigns and public health announcements — across nearly every industry.

The diversity of mass media formats and communication practices allows for creativity and flexibility in career selection. Individuals with an education in the field can pursue employment in a great number of areas, including marketing and advertising, entertainment, healthcare, journalism, public relations, non-profit and government, communications consulting, broadcast media, financial services, and foreign services, to name just a few.

In addition to being an impactful field of applied professional practice, media and mass communication is also a research area within academia. Scholars in the field study and research subjects such as how media is used and its corresponding effects; the processes behind media production; regulatory, ethical, and legal issues in mass communication; mass media theory; and related cultural and gender issues. For example, researchers might study the lingering effects of how news outlets report violent and tragic events, or how advancements in information technology and emerging media are reshaping interpersonal communication and relationships. They might also explore the relationship between social media and political voting patterns, or the role that social and mass media platforms play in political and social justice advocacy.

Bachelor’s in Mass Communications Programs

For current and prospective undergraduate students who know they want to work in large-scale media development, whether in journalism, marketing, public relations, or political and/or social justice communication, a bachelor’s degree in mass communication can provide important foundational training to step into a role within one or more of these areas. Bachelor’s degree programs in mass communication generally feature core courses on topics such as mass communication theory and history, mass media writing, editing and publishing for mass audiences, and media law and ethics, as well as electives in specific areas of mass communication, such as writing and research for journalists, public relations writing, digital advertising, video production, television broadcasting, and documentary production.

As mass communication encompasses many different fields, from journalism to digital marketing, public health education, and public relations, students may find that a major in one of these aforementioned areas will also give them training in mass communication theories, concepts, and best practices. For example, an undergraduate major in journalism may cover mass media ethics and mass communication theory, while a major in marketing will typically discuss designing messages for mass audiences. Some schools also offer undergraduate majors that combine instruction in mass communication with an intersecting field; for example, there are bachelor’s degree programs in journalism and mass communication.

In addition to industry-focused bachelor’s degrees in mass communication, there are also bachelor’s degrees that focus on mass communication research, the sociocultural impacts of mass media, and mass communication’s historical and contemporary role in politics, social justice, and cultural development. Often designated as bachelor’s degrees in mass communication and media studies, these programs are more geared towards students who are interested in engaging in research on mass communication and its effects. That being said, even undergraduate programs in mass communication that have a greater focus on research will often allow students to take a variety of industry-focused courses in advertising, journalism, public relations, and other topics relevant to industry roles.

Due to the wide variety of undergraduate programs in mass communication and the variance in course offerings across different programs, prospective students who are considering earning their undergraduate degree in mass communication should thoroughly research the options available to them. Students should also check the course listings for the bachelor’s degrees in mass communication that are of interest to them, to ensure that their chosen major enables them to get the training they need to realize their career goals. For additional information about bachelor’s in mass communication programs, including details on typical degree requirements and a sample curriculum plan, please check out our Bachelor’s in Mass Communications Degree Programs and Major page.

Master’s in Media and Mass Communications Programs

Master’s degree programs in media and mass communication delve into both foundational and advanced theories and concepts regarding the exchange of information and messages on a large scale. Students of master’s in mass communication programs can expect to learn about and engage with communication research methods, mass media ethics and best practices, and historical and current evaluations of mass media effects. They will also develop practical knowledge of the message creation process in different mediums (e.g. web, print, video, social media), while learning how to leverage those messages to target specific audiences. Master’s in mass communication programs generally feature courses that cover specialized areas of study, such as digital media development and management, media studies, mass media research, journalism, multimedia journalism, integrated marketing communications, public relations, media and globalization, the intersection of mass media and public health, the legal and ethical implications of mass media, and more.

The curriculum for master’s in mass communication programs generally includes coursework in mass communication research, media law, digital media, research methods, telecommunications, theories of mass communication, new technology and media, and other related subjects. Students can expect to gain a multidisciplinary skill set, becoming storytellers via written, oral, and visual mediums, and building competencies in research and data analysis, writing and editing, media production, audience segmentation, and new media technology. While some of the course content featured in master’s in mass communication programs may overlap with that of a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, the master’s degree in mass communication typically covers more advanced concepts and topics in the field, and generally requires a rigorous culminating experience in the form of a master’s thesis or other graduate research project.

Although there are numerous master’s in mass communication programs with an emphasis on professional skill development, there are also those that focus on research and theory. These programs are designed for students looking to further their studies at the doctoral level, and move into careers in research or academia. Students in these particular mass communication programs might, for example, study the impact of media and digital images on political campaign outcomes, research how media influences consumer behavior, or examine how age, gender, and race impact how people perceive mass messaging related to health and medicine. Master’s in mass communication programs with a scholarly research focus typically require students to complete a thesis, which can then serve as a valuable artifact that students who wish to apply for doctoral programs in mass communication can include in their applications.

For additional information about master’s in media and mass communication programs, including sample course plan, and degree requirements, please refer to our Master’s in Media and Mass Communications Programs page.

Skills for Graduates with a Degree in Mass Communication

Below is a list of skills students can expect to gain or build upon through their study of mass communication at the undergraduate and/or graduate level:

Professional Skills
Advanced oral and written presentationTeamwork and collaboration
Writing and editing Journalism and reporting
Research and data analysisDigital and social media
Mass media content creationQualitative and quantitative research method
Critical thinking and adaptabilityVisual and graphic communication

Careers in Mass Communication

A bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in mass communication can lead to a diverse selection of career opportunities, in fields such as advertising and marketing, journalism, healthcare, public relations, social and digital media, nonprofit, consulting, financial services, government, and more. Graduates of mass communication programs might pursue employment with public relations agencies, marketing and advertising firms, newspapers and digital publishers, community and non-profit organizations, healthcare agencies and hospitals, or television and radio stations.

With their knowledge of audience behaviors and content creation, professionals with a background in mass communications are crucial to delivering targeted, effective messages to large audiences. Graduates of master’s programs in the field can also continue their studies at the doctoral level and transition into careers within academia and research.

Below is a list of potential careers in media and mass communication that may be open to those with a degree in the field:

  • News Media Director: News media directors manage teams of journalists and the production of news stories. They possess an understanding of their readership and audience, create editorial calendars to address stories of interest, and oversee production of informative content around social, political, cultural, and economic issues.
  • Journalist: Working under the supervision of news media directors, journalists find, investigate, and write about or report on important events or issues that are relevant to their readers. They employ not only the written word, but also multimedia and even interactive technology to develop stories that engage readers while educating them. Journalists often specialize within a given area of news media, such as politics, health, economics, or social issues.
  • Web Content Specialist and Web Producer: Web content specialists, including social media specialists, search engine optimization (SEO) specialists and directors, and web producers, are experts in crafting engaging and informative content for online audiences. They typically manage one or more websites or online properties (such as social media accounts), and conceive of and implement content plans that address their target readerships’ interests. These professionals use search engine and web traffic analytics software to assess the performance of their website in terms of web traffic and reader engagement, and continually update their site’s content to ensure it stays relevant to their target audiences.
  • Public Relations Director: Public relations directors manage the development and execution of strategic communication initiatives that help enhance a company or organization’s public reputation and manage a positive relationship with consumers, competitors, investors, and the press. They generally supervise a team of public relations staff and oversee development of media practices that align with the organization’s mission and values.
  • Marketing Director: Directors of marketing manage the creation of multimedia advertising and other marketing assets that enhance brand reputation, engage consumers, and sell a product or service. These professionals also use marketing and consumer behavior analytics technologies such as search engine marketing analytics technology and customer relationship management software to inform their marketing strategies.
  • Marketing Specialist: Marketing specialists work under the supervision of marketing directors to implement marketing and advertising campaigns. While marketing directors may design the concept for a new marketing plan, specialists execute on these plans by writing relevant and engaging content, creating videos and graphic designs to engage readers, and conducting regular consumer research to ensure that their marketing strategies remain relevant and up-to-date with the latest technologies and consumer preferences.

Note: Individuals who are interested in the field of mass communication should note that while many careers in mass communication typically do not require a master’s degree, an advanced degree can lead to more senior-level positions, such as those in management or higher-level strategic marketing. However, it may be possible to achieve the same degree of career advancement with several years of professional experience in lieu of a master’s degree. On the other hand, positions in academia–such as teaching and/or scholarly research in higher education–often require at least a master’s degree. Organizations that hire mass communication professionals will vary in terms of their expectations for applicants’ educational background and level of experience, and therefore students should thoroughly research their desired roles to determine what kinds of preparation they will need to be competitive in the job market.