Strong communication in corporate, political, health-related, tech innovation, and social advocacy contexts is crucial for the success and continued advancement of our society. Individuals who receive advanced training in communication are prepared for such important responsibilities as writing articles that educate the public about important issues, facilitating productive relationships between a company and its stakeholders, and advancing social and political causes. Master’s in communication programs enable students to gain skills in professional communication that can help them advance their career in marketing, public relations, political campaigning and advocacy, health communication, non-profit communication, and other fields of communication.

Online master’s in communication programs allow individuals who have professional and/or personal obligations that prevent them from traveling to campus or relocating for a degree program to complete their graduate degree in communication. While online programs may not be ideal for all students, additional advantages of online programs include:

  • Greater access to graduate programs, especially for students who do not live near a campus-based program
  • Access to specializations that may not be offered by a local college or university
  • Increased exposure to online communication technologies and a greater comfort in navigating these technologies, which may be advantageous for certain fields post-graduation
  • Flexibility for students who may be forced to relocate during their program, such as students in the military or spouses of service members
  • Ability to complete coursework and projects at any time of day without the need to attend classes at specific times (for programs that use asynchronous instruction)
  • Ability to view and review course materials, including recorded lectures, multiple times if needed to understand key course concepts

Students considering an online program need to be aware that online master’s programs often require more self-discipline and self-motivation compared to campus-based programs. This is due to the fact that students are responsible for keeping up with lectures and assignments without the structure of weekly campus-based lectures. Students need to be particularly self-guided and disciplined for online programs that use asynchronous instruction (see below) where students are not required to attend live lectures online.

Accessibility of Online Programs versus Campus Programs

The following map contains the location of all campus-based master’s in communication programs in the United States with a 20 mile radius around each campus (represented by the blue circles). For students who do not live within commuting distance to a campus, do not want to relocate to attend a graduate program, or who cannot commute to campus several times per week for lectures, online programs may be the only option for pursuing a master’s in communication.

Structure of Online Master’s in Communication Programs

There are a wide variety of online master’s in communication programs and understanding the different options is important for students as they research and compare programs. There are programs that are 100% online and do not require any campus visits, and programs that require a limited number of on-campus residencies. Both options have pros and cons depending on the student. For students who have personal or work obligations, it may not be possible to travel to campus for these sessions. However, for students who want to meet instructors and classmates in person for face-to-face instruction and networking, but who still want the flexibility of online instruction, these programs may be ideal. (Note: MastersinCommunications.com classifies a program as online if it requires students to attend two or fewer on-campus sessions per year. Programs that require more than two visits per year are classified as hybrid programs.)

In terms of instruction methods, there are programs whose course content is accessible 24/7 to enable students to fully determine their own schedule. There are also programs that incorporate live video discussions and other interactive learning technologies to maximize student-faculty and peer-to-peer interactions. For more information about instruction methods see below. Independent of the type of instruction method, students typically interact with instructors and classmates through online discussion forums; email, telephone and chat; and video conferencing if needed.

On top of these options, students of online master’s in communication programs have access to additional specialization options that may not be offered at a local university. MastersinCommunications.com currently classifies programs into 10 different concentrations according to their curricula. These specializations include organizational communication, strategic communication, health communication, public relations (PR) and marketing communication, political communication, and more. Students should note that while some schools offer the same concentrations in their online programs as they do in their campus-based programs, others may offer more or fewer concentrations in their online program. For example, a school may offer a campus program with multiple specializations while their online program focuses on just one like strategic communication.

When deciding which programs to consider, prospective students should take into account their current professional and personal obligations, geographical location, and their interests and professional objectives within the field of communication. Furthermore, prospective students should consider their learning preferences (e.g. more versus less structured) as well as how long they would like to take to complete their program (e.g. full-time versus part-time enrollment).

Curricular Structure of Online Master’s in Communication Programs

As with traditional on-campus programs, online master’s in communication programs are comprised of a combination of core coursework in the fundamentals of communication and concentration coursework in a student’s desired professional field post-graduation. Core courses may vary across programs, but generally cover concepts such as leadership in communication, communication laws and ethics, media and digital communication, and persuasive rhetoric. Concentration courses can vary widely and depend on a student’s desired focus.

The number of course credits required to complete a master’s in communication program varies somewhat by school and the student’s selected concentration, but is typically between 30 and 60 credits. Depending on the program and the number of credits students must take each term they are enrolled, students generally require between 12-24 months of full-time study or 24-36 months of part-time study in order to complete their program. These credits may be divided as such:

  • 10-15 credits of foundational coursework: These classes cover topics such as the essential theories and principles of communication, how professionals can be leaders in communication, essential developments in communication (such as digital communication technologies and social media), the fundamentals of research in communication, and more.
  • 10-15 credits of specialization courses: These classes vary widely depending on a student’s chosen specialization, but examples of such courses may include strategic storytelling, social media strategies for corporations, political campaigning, rhetorical criticism, communication strategies for social advocacy, health communication, and marketing and public relations practices.
  • 5-10 elective credits: These classes present students with an opportunity to take courses in an area of communication that is outside of their selected specialization, but which is still of interest to them. For example, a student who is enrolled in an online master’s in strategic communication program may wish to take some courses that focus more on communication theory and rhetorical criticism, and therefore may take electives in these areas.
  • 5-10 credits for a research capstone or practicum: Some online master’s in communication programs require students to complete a thesis or a research project in their area of communication, and/or to complete a supervised practicum experience in a work setting that is relevant to their chosen specialization.

Online Master’s in Communication Specializations/Concentrations

While the majority of master’s in communications programs offer specializations, not all programs have distinct specialization tracks. Instead, some programs are designed to just emphasize one area in the field of communication or offer a general program that allows students to tailor their program based on the electives they choose to take. In addition, schools use different terminology to describe their programs and specializations. For example, strategic communication programs can be found with numerous different names including:

  • Master’s in Strategic Communication
  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
  • Master of Science in Strategic Communication
  • Master’s in Communication with a Specialization in Strategic Communication
  • Master’s in Communication with a Concentration in Strategic Communication
  • Master’s in Communication with an Area of Study/Focus in Strategic Communication
  • Master’s in Communication with an Emphasis in Strategic Communication
  • Master’s in Communication with a Focus Area in Strategic Communication
  • Master’s in Communication with a Path/Track in Strategic Communication

When researching and deciding between programs, students should consider whether or not a program offers a distinct track in a given specialization, with a set curriculum that covers the essential concepts within that specialization. That way students know that the courses they need will be offered. Concentration options for students wishing to pursue their master’s in communication online include but are not limited to:

  • Online Master’s in Strategic Communication: Online master’s in strategic communication programs teach students how to develop and implement communication initiatives that further the mission of organizations. Students of these programs learn how to engage in PR and marketing initiatives, organizational communication strategies, social media campaigns, and advocacy initiatives.
  • Online Master’s in Business/Organizational Communication: Online master’s in business communication programs, also known as online masters in organizational communication programs, teach students advanced concepts in internal and external-facing communication for corporations. Students learn about PR and marketing principles, human resources and employee training, and developing clear messaging for employees and stakeholders.
  • Online Master’s in Health Communication: Online master’s in health communication programs teach students about the important communications in the medical and health-related fields, including patient and public education initiatives, channels of communications within institutions of medical care, and public relations and marketing communication for health companies.
  • Online Master’s in Mass Communication and Media: Students of online master’s programs in mass communication and/or media learn about the latest communication technologies and how they are being leveraged in the corporate, political, and medical fields, as well as in communities at the local, national, and international levels.
  • Online Master’s in Communication Studies: Students of online master’s in communication studies programs learn how to critique different types of human communication, from interpersonal to mass communication, and engage in research and analysis of human communication and connection in order to understand past and emerging trends in how humans craft and spread information.
  • Online Master’s in PR and Marketing Communication: Master’s programs in PR and marketing communication train students to become experts in product positioning, creative and engaging storytelling that engages potential consumers, and creating and maintaining a strong brand identity and reputation. Students of these programs learn how to navigate difficult PR dilemmas and how to forge strong relationships between a company and its various stakeholders.
  • Online Master’s in Global Communication: Master’s programs in global and/or international communication prepare students for managing global channels of communication, and for navigating complicated international communication issues. Students of these programs learn how to develop marketing or social advocacy campaigns that have global reach, how to handle international news and media initiatives, and how to take cultural and geographical differences into account when communicating with international audiences.
  • Online Master’s in Political Communication: Students of online master’s in political communication programs learn about the role that communication plays in government operations, the development of sound policies, and effective campaigns for both politicians and political causes. Students learn how to create effective campaign media, how to write public policy communications, and how to navigate public relations issues for political groups and advocacy organizations.

When determining which specialization to pursue in their online master’s in communication program, students should research the types of careers in communication that interest them and the knowledge and skills that these careers require. That way they can identify programs that will provide them with the targeted coursework, research opportunities, and or internship experiences they need to succeed in that field.

Graduate Requirements for Online Master’s in Communication Programs

In addition to completing the course credits required in their program, students of online master’s in communication programs may also have to fulfill additional requirements to graduate. These requirements may include but are not limited to:

  • On-campus residencies, also known as on-campus intensives
  • One or more internships or practicums
  • A research capstone project (such as a thesis or other project)
  • A comprehensive examination at the end of their program

Programs tend to vary in their research project, final examination, internship/practicum, and campus visit requirements. For example, some programs may require students to complete an internship and submit a portfolio of written and/or multimedia work that is relevant to their internship. Other programs may not have an internship requirement, but may require students to complete a research project that is relevant to their course of study. Still other programs allow students to choose between a practical research project, a thesis project, or an examination as their capstone experience for their program.

For campus-based programs, it is common for schools to offer students two to four different options in terms of completing a program capstone. While some online programs also give students different options, others may only have one option that all students must complete in order to graduate. For some programs, students who choose not to complete a master’s thesis must take one to two additional courses (typically 3 to 6 additional credits).

Furthermore, even within the same school of communication, different master’s in communication program concentrations may have different internship, research, portfolio, and final assessment requirements for their students. Due to these variances, students should research their programs of interest to determine the graduation requirements outside of their regular coursework and assignments.

On-Campus Intensives and Residencies in Online Programs

To strengthen student-faculty relationships and give students the opportunity to network with fellow students and potential employers, some online master’s in communication programs require students to attend one or more on-campus intensives (also known as campus residencies or immersion sessions) during their enrollment. For programs that require on-campus intensives, the format and timing of these sessions varies by program. For example, some programs ask that students attend a week-long orientation on-campus before the start of the program or require students to visit the campus every summer. Other programs maybe only require students to visit campus to defend their thesis or to complete their comprehensive examination. Finally, some programs have their residencies at off-campus locations depending on the theme of the immersion session.

In general, students are expected to cover the costs of travel and lodging for on-campus intensives, as these costs are not typically included in university tuition or fees. Therefore, students should factor these costs into their overall budget when deciding between online programs. As noted above, MastersinCommunications.com, classifies an online master’s in communication program as one that requires two or fewer campus visits per year. Programs that require more than two campus visits per year are classified as hybrid programs.

Practicum Requirements

Some online master’s in communication programs require students to complete a practicum or internship in a setting that is relevant to their selected concentration. For example, a student of an online master’s in PR and marketing communication program may complete an internship at a company within its public relations and/or marketing department, while a student of a master’s in health communication program may complete a practicum at a health technology company or a community health non-profit. Practicums, while not required by all master’s in communication programs, are valuable opportunities for students to apply their graduate-level education to advanced professional work in their field(s) of interest.

For schools with an internship requirement for their online master’s in communication students, the practicum placement process may vary. Some schools may have established partnerships with companies and may help students in finding an internship site and supervisor, while other schools may ask that students handle their own internship arrangements independently and seek approval from their program’s internship department. Some programs require students to submit a portfolio of work that they completed during their internship for course credit.

Portfolio Requirements

Online master’s in communication programs may require students to create and submit a portfolio of their work in order to graduate. This portfolio may be comprised of work they have completed for their classes, during their internship, or as part of their research project (for more information on research requirements for master’s in communication programs, see the section below). Student portfolios can be in print or digital form (for example, a website with writing samples and other media), and students may be required to present their portfolios to classmates and/or faculty as part of one of their classes, or as part of their final examination.

Research Requirements

Research projects, whether theory-based or more practical in nature, are valuable opportunities for students to apply their graduate-level knowledge to a project or real-world communication issue that interests them. Some, but not all, online master’s in communication programs require students to complete a communication thesis or a research capstone project. Typically, a research project is shorter than a master’s thesis in communication, and some schools provide students with the option of completing either a thesis or a capstone project. In general, students’ work on their thesis or capstone project counts for academic credit towards their degree.

Master’s Thesis

A communication thesis is a scholarly research paper that investigates a research question and seeks to contribute unique insight into the field of communication through the collection, analysis, and discussion of data. Students typically begin thinking about their thesis topic during the second half of their program, after they have completed certain research prerequisite courses. To write their thesis, students must select a thesis advisor and committee members who will support them throughout the research process. They must then write a proposal that includes their desired research question and their plan for investigating this question, which they must submit to and present before their committee. Once their research question and plan are approved, students commence their research under the guidance of their advisor, and also seek input from their committee members. Upon completing their thesis, students submit it to their committee for review and also defend their thesis before this same committee.

Capstone Research Project

A capstone research project is distinct from a thesis in that it is generally more concerned with the development of practical solutions to an existing issue within a particular field of communication. It can also take several forms; unlike a thesis which is typically a multi-chapter written document, capstone projects can incorporate multimedia elements–for example, a video or website project, a new communication management application, or a proposed plan for a change in channels of communication within an organizational system.

The process for completing a capstone research project is similar to that of a thesis, in that students must think of a question or a problem in communication, submit a proposal to a research committee that they have selected, and conduct intensive research and analysis to better understand the issue in question. Once they have completed sufficient research, students work to devise a proposed solution to their selected communication issue, which they subsequently present to their committee. Oftentimes, students are required to submit a portfolio of their research and analysis along with their completed project.

Prospective students should also note that some online master’s in communication programs allow students to waive the thesis or capstone requirement by taking an advanced research course (or courses) that teaches them communication research best practices, as well as the fundamentals of analyzing, discussing, and publishing research findings.

Capstone Examination Requirements

Some online master’s in communication programs require students to complete a comprehensive examination at the end of their program. For some programs, students can take this examination in lieu of completing a research thesis or capstone project. As examinations do not typically count as course credit, students in programs that give them a choice between a research project or a final assessment, and who elect to take the examination, may need to take additional classes in order to fulfill the credit requirements for their program.

The content of comprehensive final exams for master’s in communication programs varies depending on the program and a student’s selected concentration, but generally includes topics in communication theory, leadership, research, and strategies across multiple environments. For some examinations, students are presented with a case study or sample communication problem, and are required to develop an action plan that resolves this problem. In addition, these assessments can vary in form: while some programs may require students to take a written exam over the course of several hours, some programs require a multi-day examination that incorporates written, oral, and even group project elements.

Full-Time versus Part-Time Online Master’s in Communication Programs

Many online master’s in communication programs offer students both full-time and part-time courses of study (although some may only offer one enrollment option), so that students who wish to continue working during the completion of their degree have the option to do so. When deciding whether to pursue a degree full-time or part-time, students should weigh the benefits of completing their program sooner, versus being able to work more during their degree program. Below are sample full-time and part-time curriculum plans for an online master’s in public relations and marketing communication program:

Sample 2-Year Full-Time Curriculum Plan

 
Fall Term
Spring Term
Summer Term
Year 1
Core Courses:
  • Leadership in Communication
  • Essential Theories of Communication

Core Courses:
  • Principles of Strategic Communication
  • Ethics in Communication
Concentration Courses:
  • Media, Technology, and Economics
  • The Theory and Practice of Public Relations
Year 2
Concentration Course:
  • Integrated Marketing Practices and Principles
Concentration Courses:
  • Designing Media and Marketing Campaigns
  • Public Relations for For-Profit and Non-Profit Orgs
Concentration Course:
  • PR/Marketing Practicum or Individual Work on Portfolio

Sample 3-Year Part-Time Curriculum Plan

 
Fall Term
Spring Term
Summer Term
Year 1
Core Course:
  • Leadership in Communication

Core Course:
  • Essential Theories of Communication
Core Course:
  • Principles of Strategic Communication
Year 2
Core Course:
  • Ethics in Communication
Core Course:
  • Integrated Marketing Practices and Principles
Concentration Courses:
  • The Theory and Practice of Public Relations
  • Media, Technology, and Economics
Year 3
Concentration Course:
  • Designing Media and Marketing Campaigns
Concentration Course:
  • Public Relations for For-Profit and Non-Profit Orgs
Concentration Course:
  • PR/Marketing Practicum or Individual Work on Portfolio

Instruction Methods in Online Master’s in Communication Programs: Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction

Online master’s in communication programs employ two main types of online instruction methods: synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Below is a description of each method of instruction, including their potential pros and cons. Some programs use almost exclusively asynchronous instruction, while other programs combine synchronous and asynchronous instruction to give students a balance between flexibility and real-time interactions with course faculty and classmates.

Synchronous instruction

Synchronous instruction is defined as any course content that requires students to log on at specified dates and times to participate in real-time lectures and discussions. Synchronous instruction typically entails students using a web camera to discuss course concepts with peers and instructors, or participating in online chat discussions for participation credit.

Synchronous instruction enables students to engage more directly with their instructors and classmates, thereby providing structure to their learning experience. For many students, this can enhance their learning outcomes and level of interest in their courses. Synchronous instruction also allows students to receive instant responses to questions they might have, approximating the feel of a traditional campus-based lecture setting. However, this mode of instruction is slightly less flexible than asynchronous instruction, as students must be online at scheduled times. Regardless of whether they employ synchronous instruction or not, all online master’s in communication programs have an asynchronous component, in the form of assignments and other reading materials that students schedule and complete on their own time.

Asynchronous Instruction

Asynchronous instruction is defined as the 24/7 access to course materials such as pre-recorded lectures and modules, written course materials, and self-paced examinations and assignments that are completed whenever the student has time. Programs that employ 100% asynchronous instruction do not require students to attend lectures in real time, allowing them more flexibility than is afforded to students of programs that employ synchronous instruction. However, with the flexibility of asynchronous instruction inherently comes fewer opportunities for students to directly engage with program faculty and classmates. Students should also note that, while these programs allow them to view course materials at their convenience, they still have set dates for exams and assignment submissions. They also typically require weekly participation in online discussion forums.

Some programs that use mostly or exclusively asynchronous instruction facilitate student-faculty and peer-to-peer interaction through online discussion forums or optional virtual office hours that students can attend to ask their instructors questions. Course faculty members for these programs are also generally available via email or phone for students’ questions. Please note that all online master’s in communication programs require students to exercise discipline to stay on top of their assignments and their course material. In particular, students of programs that employ mainly asynchronous instruction must remain diligent and organized, and create structure in their learning schedule so as not to fall behind in their lecture sequences.

State Authorizations and State Restrictions

An important consideration for individuals who wish to enroll in an online master’s in communication program is whether the program(s) they are considering is authorized to accept students from their state of residence. Independent of accreditation, universities that offer online programs must apply for and receive state authorization in order to operate in and enroll students from states where they do not have a physical campus. States vary in the requirements they ask schools to fulfill in order to receive this authorization, and some states even require school’s to apply for approval from multiple state agencies before it can start advertising to and enrolling their residents.

Universities that have not received authorization from a particular state (including schools that have applied for authorization but have not yet received approval) are typically not allowed to enroll students from that state until they have been granted authorization. While MastersinCommunications.com has done its best to provide this information to prospective students, state authorizations do change over time. For the most up to date information, students should contact the admissions office or an admissions advisor before applying to an online program.

The recent increase in online program offerings in the United States has motivated many states to try and simplify the process of obtaining authorization for quality online graduate and undergraduate programs. The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA) is an organization that seeks to standardize the requirements for state authorization for schools with online programs. Many states have voluntarily joined SARA, and states within this agreement agree to hold online programs to the same education standards and quality assurance methods. SARA does not waive the process that schools must undergo in order to receive state authorizations; however it both streamlines and expedites this process for schools when they apply to states that have opted into the SARA agreement. Students who wish to learn more about SARA and whether their state has opted into it can find information at the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements website.

Online Master's in Communication Degree Programs

American University

(District of Columbia)

Arizona State University

(Arizona)
Department: College of Integrative Sciences and Arts
Program(s): Department: Hugh Downs School of Human Communication
Program(s):

Asbury University

(Kentucky)

Boston University

(Massachusetts)
Department: College of Communication and Metropolitan College
Program(s):

California Baptist University

(California)
Department: Department of Communication Arts / Online and Professional Studies
Program(s):

Concordia University, Saint Paul

(Minnesota)
Department: College of Business and Technology
Program(s):

East Carolina University

(North Carolina)

Eastern Michigan University

(Michigan)
Department: College of Business
Program(s):

Eastern New Mexico University

(New Mexico)

Edinboro University of Pennsylvania

(Pennsylvania)

Florida International University

(Florida)

Fordham University

(New York)
Department: Gabelli School of Business
Program(s):

Liberty University

(Virginia)
Department: Department of Strategic and Personal Communication
Program(s):

Marquette University

(Wisconsin)
Department: Graduate School of Management, Diederich College of Communication
Program(s):

Michigan State University

(Michigan)
Department: College of Communication Arts and Sciences
Program(s):

Minnesota State University, Mankato

(Minnesota)
Department: Communication Studies Department
Program(s): Department: English Department
Program(s): Department: English Department, Communication Studies Department
Program(s):

Morehead State University

(Kentucky)
Department: Department of Communication, Media and Languages
Program(s):

Murray State University

(Kentucky)
Department: Department of Organizational Communication
Program(s):

National University

(California)
Department: College of Letters and Sciences
Program(s):

Northern Arizona University

(Arizona)

Northwestern University

(Illinois)
Department: Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications
Program(s):

Notre Dame of Maryland University

(Maryland)
Department: Communication Arts Department
Program(s):

Ohio University

(Ohio)
Department: Scripps College of Communication, School of Communication Studies
Program(s):

Park University

(Missouri)
Department: School of Graduate and Professional Studies
Program(s):

Penn State World Campus

(Pennsylvania)
Department: Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications
Program(s):

Point Park University

(Pennsylvania)

Purdue University

(Indiana)
Department: Brian Lamb School of Communication
Program(s):

Queens University of Charlotte

(North Carolina)
Department: James L. Knight School of Communication
Program(s):

Rider University

(New Jersey)
Department: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Program(s):

South Dakota State University

(South Dakota)
Department: Department of Journalism & Mass Communication
Program(s):

Southern New Hampshire University

(New Hampshire)

Southern Utah University

(Utah)

Spring Arbor University

(Michigan)

St Bonaventure University

(New York)
Department: Jandoli School of Communication
Program(s):

Stephen F Austin State University

(Texas)

Stevenson University

(Maryland)
Department: Stevenson University Online
Program(s):

Syracuse University

(New York)

The College of New Rochelle

(New York)

The University of Alabama

(Alabama)

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

(North Carolina)
Department: School of Media and Journalism
Program(s):

Troy University

(Alabama)
Department: Hall School of Journalism and Communication
Program(s):

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

(Arkansas)

University of Central Missouri

(Missouri)
Department: Department of Communication
Program(s):

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

(Illinois)
Department: Department of Communication
Program(s): Department: Gies College of Business and Sandage Department of Advertising (College of Media)
Program(s):

University of Iowa

(Iowa)
Department: School of Journalism and Mass Communication
Program(s):

University of Louisiana at Monroe

(Louisiana)
Department: School of Humanities
Program(s):

University of Southern California

(California)
Department: Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Program(s):

Washington State University

(Washington)
Department: Department of Strategic Communication
Program(s):

Western New England University

(Massachusetts)
Department: College of Arts and Sciences
Program(s):