About Ms. Berit Van Neste: Berit Van Neste is the Academic Program Specialist for the Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications at the University of South Florida (USF). As the Program Specialist, she serves as the main point person for all applicants to and students of the M.A. in Mass Communications program. Ms. Van Neste participates in campus-based recruiting events and communicates with potential applicants to help them understand the program’s offerings. As the graduate advisor for the program, Ms. Van Neste tracks the progress of the program’s current graduate students, advising them regarding their academic progress and any obstacles they may face. In addition, she maintains contact with alumni after they graduate.
Ms. Van Neste has held several positions at the University of South Florida prior to her current position as Academic Program Specialist. She served as an administrative assistant to the Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Hellenic Studies, and was an adjunct professor teaching History of Christianity in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Religious Studies. Before serving in the School of Advertising & Mass Communications, Ms. Van Neste worked as the Academic Program Specialist for USF’s Department of Religious Studies. She earned her bachelor of arts from USF in 2004, double-majoring in History and Religious Studies. She received her M.A. in Religious Studies and her M.A.T. (Master of Arts in Teaching) is in Elementary Education from USF in 2006 and 2010, respectively.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of South Florida’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications program, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum and electives, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Ms. Van Neste] The core courses focus on the theory and methods of conducting research in the various fields of Mass Communications. The concept of Mass Communications research and the theory behind it are explored in the two introductory core courses. The two remaining core courses explore the different methodologies used in Mass Communications research.
Students in the M.A. in Mass Communications are required to engage in one of two concentrations: Media Studies or Strategic Communication Management. Students desiring to pursue a degree in advertising or public relations should seriously consider the Strategic Communication Management concentration. The course requirements are tailored to hone the student’s management skills in the fields of advertising and public relations. The required courses for the Strategic Communication Management concentration help students in this concentration develop management skills that are specific to the fields of advertising and public relations. There are 5 required Strategic Communication Management courses. The Intro course works in tandem with the two introductory core courses, applying the theory and research methods specifically to the fields of advertising and public relations. Strategic Communication Media emphasizes the use of a variety of media and, taken at the same time as Strategic Communication Management, how to manage a team using such media. Strategic Communication Management is a broad exploration of how to manage an advertising or PR team. Strategic Message Design is about how to manage a team as the team members craft a message. The culminating course is Strategic Communication Campaigns, which pulls everything from the previous courses together.
On the other hand, the Media Studies concentration is much more flexible. The defining feature of the Media Studies concentration is the large number of electives, both within Mass Communications and from other departments. The Mass Communications electives include the specialty areas of social media and health communication, but they are not limited to these areas. The electives enable students to build their own degree in order to meet their future goals, whether their goals are academic or professional.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirements, students of the University of South Florida’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications can choose between completing a master’s thesis or an applied research project. Could you please elaborate on the exam, the thesis, and the project, and what each entails?
[Ms. Van Neste] The thesis and the applied research project differ in content, but not in form. Both require substantial research and writing, ending in a multi-page written work that is, ultimately, delivered to either the graduate school (for a thesis) or the Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications (for an applied research project). The only real difference between the thesis and the applied research project is the nature of the guiding question. The thesis addresses the theory of mass communications, posing a thesis and arguing in favor of it using research and analysis. The applied research project addresses the practice of mass communications, posing a real-life problem and using research and analysis to propose a solution to the problem. Both the thesis and the applied research project require the student to defend it before a committee.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of South Florida’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications program, and how can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems? Additionally, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of this program?
[Ms. Van Neste] The faculty at the University of South Florida mentor students in a variety of ways. Among them, the faculty mentor students with regard to research, giving students the opportunity to be part of a large research project and being named as a member of the research team. Faculty also foster student skills with regards to the work environment by simulating that work environment and guiding students in learning how to navigate through it. These simulations offer students the ability to work on real projects for real companies in the supportive and nurturing environment of the classroom. Faculty also guide students through their own targeted research while the students create their theses or applied research projects.
We offer student assistantships in both teaching and research, and we offer internships. Students can earn 3 credits for a semester-long internship.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for the University of South Florida’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications program?
[Ms. Van Neste] All of the application is important. However, our admissions committee focuses most heavily on three parts of the application: the applicant’s GPA, statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation. If the applicant only has a Bachelor’s degree, then the committee considers the GPA for the last 60 hours of the degree to be the most relevant information. If the applicant has taken graduate classes or has received a graduate degree, then that is weighted more heavily than the undergraduate GPA.
The statement of purpose must explain how the M.A. in Mass Communications will help the applicant achieve future goals and why the applicant feels that the M.A. from the Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications is the best choice to reach those goals. It should also be written clearly with proper grammar and construction. The letters of recommendation should be from professors who can speak to the applicant’s ability to handle graduate-level work. One letter can be from an employer, but at least two letters should be from faculty. All letters should be on letterhead.
An applicant who wants to be particularly competitive will also concentrate on the GRE scores, as well. We are looking for a high verbal score (at least 153) and a moderate quantitative score (at least 147), totaling 300 or more. Additionally, our admissions committee looks for an ideal candidate to score at least 4.0 on the Analytical Writing. There are a number of books and online resources to help applicants achieve their best scores on the GRE.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of South Florida’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Ms. Van Neste] Our program has two concentrations that prepare students for a wide range of careers in both industry and academia. The Strategic Communication concentration enables students wishing to pursue careers in advertising or public relations the ability to focus on developing the skills that are currently in demand. The Media Studies concentration allows student to create a degree tailored to their goals, whether those goals take them into the workplace or into a Ph.D. program.
Thank you, Ms. Van Neste, for your insight into the University of South Florida’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications program!