Just as important as the design and implementation of sound communication plans in the corporate, political, health related, technological, and interpersonal arenas, is the academic study of communication and how it functions, evolves, and intersects with other aspects of human society, such as culture and politics. Master’s programs in communication studies, communication theory, and interpersonal communication prepare students to engage in scholarly inquiry regarding how people communicate with each other, how organizations communicate with the public and vice versa, and the role that communication plays in maintaining and developing communities on a local, state, national, and international scale.

These programs also focus on how culture and communication interact with each other, and how social movements impact communication and vice versa. In addition to studying essential and advanced theories of communication, students also learn the core principles of effective communication and how to apply these principles in professional, social, and interpersonal settings.

Graduates of master’s programs in communication theory, communication studies, or interpersonal communication are equipped with the knowledge and skills to work in settings where they apply their understanding of human interaction, culture, and individual and mass communication to different projects. They may work in human resources, media and marketing, and politics and social change communication. They may also engage in research that allows them to study in-depth the different fields of communication and how they impact society, or how culture and/or social movements influence how people communicate with each other. These programs also typically prepare students for doctorate of communication programs.

Classification of Communication Studies Programs

MastersinCommunications.com categorizes master’s in communication programs into ten specializations according to each program’s curriculum. Programs on this page include, but are not limited to: master’s in communication theory, master’s in communication studies, master’s in interpersonal communication, and master’s in human communication. Within this broad categorization of communication studies, communication theory, and interpersonal communication are myriad programs that vary in their specific curricular focus. For example, while some master’s in communication studies programs focus more on critically examining human’s interpersonal communication, others may focus on the role of communication in social issues such as gender equality or conflict management.

In addition, some master’s in communication studies programs within this category offer programs that are more general in their curricular focus covering both communication research/theory along with practical applications of communication in different settings like media, organizational, health and/or political communication. However, typically these programs do not provide as in-depth instruction in these areas as compared to programs that offer distinct specializations. Although, some programs may offer enough electives for students to focus their studies even if the program does not offer a distinct specialization.

Due to the variance in master’s programs within this category, students interested in pursuing a master’s degree communication theory, interpersonal communication, or communication studies should examine the precise curricula of the programs that interest them to ensure that they align with their desired educational and career goals. It is recommended to examine both core and elective classes for each program.

Curriculum Details for Master’s Programs in Communication Studies, Communication Theory, and Interpersonal Communication

Students of master’s programs in communication theory, interpersonal communication, and communication studies typically complete a set of core courses before progressing to specialization courses that focus on the theories of human communication and interaction in multiple contexts. Core courses in master’s in communication programs typically cover topics such as leadership in communication, communication ethics, and the fundamentals of research in communication. After completing their core curriculum, students progress to courses that cover advanced concepts in communication theory, communication for social change, cultural communication, and rhetorical criticism. Their programs may also allow them to take electives in certain areas of communication in which they wish to focus, such as health communication, intercultural communication, communication in social equality and social change, or political communication theory. Examples of courses that comprise these types of master’s degrees may include but are not limited to:

  • Fundamental Theories of Communication: The basic theories of interpersonal communication, mass media, and digital media technologies and their impact on human interactions. Contemporary issues in communication and how to understand them through various sociocultural and political lenses.
  • Rhetorical Criticism: The fundamental methods of understanding and analyzing public discourse, and the purpose of rhetorical criticism in advancing the field of communication and facilitating the development of new strategies in social, corporate, governmental, and other environments.
  • Interpersonal Communication Theory: A broad overview of the fundamental theories and principles of verbal and non-verbal communication across a variety of contexts, including interpersonal and group communication, mass communication, communication for social influence, communication in corporate environments, political communication, and more. Major advancements in the field of interpersonal communication, and how to analyze and write formal academic criticisms of current trends in communication.
  • Persuasive Rhetoric and Social Influence: The theories and principles of using persuasive written communication to enact positive social change. The history of human language, communication, and forms of persuasion, and how these aspects of human society and development have evolved through time to give us modern channels of communication.
  • Global Perspectives in Intercultural Communication: The theories and practices that underlie constructive intercultural communication on a national and international scale. How culture and beliefs impact the creation and interpretation of meaningful communications within a community and between different communities.
  • Communication in Issues of Gender, Race, and Social Equality: An exploration of the fundamental equality issues facing human society, and the history of their development. The fundamental social theories used to examine these issues, and the role that communication plays in the origin, perpetuation, and potential resolution of these issues. Social activism and how different types of interpersonal, intercultural, and mass media communications can advance social causes and address prejudices and inequalities.
  • Theories of Corporate Communication: How humans interact with one another and communicate with to form collaborative relationships in business environments. The essential theories of human interaction and communication and how they relate to the formation and implementation of business plans, marketing campaigns, and public relations. How students can apply communication theories to an evaluation of different communication systems and situations in corporate contexts.
  • Instruction in Communication Studies: How to instruct students in the study of different communication theories, and how to guide them in the investigation of research inquiries pertaining to developments in the field of communication.
  • Health Information Management: The different types of health communication and how they impact public health outcomes. Public health announcements, crisis communication, marketing and public relations for health care organizations, and health news are topics covered in this course.
  • Political Communication Management: The essential theories of political communication and how forms of political communication create changes in legislation and motivate people to act for or against political causes. The interaction between political campaigns, lobbying and advocacy groups, and the news media, and how these forces impact public opinion.

As mentioned previously, some master’s in communication studies programs allow students to specialize further in a particular area of communication, such as interpersonal communication or communication for social change. Below are two sample curriculum plans for a student who is pursuing a master’s in communication studies. The first sample curriculum focuses on interpersonal communication theory, while the other focuses on communication for social change. Both curriculum plans are based on a 24-month course of study. Prospective students should note that the plans below are only examples, and that programs vary in their course content and sequencing. In general, master’s programs in communication studies or interpersonal communication are composed of between 30 and 60 course credits, which students complete within 12 to 24 months when enrolled full-time, or 24 to 36 months when enrolled part-time.

2-Year Sample Curriculum Plan in Interpersonal Communication Theory

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

Core Courses:
  • Digital Media and Technology in Communication
  • Ethics in Communication
Core Course:
  • Principles of Strategic Communication
Concentration Course:
  • Fundamental Theories of Communication
Year 2
Concentration Courses:
  • Rhetorical Criticism
  • Interpersonal Communication Theory
Concentration Courses:
  • Theories of Corporate Communication
  • Instruction in Communication Studies
Concentration Courses:
  • Global Perspectives in Intercultural Communication
  • Individual Communication Theory Research Project

2-Year Sample Curriculum Plan in Communication Theory for Social Change

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

Core Courses:
  • Digital Media and Technology in Communication
  • Ethics in Communication
Core Course:
  • Principles of Strategic Communication
Concentration Course:
  • Fundamental Theories of Communication
Year 2
Concentration Courses:
  • Rhetorical Criticism
  • Persuasive Rhetoric and Social Influence
  • Communication in Issues of Gender, Race, and Social Equality
Concentration Courses:
  • Global Perspectives in Intercultural Communication
  • Health Information Management
Concentration Courses:
  • Political Communication Management
  • Individual Communication Theory Research Project

Prospective students of master’s in communication studies programs should also note that there are master’s programs in communication with specializations in applied communication – for example, master’s in health communication programs, master’s in PR and marketing communication programs, and master’s in strategic communication programs – that incorporate classes in communication theory into their core curricula or their elective offerings. Therefore, students who wish to focus more on applied communication but who are also interested in communication theory, interpersonal, and or cultural communication, may wish to explore these programs as well.

Potential Careers for Graduates of Master’s Programs in Communication Studies, Communication Theory and Interpersonal Communication

Graduates of master’s programs in communication theory, interpersonal and cultural communication, or communication studies can find work in environments where they can apply their understanding of human interaction and communication to solving problems, communication innovation, and instructing others in communication theories and practices. Experts in communication theory may work at companies in either the private or the public sector, where they work to improve lines of communication between different departments, between leadership and employees, and between the heads of different companies in the formation of corporate partnerships.

Graduates of these programs may also work at media and communication technology companies, where their understanding of human interactions and mass communications allow them to contribute to innovations in digital media technologies and communication strategies. Experts in communication theory may also take an academic career path, in which they investigate and publish research articles on developments in communication theory and practice, and instruct students in these and related concepts. Examples of roles that graduates of master’s programs in communication studies may assume include but are not limited to:

  • Professors of Communication: Professors of communication conduct research in the field of communication, seeking to contribute to existing literature on and understanding of how humans communicate interpersonally, as well as on a community and mass scale. They also teach courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, instructing students in essential theories of communication as well as applied principles and practices of communication in multiple areas (e.g. corporate, social change, health, etc.).
  • Digital Media Specialists: Digital media specialists can work for a variety of companies, often in marketing or public relations departments. They use their understanding of communication theory and how it applies to technological innovation in mass media, journalism, marketing, and other fields to advise their team on creating strategies to reach their target audiences. When working for communication technology companies, they may also advise engineers and designers in their development of innovations in media or communication.
  • Communication Consultants: Communication consultants help companies streamline and revamp their internal channels of communication (e.g. human resources and employee training, communication between leadership and employees, messaging between different departments within a company, etc.), and/or companies’ external facing communications (e.g. marketing and public relations). Communication consultants may be called into a company to improve its employee and management training practices, or to increase employee engagement by developing clearer messaging around a company’s mission and purpose. Other communication consultants may temporarily join the marketing or PR department of a company to assist in the updating of a company’s brand identity and messaging.
  • Human Resources Directors: Human resources directors use their knowledge of human interactions, behavior, and psychology, and 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. Human resources directors and their staff develop employee training manuals and seminars, coordinate employee and leadership events, and use their communication skills to ensure that lines of communication within the company run smoothly.
  • Public Relations Directors: 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 explains developments within the company and addresses any concerns the public may have about a company’s performance or the quality of its products/services. PR directors strive to maintain the positive reputation of a company.
  • Non-Profit Leaders, Political Lobbyists, and Social Activists: 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. They also communicate with other organizations and with the community to spread awareness about social problems and form productive partnerships.