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.

Master’s in communication studies programs tend to focus on communication theory and the social sciences aspect of human communication, though there are communication studies programs that include applied communication coursework. Many communication studies programs are designed to prepare students for doctoral studies, while others prepare students for doctoral studies or career advancement, based on the electives students choose.

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 in applied areas. That said, some communication studies programs may offer enough electives for students to focus their studies in an applied area 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 in communication theory, interpersonal communication, or communication studies should examine the curricula of the programs that interest them to ensure that they align with their desired academic 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.
  • Organizational Communication Studies: The ways in which people create, maintain, and strengthen groups, and also determine identities within larger groups. The theories and principles of the role communication plays in the formation of value systems, social organization, and interpersonal attachments.
  • 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.
  • Family Communication: The central theories and paradigms that explain and explore family communication dynamics, including sibling interactions, parent-child and other intergenerational communication, elderly communication, communication within relationships, and marriage and divorce. Students explore the patterns that govern much of family members’ interactions, and how these theories are relevant to both applied practice and further research.
  • Political Communication Studies: 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.
  • Health Communication Studies: The theories of interpersonal, organizational, and mass communication that are relevant to the promotion of health at the individual, group, and community levels. How communication research and health communication connects to health care and public health issues. The methods and principles of optimizing information flow in order to optimize medical outcomes and influence patient and consumer behavior.
  • Intercultural Communication: The critical theories, paradigms, and perspectives that govern scholarly discussion of intercultural communication and dynamics. The concept of diversity in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, and sexuality, and how these forms of diversity manifest in different communities. How to promote diversity in a variety of organizational, social, political, and economic contexts.

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 45 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 for a Master’s in Interpersonal Communication

 
Fall Term
Spring Term
Summer Term
Year 1
  • Fundamental Theories of Communication
  • Interpersonal Communication Theory
  • Rhetorical Criticism
  • Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods in Communication
  • Persuasive Rhetoric and Social Influence
  • Global Perspectives in Intercultural Communication
Year 2
  • Communication in Issues of Gender, Race, and Social Equality
  • Family Communication
  • Mediated Communication in Mass Media
  • Group and Interpersonal Communication Seminar
  • Capstone Thesis, Applied Project, and/or Comprehensive Exams

2-Year Sample Curriculum Plan for a Master’s in Communication Studies with an Emphasis on Social Change

 
Fall Term
Spring Term
Summer Term
Year 1
  • Fundamental Theories of Communication
  • Qualitative and Quantitative Theories of Communication

  • Persuasive Rhetoric and Social Influence
  • Rhetorical Criticism
  • Communication in Issues of Gender, Race, and Social Equality
  • Ethics in Communication
Year 2
  • Intercultural Communication
  • Organizational Communication Studies
  • Global Perspectives in Intercultural Communication
  • Public Affairs Communication and Public Deliberation
  • Capstone Thesis, Applied Project, and/or Comprehensive Exams

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.