Professional communication is a fast-changing, innovative, and impactful field of work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the communication industry is projected to add 43,200 jobs by 2026, a growth rate of 6%, which is about as fast as the average occupation. Communication and media professionals earn a median annual salary of $56,340. Some subfields of communication, such as technical writing, are growing faster.
As a communication major, you can learn valuable skills that transfer into any field. Medicine, government, nonprofits, marketing, and internet media all employ communication professionals. As business moves toward media creation and a digital economy, more and more enterprises will need the skills and knowledge that communication graduates possess.
Should I Get a Master's in Communication?
Creative, disciplined, and insightful people who enjoy helping others communicate their messages to the world often do well in the fascinating, rapidly changing world of professional communication. A master's in communication prepares graduates to be at the cutting edge of this field, and prospective students have several options available. Recent graduates may find an on-campus graduate degree is their best choice, as it allows them to network with professors face to face, attend campus career fairs, and participate in communication clubs. Current professionals may prefer online programs that give them a chance to complete their degree without having to spend time away from their family, relocate, or leave their current employer. Some online programs even offer students access to the same national alumni network and corporate contact list that on-campus students have.
Students in both brick-and-mortar and online programs gain versatile and valuable skills in critical thinking, analysis, writing, speaking, and technology. At many schools, students can participate in communication clubs that help advance the teaching, study, and application of communication principles. These clubs often serve as a springboard to internships and jobs. Most universities and colleges also maintain a career services office that helps students write resumes, find jobs, and prepare for interviews. Armed with a master's in communication, graduates can obtain jobs in human resources, public relations, business, and the media. Applicants with a master's degree earn more lucrative salaries and receive more job opportunities than those with only a bachelor's degree.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Communication?
Communication is a broad field that allows professionals to move seamlessly within a wide variety of positions, roles, and companies. Holding a communication master's degree lets new graduates take fascinating roles in businesses, political campaigns, and nonprofit organizations. Students with a passion for creativity, public speaking, writing, technology, and critical thinking do well in communication-oriented professions. Choosing a master's in communication with several concentration options can help students focus their degrees and may make them more competitive in a professional environment. Many employers are looking for great communicators to help them shape and deliver messages.
- Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers
Helping generate the public's interest in their companies' goods or services, these professionals work with art directors, advertising sales agents, and financial staff members to plan and execute marketing and advertising campaigns. They may develop pricing strategies, initiate market research, and negotiate advertising contracts. Most advertising, promotions, or marketing managers require a degree in a communication-related field.
Median Annual Salary: $129,380
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
- Public Relations and Fundraising Managers
Public relations managers oversee a company's presentation of itself to the public. They may design and create marketing materials, host events, or engage with the media. Fundraising managers undertake many of the same duties, but they typically focus on acquiring and developing donors to improve income for nonprofit organizations.
Median Annual Salary: $111,280
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
- Market Research Analysts
Focused on the data side of marketing, these professionals help forecast a company's product sales. They determine who will buy a product, when they will buy, and for what price. Although this profession requires significant data management and statistical skills, communication can provide a strong background for market research analysis.
Median Annual Salary: $63,230
Projected Growth Rate: 23%
- Writers and Authors
Writers and authors may create advertisements, blogs, product descriptions, web pages, eBooks, print books, or any other digital or print material. Many writers work for companies or marketing agencies. A few authors write scripts or screenplays for television and film producers.
Median Annual Salary: $61,820
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
- Technical Writers
Technical writers help distill complex or technical information into instructional manuals, journal articles, how-to guides, online videos, or other educational pieces. Technical writers may facilitate communication among engineers, developers, and product designers, or they may help a company explain its products to the public. These professionals often hold degrees in communication, technical communication, or science writing.
Median Annual Salary: $70,930
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
How to Choose a Master's in Communication Program
Earning a communication master's degree requires a significant investment of money, time, and energy. While selecting a program is an individual choice, prospective students should consider several relevant factors. How long will it take to finish the degree? Does the school offer both part-time and full-time options? Can students transfer in graduate credits earned elsewhere, or will the school require additional prerequisite courses? Prospective students should also look at concentrations and course lists. Does the school provide the student's preferred concentration? Are there internship requirements that place students in sites designed to improve their professional network and skills? Does the degree conclude with a capstone such as an academic thesis or an applied research project? Students considering a doctorate may need to complete a thesis, while those going into the work world may find that a capstone project is a better alternative.
When evaluating potential schools, most applicants need to consider costs like tuition, textbooks, fees, transportation, and other expenses. While financial aid can greatly offset expenses, students should still understand exactly what they can afford before enrolling in a program. Many online learners save money on transportation, housing, and childcare, but on-campus students can also lower expenses by choosing a school in a community with a low cost of living. Attending a school near home can help minimize the cost of in-person residencies or other on-campus requirements. Perhaps most importantly, students should consider how a school's location will affect their future employability in a communication profession.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Communication Programs
In the U.S., a school's accreditation is a major factor in the perceived value and utility of its degrees. Accreditation shows that a school has met accepted standards of educational quality. Students who earn a master's in communication from an accredited school can typically transfer their credits, receive financial aid, and obtain jobs much more easily than those who choose unaccredited schools. Accreditation is both programmatic and institutional; regional and national associations provide institutional accreditation by giving their seal of approval to an entire college or university. Programmatic accreditors, on the other hand, grant accreditation only to a specialized department within an institution.
The programmatic accrediting body for communication master's programs is the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC). When a school's communication department holds ACEJMC accreditation, students can be assured of that department's instructional quality, curriculum, and overall scholarship. Prospective employers, the general public, and government agencies all recognize the value of ACEJMC accreditation.
Master's in Communication Program Admissions
Schools vary in their admission requirements for a master's in communication. A well-known and competitive institution may set a higher admission bar since it receives many more applications than it has slots to fill. A less-competitive institution may welcome students with lower GPAs and more modest academic records. Applicants for graduate degrees generally apply to more than three schools, but few apply to more than eight. Graduate school applications take a lot of time and the application fees can add up quickly, so students should consider applying only to the schools that most interest them. An applicant's first-choice institution may not have a place available, so applying to more than one program is often a good idea. Most prospective students rank their top choices using criteria such as a school's cost, reputation, financial aid package, academic concentrations, and program length.
- Bachelor's Degree: To gain admission into a communication master's degree, students need to hold a bachelor's degree. Most programs do not require an undergraduate major or minor in communication.
- Professional Experience: Typically, a master's in communication does not require students to possess professional experience in the field. In fact, many schools welcome students with diverse vocational backgrounds and experiences.
- Minimum GPA: Many universities require students to have a minimum overall GPA or a minimum in the last 60 credits of their undergraduate program in order to gain admission to an MA in communication.
- Application: Application styles may vary from school to school, but most require an essay that demonstrates a student's interests, background, and desire to study communication.
- Transcripts: Students usually submit transcripts from all previous undergraduate and graduate coursework.
- Letters of Recommendation: Many schools require two to three letters of recommendation as part of an application packet. These usually come from undergraduate professors or managers who know the applicant well and can speak to his or her potential for success.
- Test Scores: Some universities require applicants to submit scores from the graduate record exam (GRE). Online programs are less likely to require test scores than their on-campus counterparts.
- Application Fee: Many schools require applicants to submit a fee as part of the application process. This fee can range from $20 to $70, and some schools apply it toward tuition once a student enrolls.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Communication Program?
Some communication master's programs are general in their scope and provide students with a broad overview of communication theories, strategies, and practices. Other schools offer students a chance to concentrate in one area to prepare for specialized work in the field. The concentrations listed below serve as general examples, though specifics vary from school to school.
|Advocacy & Social Impact||Graduates with this concentration usually work for organizations that affect the social sector such as healthcare, environmental, or educational institutions. These students need a clear understanding of behavior change theory, as well as skills in organizing and media production. Their coursework includes social marketing for media impact, grassroots digital advocacy, and political communications.||Director of communications, public affairs specialist, healthcare communications executive|
|Media & Arts Management & Promotion||As experts in internet marketing and social media, communication managers in the entertainment industry help arts organizations find their way through the digital media landscape. These professionals hold extensive knowledge of media-related law and production management. They take courses such as the business of film, the production company, and the role of the producer.||Marketing and advertising, specialist, theatre director|
|Strategic Communication||Strategic communications leaders help organizations shape their strategic messaging. These professionals possess a keen knowledge of media trends, digital marketing, public relations, and entertainment. Students in this concentration take courses such as organizational communication in the digital age, case studies in public relations, and crisis communication & organizational image.||Communications director, public relations director|
|Political Communication||Working in international and domestic political environments, specialists in political communication professionals address complex situations with skill and accuracy. Learners acquire research and analysis skills, as well as knowledge of strategies for shaping public opinion. Coursework in this specialization includes economic policy and international relations theory.||Press secretary, media spokesperson|
|Technical Communication||Technical communicators design and distill complex information to make it broadly accessible. They work in one of the communication field's most lucrative sectors. Students in technical communication learn business principles, digital platforms, and design theory. Coursework includes rhetoric in business, science, and technology, and a survey of advanced technical communication strategies.||Technical communication, specialist, technical writer/editor, scientific/medical commentator|
Courses in a Master's in Communication Program
Courses in a master's degree in communication usually differ by school. Each institution; however, blends courses in communication theory with those in technology, writing, speaking, and communication management. The courses below represent the typical curriculum of an MA in communication.
- Writing for Strategic Communication
Created in the belief that writing is the key skill for success in the communication professions, this course examines writing through the lenses of audience, medium, and messaging. Students practice their writing skills by creating examples of plans, press releases, social media, speeches, video scripts, and opinion pieces.
- Grassroots Digital Advocacy
Organizations, political campaigns, and individual influencers use the power of the media to activate, educate, mobilize, and empower their supporters. This course examines key mobilization techniques, including eAdvocacy. Students learn the local and global factors that affect digital advocacy and critique examples of online initiatives and campaigns.
- Story, Popular Culture, & Worldview
This course examines the historical, theoretical, and philosophical perspectives of the concepts of the narrative, the media, and the message. Students also look at the impact of media messaging and storytelling on the hearers and the culture at large, as well as at the narrative's effect on the development of a recognizable worldview.
- Media Research & Analysis
This course reviews the research methods, evaluation, and analysis techniques common in the media industry. This includes surveys, polling, data mining, content analyses, focus groups, and in-depth interviews. This course is suitable preparation for journalists, those who work in film and television, media analysts, public relations practitioners, communication scholars, and organizational communication consultants.
- Crisis Communication & Organizational Image
Students in this course examine risk communication theory and image repair. Using qualitative and quantitative research methods, students evaluate case studies to determine effective strategies for communicating with the public during an organizational crisis. Students also learn practical skills for communicating on camera.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Communication?
Most communication master's programs require 30-38 credits to complete. Students usually take one to two years to earn their degree. Learners who opt for a specialized program may take more time than those who choose a general degree. An MA in communication that requires an internship may also take longer, as students often complete their internship credits over the summer months without taking additional coursework. Often, learners in a master's in communication can finish faster by doubling up on credits. This can help students save money on tuition and other education-related expenses, while also putting them on track to graduate faster. Those students who need to slow down their progress due to work or family responsibilities, by contrast, can usually go from full-time student to part-time learner with no problem. A few graduate programs accept a limited number of transfer credits, which may also reduce a student's time in school.
How Much Is a Master's in Communication?
A master's degree in communication usually costs between $400 and $600 per credit -- or $12,000 to $23,000 in total tuition. Students who attend state universities in their home states can often take advantage of reduced tuition rates. Sometimes online learners even pay the same tuition rate as in-state students, no matter where they live. These digital learners may pay an additional per-course technology fee, though, which on-campus students do not pay. Active duty military personnel and qualifying veterans can also receive sizeable tuition discounts at military-friendly schools. Many graduate schools offer scholarships, grants, and on-campus employment options that can offset the costs passed on to the students.
Other factors beyond tuition per credit affect the overall cost of a master's in communication. On-campus students pay for student housing, meals, and parking fees. Commuter students with families may need to pay for additional daycare costs, as well as transportation-related expenses. A school's location also significantly impacts the cost of the degree. A school located in an area with a high cost of living almost always charges more than a school located in a less pricey part of the country. Students should consider the total cost of a program, as some schools with higher tuition may actually have lower fees, thereby reducing student expenses.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Communication Prepares For
There is no specific path to licensure associated with a communication degree, but professionals in the field can earn certificates that help boost their salaries.
- Certified Professional Technical Communicator
Offered through the Society for Technical Communication, the CPTC is a three-tiered professional certificate. First, professionals can earn the foundational certificate, then the practitioner certificate, and finally the expert certificate. The exam draws questions from nine content areas, including project planning, written communication, organizational design, and review and editing.
- Communication Management Professional
The CMP is one of several certifications professionals can earn through the International Association of Business Communicators. This certification builds on the six core principles of ethics, strategy, analysis, context, engagement, and consistency. Getting certified requires passing the exam and holding eight years of experience and 40 hours of training, or six years of experience, two years of education, and 40 hours of training.
- Strategic Communication Management Professional
The International Association of Business Communicators sponsors this credential, which requires a higher standard of professional development than the CMP. To earn this designation, professionals must pass the SCMP exam and demonstrate 11 years of experience and 20 hours of training. Certificate holders must maintain certification through continuing education.
- Accreditation in Public Relations
The Public Relations Society of America established this certificate in 1964, and a recent survey shows that public relations professionals who hold the APR designation earn 20% more than those who do not. Earning an APR requires one to complete an application, make a presentation, take the exam, and commit to lifelong learning.
- Professional Certified Marketer
Sponsored by the American Marketing Association, this certification offers emphases in three tracks -- digital marketing, content marketing, and marketing management. Topics include metrics and conversions, online advertising, storytelling and content production, content marketing ROI, marketing strategy, and managing price decisions. Earning the certification requires passing a challenging exam in the field.
Resources for Communication Graduate Students
This open access journal contains evaluative and quantitative articles free for download anywhere in the world. Its purpose is to review main topics and new developments in the scholarly field of communication studies.
ICRJ is a journal published by the International Communication Division of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication and is focused on scholarly research in global media and international journalism.
Broadly focused on the social sciences, this publication contains research on multiple areas of human communication. Scholars in communication science, psychology, linguistics, sociology, and anthropology can contribute to and benefit from this journal.
PR Week publishes different versions for the U.S., Europe, and Asia. This publication contains news, opinion pieces, and in-depth studies on topics related to public relations. Readers can also access an online job board.
Published by the International Communication Association, this double-blind academic journal contains articles on communication theory and research drawing from all methods of scholarly inquiry. The journal welcomes manuscripts that are sophisticated, meaningful, and methodologically sound.
Professional Organizations in Communication
Students and recent graduates often possess academic knowledge of their field but need professional networks to help them take advantage of job openings. Joining a professional organization in communication is a simple way to create that network; members have access to educational webinars, attend local events, travel to national communication conferences, and participate in online forums. Many associations also publish journals of cutting-edge research and support certification options that give students a resume boost.
Members work together in online and offline settings to share information about media and business innovation. The SMA sponsors numerous events around the country, and its website contains a helpful job bank.
The largest association of communication and PR professionals in the U.S., PRSA offers publications, conferences, and certifications. Students can join the affiliated Public Relations Student Society of America and take advantage of an online search tool for jobs and mentors.
Featuring thousands of individual and corporate members around the world, the IABC offers webinars, awards, conferences, and certifications. Members have access to an online job center, and the organization publishes Communication World.
AWC offers leadership development training through local chapters, online courses, and a national conference. Members get access to a job board, reduced-cost legal plans, a membership directory, and online publications.
Founded in 1993, the ACA fosters academic dialogue for communication scholarship and accredits schools with communication programs. Free membership includes access to a peer reviewed journal, American Communication Journal.