Earning a Master's in Communications Online

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As the media industry grows, companies across sectors demand professionals who can write, edit, publish, and spread information across platforms. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that media and communications professionals will experience a 6% increase in opportunities from 2016 to 2026, leading to around 43,200 new jobs. Earning a master's degree in communication online can help you stand out among job applicants and land an exciting position in this growing field. Online master's degrees in communication foster a deep knowledge of the industry, allowing graduates to impress employers and advance to high-paying positions. Below you can learn more about salary potential, career options, funding opportunities, and helpful resources for communications students.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Communications?

Students from many different backgrounds pursue online communications master's programs. These programs often appeal to students graduating from bachelor's programs in journalism, mass communications, or public relations. Students who earn a master's degree directly after college can begin their career at a more advanced position than bachelor's degree holders. Graduate communications programs also attract working professionals looking to specialize in the communications field or increase their salary potential. Some graduate students pursue a master's degree instead of a professional certification.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Communications?

Pursuing Specialization

Earning an M.A. in communication online can enable communications workers to further specialize within the industry or expand into other lines of work. For instance, a student could concentrate in social media to leverage new social platforms at their company. Communications students who focus on political communication could begin a new career in political campaigning and reputation management. Learners interested in working in the nonprofit sector could concentrate their studies in nonprofit communication.

Career Advancement Opportunities

While a bachelor's degree serves as a great starting point in the communications field, a master's degree can lead to senior-level positions with increased salary and responsibility. Master's students gain a broad skill set that they can apply to management roles. With a master's degree, graduates can more easily land positions as public relations managers, fundraising managers, and corporate communications directors. Additionally, students looking to teach at the college level must earn an advanced degree.

Online Learning Technology

Online learning comes with many benefits. Students can manage their own time and balance coursework with a full-time job. In addition, online master's programs introduce students to the latest communication technologies and softwares. Communications professionals including public relations specialists, advertising managers, and press secretaries benefit from a strong knowledge of cutting-edge videoconferencing and presentation tools. Communications workers may need to meet remotely with clients or conduct online presentations.

Prerequisites for Online Communications Programs

Though each school boasts different requirements, prospective communications master's students can learn about general admission expectations below. Most universities require or recommend the following prerequisites and materials.

    • Work Experience: Some programs require a few years of professional experience in the field for admission, while others allow students to enter the program directly after earning a bachelor's degree. Some master's programs designed specifically for seasoned workers, called executive programs, may require up to six years of professional experience.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Many programs require the GRE or another admissions exam, while other do not. Each school lists a different GRE score minimum, and GRE scores remain valid for five years. Some programs waive the testing requirement for applicants with a high GPA or considerable professional experience.
    • Coursework: Students looking to earn an online master's degree in communication usually do not need to take any specific courses prior to admission. They must, however, submit all college transcripts and prove a satisfactory GPA. Each school expects a different GPA, but minimum requirements range from 2.0 to 3.5.
    • Recommendations: Prospective students need to obtain 2-3 recommendation letters. Applicants should request recommendation letters from professors, supervisors, or others who can speak to the applicant's personality, work ethic, and academic abilities. Recommenders typically submit their statements directly to the school through the mail or an online system.
    • Essays: Online communication master's degree seekers need to submit essays or personal statements to most programs. Many programs provide a prompt that applicants must answer through a short essay, typically no more than a few pages. Prospective students might need to describe their career goals or their reasons for choosing a particular university.
    • Interviews: Most graduate-level communications programs require applicants to sit for an interview with an alum, faculty member, or admissions officer. Interviews give applicants the opportunity to show off their personality and speaking skills. During interviews, applicants can also ask questions to learn more about the school and program.
    • International Students International applicants usually need to meet additional requirements. Most universities require international students to demonstrate their English proficiency through the test of English as a foreign language or a similar exam. They may also need to provide proof of immigration status and financial means.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Communications?

Overall, communications professionals earn considerably more than the national median income of $37,690. Writers and authors, for example, take home between $30,000 and $120,000 annually. Public relations specialists earn between $33,000 and $112,000. The highest-paid public relations and fundraising managers earn well over $200,000 per year. While on-the-job experience contributes to salary potential, graduate education can quickly expand your skill set and boost your earnings. Pursuing nontraditional careers can also lead to increased income.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Communications Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Public Relations Specialists

Median Pay: $59,300

Job Growth: 9%

Public relations workers help companies develop and maintain a positive image and reputation. They pitch stories to journalists, write press releases, and draft speeches for executives. They also design publicity campaigns and guide the company through crises. Public relations specialists need great communication, organization, and time management skills.

Market Research Analysts

Median Pay: $63,230

Job Growth: 23%

These professionals help companies assess demand for products or services. They gather data to identify market trends, predict consumer demand, and evaluate marketing strategies. Market research analysts typically collect information through opinion polls, surveys, and questionnaires. They need a strong knowledge of statistics and business.

Editors

Median Pay: $58,770

Job Growth: -1%

Editors plan and proofread a variety of published content. They work at magazines, newspapers, book publishing houses, and independently. They receive pitches from writers and decide which stories to publish. They help develop story ideas, correct grammar and spelling, and verify facts.

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers

Median Pay: $129,380

Job Growth: 10%

These professionals work to increase interest in a product or service. They develop advertising campaigns, plan promotional events, and coordinate marketing strategy. They may work in-house at a company or for a firm that represents many clients. These managers may also develop pricing plans and order market research.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nontraditional Careers for Communications Graduates

Communications students develop a broad skill set that can apply to many jobs and industries. As such, master's in communications graduates can pursue many nontraditional career paths outside of the communications field. The table below lists some atypical occupations for communications graduates.

Career Stats Description

Public Relations and Fundraising Managers

Median Pay: $111,280

Job Growth: 10%

Public relations managers oversee all activities related to maintaining an organization's image. They supervise employees, plan press releases, develop corporate identity, and coordinate promotional campaigns. Fundraising managers work to bring in donations to their organization. They apply for grants, meet with donors, and plan events.

Skills Overlapped: communication; writing; event planning

Writers and Authors

Median Pay: $61,820

Job Growth: 8%

These professionals write content for advertisements, books, magazines, digital publications, television shows, and other media. Writers such as journalists and biographers specialize in nonfiction, while playwrights and novelists write fiction. Most writers work closely with editors to develop interesting concepts and revise their work.

Skills Overlapped: writing; communication; storytelling

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Median Pay: $92,360

Job Growth: 10%

Postsecondary education administrators run activities at a college or university. They may work in admissions, student services, an academic department, or another area. Education administrators may advise students, plan events, or allot funding, but their responsibilities depend on the particular department they work in.

Skills Overlapped: organization; communication; problem solving

Advertising Sales Agents

Median Pay: $49,680

Job Growth: -4%

Advertising sales agents sell advertising space and services. They contact potential clients and inform leads about advertising options. They may recommend specific types of advertising and show clients samples of finished work. Advertising sales agents need good communication skills to deliver presentations, conduct one-on-one meetings, and keep clients satisfied.

Skills Overlapped: communication; persuasion; presentation

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Paying for an Online Master's in Communications

Many factors can affect the overall cost of earning an online master's in communication. Tuition rates and structures vary among schools, so students might consider attending an affordable public institution over an expensive private school. Master's students can also save on tuition costs by completing their degree in fewer semesters. Additionally, communications students should take advantage of field-specific financial aid opportunities like grants, scholarships, and work-study programs.

Scholarships for Online Communications Master's Students

College students can apply to many scholarships from private companies, foundations, and government sources. Scholarships can drastically reduce the cost of a degree, so students should apply to as many as possible. Communications students at the associate, bachelor's, and master's levels should thoroughly research any and all scholarship opportunities that apply to them.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Communications Program

Online master's in communication programs largely resemble other online graduate programs. Communication programs usually require 10-15 courses for a total of 30-45 credits. Around half of the curriculum covers core topics in research, communication theory, and writing. Students also select a few electives such as social media strategy, communication management, and international communication. Electives let students tailor their programs to best fit their interests and career aspirations. Toward the end of the program, communications master's students complete a thesis, capstone project, or final exam.

Major Milestones

  1. Orientation

    Students often begin their program with an online or on-campus orientation. During orientation, learners meet their classmates, learn about student resources, and explore program expectations.

  2. Complete Core Course Requirements

    Communications students typically need to complete foundational coursework before beginning advanced courses and thesis research.

  3. Begin Thesis Research

    Master's students meet with a faculty adviser to determine a thesis topic and plan their research.

  4. Apply to Jobs and Internships

    Master's students not looking to apply to professional or doctoral programs begin searching for jobs in their final year of studies.

  5. Take Final Examination

    Instead of a thesis, some programs require a comprehensive final examination. To graduate, students must pass the exam and demonstrate mastery of many communications-related subjects.

  6. Defend Thesis

    As graduation approaches, students submit their thesis to the communications department for review. They present their research to a panel and answer questions about their findings.

Coursework

Though curricula vary among schools, most online communication master's programs touch on similar concepts, principles, and skills. Below you can learn about some common graduate-level communications courses.

Crisis Communication

Students explore the basics of crisis communication and learn to create crisis communication procedures. The course covers common types of crisis that occur in businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations.

Political Communication

This course prepares students for jobs in the political arena. Students learn about political strategy and messaging. They also study research methods that political communications specialists use to adjust and improve their approaches.

Digital Media and Analytics

In this course, students explore emerging technologies along with mobile and social platforms. They learn the fundamentals of digital communication strategy and digital marketing. Students also practice interpreting data analytics.

Principles in Persuasion

Students explore classic and contemporary theories for persuading audiences. They study basic psychology concepts and learn to assess audience demands. The course also might examine ethical problems associated with persuasion.

Writing for Strategic Communication

Nearly all communications professionals need exceptional written communication skills. This course teaches students to write effectively and precisely, while tailoring their writing to specific audiences. Learners also study various message structures and media.

Degree Timelines

Master's learners can choose the study timeline that best fits their goals and lifestyle. Consult the chart below to learn about common study timelines and the types of students that pursue them.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description

Part-Time

2-4 years

Each school defines part-time learners differently, but part-time students typically take 1-3 courses per semester. They usually finish a master's degree in 2-4 years, and most universities prohibit students from taking longer than 6-7 years to earn a degree. Part-time students often balance schoolwork with other obligations.

Full-Time

2 years

Full-time learners take 2-4 courses each semester, totaling 6-12 credits. Standard online communication master's programs require 30-45 credits and take four semesters to complete. Full-time study often attracts learners without major time constraints such as a demanding job.

Accelerated

12-18 months

Students should only choose an accelerated path if they can commit a considerable amount of time each week to their education. Students enrolled in accelerated programs may take up to 15 credits each semester to finish in one year. They also may take classes during the winter and summer terms.

Licenses and Certifications

Below you can explore some popular certifications for communications professionals. Industry certifications, such as those listed below, typically require specific schooling, work experience, and exams. Earning a credential can help demonstrate a communication professional's competencies and areas of expertise. Certifications can help early career workers earn promotions and advance to senior-level positions. Additionally, pursuing certification can open the door to more specialized job opportunities. Unlike licensure for doctors and lawyers, communications industry certifications are optional.

    • Communication Management Professional: The Global Communication Certification Council (GCCC) awards this certification to experienced communications workers who pass an exam. Candidates must demonstrate eight years of experience and 40 hours of training. They may also prove six years of experience, two years of education, and 40 hours of training.
    • Strategic Communication Management Professional: GCCC offers this credential to highly trained and experienced business communicators. Candidates must demonstrate 11 years of job experience and 20 hours of training. They must also provide a letter of recommendation from an organization they worked for.
    • Certified Professional Technical Communicator (Foundation): The Society for Technical Communication (STC) offers this entry-level certification. Applicants must pass a 40-minute exam that covers core technical communication areas including written communication, content management, and visual communication.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Several professional organizations work to support communications students and workers. Professional associations offer valuable career development and networking opportunities, among other resources. The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), for example, hosts an international conference where members can meet one another and explore the latest trends, opportunities, and approaches in the communications industry. Communications students can also stay up to date on research in the field through industry publications such as the Public Relations Society of America's (PRSA) Public Relations Journal.

  • Public Relations Society of America: PRSA serves communications professionals including specialists in social media, reputation management, media relations, and journalism. Members gain access to a newsletter, the Strategies & Tactics Newspaper, and webinars.
  • International Association of Business Communicators: Established in 1970, IABC joins business communicators specializing in public relations, corporate communications, public affairs, and other fields. Members can take advantage of an online magazine, job center, and conferences.
  • Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication: AEJMC, a nonprofit education association, joins mass communications professionals, students, and educators. Members can access AEJMC publications, an annual conference, and job postings in the field.
  • The Association for Women in Communications: AWC works to advance women in communications fields through personal and professional development. The organization posts news bulletins, operates a job board, and maintains a membership directory.
  • Association for Business Communication: This organization fosters business communication research and promotes excellence in the profession. Members can receive discounts, attend annual meetings, network through online forms, and read members-only publications.
  • Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly: AEJMC publishes this peer-reviewed academic journal. Through this resource, students can access articles on mass communication theory, political communication, advertising, and advancements in media technology.
  • PR Newswire: This website publishes press releases from companies across industries and around the world. Using PR Newswire, students can learn about business news and study examples of press releases.
  • IABC Resources: IABC posts an array of resources to its website. Students and professionals can read white papers, learn about upcoming events, and stay up to date on industry news.
  • Political Communication: This peer-reviewed journal publishes articles dealing with political science and strategic communication. Students can use this resource to conduct thesis research and to learn about political communication theory.
  • Columbia Journalism Review: CJR, which operates a print magazine and website, reports on journalism and the communications industry. The publication covers topics including documentary film, local news, and the business of journalism.