A communications degree can provide a broad understanding of the various forms of media and how they are used to communicate with different audiences. Communication majors study various forms of media, including journalism, broadcasting, and film and video production, as well as related fields such as marketing, public relations, advertising, and research. Those interested in furthering their education can pursue an online master’s degree in communication, which allows for in-depth study of communication theories and individual research on a chosen topic.
This article provides information on what to expect in terms of admission requirements and coursework for an online master’s in communication, as well as addresses common questions about the program. It aims to assist in making an informed decision about whether this academic path is a good fit.
With today’s technology and with more institutions of higher education offering their programs online, students have more options when it comes to the fields they can study. Online degree programs in communication are one of the popular disciplines that can be taken 100% online. What is more, other available programs have become diverse through the decades.
A study by the Urban Institute found that the number of distinct master’s fields that have awarded at least 100 degrees every year from 1995 to 2017 has risen from 289 to 514 (Blagg, 2018). Moreover, the study also showed that the share of online master’s degrees awarded by private nonprofit schools in 2017 increased to 40% from 35% the previous year and has been steadily growing since 2013. The increase in the number of master’s degrees awarded in 2017 came from degrees that were either only offered online or were available either in-person or online.
Source: Urban Institute, 2018
Online degrees have become more common and respected, especially with prestigious universities offering their programs online. Employers are also more aware of academic credentials earned through distance education, so the distinction between online and traditional degrees is also becoming less of an issue when it comes to hiring job applicants.
Moreover, employers see applicants with online degrees as individuals who also possess digital literacy and discipline as they have proven so by completing their degrees online. With 80% of company leaders planning to allow employees to work remotely at least part-time after the COVID-19 pandemic, and 78% of CEOs agreeing that remote collaboration will continue in the long term, companies are starting to see the value of the various skills acquired by students during their online studies (Courtney, 2020).
There is no guarantee that all online degree programs in communication will be valid across the globe. As a communication major, you might still need to complete an internship program in the country you wish to work in before you can start your professional career. Also, aside from your communication degree, it would be helpful to have your work portfolio ready if you wish to work in the media industry in other countries. These include any published articles, research, or presentation and work credentials.
Locally, on the other hand, there’s a higher chance for your online degree to be recognized. Plus, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, the demand for media and communication jobs will continue to rise because of the need for specialists who can write, edit, and disseminate information through traditional and digital platforms. As of 2020, the median annual salary for media and communication jobs was $61,310. This was higher than the$41,950 median annual salary for all occupations (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). Examples of job roles in communication are announcers, interpreters and translators, and technical writers.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021
The choice between pursuing an online or a traditional master’s degree will depend on your current lifestyle, personal obligations, and the type of master’s degree program you are planning to pursue. Among the differences between the two learning formats are:
Online degrees offer more flexibility than traditional programs since students can access and study course content at their own convenient time. The majority of graduate students (70%) in 2019 were full-time employees (Wallis, 2020), which means in-classroom lessons and commutes might not be possible due to their hectic schedules. Media and communication professionals are also known to have unpredictable work hours, so asynchronous learning can be a realistic option.
When asked about their considerations when choosing an online school, 51% of students ranked affordability on their list (Statista, 2020). While it is not always the case that online programs are more affordable than traditional ones, the costs can be greatly reduced since other expenses such as transportation, gas, parking, meals, and room and board no longer need to be computed into the final cost of attendance.
Access to Universities
More than half of students (52%) said that if the program they wanted to enroll in was not available in an online format, they would find the program online at a different university (Magda, Capranos, & Aslanian, 2020). This demonstrates how today’s higher education has innovated and delivered better access to students via online programs. With online degrees, the limitations of location and time no longer apply, so prospective students have more options when it comes to the discipline they want to study.
Online degrees are not always cheaper than traditional degrees, though some schools can charge lower tuition rates because of the lower operating costs of running an online program. Another reason why online can mean more savings is that you no longer need to worry about daily expenses associated with traditional degrees, such as meals, transportation, and accommodation if you are studying outside of your city/state.
With that said, just keep in mind that your online master’s program can still have additional expenses. Graduate students of communication often need to complete projects as part of their coursework. So, you can still incur expenses for in-person activities, such as doing interviews and traveling for your research.
It depends on the online degree itself and the institution that awarded the degree. Based on the study “How They See It: Employer Perceptions of Online Versus Traditional Learning at the Graduate Level” by Cessna Winslow and Logan Allen, which was published in the Journal of Educational Leadership in Action, employers look at the school and its reputation when assessing online degrees.
“While the employer respondents were comfortable with employees having online degrees, they did, however, note a few stipulations in their consideration of employee candidates. The institution and its reputation was an expressed consideration,” wrote the authors from Tarleton State University. They added, “Being more specific, this employer questioned the qualifications of candidates with degrees from online for-profit institutions.”
The study concluded that “employers have a qualified positive impression of online learning. Qualified in that it depends on the discipline and the degree as most felt that certain disciplines are not ideally learned online and that online learning is better suited to graduate degrees.”
The exact cost per credit hour for an online master’s degree in communication will depend on the institution, but an estimate is between $420 to $1,000. Other factors will also affect your final cost of attendance. These include the length of the program itself (most graduate programs in communication take two to three years and require 30 to 65 credits) and other fees that the school might charge online students.
Aside from tuition, graduate students in communication are often required to take elective courses in a variety of disciplines, including business, humanities, and sciences to supplement their chosen concentration. Group activities, fieldwork, and research projects in these courses can also incur additional expenses.
Obtaining an online master’s degree in communication can be a good investment for your career and personal fulfillment. In terms of professional earnings, people with a master’s in communication can command higher salaries. For example, a communications manager’s salary range is from $49,000 to $99,000 with an average salary of $70,284. Meanwhile, a marketing director can command salaries of $57,000 to $128,000 with an average salary of $90,816 (Payscale, n.d.).
A master’s in communication can also open more opportunities that can lead you to exciting and meaningful jobs in marketing, public relations, business, government, and the academe. Some examples of occupations where a master’s in communication can be used are postsecondary professor, marketing manager, broadcaster and other journalism careers, and film and video professionals.
Most graduate programs require a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Some graduate schools might prefer applicants with a related bachelor’s degree as this can make it easier for the student to keep up with the coursework. For example, a student with a journalism degree can qualify for a master’s degree in communication. However, do not let this discourage you from applying. If you have a business degree, for instance, you might only need to take additional courses to get into a master’s in communication program.
Before you become one of the millions of postsecondary students choosing to enroll in online programs, take note of these technological requirements you will need:
Source: Stritto & Linder, 2018
Core courses in an online master’s in communication are a combination of foundation courses and specialized subjects. They can cover different theories in communication as well as topics on technology and digital tools that are used to deliver information to specific target audiences.
This course covers theories and policy issues in digital communication. It also includes content management systems and other digital tools and platforms used to disseminate information like social media and websites. This course has become increasingly relevant in today’s digital world where the share of people using these platforms is continuously rising. Social media penetration in some regions, for example, is close to 80% in 2021 (Statista, 2021).
Digital platforms are presenting new challenges like the spread of disinformation and fake news, making it even more important to have communication professionals with high-quality media literacy skills. This was one of the findings of the study “Journalism Students and Information Consumption in the Era of Fake News.” Authors Santiago Tejedor, Marta Portalés-Oliva, Ricardo Carniel-Bugs, and Laura Cervi from the Autonomous University of Barcelona investigated how technological platforms are disrupting traditional journalism. They surveyed journalism students and how they perceive fake news.
“‘Fake news’ in the media is not a new phenomenon…whereas the use of disinformation is not new, the digital revolution has greatly enhanced public vulnerability,” explained the authors. The study found that journalism students are well aware of what fake news is but do not feel they have the necessary ability to spot one. “Our results stress the need to foster media literacy skills. Actions that encourage critical thinking must be implemented constantly. Education at the general level has an undisputed role in ensuring a media-literate society.” (Tejedor et al., 2021).
Students learn about qualitative and quantitative research methods that will help them gain the skills necessary in evaluating and designing research projects. This course covers the fundamentals of communication research such as the research process, research questions and hypotheses, and data analysis.
This course covers the principles of corporate and strategic communication. It imparts the skills needed to expertly draft communication strategies, marketing campaigns, and ways to effectively handle public relations and information exchange within an organization.
Students are required to complete a capstone or thesis where they can apply the knowledge and skills they have learned throughout their coursework. These culminating projects can have multiple components including a written paper, oral defense, or a hands-on experience.
Source: Statista, 2021
When looking for an online master’s in communication, the most important things you should check are program and school accreditation, concentrations available, and program length.
Source: Statista, 2020
This guide has laid out the pros and cons of taking an online master’s degree in communication. If you are a currently employed communication professional, an online program can offer the best learning experience and the most convenient way to study around your hectic work schedule.
Just a caveat to remember is that online degrees can also demand the same rigor and requirements as a traditional, on-campus program. No matter which mode of delivery you choose, it is important to mentally, emotionally, and financially prepare before you devote years of your life to graduate studies. If finances are your concern, this article on the most affordable online colleges can help you make online learning more cost-effective.