California Masters in Communication Studies Degrees & Programs

Masters in Communication Studies programs explore the many methods for creating and sharing information in personal and professional exchanges. The vast nature of the field is often reflected in a course of study that draws content from several areas. Common examples are studies in rhetorical, interpersonal, organizational, leadership, or intercultural communication.

How to earn a masters degree in Communication Studies

Through this diverse curriculum, students who work towards their Masters Degree in Communications Studies could develop several key communication skillsets. They might study how to effectively speak, write, create, persuade, lead, problem solve and think critically in various personal and professional interactions.

What Is a Masters in Communication Studies?

Masters in Communication Studies programs are graduate courses of study that could lead to either a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) degree. On average, either path could require the completion of about 36 credit hours. Students who work towards their masters degree in communication studies often take courses in theory. They could learn how to use various tools and techniques to critically analyze and assess communication practices. Graduates may thus be versed in how to apply practical oral, written, and visual communication skills and knowledge to any of these domains.

MA or MS in Communication Studies?

Most universities offer one form of the Masters in Communication Studies – the MA or the MS degree. One of the main differences is often visible in the topics they cover. MS programs could explore more applied science topics, while the MA tends towards the social sciences. This is further revealed in the coursework itself, with the MS favoring research, strategy and technical skills over theory and principles like in the MA. Finally, you could find differences in the degree requirements. The MS typically requires a thesis or project, whereas the MA might give three options. These could include a final project (less research), a thesis (more research) or fieldwork. 

Communication vs Communications

Do you wonder whether there is any distinction between a Master in Communication Studies and a Masters in Communications degree? While they might sound the same, there could be some subtle differences to look for that could help you in your search.

  • A Masters in Communication Studies could look more at how messages are received and interpreted from human to human. Communication is something that we do daily as it is part of our relationships with others and with society.
  • A Masters in Communications, on the other hand, could focus on the distribution of messages. Communications is a technical term that defines the act of mass communications and so could touch on technology, media, journalism and so on.

Masters in Communication Studies Curriculum

While there is no uniform Masters in Communication Studies curriculum, most programs include required core courses, research, electives, and capstone options. Some programs also provide several areas of emphasis to add focus to your degree.

Core Courses: Core courses often provide a solid dose of modern communication and information theory so that students grasp social processes, language and human conduct. Other courses are planned-out to help students learn how to apply these principles into specific organizational, institutional or relational contexts.

Research Courses: Research courses could give students a choice between communication ethics or issues, and more technical courses. Technical topics might delve into qualitative methods or rhetorical theory and criticism.

Electives: Students usually choose electives to support their area of emphasis. While the topics below are just a sample, they could help you get excited about your own course of study.

  • Communication and Conflict
  • Strategies and Tactics of Persuasion (Propaganda)
  • Communication Strategies in Advertising
  • Gender and Communication
  • Technology and Communication
  • Small Group and Team communication

Capstone Options: In some schools, students select an option for the final part of their masters in communication program. These vary but could include either a comprehensive exam and project (portfolio), a thesis or a practicum. When in doubt, a school’s academic advisor might be able to help you structure your studies to help you advance towards your goals.

Communication Studies Concentrations

A concentration might be a way to tailor your studies around your needs. Since they vary between schools, you may find this a helpful differentiator for you. We list a few examples below to give you an idea of how you might tailor your masters degree in communication studies to mirror unique aims.

Managerial and Leadership Communication: A focus on managerial and leadership communication could help students study strategies for interpersonal communication. Courses could explore how to manage conflicts and public relations.

Integrated Marketing Communication: A focus on integrated marketing communications explores strategies for advertising and public relations. Courses might delve into the technology of communication and how to communicate in a crisis.

Intercultural and International Communication: A focus on intercultural communications could help students develop the ability to communicate with diverse groups. Courses could explore several themes, from gender and social processes to negotiation.

Public Communication: A focus in public communication could explore the world of mass media. Course topics might cover political communication, rhetorical theory and persuasion and propaganda.

Potential Admissions Requirements

Often, applicants to a masters in communication studies program are presumed to have a bachelors degree from an accredited college or university. Most schools set a minimum GPA of 3.0. Some schools may also request your scores for the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) or the general aptitude portion of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). You may also need to show strong writing skills, furnish letters of reference, a resume and a statement of purpose. Because these are variables, check with each university to see what they require for admission into their program.

DID YOU KNOW?

Communications directors need to be socially perceptive, active listeners and effective communicators.i

Master of Science in Communication

A Master of Science (MS) in Communication program might appeal to students who want to enhance their grasp of both quantitative and qualitative communication methods. The typical MS program has a technical focus and is likely to cover theory, strategy, business decisions, ethics and analysis. Students might also study how to write professionally for media, public relations and advertising. While not a complete list, you can get a sense of some of the required topics you might study in a Master of Science in Communications program through the examples below.

  • Crisis communication
  • Social media engagement
  • Focus groups
  • Survey design and analysis
  • Public relations theory

Additional electives could provide students with insight into a specific area such as integrated marketing communication, healthcare communication or leadership. Check with individual schools for full course lists.

Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications

The Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications (MS-IMC) is a specific track that might accompany some MS in communication programs. Students typically take core MS courses and specific topics around the IMC theme such as the example topics below.

  • Media relations
  • Negotiations and conflict resolution
  • Advertising
  • Consumer behavior
  • Theory and practice of IMC

Just what is IMC? Integrated marketing communications highlights how the profession of corporate communications interacts with society. Elements of integrated marketing communication include media relations, research for campaign design, global communication, crisis management and more.

Students who pursue this emphasis could work to develop skills and knowledge in public relations, promotions, and interpersonal communications. They might also explore ways to parlay these abilities to help companies build and maintain their brand, communicate their value, and advance their reputations.

Master of Science in Communication and Media Technologies

The Master of Science Degree in Communication and Media Technologies program draws content from the social sciences, humanities, and applied technologies. The courses rooted in the humanities and social sciences could provide students with the chance to gain a broad, historical grasp of ethical, legal, and social issues in communication. Additional courses could help students learn how to create written and visual message content. Courses in applied technologies or professional programs may provide students with the chance to implement and apply theory. Below is a very general example of the courses you might find in this type of program.

  • Media law and ethics
  • Survey of media technologies
  • Online advertising
  • Technology-based communication

Master of Science in Data Marketing Communications 

The Master of Science in Data Marketing Communications program could explore the interplay between technology and marketing campaigns. As a technical program, some courses could help students grasp the basic principles of data marketing communications, media and web analytics. Other courses could cover some of the current analytic methods. For instance, you might study audience segmentation, profiling, frequency and monetary analysis. Courses in user experience and social media optimization could help students plan campaigns, customize messages and collect brand insights. A sample of other possible course topics follows.

  • Messaging for customer relationships
  • Campaign metrics
  • Media buying

Master of Arts in Communication

A Master of Arts in Communication program typically blends practical and applied knowledge. Students could study real life communication issues, work to develop usable communication skills, and build a portfolio. In core courses, participants might conduct and read primary research and study various writing methods. They might also work to apply qualitative research to create messages and design effective communication campaigns. Some examples of MA communications course topics are listed below.

  • Theory of mass communication
  • Persuasion
  • Intro to the digital age
  • Analytic techniques in communication research

Master of Arts programs in Communications usually offer a wider array of electives than the MS. These could cover a method (e.g. branding and advertising), a genre of communication (e.g. political communication campaigns) or a skill (e.g. effective web design and strategy). Also, students may have the option to specify an area of emphasis. Applied research, public and media relations, health communication, and corporate communication are a few examples.

Master of Arts in Political Communication

The Master of Arts in Communication with a focus in Political Communication program blends theory and practical knowledge in government and communication. Students are likely to explore the various issues and practices for effective communication within the context of the American government. Courses in healthcare policy, economic policy and American politics could help students grasp, analyze and design effective strategies to address these issues. Other courses might help students build skills and knowledge to respond quickly in crisis. Several topics that could be addressed might include the ones listed below.

  • American political thought
  • Terrorism and homeland defense
  • Media and social influence

Online or On-Campus?

Some universities with Masters in Communication Studies programs provide learners with a choice of formats. Online programs often target mid-career professionals who lack the time, but have the motivation to pursue a graduate degree. Coursework is delivered via computer so you might fit study into your life rather than the other way around. Campus programs are fully onsite and may provide more interactions, hands on learning opportunities or additional facilities. You can look for schools by city, state or country. Choose a format that matches your learning style, then look for a regionally or nationally accredited school that has the format and degree you need.

What Might I Do with a Masters in Communication Degree?

If you have a specific career in mind, it might be helpful to find out what type of masters degree in communication could support your endeavors. Some students might choose to continue their education with a PhD, especially those who want to research or teach communication in a college or university.ii If you are someone who wants to promote or create public images for individuals, groups or organizations, you might pursue careers such as Corporate Communications Specialist, Communications Director or Public Information Specialist.iii If, on the other hand, you prefer market research and marketing, you might pursue careers such as Market Research Manager or Communications Specialist.iv

Take the Next Step

Find the Masters in Communication Studies that mirrors your goals. Use the on-page tools to filter by location or program format then you are good to go. Each search yields a list of programs for you to easily review. Find a few or just one, and apply to schools directly. Take the next step now!


[i] onetonline.org/link/summary/11-2031.00 | [ii] onetonline.org/link/summary/25-1122.00 | [iii] onetonline.org/link/summary/27-3031.00 | [iv] onetonline.org/link/summary/13-1161.00

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