Communications & Public Relations

Is a Master’s in Strategic Communications Worth It?

Is a Master’s in Strategic Communications Worth It?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who have obtained a strategic communications master’s degree can expect to earn 16% percent more each week than those who only hold a bachelor's. The employment rate also is higher for those who hold graduate degrees. Image from Pexels
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Craig Hoffman December 16, 2021

Strategic communications experts are needed by virtually every company, nonprofit, and government agency that deals with the public. A strategic communications master’s positions you for a lucrative and successful career—and makes you a hot commodity.

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Strategic communications unifies several related communication disciplines—public relations, marketing, advertising, and media relations—into a cohesive strategy that aligns with and effectively conveys an organization’s goals and operations. Strategic communication management typically occurs during the planning phase and involves key institutional stakeholders, who provide input into an organization’s targeted audiences. Communications plans often include key messaging and audience behavior agreed to during the discovery stage.

Stakeholders often engage communications professionals to facilitate planning and execution across fields that include media management, marketing, advertising, and public relations. Overarching strategic communication skills and knowledge can be gained from an integrated marketing communications background or with a specific degree in strategic communications, both at the bachelor’s and master’s levels.

Anyone interested in or already working in this field may be wondering whether a strategic communications master’s is worth it. Those looking to advance their careers in communications may want to earn this degree to enhance their proficiency in their work and to take advantage of opportunities for advancement and a higher salary. And anyone looking to enter strategic communications will certainly have a leg up with this degree as they embark on their career.

This article explores all these options by addressing the questions:

  • What is a master’s in strategic communications?
  • Which careers can you pursue with a master’s in strategic communications?
  • Which industries are hiring strategic communications professionals?
  • What are the advantages of earning a master’s in strategic communications?
  • Do I need a master’s to succeed?
  • How will my career benefit in the long run?
  • Who enrolls in this degree program?
  • Top strategic communications master’s programs

What is a master’s in strategic communications?

A master’s in strategic communication is a graduate-level degree program focusing on the theories and models of persuasive communication. It aims to teach the understanding of analytical processes and strategic practices used to build audience-based communication initiatives employed by organizations.

Students explore strategic communications functions in different industries and how they relate to a mostly digitized world. Key competencies taught include communication theory, storytelling and digital media, quantitative research, campaign planning and evaluation, and public relations.

Which careers can you pursue with a master’s in strategic communications?

According to Indeed, typical career paths for people with strategic communications master’s include working as a creative director, digital strategist, director of public relations, journalist, marketing director, search engine optimization (SEO) manager, or social media manager/communications officer.

Creative director

The BLS categorizes creative directors with art directors, who make a median salary of $97,270. However, if you work in the motion picture and video industries, you’ll earn around $122,960 a year.

Digital strategist

According to Comparably, digital strategists earn a base salary of just over $87,000 per year, on average.

Director of public relations

Public relations directors are paid on average $118,430 per year.

Journalist

On average, news analysts, reporters, and journalists earn $49,300, though journalists working in radio and television broadcasting have a median pay of $55,030. Pay is significantly higher in media capitals. According to O*Net Online, journalists in the New York City metropolitan region earn an average annual income of $83,140.

Marketing director

Marketing directors command a median salary of $141,490 per year.

Search engine optimization manager

SEO managers are paid an average of $79,102 each year.

Social media manager/communications officer

The BLS groups social media managers and communications officers under public relations specialists, who earn a median salary of $62,810.

Which industries are hiring strategic communications professionals?

Strategic communication professionals can practice their craft in many industries and organizations. Large corporations, nonprofits, and governmental agencies often utilize strategic communications experts for both internal communication and corporate communication. Specific industries like technology, manufacturing, and advertising also provide great landing spots for strategic communicators.

As noted before, strategic communications is a multidisciplinary approach that lends itself to finding practitioners in various communication fields like marketing, new media, and public relations.

What are the advantages of earning a master’s of strategic communications?

A master’s in strategic communications program helps professionals expand their skills and knowledge of communications-focused roles in institutions and organizations of all kinds. The strategic part of communications includes insights associated with interpersonal, intercultural, organizational, and mediated settings. The field also offers opportunities to continue postgraduate learning leading to careers in research or academia.

Do I need a master’s to succeed?

The breadth of strategic communications benefits communications professionals. The field offers many subsets within the discipline, including social media, digital marketing, content creation, and advertising. Success can often occur within these sub-fields with a bachelor’s degree or can be coupled with certificate programs or other advanced training.

However, achieving higher-level positions in strategic communications may require a master’s degree. Those looking to advance their careers to the top levels of organizations or even start their own firms may want to consider the differentiation that an advanced degree confers. Advanced concepts acquired through a master’s of strategic communications can include:

  • Applying theories and best practices to lead communication strategy on multiple media platforms aimed at diverse audiences
  • Designing and analyzing research methods to drive informed communication strategy and address organizational goals
  • Utilizing real-world case studies and simulations to learn how to strategize, plan, execute, and evaluate ethical and effective strategic communication

How will my career benefit in the long run?

Earning a graduate-level degree can boost both career advancement and salary. Although much depends on the individual degree earned and the industry worked, people who have obtained a master’s degree can expect to earn 16 percent more each week than those who only hold a bachelor’s, according to the BLS. The employment rate also is higher for those who hold graduate degrees.

Communications professionals who have earned a master’s degree can expect an even greater boost to their career options. For example, those who hold a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn an average salary of approximately $52,000 each year, whereas those who have earned their master’s in communication can expect to earn an average salary of approximately $69,000 annually.

Other career paths in the strategic communications field that earn well with a master’s include:

In addition to increased salary expectations, communication professionals should also see expanded employment opportunities to use their advanced degrees. The BLS states that media and communication occupations are projected to grow 14 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations, and will result in about 151,500 new jobs in the growing technology sector.

Who enrolls in this degree program?

Those looking to advance their knowledge and skill set in mass communication practices enroll in graduate-level strategic communication programs. Forward-looking professionals in marketing, communications, public relations, advertising, and digital strategy discover the advantages of a master’s level education in strategic communications.

Admission requirements/prerequisites

The admission requirements of most master’s in strategic communications programs are typical of graduate-level programs in other disciplines. Many require undergraduate transcripts, standardized test scores like the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores, a personal essay, and recommendation letters,. Some may be interested in any professional experience you have in the field.

Standardized test scores

Applicants to Butler University’s Online Master of Science in Strategic Communications program must submit GRE or GMAT test scores. Butler prefers GMAT scores—the average for admitted applicants is 590. Anyone who has a bachelor’s degree with at least a 3.0 GPA, four years of relevant work experience, or already holds a master’s degree is exempt from the test score requirement.

Curriculum

Strategic communication graduate programs focus on the foundations and practical applications of many communication endeavors. They focus on the strategy behind developing communication plans and how to apply them across multiple organizational departments and channels. They also teach the need to incorporate input from key internal stakeholders.

Specific coursework can focus on research, legal, and applying visual communications into communications strategy. Master’s in strategic communications classes may include:

  • Foundations of Strategic Communication
  • Research Methods: Design & Analysis
  • Law and Ethics in Strategic Communication
  • Strategic Visual Communication

Some programs offer opportunities for specialization; many culminate in a capstone project in which you can apply what you’ve learned to real-world situations. These courses dive into specific media channels and day-to-day communication practices that graduates will use in their area of expertise or in a management role. Examples include:

  • Social Media Strategy
  • Crisis Communication
  • Media Relations
  • Brand Strategy
  • Global Strategic Communication
  • Strategic Storytelling for Advocacy
  • Health & Risk Communication

Top strategic communications master’s programs

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle. He has been managing editor of the Noodle.com website for over four years.

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