Marketing & Advertising

What Is a Master’s in Digital Marketing?

What Is a Master’s in Digital Marketing?
If you're passionate about digital marketing, a Master of Science (MS) in Digital Marketing or a related degree can help advance your career. How much it helps may be up to you. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry July 21, 2020

Online and mobile marketing are still relatively new disciplines. That hasn't stopped colleges and universities from creating dedicated master's degree programs focused on all things digital.

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Digital marketing (a discipline that encompasses everything from email marketing to mobile advertising to audience analytics) is here to stay. Why? Because digital marketing is less expensive than traditional advertising, customizable, easier to time and track, more engaging in an age of short attention spans, and most importantly, highly measurable.

The ROI for old-school advertising campaigns involving print, broadcast, and billboards is notoriously difficult to track. In the digital environment, on the other hand, customer actions leave a breadcrumb-like trail that can be followed back to the source. Businesses can use that data not only to measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns but also to develop new, more successful ones.

While Target may not have actually predicted a teen girl’s pregnancy using marketing analytics in 2014, there are plenty of stories of people encountering online ads that are weirdly personal. Some people find the targeted nature of digital marketing creepy. Other people find it fascinating. As the digital marketing landscape has grown and evolved, colleges and universities have launched graduate degree programs specifically for this latter group. Marketing is still largely the domain of creatives. Still, there’s a new breed of techy marketers out there. You’ll find some in these master’s in digital marketing programs.

If you’re passionate about digital marketing, a Master of Science (MS) in Digital Marketing or a related degree can help advance your career. How much it helps may be up to you. Before you enroll in any graduate program, learn as much as you can about the commitment you’ll be making and the kind of returns you can expect. In this article, we answer the question what is a master’s in digital marketing? and cover the following:

  • Are there different kinds of digital marketing degrees?
  • What do students in digital marketing master’s programs study?
  • How long does it take to earn a master’s in digital marketing?
  • How much do digital marketing master’s programs typically cost?
  • Which schools have the best digital marketing master’s programs?
  • Do any schools offer a master’s in digital marketing online?
  • What should someone look for in a master’s in digital marketing program?
  • How much can someone earn with this degree?

Are there different kinds of digital marketing degrees?

Digital marketing is a relatively new discipline with a lot of variation among programs—beginning with naming conventions. Your master’s in digital marketing might be the aforementioned MS in Digital Marketing or a Master of Science or Master of Arts in any of the following:

  • Digital Marketing Communications
  • Digital Marketing and Design
  • Digital and Social Marketing
  • Digital Communication
  • Digital Innovation in Marketing
  • Integrated Marketing Communications
  • Internet Marketing
  • Marketing with a Digital Media specialization
  • Mass Communication with a Digital Strategy concentration
  • Social Media Marketing

Programs also differ when it comes to focus, though you shouldn’t rely on degree names alone to assess whether a program will support your goals. Some programs focus more on the creative side of digital marketing and include courses in digital design, audience engagement, and storytelling. Others are more technical and require students to complete coursework in programming and UX design. There are master’s in digital marketing programs that devote the majority of credit hours to core marketing concepts and programs devoted to niche areas of online and mobile advertising, like social media and marketing analytics. Some digital marketing master’s programs are even business-focused. There may come a time when this discipline is well-defined and standardized, but for now, a master’s in digital marketing is whatever a school says it is.

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What do students in digital marketing master’s programs study?

Again, there’s a lot of variation when it comes to how schools approach this degree. That means you’ll need to read course lists and program guides carefully to determine the focus of each program you consider. The curriculum in one program might prioritize core classes covering the same concepts taught in traditional marketing master’s degree programs, like consumer psychology, market research, and sales research, and treat digital marketing as an elective specialization. In another, courses may touch on social media, database management, mobile advertising, analytics, online brand management, SEO, and content management—to the exclusion of all else. A third school might take a balanced approach.

At Yeshiva University, for example, students pursuing the MS in Digital Marketing and Media take a mix of core courses and electives including:

  • Applied Social Media
  • Brand Management
  • Communications
  • Consumer Behavior and Customer Relationship Management
  • Consumer Research Methods
  • Digital Storytelling
  • Marketing Management and Strategy
  • Web Analytics and SEO
  • Web Design and User Experience

Other topics covered in master’s in digital marketing programs can include:

  • Content marketing
  • Data analytics
  • Data visualization
  • Digital assets management
  • Digital marketing strategy
  • E-commerce marketing
  • Electronic and social commerce
  • Email marketing
  • Influencer marketing
  • Link building
  • Multicultural marketing
  • Paid ads
  • Public relations
  • Search engine marketing
  • Search engine optimization
  • Social media platforms and marketing
  • Sponsored content
  • User experience optimization

How long does it take to earn a master’s in digital marketing?

Digital marketing master’s programs often last between two and three years and require graduate students to complete about 30 credit hours of work. Again, there’s a lot of variation between on-campus and online programs. Frustrated yet? Don’t be. The variability surrounding this academic pathway might make it harder to sort through school search results. It also means you can potentially earn a master’s in digital marketing in as little as 12 months if you commit to a full-time course of study.
On the other hand, if you need more flexibility, you can find that, too. There are part-time digital marketing master’s programs, hybrid programs, and self-directed asynchronous programs. They take longer to complete—sometimes three years or more—but students can continue working and meeting personal obligations while earning this degree. The only downside to choosing a longer part-time program is that the digital marketing landscape is evolving rapidly. In the two or three years it can take to earn a master’s degree, best practices and the technologies digital marketers use may have evolved past what was covered in your degree program.

How much do digital marketing master’s programs typically cost?

A digital marketing master’s degree can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 or more in total tuition and fees. That’s less the cost of the average MBA or the best MS in Marketing programs, but it’s still not small money. Master’s degree students are typically eligible for scholarships, student loans, grants, and other forms of financial aid. Before you commit, think carefully about what kind of returns you can expect on your investment (more on this below).

Which schools have the best digital marketing master’s programs?

Master’s in digital marketing programs aren’t all that common, even when you include MS in Marketing programs that offer a digital marketing specialization. Some of the best master’s in digital marketing programs can be found at the following schools:

If none of the above options looks especially compelling, keep in mind that there are plenty of high-ranking graduate schools for marketing that allow students to create de facto or official concentrations via their choices of electives. In other words, sometimes the best master’s in digital marketing won’t be a digital marketing degree at all.

Do any schools offer a master’s in digital marketing online?

Quite a few of the above colleges and universities, including Brandeis University, offer their digital marketing master’s degree programs online as well as on campus. You can also find well-regarded online master’s in digital marketing programs at:

What should someone look for in a master’s in digital marketing program?

Your goal when enrolling in a marketing master’s degree program, whether you decide to specialize in digital advertising or not, should be to forge as many professional relationships as possible and pad the heck out of your portfolio. The best digital marketing master’s programs are the ones that will help you do that.

Look for programs with industry leaders on the faculty and connections to companies in the digital marketing space. Programs with internship requirements may be better than programs that culminate in a capstone project unless that project involves working with real-world companies. If the school you choose participates in or hosts annual marketing conferences, even better.

How much can someone earn with this degree?

That depends on whom you ask… and what you do and where you live and a whole host of other factors. The average salary associated with earning an MS in Internet Marketing is about $64,000—a number cobbled together using self-reported data submitted by digital marketing analysts earning $43,000 and senior search engine marketing managers earning $99,000. The average digital marketing manager salary is about $102,000 (according to Salary.com) or $72,000 (according to ZipRecruiter) or $66,000 (according to PayScale).

Marketing jobs can pay anywhere from $40,000 to more than $200,000, but the unfortunate fact is that it’s relatively rare for digital marketing jobs to hit six figures. Positions like SEO manager, SEM manager, and email marketing manager typically pay between $65,000 and $75,000.

So, is a master’s in digital marketing worth it? You can find out how much you might earn as a senior digital marketer by looking at listings for open SEM and online marketing jobs in your area.

Still, it may be that the immediate value of this degree isn’t financial. Pursuing a master’s in digital marketing will help you build a robust professional network that you can tap for mentorship and opportunities. You’ll have the bona fides necessary to apply for management-level positions at marketing agencies or director positions at other types of companies. And your internships and capstone projects can help you build a strong portfolio.

Don’t assume that simply having a master’s in digital marketing will be a golden ticket. Advancement in marketing is often a matter of climbing the ladder. This degree really is what you make of it. There are still plenty of employers who see internet and mobile marketing as a set-it-and-forget-it task that can be safely handed off to an intern. The value of a master’s in digital marketing will be lost on them, which means you can enroll in a top program, ace all your core classes, get your MS in Digital Marketing, and still not advance past marketing specialist roles. Or you can enroll in a lower-ranking digital marketing master’s program, ace all your core classes, network your butt off, learn about the latest innovations in marketing related to business intelligence, data science, and AI, flesh out your portfolio, and advance to some of the top jobs in marketing, digital or traditional.

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.

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