Communications & Public Relations

What Can You Do With a Master’s in Strategic Communications?

What Can You Do With a Master’s in Strategic Communications?
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), expects the demand for media and communications jobs to increase by 14 percent between 2020 and 2030. Image from Pexels
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella December 13, 2021

Learn how a master's degree can distinguish you when you apply for top strategic communications jobs in advertising, promotions, marketing, corporate communications, public relations, and fundraising.

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A strategic communications master’s can be your ticket to advancing—or even launching—a career managing the public image of businesses, institutions, and individuals. It’s a growing field. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects demand for media and communications jobs to increase by 14 percent between 2020 and 2030—that’s a healthy growth rate, about three times the rate for the overall labor market.

BLS data indicate that communications professionals earned a median annual wage of $61,310 in 2020. The field offers career opportunities for those with just a bachelor’s degree, but if you’re planning a career that includes leadership and management roles, a master’s degree can give your resume and skill set the necessary boost.

A mix of industry professionals with a few years experience and newcomers to the field constitute the graduate student body in most strategic communications master’s programs. Experience can be valuable but isn’t necessary, so long as you have a talent for crafting and disseminating messaging. After graduation, you’ll qualify for advertising, promotions, marketing, corporate communications, public relations, and nonprofit fundraising positions—any job where you distribute information to advance your company or organization’s goals and mission.

If you want more detailed answers to the question what can you do with a master’s in strategic communications? read on to learn about:

  • Career paths with a master’s in strategic communications
  • What does it take to earn a master’s in strategic communications?
  • Top strategic communications master’s programs

Career paths with a master’s in strategic communications

A strategic communications master’s can prepare you to work for private companies, nonprofits, and governments. Any organization that engages in selling products or services—including to customers or other businesses—or pushing an agenda needs strategic communications professionals.

Which industries are hiring strategic communications professionals?

Strategic communications figure prominently in many industries, including the following.

Healthcare

The healthcare industry employs multiple forms of strategic communication. Insurance companies utilize advertising and marketing communications to connect with customers; groups of doctors may advertise a new elective surgery. Public health officials in government roles employ strategic communications to support vital public health measures, such as encouraging people to get the flu shot or Covid-19 vaccine.

Real estate

Individual realtors utilize communication skills to manage clients or conduct digital media advertising. More importantly, companies need strategic communications professionals to maintain a brand. For instance, Sotheby’s strategists help maintain the organization’s position as a luxury real estate agency that discretely helps high-end clientele buy and sell properties.

Charities

The Red Cross uses social media, especially hashtags, to spread the word out about its initiatives. They may advertise blood drives or solicit donations for disaster relief. All large nonprofit organizations have media relations staff to promote the company line to members of the press and the public.

What are the top strategic communications jobs in each field (and what are their salaries)?

What you’ll earn in strategic communications depends on the company and industry. This section explores top sectors and includes more specific information about earnings.

Nonprofits and community service organizations

According to the BLS, social and community service managers can expect to earn around $70,000 in median annual income. These professionals typically work for nonprofits, such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army, promoting public-focused programs. Service organizations typically pay less than private-sector corporations, even though job titles are frequently the same.

According to Glassdoor, a Red Cross communications director earns $63,700 per year. The Salvation Army pays even less—between $44,993 and $65,489. Fundraising managers at the Red Cross can expect between $59,977 and $79,920 in base salary.

Advertising and promotion

BLS data indicate that advertising, promotions, and marketing managers earn an average annual income of $141,490. These professionals make budgets, design campaigns, and negotiate contracts.

The average base pay for Apple advertising and promotions managers is $136,588, per Glassdoor numbers. Marketing managers at Tesla can earn between $119,981 and $219,207 in average base pay.

Tech companies aren’t the only ones that pay big salaries. Marketing managers at Home Depot can expect $106,674 per year in average base pay, while a head of marketing management and communication at Sotheby’s typically earns between $90,237 and $98,479 in base pay.

Public relations

Public relations professionals are well compensated to promote their organization’s brand—$118,430 in median annual pay, according to the BLS.

The government offers several excellent government jobs in public relations. According to the federal jobs website, public affairs specialists can earn between $90,823 and $118,069, which is comparable to what PR managers earn on the open market. Glassdoor says Intel PR managers can expect salaries ranging from $94,255 to $124,926. Microsoft managers collect a base pay of $127,522.

Finally, strategic communications professionals can earn more in business-centric positions. The salary website Monster lists senior vice president of sales ($208,500),vice president of business development ($168,000), and vice president of marketing ($162,100) among the best-paying communications jobs. These roles rely extensively on communication; a master’s degree in the field may be useful, but you’ll also need traditional business skills. A Master of Business Administration (MBA) may help qualify you for these positions.

Do I need a master’s to succeed in strategic communications?

Graduate degrees confer numerous benefits, not the least among them higher salaries. According to a 2019 CollegeBoard report, graduate degree-holders overall earn 23 percent more than those with a bachelor’s degree. It can help further your skillset and put you in contact with other like-minded professionals looking to grow their abilities and make lifelong connections. Furthermore, overwhelmed hiring managers may push resumes with a master’s degree to the top of the pile.

Though a graduate degree certainly helps your case for top positions, it’s possible to get there with just experience, depending on performance factors or simply how much your boss likes you. Even with a master’s degree, you’ll need experience to land a top role.

What does it take to earn a master’s in strategic communications?

Master’s in strategic communications share a lot in common with other professional master’s degree programs. They differ in significant ways as well.

How long does it take to earn my degree?

Most graduate degrees take full-time students two years to complete. Outliers like the Master of Arts in Strategic Communication at American University take ten months for full-time students. Part-time students usually take longer—typically three to five years.

Admission requirements/prerequisites

Most strategic communications programs follow the standard graduate school admissions requirements. Be ready to submit standardized test scores (GMAT or GRE), letters of recommendation, official transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay or essays. Check whether your desired school values one requirement over another—for instance, many programs are adopting test-optional admissions policies.

The most common prerequisite is work experience; two years is typical. Again, not every program requires it. Extremely experienced professionals should look into an executive program, such as the one offered by Columbia University.

Curriculum

Core strategic communications coursework usually revolves around strategy, theory, strategic marketing, and research. Many programs integrate projects and case studies to provide relevant experience. Some programs include a field placement or internship.

Specialization

Many programs don’t have defined specializations. Instead, you can use elective courses to help build a focus. Typical elective subjects include crisis communications, social media, and advocacy. Others offer defined tracks, which we’ll address later.

Top strategic communications master’s programs

Choosing a strategic communication program can be challenging, especially when there are so many great options. This list showcases a few top programs.

Butler University

This Master of Science in Strategic Communication consists of ten courses, including five electives. You’ll obtain a foundation in the traditional strategic communications subjects, such as ethics and research. Plus, you’ll be able to use electives to pursue more niche subjects like social media, brand messaging, and advocacy. The Butler application does not require standardized test scores if you have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or above, four years of industry experience, or a master’s. Butler offers this degree online.

New York University

NYU’s 42-credit MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication offers two concentrations: Public Relations Management and Corporate and Organizational Communication. The former concentartion focuses on external communications, the latter on internal messaging. Students complete this communications degree in person.

Syracuse University

Syracuse’s Newhouse school offers four specialization areas in its 15-month online Master of Science in Communications: public relations, advertising, journalism innovation, and media management. Core course titles include Multimedia Storytelling, Social Media for Public Communicators, and Media Law. The school does not require standardized test scores from applicants.

__ University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

Not every program prepares graduates for business careers. In this 30-credit Master of Arts, you’ll learn the skills needed to pursue academics strategic communications, meaning a focus on research and writing. Students spend two years in the program and must keep a 3.0 GPA to graduate. Though this is an academics-focused program, you’ll still complete a capstone project and cover many of the same subjects as they relate to mass communication.

University of Oregon

This flexible program, with online and in-person course offerings, appeals primarily to “mid-career professionals” in the communication field. Students can complete the program part-time or in just over a year. The curriculum includes coursework in strategy, research, and management for strategic communications.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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