Communications & Public Relations

Master’s in Strategic Communications: Degree Requirements

Master’s in Strategic Communications: Degree Requirements
Effective strategic communications drives business success and is a key component of marketing, branding, public relations, and more. Image from Pexels
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella December 6, 2021

Learn how a master's in strategic communications can qualify you for top jobs in public relations, marketing, government, and business. Core and elective courses explore the fine points of public and internal communications.

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Look at any list of top business soft skills you’ll see communication at or near the top—and for good reason. Businesses and organizations utilize strategic communication to develop and communicate their agenda to their target audience.

That’s an enterprise offering a big payoff and requiring a sizeable investement. According to Grand View Research statistics, the 2020 market size for global unified communications was $78.33 billion. Between 2021 and 2028, Grand View projects a compound annual growth rate of 20.5 percent in the industry.

Why spend so much on this strategy? Because effective strategic communications drives business success. It’s a key component of marketing, branding, public relations, and more. Strategic communication is essential for interacting with client, customers, and employees; without it, your business is highly unlikely to reach its full potential.

Strategic communications is a massive field that offers tons of jobs. Not all of them are high-paying, however. According to Glassdoor, even though the average strategic communication salary is around $80,000, salaries can be low as $41,000 per year. If you want to earn a top job (paying over $100,000), a master’s degree is likely to help.

This article on master’s in strategic communications degree requirements covers everything you need to complete a degree, including:

  • What is a master’s in strategic communications?
  • Career paths with a master’s in strategic communications

What is a master’s in strategic communications?

Strategic communication is a subspecialty of communications—albeit a large one. Strategic communication professionals disseminate information (communications) in a way that advances their organization or client’s agenda (the strategic part). Strategic communication professionals work on behalf of nonprofits, governments, companies, and individual clients.

Graduate programs prepare students either to launch or advance their strategic communications careers through cutting edge strategy and analysis. Graduates work in areas like marketing, account management, and public relations.

Admission requirements at top master’s programs

Programs typically follow similar admissions requirements, though specifics, such as application deadlines and fees, may differ. Check the school’s website for program-specific application information.

Admissions requirements frequently include standardized test scores (either the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)), official transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate programs completed, letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal essay.

Though these requirements are essentially universal, not every institution follows the same procedure. For instance, Butler University doesn’t require test scores from anyone who meets one of these three requirements:

  • Has an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or more
  • Has worked in a relevant industry for four-plus years
  • Already has a master’s degree

Work experience is another issue on which schools may differ. Some programs, like Butler and Columbia University, accept both experienced and inexperienced students. Columbia also offers an executive master’s designed for professionals with at least five years of work history.

In contrast, applicants to the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities program must have two-plus years of relevant professional experience. The program favors applicants who have worked in areas like advertising management, media planning, corporate or nonprofit communications, public affairs, public relations, brand management, journalism, or public opinion research. University of Minnesota requires applicants to submit at least one letter of recommendation from an employer. The school does not accept GRE scores.

Degree requirements

Here is a comparison of three strategic communication programs, showcasing differences in curriculum, specialization, and outcomes:

American University

American University’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communication program “prepares you to pivot your messaging and market strategies amid rapidly changing environments and trends.” Full-time students can complete it in ten months, either online or in person. There’s also a flexible part-time option delivered over longer timeline.

The core curriculum includes campaign strategy, portfolio-building, and performance evaluation coursework. Students gain relevant experience working with different media platforms and directing campaigns to a target audience. The online MA consists of ten courses (five core courses plus five electives) plus a capstone. The program offers two concentrations: Advocacy and Social Impact, and Digital Communication Strategies and Analytics .

Pursuing advocacy means you’ll likely work for nonprofit organizations or governmental agencies, especially in fields like environment, education, and health communication. Students must complete three concentration-specific courses after their core coursework. Topics include ethics, social marketing, and social media.

Those who pursue the Digital Communication Strategies and Analytics concentration take courses designed to teach “the theory and strategy of digital and social media measurement, as well as how to use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to identify strategic insights, how to evaluate the success or failure of a campaign, and more.” Graduates can work as strategists, managers, analysts, and directors.

Butler

Butler’s ten-course, thirty creditMaster of Science in Strategic Communication is delivered completely online. Graduates leave with effective communication strategies and the research techniques needed to enhance their communication planning and overall communication campaigns in multiple digital media formats.

The school offers a single track option, but only five courses are required—meaning half your graduate degree coursework consists of electives. Core courses revolve around ethics, research methods, and visual communication. Students also complete a capstone course to tackle a real-world communication management situation.

Butler also offers seven elective courses covering varied topics, including social media, branding, crisis communication, and advocacy. Through these courses, students can focus on their graduate study path.

University of Minnestoa

Offered through the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota’s 30-credit Master of Arts prepares students for academic careers. That means it’s more focused on research and writing than finding a job in corporate communication. According to the program website, “graduate students present research at major conferences, have work published in leading journals and books, receive recognition from academic organizations, and work for major media organizations.”

This program is more rigid than Butler’s. All students complete the same 21 base credits over 24 months. To graduate, you must maintain a 3.0 GPA and also complete a three-credit project, with at least a B letter grade. Students spend their first year learning communication theory, research, and strategy. The second addresses use cases like strategy integration, use cases, and the capstone project, which should demonstrate well-rounded communication skills gained in the program.

How will I benefit from earning a master’s in strategic communications?

Earning a master’s in strategic communications can help you begin or advance your strategic communications career. The degree can prepare you for high-level management positions. When coupled with work experience, the degree should bolster your profile with many potential employers.

A master’s can also help you specialize. Even if your program doesn’t offer individual tracks, electives can help you focus your studies. If you know you want to improve your skill set, a well-chosen master’s program is the way to go.

Career paths with a master’s in strategic communications

Which industries want strategic communications professionals?

Strategic communications professionals work anywhere there’s a need for mass communication. That means you can work for government agencies, private companies, and nonprofits. For instance, a big tech company may utilize strategic communications professionals to promote new developments and products. Strategic communications professionals who work for governmental agencies may promote public health policies and political agendas.

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

Before launching into specific well-paying strategic communications jobs, you should understand that this degree can prepare you for related careers—if you can obtain relevant experience in that field. The salary website Monster lists top communications jobs and salaries as senior vice president of sales ($208,500), vice president of business development ($168,000), and vice president of marketing ($162,100). These roles rely on communication, but also require extensive business experience. Coupling this degree with a Master of Business Administration may be a good choice.

Top strategic communications jobs include:

Advertising and promotions managers

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), common job functions for advertising, promotions, and marketing managers include budgeting (alongside other high-ranking staff members), campaigning, and negotiating contracts. Professionals earn a median annual pay of $141,490. According to Glassdoor, advertising and promotions managers at Apple earn $136,588 in average base pay.

__Public relations and fundraising managers___

As high-ranking specialists, PR and fundraising managers lead teams to complete organizational objectives, whether that be generating public goodwill or soliciting donations. According to the BLS, the annual median base pay for these managers is $118,430. Glassdoor states that PR managers at Intel typically earn between$94,255 and $124,926 in base pay. Red Cross fundraising managers usually make between $59,977 and $79,920.

Social and community service managers

These professionals primarily work for nonprofits—generally a less lucrative pursuit than the private sector. They use strategic communication tools to develop and promote programs for the public good. Social and community service managers frequently work directly with communities, earning a median annual income of $69,099. The BLS notes that the need for social and community services managers should grow by 15 percent between 2020 and 2030.

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