Determining the value of a master’s degree often is more art than an exact science. A job candidate who holds a graduate degree signals to prospective employers that they are someone who has devoted the time and money to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills required to become an expert in their field. As a result, employers typically view them as a good return on investment—and, if they have the demonstrated talent and right experience, worthy of being paid accordingly.
Indeed, a recent College Board study revealed that master’s degree-holders on average earned $15,000 more per year than bachelor’s degree-holders, which is a significant salary boost throughout your career. Having said that, there are costs to pursuing a master’s degree, particularly any student loans (plus interest) that you’ll have to take out and pay off after graduating. The Education Data Initiative estimates that the average debt a student incurs from pursuing a graduate degree is $55,351. Fortunately, the higher salary that often comes with holding a master’s degree will help you to pay off student loans (and quickly if you’re in a well-compensated industry).
Then there are the more intangible—but very real—benefits of earning a master’s. What you learn and who you connect with during your course of study can prove to be considerable advantages throughout your career.
People adept at networking typically benefit greatly from a master’s degree. Everybody knows the trope of two friends starting a billion-dollar business out of a garage, but meeting people in school is more common, though less appealing cinematically. Alumni connections are another excellent way to secure a job after graduating. Again, every school has an alumni network, but top universities can provide you with the best connections.
Anyone who’s planning to enter the communications industry or is working in this field and seeking to advance their career may want to contemplate earning a master’s in strategic communications. It may prove to be a significant asset that increases your earnings, enhances your ability to do your job, and helps you achieve—even exceed—your career goals.
In addition to answering the question is a master’s in strategic communication worth it? this article also covers topics like:
Strategic communication is the art of conveying the most effective message to the right audience through the best channel(s) that elicits your desired response. Strategic communication encompasses public relations, marketing, advertising, and media relations, and professionals use tools like press releases and social media blasts to implement a successful campaign.
As mentioned above, a press release is one example of strategic communication at work. They can be used to promote positive developments (such as a new product or exceeding projected company goals) and to mitigate damage to a brand’s reputation in crisis management situations (such as an oil spill or shake-up in leadership). In many instances, press releases generate media desired coverage, create opportunities for interviews and features, and generally help shape the narrative you want to be promoted to the public.
Influencer marketing is another popular way to improve brand awareness, traffic, and sales. Strategic communications professionals analyze metrics to find social media stars and ask them to use and endorse their products to their followers.
Strategic communications professionals are in demand in virtually every industry, including real-estate, marketing, and healthcare, as well as government agencies and nonprofits like charitable organizations and educational institutions. Needless to say, there are a host of career opportunities in this field.
Since the field is so broad, it’s challenging to cover all strategic communications jobs in one fell swoop. So, we break it all down to top positions, based on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorization.
The BLS states that, as a group, these professionals are among the best-paid in the field. They “plan programs to generate interest in products or services” and earn a median pay of $141,490. Everyone in this category works to distribute resources—both monetary and human capital—effectively. They also use advanced project management and strategic planning skills to develop and execute communication campaigns.
Of course, there are differences between these three categories. Advertising managers typically sell products and work for advertising agencies that produce ad content and media organizations that sell ad space. Promotions managers formulate and implement brand awareness initiatives like promotional giveaways and sweepstakes. Marketing communications utilize a macro focus to craft a sales strategy based on market trends.
According to the BLS, public relations and fundraising managers earn $118,430 in median pay. These professionals hold jobs in private and public settings, including corporations, and nonprofit religious and educational organizations. Public relations managers focus on communication—including brand positioning in the public eye and crisis management. Fundraising managers work specifically on securing donations or grants for nonprofit organizations.
While communications professionals can perform their jobs with only a bachelor’s degree, earning your master’s in strategic communications from an accredited program can equip you with the knowledge and expertise necessary to advance and succeed in this competitive field.
As with most jobs, experience is essential for moving up the ladder in communications. Many employers require five or more years of relevant work experience to qualify for most management-level jobs. Candidates with experience and an advanced communications degree often are more valued by employers and can command higher salaries.
A master’s in strategic communications—typically either a Master of Arts or Master of Science in Strategic Communication—prepares you to start or advance a career in this growing field. For instance, Butler University’s online master’s program teaches “real-time application of a broad range of communication skills.” You’ll learn to apply strategic and analytical expertise to roles in communications sectors like public relations, marketing, and account management.
Most master’s programs take two years to complete full-time, though many schools offer part-time and accelerated tracks.
For most programs, you’ll likely need to submit undergraduate transcripts with a minimum GPA of 3.0, a letters of recommendation, a resume/CV, Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores (though many schools are now test-optional), and a personal statement about why their program will help you meet your professional goals.
Schools may look for applicants with work experience. If this is the case, expect to prove two years or more. Those without experience should look at programs explicitly geared to career changers and recent college graduates.
Required coursework typically covers communication theory and strategy, quantitative research methods, and strategic marketing. Most programs include projects (often a capstone) and case studies to provide real-world communication management skills graduates can take into a career.
Though course titles differ, students in a master’s program typically learn the ins and outs of effective organizational communication during their studies. Expect to work on engaging effective communication across different multimedia platforms.
Many degree programs don’t offer specialization tracks because strategic communication is already a specialty. That said, electives, research, and capstone projects can help focus your communication studies. For instance, you may intern at a corporate communications company or complete electives in crisis communication, internal communications, and advocacy.
There’s no official ranking of the top strategic communications graduate programs, but top schools that offer this degree include:
Butler’s flexible online program incorporates real-world challenges into each of its foundation and elective courses. Students “design and analyze research methods to drive informed communication strategy and address organizational goals.” Elective topics include media relations, social media strategy, and strategic storytelling for advocacy.
This program packs 36 credits of coursework and an optional internship (practicum) into just 16 months, making it shorter than most degrees. Students can also choose to complete a non-practicum degree in 12 months. In addition to required coursework like Digital Communication Strategy, The Authentic Leader, and Digital Media and Analytics, students can take courses through other departments at Columbia.
At Stanford, students can decide between two degrees that focus on strategic communications: the one-year executive Master of Science (MSx) designed for experienced applicants, or a two-year, business-focused MBA. As one of the top universities in the world, Stanford students have access to a powerful network of business and alumni connections.
The University of Oregon offers the option to complete classes online for core courses and some electives. The school also provides a part-time course of study for students who need to work while earning their degrees. Alternatively, you may decide to pursue the accelerated format, which lasts around one year. One exciting aspect of the Oregon program is its immersive media track, which explores emerging technology, including virtual reality.
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