Can I Earn a Master's in Strategic Communications Online?
November 13, 2022
Almost every industry imaginable needs strategic communications experts. Learn how you can earn an online master’s degree in this field—and launch or accelerate your career as a strategic communications professional.
What is strategic communication? Can I earn a master's in strategic communications online? These are a few of the many questions we'll answer in this article. Understanding the role strategic communications plays in both the business, nonprofit, and government sectors is crucial in determining whether this post-undergraduate education is a worthwhile choice for you.
The good news is that there are many online options should one choose to earn their graduate degree in strategic communications. The discipline is well-suited for online instruction and coursework, especially for those working full-time in the field who have accumulated some professional experience. In fact, many of the top strategic communication master's programs in the US offer online versions of their degree programs. It can be a convenient and efficient way to gain the additional skills and knowledge to take a strategic communications master's into the workplace.
What is strategic communications?
Strategic communications is different from the broader field of communications, which is concerned with the distribution of information.
The strategic communications field is focused on advancing the agenda of a company, organization or client, often in industries like public relations and marketing. These professionals typically employ digital communication tools and social media platforms to implement carefully crafted communication campaigns.
What is a master’s in strategic communications?
A Master of Science in Strategic Communications (or Master of Arts in Strategic Communications) is a graduate-level degree program focusing on the theories and models of mass communication. It aims to teach the understanding of analytical processes and strategic practices used to build audience-based organizational communication initiatives used by organizations. Students are introduced to communication theory, strategies, and functions in different industries, and how they relate to a mostly digitized world. Key competencies taught include storytelling and digital strategy, quantitative research, campaign planning and evaluation, public relations, social media and podcasts.
Who enrolls in this degree program?
Those looking to advance their knowledge of communication plans and strategic planning past a bachelor's degree should consider enrolling in a strategic communications master’s program. Forward-looking professionals in many areas of integrated marketing communications, corporate communication, public relations, advertising, and digital strategy will discover the advantages of a master's level education in strategic communications. This master’s typically is a 30 to 36 credit program that can be completed within a year (on a full-time basis) or 16 months (on a part-time basis).
The admission requirements of most strategic communications degree programs are typical of graduate-level programs in other disciplines. Many require undergraduate transcripts, a 3.0 GPA, standardized test scores like the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores, a personal statement, recommendation letters, and other personal achievements.
Strategic communications programs focus on learning the foundation and practical applications of many communication endeavors. They examine the strategy behind developing organizational communication campaigns and how to apply them across multiple organizational departments and channels.
Specific coursework can focus on research, legal, and applying visual communications into communication plans. Examples of strategic communications core courses include:
- Foundations of Strategic Communication
- Research Methods: Design & Analysis
- Law and Ethics in Strategic Communication
- Strategic Visual Communication
There also are opportunities for specialization in most strategic communications graduate programs, and oftentimes a student must complete a capstone project applying strategic communications concepts in real-world situations. These electives dive into specific multimedia channels and day-to-day organizational communication practices that graduates will use, depending on their area of expertise. Examples include:
- Social Media Management
- Crisis Communication Plans
- Media Relations
- Brand Strategy
- Global Strategic Communication
- Strategic Storytelling for Advocacy
- Health & Risk Communication
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 utilize strategic communications professionals. Specific industries like technology, manufacturing, and advertising are great landing spots for strategic communications experts.
According to Indeed, typical career paths for people with strategic communications master’s include working as a journalist, social media manager, communications officer, search engine optimization (SEO) manager, creative director, director of public relations, marketing director, and digital strategist.
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.
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.
Search engine optimization manager
SEO managers are paid an average of $79,102 each year.
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.
Director of public relations
Public relations directors are paid on average $118,430 for their work.
Marketing directors command a median salary of $141,490 per year.
Advantages of earning your degree online
One of the most obvious advantages of enrolling in an online master’s program is the convenience of taking classes via computer rather than in-person. Traditional classroom instruction requires travel and time away from home. Busy professionals with a desire to advance their education can take classes at their leisure and study during evenings and weekends. Class schedules are easier to plan based on the student's schedule, so no overlap or missed classes.
There are more flexible choices for an online school than a traditional master's program. Students can select a college from a menu of online institutions from around the country based on cost and quality rather than distance. Many graduate programs are specialized, requiring a custom fit based on the degree and the school offering the degree. Online schools often offer more access to programs and courses, making it easier to obtain the degree in an efficient amount of time.
The cost of college has skyrocketed in recent years, including online master programs. The average cost of a master’s degree is $66,340, but can range between $30,000 and $120,000 depending on the school, major, and length of program according to educationdata.org. There are also variables for online master's versus in-person instruction. Online graduate programs can be cheaper, but with many variables at play like out-of-state increases and the school's reputation. But without the overhead costs of a traditional master's program on campus, many accredited colleges can return those savings to the student's tuition.
The good news is that accredited online master programs typically have the same quality standards as their on-campus brethren. Online programs usually offer the same professors, curriculum, classes and degree as their equivalent in-person courses of study—and if your degree is from a reputable institution of higher education, employers don’t differentiate between online and in-person programs.
Top online strategic communications master’s degree programs
- American University
- Butler University
- Columbia University
- Johns Hopkins University
- Northwestern University
- Pennsylvania State University
- Stanford University
- Syracuse University
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