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Before enrolling in a communications degree program, there are a multitude of decisions to make. That includes selecting an on-campus or online communications school, picking a specialty and identifying graduation requirements, which may seem an overwhelming prospect. This guide aims to simplify the process of pursuing an education in communications by exploring degrees, example curriculum structures and options for content delivery.

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Choosing the Right Communications Degree Program

The umbrella of communications covers a wide variety of activities, from blogging to technical writing to corporate marketing and beyond. For many of the related fields, specialized education is the first logical step, so students should find an academic program that matches their own specific interests.

Communications degrees are available at the associate, bachelor’s and graduate levels. Associate degree programs prepare students in interpersonal communication fundamentals with the support of general subjects like writing, speech and social sciences. At the bachelor’s level, students may begin to follow a focused path, for example, communications concepts targeted at business and organizational leadership. Studies for managerial communication address topics like listening techniques and social science data analysis, while also offering electives in conflict resolution, ethics and human relations. Graduate level programs include more concentrated coursework in similar areas, as well as trending topics such as information technology and Internet privacy. Advanced programs usually allow participants to emphasize an area of interest, for example, in public relations.

Online Communications Degrees

In addition to traditional on-campus options, online communications programs are available for students who need extra flexibility to juggle professional and personal obligations. As many topics in this area of study can be easily conveyed via distance learning, there are numerous opportunities to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees through online communications schools. Students use electronic media to access course materials, share ideas and publish their work, building technical skills that are useful across the economy.

Students pursuing online communications degrees can often complete all program requirements virtually, without having to report to classrooms. However, some graduate degree programs may require students to attend on-campus residency workshops. Distance learning tools include course management systems such as Blackboard, streaming audio and video programs, and online writing tutorial services. Students can collaborate in online forums and through Skype, FaceTime and Google Plus Hangouts.

Program Highlight: Online Communications Bachelor’s Degree

Graduates of online bachelor’s degree programs in communications are prepared to pursue professional interests in many areas that require critical thinking and effective interpersonal skills. Students learn about communication theory and build on public speaking and presentation strengths to help position them as leaders in the field.

Most online communications degree programs require approximately 120 credit hours. Students may take classes exclusively online, with few, if any, on-campus visits. Leveraging email, live chat and other technology, students are able to interact with peers and instructors. Most programs follow a curriculum similar to brick-and-mortar schools, enabling full-time students to graduate in four to five years.

Coursework covers topics like conflict and negotiation, persuasion and social influence, global awareness, humanities, English and mathematics. Students may also choose from a variety of elective courses within the major in areas such as advertising, business, media, broadcasting or digital journalism. Depending on the college, students have the opportunity to declare a specialization in an area of interest.

Online Communications Associate Degrees

An associate degree program in communications typically takes two years of full-time study to complete. It combines core English and mathematics classes with introductory mass media and oral articulation courses. Students receive exposure to the fundamentals of writing, marketing, public speaking and group communications. Graduates of an associate program may explore openings in the workforce or move on to pursue their bachelor’s in communications. The table below describes some of the common courses offered in 2-year online communications degree programs:

COURSE NAME overview
Interpersonal Communication Explores the structures that influence interpersonal interaction and how ideas are conveyed. Researches some of the major aspects of this subject.
Digital Media Editing Presents an introduction to digital media, including single camera documentary production, multi-camera remote production, sports television, television news, digital film-making, editing, studio lighting and audio editing.
Media Writing Introduces skills necessary for writing for media outlets, including feature stories, critical reviews, advertising, press releases and scriptwriting.
Intro to Advertising Covers the purpose and function of advertising in the U.S., including its role in marketing and impact on society. Methods and procedures used in the development of objectives, strategies and tactics of advertising campaigns.

Online Communications Bachelor’s Degrees

A bachelor’s degree in communications builds a foundational knowledge of theories and research methods, showing how to apply them to workplace issues and group settings. For example, students learn how to convey messages effectively, how to communicate with people of different cultural backgrounds, and how social factors such as gender, race and class can impact communication. Students also analyze trends in print, online and broadcast media. Below is an example of course structure in a typical online communications degree program:

COURSE NAME overview
Intro to Mass Communication This overview covers application of communication principles and theories to achieve intended outcomes in public relations, community affairs and crisis scenarios. Covers mass communication including historical context and concepts.
Dynamics of Group Communication This course examines classic and cutting edge research on groups and teams. Topics include stages of team development, task and maintenance functions, crisis communication and groupthink.
Intercultural Communication Students learn how to communicate effectively in a diverse, global environment. Focus is on the relationship of culture and personal identity to communication strategies. Distinguishes the modes and styles of communication unique to specific cultures.
Writing for the Digital Age This course presents the fundamentals of writing such as purpose, context, voice and structure. Covers implementation through print, Internet, advertising and broadcast mediums.
Applied Interpersonal Communication This course focuses on cognitive and affective aspects of communication. Topics include acceptance, perception, emotional intelligence, self-presentation, learning styles and models of human information processing.
Fundamentals of Public Speaking Students examine presentation skills, empathic and critical listening, and critical thinking, with attention to audience analysis and use of technology. They develop content and organize ideas using proven techniques for delivery of speeches.
Media and Technology Communication This course studies aspects of existing and emerging social media and the relationship to business communication. Instills knowledge of the dynamics of effective communications.

Online Communications Degree: Master’s

A Master of Arts or Master of Science in Communications emphasizes theory, research, analysis and writing in a variety of contexts. A graduate program, whether it’s a traditional classroom offering or an online communications school, aims to provide both practical and applied knowledge.

Students learn about effective communication campaigns by conducting research and then developing compelling and persuasive messages and visuals. A program emphasizing new media covers aspects of Internet publishing and social networking. In a track focused on business or management, students discuss differences in organizational structure and how they impact communications. Additionally, courses introduce a wide range of leadership skills and styles, as well as strategies for dealing with conflict.

Online communications master’s degree programs typically include a thesis component, research project and/or comprehensive exams, and full-time students need about two years to complete the requirements. While the curriculum can vary significantly depending on the student’s emphasis, the table below describes some of the core master’s-level courses offered in many communications degree programs.

MASTER’S PROGRAM CORE COURSES overview
Web Writing and Content Strategy Examines how compelling Internet content is essential to engaging visitors and driving their behavior. Explores styles appropriate for B2B and B2C websites and blogs. Content formats include videos, infographics, contests and polls. Also focuses on search engine optimization, social media and content marketing.
Changing Behavior Through Communication Explores major theories used to predict when and under what circumstances individuals are likely to change their behavior. Covers individual-level, interpersonal-level and community-level models and theories.
The Digital Age Examines empirical research to help professionals excel in the digital age, for example, through social networking and electronic journalism. Discusses how communication professionals interact with public groups and how people access, understand and process information.
Persuasion Covers all varieties of messaging, from individuals communicating one-on-one to messages communicated via mass media. Focuses on the importance of a spokesperson’s expertise, trustworthiness and likeability.
Media Effects Surveys major theories and perspectives on how mass media can influence individuals, organizations and society, with a focus on content areas that have the most strategic relevance for public relations practice. Explores the role of media in shaping the public importance of issues.
Branding and Advertising Discusses how to develop brands, concepts and advertising campaigns. Teaches practical tips, including how to organize a creative department, write a creative brief, create budgets and timelines, research and purchase visual imagery, and determine appropriate media for branding and advertising campaigns.
Understanding Markets and Audiences Reveals the integral steps that facilitate target audience definition and how to extract a keen understanding of this audience within its environment to develop effective campaign strategy.
Emergency and Risk Communication Covers best practices in emergency and risk communication to effectively work with government, industry, the media and the general public during crises and longer-term threats involving health, safety, security and the environment. Talks about core principles of emergency and risk communications and risk perception.
Opinion Writing Provides an understanding of the anatomy of editorial writing; how to write for opinion sections of newspapers, magazines and other news outlets; how to pitch op-ed and opinion pieces; and how to sell ideas to editorial boards.

Online Communications Degree: PhD

A Doctor of Philosophy in Communications is typically research-based, studying relationships between people and media in various contexts, including cultural, political, historical, social, technological and economic. Some programs take an interdisciplinary approach, allowing students to put together a curriculum in humanities, social sciences and other fields. Many graduates go on to teach at the college level, but there are also opportunities in industries that use communications-related research–for instance, government agencies that formulate and publicize policies or disseminate important information to the public.

What Can You Do with an Online Communications Degree?

An online communications degree builds a background in strengths such as public speaking, collaboration, critical thinking, writing and leadership. These skills translate well to a wide variety of careers, including public relations, journalism, advertising, broadcast media and more. Graduates may also seek positions in business, law and health services management. Below is a sample of the potential job opportunities open to communications degree holders:

Featured Careers

  • Broadcast News Analysts

    Broadcast news analysts report on current events for television or radio newscasts. With the evolution of technology, news analysts also share updates and opinions by means of podcasts or the Internet. Certain news analysts collect information from a variety of sources, and then edit and organize this material in the required format for a newscast. Analysts may offer their interpretations of ongoing events as a commentary on the air or online. Related roles include news anchors, reporters and directors who oversee the production of news broadcasts.

    Median Salary: $55,380

    Median Hourly: $26.63

    Est. Growth: -2.3%

    No. Employed: 5,170

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s

  • Media/Communication Workers

    Media and communication workers fulfill vital roles in the production of movies, videos, radio broadcasts and programming for television and cable networks. Related professions with a focus on technology and equipment include online publishing, broadcast engineering, sound recording and camera operation. Successful media communications often rely on specialists from other industries and the arts, such as the individuals who create stories and scripts, graphics and visual effects, and film scores or soundtracks.

    Median Salary: $45,160

    Median Hourly: $21.71

    Est. Growth: 4.9%

    No. Employed: 22,030

    Minimum Education: High School Diploma

  • Public Address System/Other Announcers

    These professionals use their voice to broadcast important announcements at public and private events. They can be a part of sporting events, weddings or club events as a master of ceremonies or emcee. Typical announcements include public service announcements such as emergencies or weather warnings, introducing performers or bands, and announcing athletes.

    Median Salary: $26,230

    Median Hourly: $12.61

    Est. Growth: 7.6%

    No. Employed: 8,120

    Minimum Education: High School Diploma

  • Public Relations Specialists

    Public relations specialists focus on the image/brand of the person or company they represent. These professionals help ensure that image is favorable by writing press releases, responding to media questions, writing speeches and arranging media interviews. They also help clients communicate with the public in a way that will show the company in a positive light.

    Median Salary: $54,170

    Median Hourly: $26.04

    Est. Growth: 12%

    No. Employed: 201,280

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s

  • Radio/Television Announcers

    Radio and TV announcers read scripts for programs or commercials, as well as make song and artist announcements, and identify the station during commercial breaks. They may also announce and interview guests, depending on the program. These professionals can be heard at all hours of the day or night and can become well-known for their voice and media personality.

    Median Salary: $28,020

    Median Hourly: $13.47

    Est. Growth: -0.1%

    No. Employed: 31,340

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s

  • Reporters/Correspondents

    Reporters and correspondents are more than just a pretty face on TV. They can also work for newspapers, radio, and magazines to inform the public about news and events, locally or internationally. Job duties include researching and writing articles, interviewing analysts and other sources, and helping an audience understand the news. They may also provide voiceovers or edit written work for grammar and style.

    Median Salary: $35,870

    Median Hourly: $17.25

    Est. Growth: -13.8%

    No. Employed: 45,570

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s