Complete Guide to an Online Communications Degree

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Quick Facts
Accreditation: ACEJMC
Degree Levels: Associate, Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral, and Certificate
Avg Tuition: $21,994
Avg Salary: $66,720

Online communications degrees are available at the associate, bachelors, masters, doctoral, and certificate levels. Communications is an interdisciplinary field that examines the ways in which people communicate. The curriculum of an online communications program draws from several disciplines, such as fine arts, sociology, psychology, and politics.

Students pursuing degrees in communications should verify that their program is accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC), which to ensures that it meets a rigorous national standard. All programs listed on this page are available in fully online format, offering students maximum flexibilty as they complete their studies. We also provide more specific information detailing the differences between the available degree levels. For more program specific information, our 2017 top colleges ranking list for online communications degrees highlights some of the best options available to students.

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Comprehensive List of Accredited Online Schools - Communications Degrees (182)

Online Communications Degree Overview & Career Information

An associate degree in communications is typically the minimum education requirement for this field. Getting a communications associate degree online helps students develop techniques that are essential to their prospective careers, such as problem solving, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills. Students may take courses in introduction to mass communications, English composition, media writing, and digital media editing. 

Many associate degree holders continue their education by obtaining a bachelor's degree in communications. This program focuses on teaching students how to interpret different kinds of human dialogue. Students also learn how to improve their speech to effectively persuade audiences. Core classes include topics such as behavioral science; debate and argumentation; theories of communications; and voice, dictation, and articulation. 

Master's degrees further examine the ways that people synthesize information and the techniques that can be used to successfully persuade audiences. Students focus on analyzing a variety of issues and find original ways to relay messages. They may take courses with topics in strategy, leadership, ethics, business media, marketing, global connection, speech writing, intercultural communications, social influence, rhetoric, human conflict, and citizenship. 

The highest form of education for this field is a doctorate in communications. Students normally select an area of concentration and conduct a considerable amount of independent research before completing an original dissertation to present to an advisory board at the culmination of the program. 

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Online Associate Degrees in Communications

Associate degrees in communications equip students with the skills necessary for effective professional and social communications. Programs emphasize the development of interpersonal and technical communications methods and give students the opportunity to develop a broad range of competencies in oral and written communication. Applicants to associate programs will need a high school diploma, GED certificate, or equivalent. Programs require students to earn 60 credits, which generally takes two years.

Core courses allow students to develop a comprehensive understanding of the fundamentals of communications. Subjects covered by core coursework include argumentation and debate, business communication, conflict resolution, critical thinking, group interaction, intercultural communication, interpersonal communication, mass media and society, news writing, oral and written communication, oral interpretation, public speaking, and voice and diction.

Students acquire vital communications skills that can be applied in various fields, such as advertising, advocacy, counseling, media, psychology, public relations, and small group communication. Employment opportunities are available in educational institutions, entertainment companies, government agencies, healthcare organizations, and social service agencies. Job titles for graduates include advertising account executive, human resources manager, mediator, media manager, news producer, public relations specialist, special events coordinator, speech-language pathologist, and speech writer. Graduates may also choose to pursue further education in related fields such as advertising, intercultural studies, international relations, journalism, mass media, and public relations.

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Online Bachelor's Degrees in Communications

The bachelor's degree in communications teaches students rhetorical strategies for a variety of mediums of communication. This four-year program requires about 120 credit hours or four years of full-time study. Qualified applicants need a high school diploma or GED. Depending on the program, communications students may choose to focus in a particular communications area. Examples of possible specializations include conflict mediation and negotiation, public relations, or journalism.

The communications major includes coursework in both spoken and written communication. Core classes commonly include journalism, mass media, intercultural communication, organizational behavior and group communication, and digital communication. Students study the art of argumentation and persuasive speech in different mediums, such as marketing campaigns, press releases, or scientific articles.

The writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills of this degree prepare students for a variety of roles. Graduates can become news reporters, staff or freelance journalists, editors, technical writers, or public relations and marketing specialists. Others can work in advertising or human resources. Students are advised to gain practical experience in communications while in school; for example, work on a school newspaper or blog is often valued by employers who want employees with demonstrated experience. Graduates with professional experience in a different work area such as healthcare, finance, or engineering can also apply this work to a communications career. For example, clinical healthcare professionals with a communications degree could pen sales or marketing copy for a medical device company.

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Online Master's in Communications

The master's program in communications teaches students advanced practical rhetorical strategies, as well as social science research skills. While most communications master's programs accept applicants from a variety of undergraduate backgrounds, strong writing skills are required. Programs may also require a high undergraduate GPA and standardized test scores. The majority of master’s programs in communications are two-year degrees, though they range in length from one to three years.

The curriculum in the communications master's program requires study in a variety of communications and leadership strategies. Students learn about various methods of written and oral communication, such as public relations, mass communications, and digital communication. Many programs require foundational coursework in quantitative and qualitative research methods for social science. These courses teach students how to develop a sound research project, which is key for thesis-based degrees. The thesis requires students to draft a lengthy paper around a particular question or problem in communications.

Certain communications master's programs offer concentrations in communications management or professional communications. These degrees require more business-oriented coursework, such as classes in organizational behavior, team management, and international business.

The master's in communications can lead to management and specialist positions in public relations, advertising, marketing, journalism, writing, and editing. Current business managers and supervisors may use the communications management program to improve their skills in leading teams, motivating employees, and communicating with a wider range of clients.

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Online Doctoral Degrees in Communications

Doctoral degrees in communications require students to take advanced courses in media and communications and to complete a dissertation project in a particular communications area, such as media practice, social communication, global communication, or political economy. These intensive programs take four to five years to complete. The first couple of years of the program are comprised of coursework followed by a qualifying exam; those who pass the exam are invited to begin work on an original research project. Applicants generally need an accredited bachelor’s or master's degree, and most programs accept applicants from a variety of backgrounds, from humanities to the natural sciences.

In most communications doctorate programs, students take a common core of classes in foundational communications topics, quantitative analysis, and research methods. The curriculum might include classes in rhetoric and politics, media and culture, new media, and social scientific approaches to communication. These courses and the student’s own research help them devise a dissertation project in a particular area, such as social movements, entertainment and games, or online communities.

Communications doctoral programs are commonly used to prepare graduates for academic careers and careers in private industry and public service. The doctorate is usually required to land a faculty position in communications at a college or university. Other doctorate graduates choose to become media consultants, corporate managers, or specialists in media policy.

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Online Certificates in Communications

Online certificate programs in communications focus on the acquisition of effective communications skills for use in both professional and personal contexts. The knowledge and skills provided by certificate programs promote positive communications and enhance problem-solving skills in a variety of settings. Applicants to undergraduate certificate programs are required to hold a high school diploma. Certificate programs require completion of 10 to 20 credits, which takes three to four months.

The curriculum allows students to develop a broad understanding of communications theory and of the importance of verbal and nonverbal communication. Students are required to take core courses and electives. Coursework will likely include topics such as argumentation, fundamentals of oral communication, intercultural communication, interpersonal communication, media analysis, oral interpretation, persuasion and propaganda, public speaking, and small group communication. Electives may include career communication, family communication, gender communication, leadership communication, and voice and diction.

Verbal and non-verbal communications skills acquired from certificate programs enhance students’ chances of being selected for various jobs. With comprehensive communications skills, students may pursue careers in a broad range of professional contexts, such as advocacy, campaign management, corporate imaging, customer service, documentation, grant writing, motivational speaking, policy analysis, program evaluation, and research. Certificate holders may qualify for positions in fields such as advertising, community development, healthcare, marketing, media, personnel management, public relations, and social science research. Certificate programs can also be helpful for professionals who wish to develop managerial communication skills and advance in their careers.

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The Importance of Accreditation

Accreditation is a process by which schools and academic programs volunteer to be evaluated by outside agencies to ensure that they meet established standards. The evaluation procedure involves a careful review of each school or program's curricula, facilities, student resources, and faculty. Legitimate institutional or programmatic accrediting agencies should be recognized by either the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Prospective communications students should look for institutional accreditation by an agency such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Accreditation, or programmatic accreditation through the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. ACEJMC is recognized by CHEA for accrediting undergraduate and graduate journalism and communications programs. The organization ensures that programs adhere to particular curriculum requirements and that graduates leave their program with a recognizable set of skills.

When students choose a program or institution that is accredited, they can feel confident that they are receiving a high-quality education. Attending an accredited program also helps students meet the eligibility requirements to apply for federal financial aid, and it enables them to transfer their earned credits to other accredited institutions. 

Communications Specialities

Health Communication

Students of health communication study how health-related information is produced and disseminated in order to educate individuals, community groups, institutions, and public policy. For instance, a graduate of a health communications program might be hired to design a health communications strategy for a vulnerable population, create a guide pamphlet on medications for patients, communicate hospital news and field questions for the media, or prepare health policy briefs for legislators. Students who wish to enter this industry often begin by completing a bachelor’s degree program in public relations, communications, public health, or advertising. The health communication specialization is then pursued as either a master of science or as a concentration through a public health degree. Coursework in this focus area typically includes health communication technology, biostatistics, professional health writing, and public healthcare policies. Our list compiles health communication degrees that can be completed in a fully online format. Arizona State University is unique among the schools on this list for offering a bachelor's degree focused specifically upon the area of nutrition communication.

Journalism & Media

Journalists produce media content to inform the public about current news and events happening on a local, national, or global scale. Journalists may work for newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, television, radio, or social media. They work as reporters, correspondents, broadcast news analysts, television and radio announcers, editors, photographers, and more. A bachelor’s or master’s degree in journalism or communications is generally preferred by employers, and on-the-ground internship or work experience with a media outlet makes for a more competitive candidate. Typical journalism coursework includes journalism ethics, feature writing, copywriting, news reporting, photojournalism, video journalism, business journalism, digital media, and beat journalism. This list catalogues a wide selection of journalism and media degrees that can be completed in a fully online format. Bellevue University , Wilmington University , and South Dakota State University offer the most affordable online journalism and media degrees, with annual tuitions averaging less than $10,000.

Public Relations

Public relations (PR) specialists produce media releases to build and sustain a desired public image for the organization or entity they represent. Their clients vary widely and may include large corporations, politician, nonprofits, artists, and more. Public relations responsibilities often include acting as company spokesperson before the media, preparing clients for press conferences and interviews, writing speeches, and managing social media. PR specialists generally hold a bachelor’s degree in public relations, journalism, communications, English, marketing, or business. Master’s degrees in public relations are also available for professionals who wish to continue their education or further specialize within a field. Important coursework for potential PR specialists includes advertising, speech writing, political campaign strategy, image management, public relations writing, marketing and promotion, and other writing-focused courses. Below is a list of schools offering fully-online degrees in the field of public relations. Wilmington University and University of Phoenix offer some of the most affordable degrees in this area, with annual tuitions averaging less than $12,000.

Speech & Rhetorical Studies

Speech and rhetorical studies programs are available online at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels and train students to employ persuasive strategies towards advocacy, law, social justice, and political professions. Bachelor’s degree students often choose to minor in rhetorical studies or to pursue this specialty as a dual major alongside a related topic such as political science or pre-law. Anyone interested in studying a combination of rhetoric and political science should consider Regent University Online 's bachelor's and master's level online degrees specializing in political communication. Typical coursework for speech and rhetoric programs includes public advocacy, writing seminars, theories of rhetoric, language and meaning, rhetoric and social change, speechwriting, and body language. Graduates can go on to become teachers, administrators, corporate educators, lawyers, advertisers, political campaigners, social advocates, consultants, media promoters, and grant-writers. All of the school on our list offer fully-online degrees in speech and rhetoric and related fields.

Strategic & Organizational Communications

Degrees in strategic and organizational communications train students to develop and implement communications strategies that promote an organization’s goals, identity, and mission. Some schools offer the specialization in online format at the bachelor’s degree level, while graduate programs are available online at the master’s level. Specialized coursework typically involves organizational strategy and leadership, strategic storytelling, setting strategic direction, small group communication methods, gender roles in communication, and other courses specific to organization type. Graduates may pursue one of a variety of career paths, including managing corporate inter-departmental communications, devising ways of disseminating information to the public, or volunteering for non-profit organizations. Some representative job titles for graduates of strategic and organizational communications degrees are Community Involvement Director, Corporate Mediator, and Special Events Director. You'll find a wide range of online degree specializations in this area, particularly at Montana State University-Billings , and Liberty University Online .

Technical Communication

Technical communicators, or technical writers, design communications materials about technical information or products. For example, technical communicators might create instruction manuals, how-to guidebooks, or journal articles, to be used in a range of fields including software development, manufacturing, government, and biomedical technology. Work in this field generally requires a bachelor’s degree, preferably in communications or a technology-related area, and technical experience in computer design, web design, digital media, or engineering can be beneficial. Some schools, such as Southern New Hampshire University Online , offer an online bachelor of science or bachelor of arts in professional writing or technical writing and communication. Coursework for these degree programs typically includes standard communications curriculum as well as a shared set of pre-requisites in math, statistics, and computer programming. Some programs give students the chance to work on real projects for actual clients to keep up with the rapid developments in software and technology. Below is a list of schools offering online degree programs in various areas of technical communications.


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