IS IT WORTH IT? GETTING A MASTER’S IN COMMUNICATION

In the past, getting a master’s degree indicated you were headed for doctoral work. Now, that’s not always the case. In today’s hyper competitive work environment, a master’s degree can serve as a way to advance in your career. Or, if you’re looking to change career directions altogether, a master’s degree can help you retool your resume.

THEORETICAL KNOWLEDGE MEETS REAL WORLD APPLICATION

Graduate degrees in communication have begun to shift away from a strict focus on theory generation and research to the application of knowledge in real-world situations. This shift reflects changes in the needs of both the students who seek master’s degrees and the organizations that hire them. This is great news if you’re looking to gain competitive edge in the workplace or looking to change careers altogether. That said, don’t be fooled.  An emphasis on real-world application does not mean that earning a graduate degree is easier. After all, a master’s degree still prepares students for doctoral work— and there’s no denying that getting a PhD is challenging.

GETTING A GRADUATE DEGREE, GAINING AN EDGE

“Forty years ago, a high school diploma was enough, and a bachelor’s degree was more for high-end positions. That has shifted…now it’s a master’s degree that makes you stand out.”

 The presence of a master’s degree on your resume will not guarantee a job or a promotion but it will signal to potential or current employers a certain degree (no pun intended) of higher level critical thinking. Master’s students are expected to do more than regurgitate others’ work. As a communication master’s student, you’ll be expected to explore communication phenomena and redefine the discipline though inventive, real-world applications of theory, methods, and constructs. The same will be expected of you in the workplace.

Employers are increasingly interested in hiring individuals with specialized skills and a major advantage of graduate level work is the opportunity to explore certain niches through a communication studies lens. Additionally, earning a master’s degree means working alongside academics who specialize in the areas of study that interest you. Have you always been fascinated by public health, social media or intercultural communication? Now’s your chance to become your own expert.

Furthermore, whereas undergraduate level communications studies provide students with a introduction to communication studies, graduate level work arms communications students and professionals with the necessary skills (e.g. how to analyze qualitative and quantitative data at an advanced level) to conduct original research that makes an impact.

WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH A MASTER’S IN COMMUNICATION?

Careers in marketing, advertising, and corporate communication are just a few examples of the paths communication students take after receiving a master’s degree, but the list certainly doesn’t end there. Graduates with advanced communication degrees go on to work in a variety of industries like public health, non-profit organizations, politics and more. Given the importance of effective communication in everyday life and the increased prevalence of new media, social media and participatory technologies, a master’s degree in communication is highly marketable.

ACADEMICS VERSUS EXPERIENCE

According to The Atlantic, when students emerge with their bachelor’s evidence suggests that experience is the top factor taken into consideration when making hiring decisions. Within the media and communications industry experience is even more important. You don’t want a newbie handling your multi-national PR crisis or doing the research that informs your national health intervention campaign.

This might suggest that getting a master’s degree is less important than gaining work experience, but that just isn’t true. First, a lot of graduate communication programs, including the one at the College of Charleston, make it possible for students to work and go to school simultaneously. Second, unlike undergrad, graduate school is a lot more like an internship. Master’s students do a lot of outside research and work — like conducting focus groups, interviews and designing project elements— on top of reading and homework for class.

Master’s students are expected and trained to be intellectual pioneers, asking new questions and discovering, through rigorous research, applied, real-world answers.

REFERENCES

Gehrman, E. (August 11, 2013). What really helps in today’s job market. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2013/08/10/going-back-school-worth/XSy3KSZfl7h7AAnqtZYnoI/story.html

Sellnow, T. L., Littlefield, R.S., & Sellnow, D.D. (May 1994). A National Profile of Experiential Education Trends in Communication Master’s Degree Programs. Journal of the Association for Communication Administration, 2, 68-76.

Thompson, D. (August 19, 2014). The Thing Employers Look For When Hiring Recent Graduates. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/08/the-thing-employers-look-for-when-hiring-recent-graduates/378693/

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