Choosing the Right Masters in Communication Program for You


Debra Davenport, Faculty

So you’ve decided to return to school to obtain a masters in communication. Congratulations on making this major decision!  

When selecting a masters degree program, it’s important to consider a number of key factors:

Online versus on-campus  
Many working professionals prefer the convenience of online learning because they can efficiently complete their studies in tandem with their full-time employment.  For students seeking the most flexible degree option, online programs are the way to go.  With that said, online studies require a high level of self-motivation, as well as skills in time management and computer technology. For those with highly extraverted personalities, the online environment may not afford the desired degree of face-to-face interaction.  The online learning environment requires the ability to effectively communicate via discussion posts and email.  A reflective self-assessment may be required to determine which environment will be the most productive and comfortable for you.

Master of Science or Master of Arts?
These degrees sound similar, but there are some differences. According to, “An MA typically has a more balanced and liberal curriculum that combines desk research with class discussions, and essay writing with practical exercises in equal measure. Conversely, an MS will focus heavily on theory, and put emphasis on doing lots of research and reading. An MA gives you the skills and knowledge to be a great professional and an MSc gives you the skills and knowledge to understand your profession in great depth.”  These are certainly good generalizations with regard to both types of degrees.

With that said, as a faculty member in Purdue’s MS in Strategic Communication program, I know firsthand that the program develops successful scholar-practitioners by offering the best of what MA and MS programs offer.  Purdue’s program provides a wealth of interesting and relevant discussion forums, as well as numerous thought-provoking case studies that are designed specifically to help students apply their theoretical and “book” knowledge in real-world contexts.  Written assignments include scholarly and business projects that synthesize the literature with experiential learning.  In my courses, I try to provide plenty of useful information that students can immediately begin applying in their own workplaces.

Admission and thesis requirements 
Some online programs require the GED for admission, while others do not (Purdue does not).  Other programs may require a masters thesis or capstone project.  Do take the time to think about your schedule and your learning objectives.  For some graduate students, the completion of a culminating project provides tangible evidence of their work and a significant addition to their professional portfolio.  For others, the expedient completion of a high-quality program is top priority.  Note that Purdue does not require the completion of a thesis or capstone project. 

Variety of elective courses 
Once core courses are completed, students often want to pursue specific electives to meet their career needs and interests.  Purdue offers a broad range of electives, including courses in investor relations, fundraising, global strategic communications, focus groups, survey design, integrated communication, and healthcare communication  (potential new courses are always being considered, based on student research and feedback). 

These are just a few of the things you’ll want to ponder as you make your decision.  Of course, we would love to see you join our Purdue community and engage with us.  However, it is vital that you select the right program for your particular goals, objectives, and learning style.

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Debra Davenport Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.