2021 Best Online PhD in Communications Programs

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If you’re interested in the relay of information, including through digital media and mass communication, then pursuing a PhD in Communications online program may be the right path for you.

PhD in Communications Programs

Earning your doctoral degree in communications can provide you with the opportunity to work in a variety of fields.

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Communications experts play an important role in managing the communication of information from one person, group, or organization to another.

Online PhD in Communications Programs

Online PhD in Communications Programs

Online PhD in Communications programs can help you develop your expertise in areas of public relations, mass communication, digital and social media, and journalism.

Common careers in this field include:

  • Teacher or professor
  • Chief communications officer
  • Director of public relations
  • Public relations manager
  • News media correspondent
  • Researcher
  • Technical writer
  • Author

Becoming a teacher within a postsecondary school is a common career path for graduates of a communications PhD program. As a postsecondary teacher, you may develop course curriculum, instruct students on various communication topics, and evaluate student performance through assessments, tests, and other measures.

There are a number of other career options outside of academia that you may also qualify for. Some graduates advance their careers as public relations specialists or managers.

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Working in the area of public relations may require drafting press releases and communicating with the media on a regular basis. PR professionals help businesses manage public relations crises and maintain their reputation or public image.

Specific course curriculum can vary depending on the school and program that you choose to attend. Here are some topics, though, that are commonly covered in a communications program:

  • History of communication
  • Communication theories
  • Digital media and mass communication
  • Communication in politics
  • Media and the environment
  • Research methods
  • Professional writing

In most cases, PhD communication programs require you to complete coursework as well as a research project in the form of a dissertation.

Communications Careers & Salaries

Communications Careers & Salaries

Earning an online PhD in Communications can help you qualify for a variety of advanced positions. Leadership and management positions can include chief communications officer or director of public relations.

PhD graduates tend to teach at postsecondary schools, pursue academic research, or embark on rewarding careers in finance, law, policy development, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions in the field of communications are far-reaching and can span across various areas and industries. One of these professional areas includes media, such as journalism, news correspondence, or broadcasting.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Chief Executives $185,950
Marketing Managers $142,170
Advertising and Promotions Managers $133,460
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers $118,430
General and Operations Managers $103,650
Postsecondary Communications Teachers $71,030
Public Relations Specialists, Business, Political, and Similar Organizations $68,610
Public Relations Specialists, Government $67,590
Writers and Authors $67,120
Public Relations Specialists, Advertising, PR, and Related Services $64,880

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that a number of positions in the communication field will experience positive job growth through 2029. These positions include top executives (4% job growth), marketing managers (7%), public relations specialists (7%), and postsecondary teachers (9%).

Communications Doctorate Curriculum

Communications Doctorate

Courses in doctoral communications programs can provide you with advanced knowledge in areas related to public relations, digital media, mass communication, media studies, and research. Courses may include:

  • Communication Research Methodologies: This course is an in-depth look at standard methodologies used in research in the field of communications and the arts and social sciences more generally.
  • Quantitative Research in Communication: You’ll review quantitative research practices in social science, including the use of statistics.
  • Qualitative Research in Communication: This course is an overview of qualitative research methods in communication, including interviewing techniques, observation, and the use of focus groups.
  • Advanced Communication Theory: You’ll take a look at key theories in the field of communication, including scholars, existing research, and emerging trends and theories.
  • History of Communication: This course is an analysis of communication throughout history, including a look at recent changes in technology and the impact that those changes have had on communication.
  • Writing for Publication: You’ll examine the approaches used in writing for publication, including conference papers, chapter books, academic papers, and more.
  • Social, Mobile, and Online Media Analytics: You’ll look at various social, mobile, and media tools available, along with the metrics, analytics, and big data related to each that help explain the experience of end-users.
  • Social Media Strategy: This course is an overview of various digital channels that exist in the realm of communications studies and media, and you’ll learn about leveraging those channels to persuade and interact with an audience.
  • Content Communication: This course is a review of content communication strategies used in the pursuit of delivering a message to a target audience and capturing the intended result.
  • Analytics in Digital and Strategic Communication: You’ll look at how research in communication has evolved over time, including the increased use of digital analytics.

In addition to regular coursework, you may be required to complete a dissertation, thesis, or research project option as part of your degree program.

Admissions Requirements

PhD in Communications Admissions

In order to enroll in one of the available communication doctoral programs, you may be required to meet a number of admissions requirements. Criteria can vary from one school to the next, but here are a few common requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree. It’s necessary to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school and to submit your official transcripts.
  • GRE or GMAT scores. Although this requirement is becoming less common, some schools still require the submission GRE or GMAT scores.
  • Letters of reference. Delivery of one or more letters of reference from academic or professional supervisors and colleagues is often requested.
  • Resume. You may need to submit a copy of your resume, detailing your academic and workplace experience.

Additional admissions criteria can include completing a written essay, submitting an online application, and completing a writing test.

Accreditation

PhD in Communications Accreditation

Regional accreditation is a status that verifies that a postsecondary school and its programming meet a specific set of academic quality standards.

Attending a regionally accredited school can impact your ability to transfer credits to another program or join various professional associations. The accreditation status of the school you choose to attend can also influence the hiring decisions of potential employers.

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You can visit the US Department of Education’s website to find out the accreditation status of a particular school or program.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

PhD in Communications Financial Aid

There are a number of financial aid and scholarship opportunities that may help you fund your doctorate in communication. Financial aid is available to qualifying students in the form of grants and loans from federal and state governments.

Another option is employer training programs. If you’re currently employed, you can check to see if you’re eligible to receive educational funding from your employer through professional development or employee training programs.

In many cases, postsecondary schools also offer funding to PhD students. While funding amounts and options can vary from one school to the next, some examples include tuition rebates or cost of living stipends. For more information regarding financial aid, you can visit the US Department of Education’s website.

Communications Professional Organizations

Communications Professionals

Joining a professional association or organization for communications professionals can provide you with the opportunity to network with others in your field. Professional organizations may also highlight new employment opportunities.

Some communications professional organizations include:

Professional organizations can also be a great resource for learning and networking if you’re interested in starting your own business.

Is Communications a Good Career?

career in communications

A career in communications may allow you to explore positions in education, finance, law, policy development, nonprofit, or government.

While it is common for graduates of a PhD in Communications program to pursue positions in teaching, a number of other career options are available. These include positions in public relations, management, research, and media.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that a number of positions in the field of communications will experience growth over the next several years. These positions include top executives (4% job growth), marketing managers (7%), public relations specialists (7%), and postsecondary teachers (9%).

What Can You Do with a PhD in Communications?

PhD in Communications

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earning your PhD in Communications online may allow you the opportunity to work in a variety of positions. Public relations, media, and education are just some of the industries where your communications skills are applicable.

Common careers in this field include chief communications officer, marketing manager, advertising and promotions manager, public relations manager, postsecondary school teacher, and public relations specialist. Other career options include writer, author, reporter, correspondent, and broadcast news analyst.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in Communications Online?

Completing a PhD in Communications online may take 3 to 5 years when attending on a full-time basis.

Depending on the school you choose to attend, you may be able to enroll on a part-time basis, which could lengthen the amount of time it takes for you to obtain your degree. Some online degree programs in communications offer shorter 8 week terms that may allow you to finish your coursework sooner.

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Similar to most masters in communications programs, it is common for communications PhD programs to be theory- and research-intensive. A large portion of academic time can be absorbed by work on a dissertation, which is generally required in order to graduate.

What’s the Difference Between Marketing vs. Communications?

While there are some overlapping areas of study between communications and marketing, there are also a few key differences.

Marketing Communications
  • Larger focus on business, finance, and sales
  • Course topics include microeconomics, psychology, and sociology
  • Focuses on digital media and mass communication
  • Course topics include writing and persuasion, digital analytics, and communication history

Careers in marketing and communications can have some overlapping options, such as advertising, promotions, and marketing managers.

Is a PhD in Communications Worth It?

PhD in Communications

Yes, a PhD in Communications is worth it for many students. Pursing a terminal degree in communications can allow you to explore topics related to history, writing, research, and social media.

Common careers in this field include marketing manager, advertising and promotions manager, public relations manager, public relations specialist, writer, author, reporter, and broadcast news analyst. PhD graduates often pursue research or postsecondary teacher positions.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Communications Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

American University

American University campus

American University offers an online Doctor of Philosophy in Communications program. The program is designed to be completed in 3 years by providing courses for 11 months a year. A total of 54 credits are needed to graduate. Applicants must submit 2 letters of recommendation, a resume, GRE scores, and a master’s thesis.

American University is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

Clemson University

Clemson University campus

Clemson University offers a PhD program in Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design.

Students need to complete 30 credits hours and 6 credit hours of research to defend a dissertation. Exams and the defense of the dissertation must be completed on campus. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher and a portfolio of past graduate work.

Clemson University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Colorado State University

Colorado State University campus

Colorado State University offers a PhD in Communications. Students may choose courses in the following fields: Rhetoric and Civic Engagement, Relational and Organizational Communication, or Film and Media Studies. Applicants must complete 81 credits to graduate. Applicants need 3 letters of reference and a resume to apply.

Colorado State is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, a Commission of the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus

Indiana University of Pennsylvania offers a PhD in Media and Communication Studies. A total of 60 credits are needed to graduate, with 12 hours used for a dissertation. Students must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher to graduate. Applicants must submit official transcripts and 2 letters of recommendation when applying.

The Indiana University of Pennsylvania is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Liberty University offers an online PhD in Communications program. Students must complete 60 credit hours and may apply to transfer in up to half of the credits required. Courses are 8 weeks long. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 and need to submit official transcripts to be eligible for the program.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Regent University

Regent University campus

Regent University offers a PhD in Communications. The program can be completed online, though a week-long residency in Virginia Beach during the summer is required. Students must complete a minimum of 56 credit hours to graduate.

Applicants must submit official transcripts and a past graduate program academic paper and need to complete an academic background questionnaire.

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Robert Morris University

Robert Morris University campus

Robert Morris University offers an online PhD in Information Systems and Communications program. Students must complete 60 credit hours, with 12 dedicated to writing a dissertation. At the end of each school year, students must finish a milestone.

Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 and submit 3 letters of recommendation. An interview with the program director and admissions committee is also required.

Robert Morris University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University campus

Texas Tech University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Technical Communication and Rhetoric. Applicants must submit 3 letters of recommendation, a writing sample, and transcripts from previous college work.

Students must complete at least 72 hours to graduate from the program. They also have the option to add one of five areas of emphasis to their degree, including Technical Communication and Rhetoric of Science and Healthcare.

Texas Tech University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Alabama

University of Alabama campus

The University of Alabama offers a Doctorate in Communications and Information Sciences. Students may choose to add a concentration in one of seven different areas, including Media Processes and Effects and Books and Publishing Studies.

To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and submit 3 academic references and their transcripts.

The University of Alabama is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of North Dakota

University of North Dakota campus

The University of North Dakota offers a PhD in Communication. The program can typically be completed in 5 years and requires 90 credit hours.

To be eligible for the program, applicants must either have a master’s degree in communications or a GPA of 3.0 or higher from their undergraduate studies. GRE scores and 3 letters of recommendation must be submitted when applying.

The University of North Dakota is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Getting Your PhD in Communications Online

PhD in Communications Online

A Ph.D. in Communications can help equip you to pursue career paths in education, research, leadership, public relations, or media communications.

A doctoral degree may allow you to benefit from a flexible career path. There may be a variety of opportunities available to you in many different industries, such as government, nonprofit, finance, law, academia, or news media.

If you’re wanting to advance in this highly versatile and lucrative field, you can start today by exploring online communications doctoral programs from accredited universities.

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Brenda Pyzik
WRITTEN BY
Brenda Pyzik
Brenda has a bachelor’s in sociology from the University of Waterloo, with a minor in legal studies. She obtained a graduate certificate in human resource management from Georgian College. Brenda focuses on employment, business, and training and development.