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Best Online Communications Degrees

Effective communication is an important skill for any professional to have. Online communications degrees allow students to study various aspects of the field and get them ready for a variety of professional roles.

Schools with the Best Online Communications Degrees

Undergraduate and graduate degree programs in communications open up various doors for aspiring professionals, and there are many online programs students can choose from. The programs offered vary from general communications studies degrees to specializations in areas like public relations. Here are the top schools for online degrees in communication, ranked by Learn.org. Rankings are based on various factors, from the quality of the program to accessibility and cost.

1. Webster University

Location In-State Tuition/Fees % of Students Receiving Financial Aid

Webster University offers various program levels for traditional students and working professionals who want to pursue online communications degrees. It offers a degree-completion Bachelor of Arts in Media Communications, which means that it is for students who have already completed 64 college credit hours and want to finish their degree. For those who want to continue their communications education, it also has four options for a Master of Arts: advertising and marketing communications, communications management, media communications, and public relations.

2. University of Memphis

Location In-State Tuition/Fees % of Students Receiving Financial Aid

At the University of Memphis, students can complete a 120-credit online Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies. The university's communications department also offers an undergraduate degree in public relations through a program that is one of the only 117 accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC). Graduate students can pursue a two-year Master of Arts in Technical Communication program.

3. Appalachian State University

Location In-State Tuition/Fees % of Students Receiving Financial Aid
North Carolina$7,36471%

App State Online, the online education branch of this university, offers two undergraduate degree-completion programs in communications that are flexible and designed for adults. The Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies is a full-time, 120-credit-hour program that is first open to members of the military and their dependents. The Bachelor of Science in Communications - Advertising degree is also a 120-credit program that covers copywriting and strategies for engaging with consumers, including through social media.

4. The University of Texas at El Paso

Location In-State Tuition/Fees % of Students Receiving Financial Aid

Through UTEP Connect, the online branch of this university, students can pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational and Corporate Communication. This flexible program is ideal for adults with jobs and families who can't take part in a traditional program. The classes for this degree are taught by expert faculty who give students a strong foundation to get jobs in media relations and public relations.

5. Pennsylvania State University - World Campus

Location In-State Tuition/Fees % of Students Receiving Financial Aid

Penn State University - World Campus offers various online degrees in communications through its well-respected institution and faculty. It offers both a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Organizational and Professional Communication. These 120-credit programs offer students the opportunity to continue working while they receive their degrees and prepare for a variety of roles in a company. There are also online programs for a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Professional Studies in Strategic Communications, which can help students understand how to communicate effectively.

Rank School Name Location In-State Tuition/Fees % of Students Receiving Financial Aid
6University of IowaIowa$9,26792%
7University of KansasKansas$11,14886%
8Washington State UniversityWashington$11,58490%
9Colorado State University - Fort CollinsColorado$11,70780%
10Regent UniversityVirginia$18,38097%
11East Carolina UniversityNorth Carolina$7,18881%
12Maryville University of Saint LouisMissouri$28,470100%
13Arkansas State University - Main Campus Arkansas$8,60797%
14Southern New Hampshire UniversityNew Hampshire$31,13675%
15University of ArizonaArizona$12,46792%
16University of ArkansasArkansas$9,13077%
17Point Park UniversityPennsylvania$31,450100%
18Dallas Baptist UniversityTexas$28,87097%
19Missouri State University-SpringfieldMissouri$7,37691%
20Florida International UniversityFlorida$6,54689%
21Oral Roberts UniversityOklahoma$27,72890%
22Ohio University-Main CampusOhio$12,19294%
23University of North DakotaNorth Dakota$8,69590%
24University of Northern ColoradoColorado$9,91893%
25Ashland UniversityOhio$21,34297%
26University of Colorado-Colorado Springs Colorado$8,52384%
27The University of Texas of the Permian BasinTexas$6,26091%
28Arizona State University-SkysongArizona$10,31782%
29University of Northwestern-St PaulMinnesota$31,540100%
30University of Massachusetts-AmherstMassachusetts$15,88791%
31Northern Arizona UniversityArizona$11,56494%
32Sam Houston State UniversityTexas$8,29689%
33Cleveland State UniversityOhio$10,45790%
34Eastern Oregon UniversityOregon$8,67998%
35Texas Tech UniversityTexas$9,08078%

All statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics; tuition based on 2018-2019 school year

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Overview of Online Communications Degree Programs and Specializations

Students who want to pursue an undergraduate communications degree online have many options. Some universities have general communications studies programs that cover a wide range of topics in the field. Others focus on a particular area of communications, like advertising or public relations. These programs are generally fully online and don't require in-person courses. Community colleges or other institutions may offer online associate degree programs in communications topics. Four-year schools can award Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degrees, depending on the curriculum. Some schools also offer master's degree programs in communications specialties.

  • Communications or Communications Studies: Communications and communications studies are the most general communication topics to study online. These programs may prepare students to work in a variety of different industries and broadly cover communications in areas ranging from mass media to professional communication.
  • Organizational and Professional Communication: This type of degree program is more specific to communication topics within companies and organizations. They cover group dynamics and leadership and how to effectively communicate in teams. Practical skills students learned in these programs can include speechwriting and internal press release writing.
  • Advertising and Marketing Communications: Advertising and marketing degree programs are focused on how to engage and draw in consumers. These programs can involve the study of copywriting, media planning, and social media promotion.
  • Public Relations: Public relations degree programs focus on the skills needed to communicate to the public on behalf of a business in order to create a positive image. Courses can cover media promotions and also crisis management. These programs can also include journalism coursework.
  • Strategic Communications: This communications specialization focuses on using data, research, and analysis to persuasively communicate. This type of degree program has foundations in areas like psychology and statistics.

Common Courses in Online Communications Programs

Associate and bachelor's degree programs usually include general education requirements and also core courses that provide students with foundational skills in communication. After those are completed, communications students take advanced courses depending on their specialization. Students who are just studying general communications will likely take some of these specialized courses as well.

Master's degree programs have similar course topics that may be covered at a more advances level and are designed for those who are already professionals but want to gain more in-depth knowledge of a specific communications specialization. Note that some specializations may have overlapping coursework.

Communication Studies

These are basic communications classes. It's likely that whether a student pursues a general communications studies degree or a specialization, they will have to take these or similar courses.

  • Communication Ethics: These courses explore the ethical responsibilities and decision-making processes of a communications professional.
  • Public Speaking: Students learn tools and strategies for effective oral communication.
  • Communication Research Methods: Students learn about the research methods used by communications professionals and practice using these strategies.

Organizational and Professional Communication

Students who choose to study communications as it relates to business might take the following classes. They might have some overlap with a public relations specialization.

  • Conflict Communication: These courses cover strategies for interpersonal and social conflict management within an organization.
  • Corporate Communication Writing: This course covers writing press releases, promotional materials, and other documents to disseminate information on behalf of a business.

Advertising and Marketing Communication

In addition to basic communications classes, students studying advertising and marketing take some of the following classes.

  • Social Media Strategy: Students learn how to use social media to attract consumers and create campaigns.
  • Media Planning: These courses cover strategies for identifying and solving an organization's media problems and the process of creating media opportunities for a company.
  • Copywriting: Through these classes, students get experience writing creative advertising campaigns.

Public Relations

Public relations classes focus more on mass media and can include the study of journalism.

  • Media Law: Essential for any public relations professional, media law covers issues like libel and copyright.
  • Writing for Public Relations: Students learn how to write press releases and other documents necessary to public relations.
  • Media and Society: In this course, students examine the cultural complexities that contribute to some of the problems associated with mass media.

Prerequisites for Online Communications Degrees

For undergraduate online communications degrees, the prerequisites are fairly general. Students need to have a high school diploma or equivalent and also submit SAT or ACT scores, a personal statement, and possibly a letter of recommendation. Students who are transferring from another school may need to show proof of other college credit.

For master's degree programs, applicants need to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited university, usually with at least a 2.5 GPA. Some schools ask for professional experience or previous coursework in communications, or make acceptance contingent on completing prerequisite communications courses. Graduate admissions tests are generally not required.

How Long Does an Online Communications Degree Take?

The time it takes to complete an online communications degree depends on the degree level. Other factors, such as the ability to apply transfer credits, enrollment status, and course format, could also play a role in determining program duration.

  • Associate degree programs: Associate degree programs generally require the completion of about 60 credits, which takes about two years as a full-time student.
  • Bachelor's degree programs: These programs are usually about 120 credits. Students can complete this curriculum in as little as six semesters, although eight is more normal.
  • Master's degree programs: These can vary but are usually about 30 to 36 credit hours, which students can complete in about two or three years.

Scholarships and Financial Aid for Online Communications Students

Students pursuing online communications degrees can seek federal or private grants, scholarships, and student loans. Online communications students should first apply for federal student aid by submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Even if they don't think they will qualify for federal aid, students should still fill this out, because other scholarships or financial help may be able to them through their university, as long as they submit the form. Students can also look for scholarship opportunities through professional organizations and other groups. Universities' financial aid offices may be able to help prospective students with this search.

  • Federal grants: The U.S. Department of Education awards federal grants that do not need to be paid back and are based on need. One common kind is a Pell grant. These grants are for students pursuing their first undergraduate degree.
  • Federal and private student loans: These are generally available for undergraduate and graduate students. These loans must be paid back over a certain amount of time; generally, private loans have higher interest rates.
  • Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA): The student arm of the Public Relations Society of America offers various scholarships for students studying public relations at different points in their academic careers. Some awards are based on financial need, others are based on diversity and academic achievement, and others are based on involvement in PRSSA.
  • American Marketing Association Foundation: The charitable arm of the American Marketing Association offers various individual scholarships. They are given for social impact, diversity and more.

Accreditation for Online Communications Degree Programs

Accreditation for online communications programs shows that the programs meet educational standards. Institutions of higher education voluntarily submit themselves for assessment from regional, national, or programmatic accrediting agencies. Factors considered in assessment can be the faculty, curriculum, resources, and more. Schools with programmatic accreditation may be able to offer scholarships and internships whereas non-accredited schools may not. Some programmatic accrediting agencies focused on the communications field are profiled below.

  • The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC): Only 117 schools are accredited through this organization, which ensures journalism and mass communications programs meet its educational standards. The accreditation process includes site visits by the accrediting council to a university to assess its program.
  • The American Communication Association: This association accredits various types of communication programs, from mass communication to public relations, based on 15 standards ranging from governance to the availability of student organizations.

Career Options with an Online Communications Degree

Graduates of communications programs have many options available to them when it comes time to find a career. Communications degrees give students core skills that be applied to many professional roles, but here are some common ones.

Career Median Salary (2018)* Job Outlook (2018-2028)*
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Manager $132,620 8%
Public Relations Specialists $60,000 6%
Technical Writers $71,850 8%

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

  • Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers: These professionals market products and businesses to consumers, including through social media. A bachelor's degree is usually required for this job, either in communications or a related field.
  • Public Relations Specialists: Creating and promoting a positive image for their clients or companies is the main job of a public relations specialist. Entering this career usually only requires a bachelor's degree in communications or specifically in public relations. Master's degree programs can help professionals who want to deepen their knowledge of the field.
  • Technical Writers: Technical writers write instructions, manuals, and more to explain how to use software or other products. To become a technical writer, a bachelor's degree in communications studies or a communications specialization, like organizational and professional communications, is beneficial. Depending on the role, it may also helpful for technical writers to have knowledge of the technical subject they are writing about.

Communications-Related Professional Organizations

Membership in a professional organization can give communications professionals access to networking opportunities, industry news, professional development resources, and more. Professional organizations for various communications careers include:

  • Public Relations Society of America: This group has more than 30,000 members and chapters in every state, in addition to the chapters on university campuses through its student group, the Public Relations Student Society of America. It provides professional development opportunities, advocates for the profession, and provides a code of ethics for those in the field.
  • American Marketing Association: The American Marketing Association has professional and student members who can benefit from publications, access to networking events, and more. The group works to stay at the forefront of the industry, advancing best practices and helping its members grow in their careers.
  • National Communication Association: This organization is geared toward practitioners, teachers, and scholars in the communications field. It publishes academic journals, hosts conventions and events, and spreads information about communications topics.