Advertising Graduate Degrees: Master's & PhD Program Info

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What will you learn in an advertising graduate degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of master's and PhD degrees and potential careers.
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Studying Advertising: Graduate Degrees at a Glance

A master's degree can qualify you for management positions in advertising, marketing or communications. Pursuing a doctoral degree is best if you're interested in research or teaching at the college level. Typically, a bachelor's degree is the minimum education requirement for most careers in advertising, but employers may prefer candidates with master's degrees for management positions. The employment outlook for advertising managers was expected to grow by an average rate of 13% from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Job applicants with a combination of relevant work experience and education credentials are most poised for success.

Who is this degree for? - Experienced advertising workers who want professional development or advancement opportunities
- People who are new to advertising or are making a career change
- People who want to teach or perform research at the postsecondary level
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual salary) - Advertising and promotions managers ($103,000 - may vary with experience)*- Postsecondary communications professors ($68,000 - may vary with experience)*
Time to Completion Typically 2 years (full-time)Typically 4 years (full-time)
Common Graduation Requirements - Satisfy coursework requirements
- Maintain GPA standards
- Complete thesis or capstone project, if applicable
- Complete coursework
- Research, write and present dissertation
- Pass qualifying exams
- Complete student teaching/research requirements, if applicable
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree (typically in journalism, communications or marketing)
- Meet GPA requirements
- Recent GRE scores
- Letters of recommendation
- Writing sample
- All of the master's requirements plus
- Resume
- Master's thesis, if applicable
- Prerequisite courses, if applicable
Online Availability Uncommon; similar programs are available Similar programs are available

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 mean figures).

Advertising Master's Degrees

Advertising master's degree programs prepare students for management roles in the mass communications industry. Students in a master's degree program can expect a curriculum that combines business- and media-focused courses. Master's candidates do not necessarily need a prior bachelor's degree in advertising; however, students typically have bachelor's degrees in communications, marketing or a similar field. Depending on the school, the degree type conferred may be Master of Arts, Master of Science or Master of Fine Arts.

Pros and Cons


  • The job market for management positions in advertising is very competitive, and employers may prefer applicants (particularly for management positions) to have a master's degree.*
  • Lower-level management positions may require just a few years of work experience, so there is potential to rise in level of responsibility quickly.
  • You'll likely need a master's degree to gain admission into a competitive PhD program.


  • Professional experience is very important to employers, and it can be difficult to land your first relevant job even with a master's degree.
  • Careers in advertising can be stressful because they are client-focused and deadline-driven.
  • If you attend a master's program immediately after undergraduate studies, you may be delaying valuable on-the-job experiences.

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Courses and Requirements

A typical advertising master's program consists of required 'core' courses and electives. Courses typically feature a mixture of business, marketing, media and communications topics. Common courses may include:

  • Advertising management
  • International marketing
  • Creative strategy and development
  • Digital communication
  • Media law

Additionally, you'll likely need to complete a capstone research paper (thesis) or project to demonstrate mastery of your newly acquired knowledge.

Online Degree Options

While online programs in advertising are rare, relevant programs in fields like marketing or communications are available and can prepare you for a management-level career in advertising. Such online programs generally feature curriculum and coursework requirements that are similar to traditional on-campus programs. Some online programs target mid-career professionals and expect students to have an understanding of advertising topics. Students who are interested in online and distance learning degrees should thoroughly research academic programs to ensure the degrees are accredited by the U.S. Department of Education or one of its accrediting agencies.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Take advantage of practical skills training that your school may offer, like pitching your ideas and working on a team to complete projects. While you are in school, you can start compiling your professional portfolio with examples of flyers, website advertisements, television commercials or other promotional samples from your coursework. Schools may offer the chance for you to have your portfolio reviewed by advertising professionals, providing you with useful feedback as well as industry connections.

Alternate Degree

If you'd like an education that may prepare you for a wider array of job opportunities, consider earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Marketing. While you may still choose a concentration or take some courses in advertising, the business background you'll obtain could expand your skill set and prove to be useful in the job market. An MBA also teaches management skills and could help you advance to a leadership position.

Advertising PhD Degrees

PhD candidates study and evaluate a range of topics in the field of advertising. Students may also produce original contributions to research and teach graduate courses. A PhD can provide a significant edge if you want to become a subject matter expert in your field; however, consider that you may be over-educated for some positions, particularly those outside academia. It may be challenging to find an advertising-specific PhD program, but some schools offer similar programs, such as a PhD in Media and Information Studies.

Pros and Cons


  • The PhD is widely recognized as the best option for pursuing a postsecondary teaching career.
  • PhD candidates may be eligible for graduate assistantships or other financial support.
  • PhD programs are designed to provide students the opportunity to specialize in a topic of particular interest to them.


  • PhD admissions selection processes can be highly competitive; typically, only a handful of students are admitted each year.
  • Obtaining a PhD may not provide higher salaries or more job opportunities, since most careers in this field only require bachelor's or master's degree.*
  • Because bachelor's and master's degrees are more common in professional practice, you may be over-educated for careers outside of academia.

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

As a student in a PhD program, you'll typically spend several years completing academic coursework, researching and writing an original dissertation on a topic of your choosing and passing qualifying examinations. Students on a teaching track may also be required to complete a teaching assignment. PhD program are usually highly specialized, meaning students can tailor their curriculum to their own individual interests. In general, students in advertising PhD programs can expect courses on the following topics:

  • Media theory
  • Media and technology
  • Quantitative research methods
  • Qualitative research methods
  • Seminar in advertising

Online Degree Options

Online PhD programs in advertising are not likely to be available. However, some online marketing PhD programs do exist, and you could learn relevant skills from such a program. Again, since these programs are fairly rare, ensure that you review schools' accreditation status.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

If you plan to work in academia, you can pursue teaching assistant opportunities while you are enrolled in your PhD program. These competitive opportunities may or may not provide a salary, but they typically provide a unique opportunity to obtain professional experience. Programs may also offer research assistantships and encourage you to collaborate with your professors on research programs so that you can boost your level of experience and get an edge.

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What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • MBA: Marketing
  • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education

What is your highest level of education?

Full Sail University

  • MS - Entertainment Business (Campus)
  • Entertainment Business Masters - Campus
  • M.S. - Public Relations

What is your highest level of education?

University of Maryland Global Campus

Webster University

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Denver