Media Studies Degrees: Masters, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a media studies degree program? Read about the degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD and potential careers.
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Studying Media Studies: Degrees at a Glance

Media studies is an interdisciplinary field in which you study media history and theories, as well as gain hands-on production skills. Completing a graduate degree program may lead to a broad range of careers. In addition to journalism and public relations, you may find jobs in advertising, media advocacy, non-profit management and media research. PhD programs, which focus more on research, can prepare you for jobs in academia, media policy or consulting.

As media industries and communication technologies change, media studies careers will be in flux. With an entrepreneurial spirit, you may find yourself with a rewarding, yet-to-be invented career. Job opportunities for media-savvy professionals may vary widely by profession. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a decline of six percent in job growth for journalists from 2010-2020; in contrast, a faster-than-average increase of 21% was anticipated for public relations managers (

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Students seeking to enter or advance in media-related jobs in the public and private sectors Typically master's degree holders seeking careers as college professors or media professionals in government, non-profit organizations or industry
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Journalist ($31,000)*
- Advertising manager ($80,000)*
- Media supervisor ($79,000)*
- Media relations manager ($86,000)*
- Social media marketing manager ($101,000)*
- University professor, communications ($83,000)*
- Research fellow ($150,000)*
- Media consultant (salary unavailable)
- Policy maker (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years full-time after the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Master's exam
- Master's thesis
- Qualifying exams
- Dissertation
- Teaching requirement
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in media studies or related field Bachelor's or master's degree in media studies or related field
Online Availability Yes but uncommon No

Source: * (May 2012 figures).

Master's in Media Studies

In master's degree programs in media studies, you explore the cultural and social effects of media through coursework rooted in the humanities and social sciences. While studying media theory and history, you also produce work using film, video, audio and/or digital media; however, programs tend to focus more on developing a critical and historical perspective of media rather than technical skills.

Generally, master's degree programs in media studies are flexible and designed to meet the needs of students with both scholarly and professional goals. Media entrepreneurs, policy makers, artists and activists may visit your classes to provide their unique perspectives on media change. Though some programs allow you to produce a media project for a thesis, you can expect to receive training in research methods through coursework and/or research assistantships.

Pros and Cons


  • Can lead to a wide variety of careers in business, journalism and academia
  • Provides numerous potential areas of specialization or focus on which to base a thesis or final project (media policy, feminist media criticism, film history and many more)
  • May prepare graduates for managerial roles in industries like advertising and entertainment
  • Many programs offer internships and workshops to help students gain experience and build professional portfolios


  • Graduates may be applying for the same jobs as competitors with bachelor's degrees
  • An advanced degree might not be a significant career asset because some employers value related job experience more than academic preparation
  • Because media industries and technologies are rapidly changing, careers related to media studies are uncertain

Courses and Requirements

In a master's degree program in media studies, you will typically take required core courses in media theory and texts, research methods and possibly hands-on media production workshops. Theory courses cover topics that may include media ownership and political economy, media audiences, online communities and globalization. You may study and work with broadcast media, like television and radio, as well as emerging media, like digital media, interactive games, mobile communication and more. While exploring topics in media, you may examine identity issues related to gender, class and ethnicity.

A sample of the broad range of electives you may encounter in a media studies graduate program:

  • Social documentary production
  • Videogame theory
  • Civic media
  • Internet and identity
  • Cultural studies
  • Film theory
  • Social media
  • Advertising and culture

Whether you complete a thesis, report or media project to complete your degree program, you can expect to engage in media studies research. You may also be awarded a research assistantship as a graduate student. Areas of research interest in media studies include global communication, film studies, social media and Internet cultures.

Online Degree Options

Master's degree programs in media studies are available completely online but are rare. These programs may give you the option to take some of the program courses on campus and others online. Online courses provide content and assignments similar to their on-campus counterparts. The difference is in the delivery. Your school may offer some synchronous courses, which allow you to interact with professors and fellow students in real time. The majority of classes, however, are asynchronous, which means you can log in to study lecture notes posted by your professors, post discussion comments or complete assignments according to the needs of your personal schedule.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Though some media-related careers may experience average or strong job growth from 2010-2020, the BLS predicted heavy competition for jobs in fields like advertising and public relations. Here are some suggestions for setting yourself apart from the competition while pursuing a master's degree in media studies.

  • Get hands-on experience. Many programs emphasize developing an understanding of media theories and history. If your career goals are academically or research-oriented, experience gained through participation in faculty-led research projects can help you get into a PhD program or land a research position. If you're seeking a career in policy, business or journalism, internships can help get your foot in the door. Internships, as well as carefully selected electives, can also help you create a portfolio that demonstrates your media-production skills.
  • Master social media. Understanding the growing impact of social media and developing social media skills may impress employers in media-related fields, like public relations, journalism and advertising. The BLS, for example, predicted growing demand for public relations specialists who can help clients effectively use new media outlets to improve communication between organizations and the public.
  • Become a student member of a professional organization. Joining professional organizations related to your media career goals can help keep you abreast of trends, provide you with professional development tools and give you job leads. The Public Relations Society of America, the Broadcast Education Association and the Society of Professional Journalists are among the several media-related professional organizations that offer special membership rates to students.

Degree Alternatives

An interdisciplinary liberal arts degree in media studies may not be the most direct route to the career you're seeking, particularly if it's in a more traditional communications field like public relations (PR). Master's degree programs in PR also emphasize media; however, these programs are more practice-oriented and based on current media issues than media studies programs, which adopt a critical and historical approach. Though strong competition is expected for entry-level jobs in PR, the BLS predicted faster-than-average job growth of 21% from 2010-2020. In these programs, you're likely to learn how to use social media and develop strategic communication campaigns, skills which can help you enter or advance in this career.

If you're not interested in pursuing a career in the corporate world, you may consider targeted master's degree programs that lead to media-related careers in the public and non-profit sectors. Some graduate policy programs related specifically to communications or non-profits can prepare you for media specialist careers in international organizations, non-governmental organizations and government agencies. You may take courses in communication theories, social media campaigns, emerging communication technologies, media relations and digital media project management. The Urban Institute reported that the number of non-profits increased 25% from 2001-2011.

PhD in Media Studies

You may consider pursuing a PhD in media studies if you want to pursue careers in media research or policy, as well as teaching at the college or university level. Graduates also pursue a wide range of jobs in advocacy, industry and non-profit organizations. Several programs require applicants to have earned a master's degree in a relevant field, so your master's thesis may play a pivotal role in getting into more competitive PhD programs. A range of media studies doctoral programs are available, some with particular emphases in media art, film or technology; however, many PhD programs are broadly interdisciplinary and allow you to customize your program of study according to your specific research interests.


  • Allows you to gain expertise in a particular area of media studies, which may lead to a tenure-track faculty position
  • In addition to jobs in academia, a PhD can prepare you for higher-profile jobs in prestigious institutions in the public and private sectors
  • If you want to pursue a professional or creative career outside academia, gaining an advanced critical and historical perspective can enhance and refine your work
  • Tuition remission, graduate assistantships, stipends and other forms of funding are often available


  • Corporate employers may prefer technical skill and relevant experience over a PhD
  • Teaching or research assistantships and merit funding, when available, may not cover all your expenses
  • Meeting high standards for research, academic rigor and quality expected in your dissertation can be a challenge, especially if your primary career goal isn't scholarship

Courses and Requirements

As in master's degree programs in media studies, at the PhD level you will take core courses, which typically include media theory, history, research methods and possibly media law and policy. The majority of your remaining coursework will consist of electives and dissertation preparation. In this interdisciplinary field, you may adopt theoretical perspectives from philosophy, cultural studies, history and sociology to explore media-related issues. Some programs require that you complete coursework in a minor in a different department to support your research interests. You will work with faculty advisors to create an individualized program of study.

PhD-level courses may cover a wide variety of topics, examining how media and media technologies relate to concerns that include:

  • Construction of stereotypes
  • Social control and propaganda
  • Public media structures
  • Civic participation
  • Advocacy campaigns
  • Economics

Your coursework typically culminates in comprehensive exams. These written exams can take three 8-hour days to complete. Following successful completion of coursework and exams, you propose, research, prepare and defend a dissertation. Your dissertation should be a publishable, original contribution to media studies. Many programs require PhD candidates to teach undergraduate courses.

Online Course Info

Accredited online doctoral programs in media studies aren't available. Advanced research and scholarly work in media studies would be difficult to engage in without university resources and faculty collaboration. A PhD in this field requires a commitment to intensive on-campus participation.

Stand Out With This Degree

Tenure-track faculty positions are highly competitive; getting hired for top media-related positions in policy organizations, government agencies, industry and nonprofits requires some strategy, as well. Here are some strategies you can follow to stand out in your field.

  • Develop a digital presence. Producing media displayed in a digital portfolio can demonstrate your real-world expertise to potential employers.
  • Join affiliated professional groups. Professional organizations, like the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and the Broadcast Education Association, provide you with access to conventions, scholarly publications, interest groups and job postings.
  • Demonstrate that you can teach in a 'smart classroom.' Many college and university employers seek instructors who can incorporate multiple types of media into their teaching. Smart classrooms, which are becoming increasingly prevalent, contain consoles for instructors to operate audio-visual equipment and computers. Integrating multimedia into the undergraduate courses you teach can help prepare you for a successful interview on graduation.

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