Speech Communication Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a speech communications graduate program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of master's and Ph.D. programs, and potential careers.
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Studying Speech Communication: Degrees at a Glance

Speech communication is a broad field that could incorporate interpersonal, group or organizational communication, as well as rhetoric. Graduates commonly pursue careers in training or teaching, advertising, public relations, media, politics, the ministry or other fields requiring oral communication skills.

Career prospects may depend on your choice of field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), market research analysis and marketing specialist jobs are expected to grow 29% over the 2010-2020 decade, and opportunities for public relations specialists may grow 20%-28%. Some employees may be willing to substitute education for years of experience. With a master's degree, you may be eligible for a marketing communications specialist position. Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) recipients might qualify as professors or communications directors.

Master's Ph.D.
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want a mid-level position in a speech communications field Individuals interested in advanced teaching, management or consulting positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Communications instructor, postsecondary ($44,000 - bachelor's or master's and 2-4 years of experience)*
- Marketing communications specialist ($58,000 - bachelor's and 2-4 years of experience)*
- Communications representative ($70,000 - at least a bachelor's and 4 years of experience)*
- Assistant professor - communication ($55,000 - Ph.D. and 4-7 years of experience)*
- Marketing communications manager ($84,000 - bachelor's and 7 years of experience)*
- Communications director ($124,000 - bachelor's with 10 years of experience)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 4-5 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Typically 30-40 credits
- Thesis
- Approximately 70-80 credits
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Bachelor's or master's degree
Online Availability Available but hard-to-find; courses may be available Rare to non-existent; courses may be available

Source: *Salary.com (2012 figures).

Master's Degree in Speech Communications

Speech communications master's degree programs may prepare you for teaching, advanced graduate work, management positions or career advancement. Programs may be interdisciplinary in nature, with opportunities to use resources outside the department to build a specialty. You may complete 30 or more semester hours. You'll probably submit a thesis or research report, defending it before an assigned committee. You may have internship opportunities or be expected to deliver presentations on-campus and at professional conferences. Some programs may require you to get a teaching assistant position or help out with department seminar series or other activities.

Pros and Cons

You may have to make the case that your speech communications coursework selections are the transferable equivalent of a degree in public relations, advertising or other targeted discipline that fields its own degree candidates.


  • Degree may substitute for years of experience, leading to more rapid advancement
  • You may have opportunities to specialize in your field of interest through electives and thesis topic selection
  • Careful planning can led to well paying careers


  • Communications majors may face competition from students in similar majors
  • Without focus, your degree may not have the return on investment that might be expected
  • If you are interested in teaching or consulting, you may need a doctorate

Courses and Requirements

You may be required to complete core graduate seminars covering foundations of speech communication, research methods in communication or communication theory. Core research courses might include quantitative methods. These will form a basis for choosing electives that support your thesis. These might be:

  • Rhetorical criticism
  • Intercultural communication
  • Political communication
  • Public relations causes and campaigns
  • Conversation analysis, pragmatics or ethnomethodology
  • Issues in organizational communication and public relations
  • Philosophy of human communication

Online Class Options

Fully online degrees may be rare, because not enough graduate courses may be available online. However, some classes may be offered virtually. They may be more convenient for students who are working part- or full-time.

Stand Out with this Degree

You probably know if you're headed for a practitioner or academic role, so your choices may be different depending on your objective. For example, if you're interested in diplomacy, you might affiliate with organizations in international or cross-cultural studies departments. If you're interested in corporate communications for healthcare organizations, you might check out organizations that would support that objective.

Ph.D. in Speech Communications

Doctoral programs in this field are primarily research degrees that may require you to first complete some undergraduate work in speech communication. You'll often work with a faculty advisor, developing your own research and assisting with faculty research. You'll also learn research methods and how to design research projects.

Concentrations in these programs might be available in areas like communication teaching, intercultural communication, interpersonal communication, mass media, risk communication or rhetorical studies. You might use audio laboratories, audiotapes and transcribed conversation libraries and recording facilities. Programs typically take 4-5 years to complete from the bachelor's degree. You'll take comprehensive exams, orals and defend your dissertation before a committee.

Pros and Cons

Students pursuing doctoral degrees may prefer a career in research or teaching. They should expect 10%-19%, or average, growth in job opportunities from 2010-2020, according to BLS. By finding ways to distinguish yourself, you may succeed in a competitive market.


  • Better growth than some academic fields
  • Opportunities for interdisciplinary work
  • Open-ended opportunities to specialize


  • Universities may devote more resources to subjects that attract funding and investment
  • Some careers may be equally accessible with a bachelor's or master's degree and work experience
  • Return on investment may not justify the opportunity cost of no outside work for several years

Courses and Requirements

You will have many options after completing several foundational courses. You may need to maintain a 3.0 or above GPA to continue in the program. Programs may require that a certain number of courses be taken in the department and also allow you to earn credits outside the department. Your progress toward completion of your dissertation, exams and orals will likely be monitored by your advisor and committee. You might take upper level courses like the following:

  • Communication in ethnic communities
  • Classical rhetoric
  • Seminar in nonverbal communication
  • Language and communication behavior
  • Semiology and semiotic communication

Online Class Options

Online Ph.D. degrees in speech communication are rare to non-existent. Students may not be able to find upper level courses online as work becomes progressively more specialized. The interactive nature of speech communication may depend on involvement with others. If available, online courses may help individuals seeking advanced training in a specific area.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Aspiring academics may have opportunities to contribute to or edit graduate journals of communication. You could join graduate organizations focused on speech communications that would provide access to seminars and other opportunities. You might also attend conferences sponsored by the National Communication Association (formerly Speech Communication Association) to network.

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