Considering an MA.
August 7, 2012 2:24 PM   Subscribe

My employer will pay for 75% of my tuition in a graduate program. Would a Master's Degree in Communication Studies be a worthy option?

I have very few specific career goals for myself. That said, the University I work at will pay for 75% of the tuition on any courses that I take. It seems foolish for me not to take advantage of that offer while I still work here.

I am drawn to the MA in Communication Studies because I would eventually like to move into a position that involves more writing and/or public speaking than I currently do. I don't know if this would be pr, marketing, or a specific communications department, but it seems like this degree may help get me there.

Additionally, I would ideally like to find some success as a writer of my own shit (maybe not on a professional level, but at least on a personal level), so I'm hoping this degree would help me improve my own writing and editing skills at the very least.

I have seen this question. Most of the answers assumed that the OP wanted to go into journalism. I have no intentions of doing that, and if I did, that is not the route I would go.

SO, with all of my vague half-formed thoughts, has your MA in Communication Studies helped you at all? In what ways? In what fields?
posted by Think_Long to Education (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I work as a professional writer (among other capacities) as a digital strategist for a nonprofit organization (so, somewhat like digital marketing). FWIW, a masters of any sort is absolutely not a requirement for my job although I do have one.

I think some practical courses are a great idea for you, but if you can take courses without being a matriculated masters candidate, I think that's an even better option. Because if you go for a master's, you'll probably have to take (and pay for!) a bunch of courses that you don't really need. Maybe see if you can take a few courses, see how you like them, and get a feel for the department and the masters program. Then if you decide you want to pursue a degree, you can use those courses towards the MA.

One thing to look out for in particular: comms programs vary a lot. Some are going to be more practical, whereas some will be more like Media Studies programs. If the program is the latter, that won't be very helpful to you at all.
posted by lunasol at 2:39 PM on August 7, 2012

Yes, it depends on the program itself - communications means many things, including journalism. But if there is a specific program you have access to, then you know what the content of it is - if it seems interesting to you, I would recommend doing it.
posted by heyjude at 2:42 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

While I completely agree with lunasol regarding the "take what you need" approach, there are benefits to having a MA on your resume. You rarely get credit for courses toward a degree, more often for having the degree. Having the MA will automatically make you more competitive in some hiring processes, and can be used to get higher pay rate in many circumstances. The longer term benefits of both those can outweigh the short term downsides to taking a couple additional courses.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:44 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, one other thing - there are some employers where a masters will automatically get you a higher pay grade or be a requirement for certain levels, but this is not super-common in communications/PR/marketing, unless you're working for a big institution like a government agency. For most of these jobs, it's about showing what you can do, not what your qualifications are. Which is why I recommend taking practical courses (to build your portfolio) but not necessarily getting the full degree.

The only caveat is that the program could be a good way to get practical experience (through internships, etc.) but that depends a lot on the program.
posted by lunasol at 2:44 PM on August 7, 2012

I have worked in journalism, government and I now work for a non-profit. I have a master's in mass communication, and I honestly don't think it makes that much of a difference. I write stuff. What gets me jobs is my writing, not my degree. I don't think it has made that much of a difference, but I was already working as a writer when I went back to school. If you're trying to break into communications, or journalism or what have you, and you don't have a degree, it may help open doors, but the best way to get work in communications, like many other fields, is to have work.

That said, if you do look at a master's in mass comm, find a practical program and not one that focuses on theory, unless you want to go into academia.
posted by dortmunder at 2:45 PM on August 7, 2012

As a writer working in marketing and advertising, I don't think a Masters would help. I have a design based advertising degree, not a writing one, and it hasn't impeded me in the least getting to where I am. In fact, I've never even been asked if I studied! The only thing that counts is the work, which you can do without having to enrol in a course. If I had the opportunity to get a free degree, I would aim for one that would really open doors to an extra avenue of employment that you wouldn't otherwise be able to get. I don't think Mass Comm is that degree.
posted by Jubey at 3:57 PM on August 7, 2012

I agree with dortmunder. If you go into a digital program, if you focus on analytics, and computer-assisted reporting (for journalism or not, it's a great skill), you could have great results.

Network your butt off, join ONA and IRE, and break a sweat (so to speak) networking at every conference you can get to.

You'll take a big tax hit on the tuition benefit.
posted by jgirl at 3:59 PM on August 7, 2012

I have a PhD in Communication. First figure out what the Comm Department at your university teaches. It is entirely possible that there is no PR or anything remotely like that.

What's your long term goal? I'd assume anything business related would be more useful than most Comm degrees.
posted by k8t at 4:32 PM on August 7, 2012

Since you have few specific career goals, I'd advise you to start graduate work in any area that interests you and to work toward a degree. A few courses isn't worth much on your resume, but an advanced degree adds some weight.

Generally, I'd steer someone clear of graduate work unless they have a clear goal. But someone else is going to foot the bill (or 75% of the bill) and things like that don't turn up everyday.

If nothing else, taking a few courses will help you sort out if its a good fit.
posted by 26.2 at 4:57 PM on August 7, 2012

How much is 25% of the tuition for the program?
posted by twblalock at 6:01 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have an MA in communication. I would point out:

a) Comm is a HUGE, broad field. What, specifically, would your area of focus be?
b) Once you determine your focus, then you can determine whether it would be worth it.

I have some colleagues who have directly benefited from their MAs, sometimes to the tune of $$$. For most of them, this is because they are doing some sort of PR or marketing position, and work for a large company or the government. Thus, the MA has allowed them to move up pay grades, take on supervisory positions, that sort of thing.

I am not quite sure how someone leaving with an MA focusing on, say, critical vernacular rhetoric is going to immediately benefit from that in the regular employment sphere. You might be able to parlay that into something, but it's not as clear-cut as the case above.

And then there are all the newspaper journalists coming back for a grad degree; I suspect they are expecting to teach, not work for a newspaper, when they are done.

And then then there are those who come in and do documentary studies/filmmaking. Some of them have gone on to become filmmakers. But, in that sense, you have to treat such a degree the same you might treat an MFA; the pros and cons would be roughly analogous.

Basically,communication is broad, and some departments house, like, 10 subdisciplines at any given time. So - you really need to have an idea of what you might actually study in order to determine whether it would be worth it (and, of course, you need to define "worth," too - a filmmaker getting an MA focusing on documentary studies, and a government communications director getting an MA focusing on PR might both benefit, but it will be in wildly different ways)
posted by vivid postcard at 6:07 PM on August 7, 2012

Though, I will say this, as someone with a research background in a somewhat esoteric communication subfield - the one nice thing about communication, especially at the master's level, is that it can be fairly flexible, and can be pitched as such on the job market. So, even those who study the movement of ideographs recurring in bathroom stall poetry from 1950-2000, or whatever, may very well still end up taking capstone and elective courses that familiarize them with organizational and interpersonal theory, both of which can be easily marketed towards future employers who aren't quite as into, you know, toilet poems.
posted by vivid postcard at 6:15 PM on August 7, 2012

I'd take a few writing courses and instead channel the money toward an MBA, if there is one at your school. MBAs, whether they are from top tier schools or not, tend to be the only masters-level credential that is respected, unless you're in sciences, AND financially rewarded. I worked in a field similar to you for years. I took university and post-sec courses in communications and I had a pretty good career. As soon as I got an MBA, I was able to command a much higher pay rate, get jobs/work/interviews I couldn't get before and people started taking my opinion seriously (because I was just some Arts major before). I learned the right lingo to use with management and I learned a lot about other departments and industries. I get asked to join committees, work on projects and so on, just because of my masters. None of my friends with masters in communications, publishing, arts, design or professional writing has had the same experience, although some with masters in math, comp sci and sciences have, depending on their career.

That doesn't mean you should get an MBA. But if someone else is footing the bill, you might do an MBA + various courses in fields you do like.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 7:21 PM on August 7, 2012

This answer is from my friend and colleague who has a recent (past 5 years) M.A. in Communications from a large public university:

"If you are looking for more public speaking and presentations in a job path, you should not be taking Communication Studies, as that is primarily focused on rhetorical and social scientific research at the graduate level. Unless maybe you are in political rhetoric and become a political advisor, but even then you won't do the speaking, just the consulting and analysis of speaking. You sound like you are after an MBA much more, unless you want to eventually get a Ph.D. in Communication Studies and be a researcher of communication theory.

"I think that is a common disconnect with Communication Studies. People that are Communication majors as undergraduates get a lot of practical skills application learning and all of that goes away in the graduate levels. In fact, they felt much like two different programs to me as I taught one and participated in the other. Graduate programs would like you to think they are the same, because the theories can be applied with force to the practical, but it is a mishmash of theoretical argument and really the master's program has little to do with the undergraduate in practice. There are almost no people who get a master's in Communication Studies that don' t want to be a researcher or professor, unless they are in political rhetoric. The only thing it would count for is resume value, which clearly worked in my case. [Editor's note: She worked for two years as a business analyst and was recently promoted to project manager.] It made my English/Journalism B.A. seem more practical and employable, considering that most people understand the undergraduate level of communication and believe it to be the same experience of practical skills....and it is, to a certain degree, because you often teach practical skills classes).
posted by slenderloris at 2:34 PM on August 8, 2012

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