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14/07/2016 - The Right (and Wrong) Reasons to Get a Master's in Communications

By Tamara Powell

If you want to advance your career in communications, you may have toyed with the idea of getting a master’s degree. It’s a tough job market out there, so any extra edge you could get on your resume would be a great thing, right?

Well, yes—but that extra edge isn’t necessarily a grad degree. Before you sign up for two years of school (and tuition), it’s important to make sure that getting an MA in communications is the best move for you.

Here are some common reasons—both good and bad—for going back to grad school, and some perspective on them that might help you decide.

3 Good Reasons
1. You want to acquire specific communications expertise
Many students pursue a master’s in communications hoping it will give them a competitive advantage—since a graduate degree can help you stand out among your peers by acquiring new skills and experiences. And if you’re looking for a specific promotion and know that you don’t meet all of the requirements, going back to school can be a good way to move beyond that barrier. You’ll learn about best practices in your field and gain tangible experience in everything from project management to research and writing (more on that later).

However, there are other ways to acquire new expertise without going back to grad school. Asking to take on projects outside your expertise, seeking out mentors, and even volunteering can also help you gain new skills. These opportunities offer practical, hands-on experience in a way that academic study may not, so be mindful of the skills you’re trying to acquire and determine where you can learn them best. If it’s grad school, that’s a great reason to go.

2. You’d like to enhance your research and presenting skills
On that note, there are a couple of key skills an MA in communications is uniquely designed to help you gain—namely, research, writing, and presenting skills. Most (though, not all) communications graduate programs will require you to complete some form of original research project, through which you will learn how to develop a research question, investigate that question by collecting relevant data, and articulate your findings. You’ll work one-on-one with an advising faculty member, who will teach you about the intricacies of executing research and help you learn how to defend your claims orally.

These research and public speaking skills are particularly useful if you’re working in marketing, public relations, organizational communications, human relations, or other business functions. If your career will involve researching your industry’s practices or programs and sharing your findings, an MA in communications is perfect experience.

3. You want to learn to write effectively for multiple audiences
In order to complete your thesis (as well as many other program requirements), you’re going to have to learn to write for both specialist and lay audiences. Theses are written for other academics in a given field, but you’ll also learn to translate your research into nontechnical terms to apply for grants, awards, or even just to write home about what you’re working on.

These writing skills are very relevant for a career in communications, too. If your job involves communicating about your organization both internally and externally, you’ll need to be able to bounce between professional and lay language with ease. And master’s-level coursework will help you learn how to do just that.

3 (Potentially) Bad Reasons
1. You want to be a journalist or work in media production
While having a specific career goal may seem like a great reason to get a graduate degree in communications, many programs do not offer coursework in these topics—those classes are instead found in separate journalism, film, or media production departments.

So before applying, make sure to look carefully at the curricular emphases of the programs you’re interested in. If you want to be a journalist or work in production, you’ll need to figure out if your schools of interest offer training in these areas. And if they don’t? You might want to look into getting a degree in journalism or your specific field of interest instead.

Read more at: The Muse

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