2022 Best PhD in Communications Online [Doctoral Guide]

Home » 2022 Best PhD in Communications Online [Doctoral Guide]

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To increase your contribution to the field of communications, you may want to think about getting a PhD in communications online.

PhD in Communications Online

This degree program can help prepare you to stand at the forefront of research, to teach new generations of communications students, or to serve as a leader in business, government, or nonprofit work.

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Doctoral communication studies can help you launch an academic career. Other professionals in the field hold leadership positions in various industries, such as advertising, media, marketing, public relations, or journalism.

Online PhD in Communications Programs

Online PhD in Communications

If you want to make your mark in the field of communications, then a Ph.D. in Communications might be the path for you. Getting a doctoral degree can be quite the undertaking, but it can also lead to opportunities for you to make a lasting difference.

With a doctorate, you might be recognized as a leader who’s trusted to educate students, deliver messages, or spearhead change.

Doctoral programs in communications often include classes on strategic communication theories, interpersonal dynamics, and mass media. Some courses may cover modern issues in organizational communication as well as the influence of digital technologies.

In addition, there’s usually a core curriculum that focuses on doctoral research. Those doctoral program courses teach you to develop research topics, conduct studies, analyze statistics, and write in an academic style.

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Communication is important in all sectors, so this is a broad, versatile field. You may be able to tailor your course of study to your particular goals. Some students build their programs around specialties like:

  • Advertising
  • Digital media
  • Family communication
  • Health communication
  • Intercultural dynamics
  • Journalism
  • Mass communication
  • Organizational communication
  • Public relations
  • Strategic communication

Some communication PhD graduates go on to become professors who teach communication or media studies. Tenured roles, in particular, usually require holding a doctorate. This academic track can also lead to research opportunities.

While professorships are often associated with PhDs, you may also find work as a practitioner in a variety of fields, such as journalism, marketing, public policy, or media relations. Jobs may be available in corporations, government agencies, think tanks, and nonprofit organizations.

Communications Careers & Salary Data

Communications Careers & Salary Data

Many communications doctoral students have academic careers in mind. PhD graduates may become community college or university professors of media studies. Depending on experience, job titles include assistant professor, associate professor, or department chair.

Being a professor isn’t the only option in higher education. Many college administrators, such as deans and provosts, also need to have PhDs. A PhD can also lead to research positions.

Even if you’re not employed in academia, you can still consider a research career. Market research analytics and survey research are two fields where you could apply your scientific training. Government agencies, for instance, may hire social science researchers.

While academic roles are common, many communications students also have non-academic careers in mind. You may apply your doctoral expertise as a practitioner in a variety of settings. For example, many organizations hire communications directors, digital media specialists, or public policy directors.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in media and communications pay a median annual salary of $61,310, and the median salary for management occupations is $109,760.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers $141,490
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers $118,430
Training and Development Managers $115,640
Top Executives $107,680
Postsecondary Education Administrators $97,500
Social Scientists and Related Workers $87,260
Technical Writers $74,650
Postsecondary Communications Teachers $71,030
Market Research Analysts $65,810
Survey Researchers $59,870

While an online PhD in Communications isn’t required for all of the above careers, it could enhance your earnings and contributions to any of these fields.

The business fields of public relations, advertising, and marketing, for example, rely heavily on communications principles. Having a communication PhD might qualify you for a management role in one of those departments. Your knowledge of communications could also help you design employee training modules as a professional development specialist.

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This specialized degree might even justify your advancement to one of the top spots in your company. Sometimes, experts in communications, media relations, or marketing are named chief officers of their organization.

As a communications professional, writing might be one of your strengths. Technical writers sometimes contribute to grant proposals, user experience research, and scientific journalism. News reporters for print and digital media also rely on strategic communication skills.

Online Doctorate in Communications Curriculum

Online Doctorate in Communications

For your communications PhD, you may take a selection of core classes and electives. The doctoral program coursework can bolster your research skills and strategic leadership skills and also help you work toward your career goals.

The curriculum for the communications program at your school might include classes like the below examples:

  • Communication Theories: During your time in this course, you’ll read published research from the communications field and compare and contrast theories on how strategic communication occurs.
  • Digital Media: This course applies communications principles to website design and may include lessons on coding.
  • Family Communication: You can explore the dynamics of communication styles in various family structures and discuss roadblocks to effective family communication.
  • Health Communication: In this course, you might discuss the role of strategic communication in health promotion, provider-patient relationships, and health informatics.
  • Historical Foundations of Communications Study: This class covers major events in human history that have shaped communication practices and explores the technologies that have played a role.
  • Modern Trends in Communications: You’ll learn about the latest research in this field and become more familiar with scholarly journals and other influential resources.
  • Research in Communications: By introducing you to research methodologies used in the humanities and social sciences, this class can help get you ready for your dissertation.
  • Social Science Statistics: In preparation for the dissertation, you can increase your understanding of both qualitative research methods and quantitative research methods and statistical analysis.
  • Social Marketing: Your time in this class will explore the idea of communicating in ways that bring about social change or encourage healthy living.
  • Workplace Communication: You can learn about the dynamics of interpersonal communication in professional settings and discuss how strategic communication theories can shape workplace practices.

Your program will also likely include a dissertation, which you may work on for several years. For this major project, you will typically draft proposals, conduct research, write a dissertation, and defend it before a committee.

Admissions Requirements

PhD in Communications Admissions

Before you can begin your doctoral studies, it’s necessary to apply and be admitted to a program.

GRE scores were once a standard prerequisite for graduate school, but a number of schools no longer requires test scores for admission. The requested application materials for your communications PhD program may include:

  • Reference letters
  • Resume
  • Scholarly writing sample
  • Transcripts from all colleges you’ve attended

Many PhD programs are reserved for students who already hold masters degrees, but some allow you to begin this level of study with only a bachelor’s degree.


PhD in Communications Accreditation

Regional accreditation is given to colleges that meet quality standards. To earn it, schools have to be evaluated and approved by a regional accrediting agency. If a college is accredited, you can trust that it meets high educational standards.

A doctoral degree will often garner more respect if it comes from a regionally accredited college. This can be especially important when you’re looking for jobs or postdoctoral fellowships.

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Accreditation is considered especially important in academia, so an accredited doctorate is necessary for professorship. Attending an accredited school can also play a factor in determining eligibility for receiving financial aid from the government.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

PhD in Communications Financial Aid

Financial assistance may help you achieve your goal of earning a doctoral degree. To begin your search for tuition support, you can fill out the government’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

As a doctoral student, you might qualify for low-interest loans through the federal government or a state program. Scholarships and fellowships can contribute to your tuition assistance as well. You may be able to secure awards through professional associations or philanthropic groups.

As a doctoral candidate, you might also qualify for tuition relief and a stipend in exchange for working as a teaching or research assistant. Such arrangements are most common at on-campus colleges, but some online programs may have these opportunities available as well.

If you intend to use your PhD in your current workplace, your employer might even help pay for your schooling.

What Can You Do with a PhD in Communications?

PhD in Communications careers

Being a professor is one of the top jobs that many students consider when getting a PhD in Communications. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most communications professors earn between $40,690 and $137,520 annually.

A PhD might also contribute to a career in government, business, or community development. Some professionals in the field work as communications directors, public relations managers, and marketing managers. Marketing managers typically earn between $74,620 and $208,000 each year (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Some doctoral program communications graduates use their expertise to pursue or advance their careers in technical writing, journalism, training and professional development, or survey research.

What’s the Difference Between Marketing vs. Communications?

Marketing vs. Communications

In both communications and marketing, communication skills are critically important. The communications field is quite broad and has many applications. Marketing, on the other hand, is specifically tailored toward building brands and selling products.

For communications, you may study:

  • Communications history
  • Interpersonal dynamics
  • Journalism
  • Public relations
  • Social media
  • Strategic communication

Topics covered in marketing programs can include:

  • Advertising
  • Market research
  • Motivation
  • Neuroscience
  • Psychology

Even though these two programs are different, a communications degree can also be useful for a marketing career.

Is a PhD in Communications Worth It?

Yes, a PhD in Communications is worth it for many professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for postsecondary teachers are expected to grow at a 9% rate over the next decade. Since communications plays a role in nearly every field, this PhD can be useful outside of academia too.

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Several relevant careers are also experiencing growth rates above the national average. For example, marketing management jobs are increasing at a 7% rate, and positions for public relations and fundraising managers are expected to grow by 9% over the next ten years.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Communication Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree online programs or in a hybrid format.

American University

American University

American University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Communications. The program can usually be completed in 3 years, with each year allowing students to study over the course of 11 months.

Students must defend a dissertation to graduate. Applicants must possess a master’s degree and must submit a master’s thesis, GRE scores, 2 letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.

American University is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

Clemson University

Clemson University

Clemson University offers a PhD program in Rhetoric, Communication, and Information Design. Students must complete a dissertation and 30 semester hours to graduate. Applicants must have a master’s degree in a related field with a GPA of 3.5 and need to submit a personal statement, a portfolio, transcripts, and a curriculum vita.

Clemson University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Colorado State University

Colorado State University

Colorado State University offers an online PhD in Communications program. To graduate, students must complete 81 credits of online courses and a dissertation and must participate in departmental research seminars. To be eligible for the program, applicants must submit a statement of purpose, 3 letters of reference, and a writing sample.

Colorado State is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, a Commission of the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Indiana University of Pennsylvania offers a PhD in Media and Communication Studies. When taken full-time, the program can typically be completed in 2 years with students taking 3 courses per semester.

A total of 60 credits and a dissertation are needed to graduate. Applicants need to submit transcripts, a resume, and 2 letters of recommendation when applying.

The Indiana University of Pennsylvania is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Liberty University

Liberty University

Liberty University offers an online PhD in Communications. Students must complete 60 credit hours. Online courses last for 8 weeks, and the program can typically be completed in 3 years. Applicants must have a master’s degree with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Official transcripts must be submitted when applying.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Regent University

Regent University

Regent University offers a PhD in Communication. This online program can be completed with only a week-long summer residency.

The program requires 64 credits of online courses, including a dissertation and an examination, to graduate. Applicants must submit a graduate writing sample, transcripts, government ID, and an academic background questionnaire.

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Robert Morris University

Robert Morris University

Robert Morris University offers a PhD in Information Systems and Communications. A total of 60 credits, a qualifying exam, and a dissertation are needed to graduate. The program typically takes 3 years to complete. To be eligible for the program, students must have a GPA of 3.0, 3 letters of reference, and a personal essay.

Robert Morris University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University offers an online program leading to a Doctor of Philosophy in Technical Communication and Rhetoric.

The program requires 60 credits and a successfully defended dissertation to graduate. Applicants must submit transcripts, a resume, a statement of interest, and 3 letters of reference. Students may choose to start in the spring, summer, or fall terms.

Texas Tech University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Alabama

University of Alabama

The University of Alabama offers a PhD in Communication and Information Sciences. Students may choose to add a specialization in one of seven areas, including Applied Communication or Book and Publishing Studies. Students must maintain a GPA of 3.0 to graduate. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a minimum GPA of 3.0.

The University of Alabama is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of North Dakota

University of North Dakota

The University of North Dakota offers a PhD in Communications. The program requires 90 credits to graduate and can usually be completed in 3 years. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and 3 letters of recommendation to be eligible for the program. When applying, an original academic paper and GRE scores must be submitted.

The University of North Dakota is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Earning Your PhD in Communications Online

Online PhD in Communications Programs

A communications doctoral degree program can help you further develop your expertise in this versatile field. A PhD can help you qualify for positions in both academic and non-academic sectors.

Just as you can earn an online master’s in communication, an online communications PhD program can be a convenient way for you to complete doctoral studies. Some programs allow you to take online courses through distance learning and communicate remotely with your doctoral advisor.

With the flexibility of an online communications degree program, you may be able to keep up with work or family responsibilities while also taking steps toward your degree. If you’re ready to find the PhD degree program that’s right for you, you may want to take a look at the various online programs in communications from accredited universities.

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Jordan Meeks
Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.