Master of Arts in Communications

School of Humanities

The Master of Arts in Communications program seeks to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the communications discipline. The program emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach and is geared for professionals in a variety of fields, including government, private sector, non-profit, and community-based careers. Students in the program will be prepared for leadership positions in such fields as journalism, public relations, advertising, production, and media education, as well as for doctoral study.

Balancing critical theory with practical experience, the program brings together a mix of research and creative production in the classroom. Course work will include media writing, graphic design, advertising strategies, digital media production, photography, and media law and ethics. With an international core faculty, the program integrates national and international views on history, culture, and society, and represents a distinctly global perspective.

Because the program is broad-based and research-oriented, students will work with their academic advisers to develop thesis projects that address critical issues in the field, and to evaluate different media forms for the presentation of their research. The program’s location in the Pennsylvania state capital region and its proximity to major metropolitan areas and prominent public and private institutions present students with opportunities for internships and field experiences that provide valuable context for the development of thesis projects.

Degree Conferred: M.A.

Program Requirements for Admission

Requirements More Information
GPA A successful undergraduate record with a GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
Supporting Materials
  • A personal statement of 500 to 1000 words outlining educational goals and career objectives
  • Two letters of reference attesting to the applicant's suitability for the program, preferably from previous professors or others who are familiar with the applicant's intellectual/creative work or interests.
  • One of the following:
    • a writing sample
    • short film
    • photo essay
    • advertisement
    • PR campaign sample
    • multimedia art
    • etc ...


Exceptions may be made for those with special backgrounds or abilities who are committed to advanced interdisciplinary study in communications.


Application Deadline

Semester Deadline
Fall February 15
Spring November 1

Application Process

Gather supporting materials and begin the standard graduate application.

The Curriculum

Students admitted to the Master of Arts in Communications Program at Penn State Harrisburg must complete 36 credits, 21 of which must be at the 500 level in order to be granted the degree. Each student must complete and submit either a master’s project or thesis. The master’s project option (COMMS 580 Master’s Project in Communications, 3-6 credits) consists of a creative production with an accompanying scholarly essay. The thesis option (COMMS 600 Thesis Research or COMMS 610 Thesis Research Off Campus, 6 credits) consists of an original research paper that follows the guidelines established by the Graduate School Thesis Office (see The subject of the master’s project or thesis must be defined in conjunction with a faculty member, andevaluated by a committee of at least two faculty members, supplemented by outside consultants where appropriate. To register for the master’s thesis or project, a student must have completed COMMS 500 and COMMS 503 and must have earned at least 27 credits towards the Master of Arts in Communications.

The 36-credit program is distributed over two groups of courses:

Prescribed Courses – 21-24 Credits

Take a minimum of 9-12 credits from the following:

COMMS 500 Seminar in Communications and Cultural Theory (3 cr.)
COMMS 503 Research Methods in Communications (3 cr.)
COMMS 580 Master’s Project in Communications (3-6 cr.)
COMMS 600 or 610 Thesis Research (6 cr.)       

[COMMS 500 and COMMS 503 to be taken within the first 12 credits after enrollment in the program. Students elect EITHER COMMS 580 or COMMS 600. A minimum of 12 credits in prescribed courses are required if selecting the thesis option, COMMS 600]

Choose 6 credits from ONE of the following:

COMMS 525 Advanced Writers’ Seminar (3-9 cr.)
COMMS 568 Media Production Workshop (3-9 cr.)

Choose 6 credits from the following:

COMMS 519 Communications Technology and Culture in History (3 cr.)
COMMS 555 Media Discourse Analysis (3 cr.)
COMMS 560 Seminar in Global Culture and Communications (3 cr.)

Additional Courses – 15 Credits

Take 15 credits in additional courses at the 400- and 500-levels, which can come from either Communications or other fields, including:

American Studies, Business Administration, Community Psychology and Social Change, Criminal Justice, Education, Health Administration, Health Education, Humanities, Information Systems, Management, Marketing, Public Administration, Training and Development.

The following 400- and 500-level Communications courses are approved selections:

COMM 414 MEDIA MANAGEMENT (3) Theoretical bases and practical approaches for management and administration of communications projects, organizations, and resources.

COMM 415 ADVANCED PHOTOGRAPHY (3) Advanced applications in documentary photography emphasizing the narrative qualities of imagery, and utilizing digital technologies.

COMM 421W ADVERTISING CREATIVE STRATEGIES (3) Planning, designing, writing advertisements; introduction to graphics and production techniques and processes; layout and copywriting practice and critiques.

COMM 430 MASS MEDIA AND POLITICS (3) Study of mass media as institutions and the effects of the mass media on politics, public policy, and citizens.

COMM 441 ADVANCED GRAPHIC DESIGN ( 3) Theory and practice designing graphic visual communication in commercial, non- commercial, and fine art formats for print and on-line media.

COMM 456 MEDIA CRITICISM AND THEORY (3) Critical and theoretical approaches to the analysis of media and communication.

COMM 457 MEDIA AUDIENCES AND CONTEXTS (3) Survey of the ways media attempt to influence audience reception and how audiences hold sway over media content.

COMM 458 MEDIA LAW AND ETHICS ( 3) The study and practice of key issues in media law and ethics, including libel law, conflict of interest, truth in advertising.

COMM 459 CULTURAL EFFECTS OF INTERACTIVE AND ONLINE MEDIA (3) Study of the global social impact and rhetorical limitations of converging media, emphasizing cross-cultural media influences.

COMM 462 FEATURE WRITING (3) Reporting and writing the human interest article for newspapers and magazines.

COMM 471 PUBLIC RELATIONS MEDIA AND METHODS ( 3) Analyzing media and audiences for public relations purposes; planning, designing, and writing public relations communications; press relations and publicity methods.

COMM 474 DEPTH REPORTING (3) Exploration of strategies for developing indepth newspaper or magazine articles, with an emphasis on gathering information and long-form writing.

COMM 482 ADVANCED COMMUNICATIONS WORKSHOP (4) Conceptualization, planning, and execution of a visual product on a selected topic utilizing an intensive group project-oriented laboratory approach.

COMM 488 WRITERS' SEMINAR (3 per semester, maximum of 9) Workshop designed for advanced students interested in professional writing, involving extensive mutual and self-criticism.

COMM 594 RESEARCH TOPICS (1 -15) Supervised student activities on research projects identified on an individual or small-group basis.

COMM 595 INTERNSHIP (1 -18) Supervised off-campus, non-group instruction, including field experiences, practicums, or internships. Written and oral critique of activity required.

COMM 596 INDIVIDUAL STUDIES (1 - 9) Creative projects, including nonthesis research, which are supervised on an individual basis and which fall outside the scope of formal courses.


NOTE: The following 400-level Communications courses may not be taken to fulfill the requirements of this degree: COMM 495, COMM 495A, COMM 496 and COMM 497.

Transfer of Credits

Transfer credits are limited to 9 equivalent graduate Communications credits with a grade of B or better taken within the last 5 years from an accredited institution. It must be the opinion of the reviewing faculty that these courses are equivalent in quality to those offered at Penn State Harrisburg. Credit will not be given for any course used to complete a previous degree.

Grade-Point Average and Time Limit

A 3.00 grade-point average will be required for successful completion of the degree.

A full-time student can expect to complete the program in four semesters, a part-time student in six or more semesters. All requirements for a master's degree for the M.A. in Communications (including acceptance of the master’s thesis or project) must be met within eight years of admission to degree status. Extensions may be granted by the Graduate School in appropriate circumstances.

This page is not a part of the official Penn State University Bulletin.