Communication, Master of Arts

School of Communication

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

The Master of Arts in Communication degree from Northern Arizona University is designed to train students in communication research. Students pursue evidence-based inquiry that investigates the impact that communication choices have on individual and social outcomes through original research and creative projects.

The Documentary Studies and Strategic Communication Emphases are only available in-person at the Flagstaff campus.

  • Available Emphasis Areas:
  • Communication Coursework
  • Documentary Studies - Emphasis
  • Strategic Communication - Emphasis

  • To receive a master’s degree at Northern Arizona University, you must complete a planned group of courses from one or more subject areas, consisting of at least 30 units of graduate-level courses. (Many master’s degree programs require more than 30 units.)

    You must additionally complete:

    • All requirements for your specific academic plan(s). This may include a thesis.
    • All graduate work with a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0.
    • All work toward the master’s degree must be completed within six consecutive years. The six years begins with the semester and year of admission to the program.

    Read the full policy here.

In addition to University Requirements:

  • Complete individual plan requirements.

Minimum Units for Completion 36
Additional Admission Requirements Admission requirements over and above admission to NAU are required.
Emphasis or Coursework Required

An emphasis or coursework is required for this degree.

Thesis Thesis may be required by chosen emphasis or offered as an option.
Research Individualized research may be required by chosen emphasis or offered as an option.
Progression Plan Link View Program of Study
Accelerated Undergraduate/Graduate Plan Optional

Purpose Statement

The MA in Communication provides a foundation of the basic research methods, theories, and standards of argument in the academic study of communication. Students explore theories and research in a variety of communicative contexts with an emphasis on the application of concepts, theories, and research to real-world issues. Students will be able to access, understand, evaluate, and apply research, concepts, and theories. Students will engage in original research, creative projects, and the application of existing research, concepts, and theories to specific situations for the purpose of problem-solving and/or evaluation, including effective message design. Students will learn the expectations of academic argument in communication as well as how to effectively communicate their findings to diverse audiences. The MA in Communication will be of relevance to working professionals in a variety of fields, educators, activists, and those preparing to pursue a PhD in Communication, Media Studies, Strategic Communication Studies, Rhetoric, or related disciplines.

MA in Communication (Online)
Students can pursue the MA in Communication fully online. The online degree offers convenience, flexible schedules, ease of work-life balance, and earning career enhancing credentials while keeping a full-time job. There is no emphasis option currently available for our online degree program. 

MA in Communication (Mountain Campus)
Students pursue their degree in residence at Flagstaff’s stunning Mountain campus, enrolling in a mix of select online courses with in-person classes and learning opportunities. Competitive funding is available for some Flagstaff resident students including teaching assistantships and tuition assistance. 

Students completing their degree on the Flagstaff Mountain campus have the option of adding a specialized emphasis to their MA degree. Please note that an emphasis is not required. There are two emphasis options: Documentary Studies and Strategic Communication.
The Documentary Studies emphasis provides a solid grounding in the theoretical, critical, and practical traditions that inform documentary work. NAU is set in the midst of the striking and diverse Southwest. With its manifold Native American communities, environmental issues, and high desert landscapes, NAU’s Colorado Plateau setting provides a rich palette for the next generation of documentary storytellers. Students engage in intensive research and fieldwork, professional production skills in storytelling, and learn to critically analyze media in terms of both content and craft. Particular attention is given to the role of documentary as social critique and bringing untold, under-reported, and under-represented issues and peoples into the public eye. The program is ideally suited to prepare students for today's world of cutting-edge multimedia journalism, documentary work, as well as preparation for PhD programs in cinema and media studies.

The Strategic Communication emphasis provides a rigorous understanding of social media, crisis communication, public opinion, audience measurement, and consumer behavior in the digital age. The diverse range of faculty experts will engage with students to explore theory, practice, and application of concepts in advertising and public relations with a focus on quantitative methods. The emphasis is designed to build leadership skills needed to achieve strategic communication goals and manage company reputations.  Students will elevate their essential skills in social media management, audience engagement, crisis communication, and public sector communication via project-based learning. The program is suited for students who plan to practice advertising and public relations in any number of industries and those students who plan to continue on to doctoral studies in communication, social media, or other strategic communication arenas.

Student Learning Outcomes
 Core Communication Outcomes

  • Learn and apply basic research methods in Communication scholarship.
  • Demonstrate ability to plan, conduct, and disseminate a research project in human communication.
  • Understand, synthesize, and explain the historical development of Communication as an academic field of inquiry.
  • Integrate and apply knowledge of communication theories to multiple contexts of human communication.
  • Utilize communication constructs, theories, and concepts to define, evaluate, and manage real-world problems, conflicts, and events.
  • Develop skills in constructing and presenting messages to diverse audiences.
Documentary Studies Emphasis
  • Engage a theoretical and historical understanding of documentary as rooted in the traditions of creative storytelling and social critique.
  • Apply heightened skills of observation, critical thinking, and creativity to the stories of untold, under-reported, and under-represented issues and peoples; bring these stories to the public eye.
  • Create and distribute a variety of documentary projects in different forms at an advanced level to diverse populations.
  • Realize that production tools and techniques are a means to author a unique point of view shaped by the documentarian's philosophical sensibilities and ways of seeing the world.
Strategic Communication Emphasis
  • Understand theories of media effects, public opinion, persuasion, and consumer behavior in a rapidly changing digital age.
  • Explore the theory, practice, and application of research applied to the advertising and public relations fields with a focus on quantitative methods.
  • Expand theoretical understanding of social media use at the individual, organizational, and societal level.
  • Deliver actionable insights for organizations with effective oral and written communication skills via project-based learning.
  • Develop teaching/leadership experience for key topics related to strategic communication.
  • Investigate the metrics, measurements, and evaluations for assessing the effectiveness of social media and digital strategies.

Additional Admission Requirements
  • Admission requirements over and above admission to NAU are required.
    • NAU graduate online application is required for all programs. Details on admission requirements are included in the online application.
    • Undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution.
    • Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.00 (scale is 4.00 = "A"), or the equivalent.
    • Admission to many graduate programs is on a competitive basis, and programs may have higher standards than those established by the Graduate College.
    • Transcripts.
    • For details on graduate admission policies, please visit the Graduate Admissions Policy.
    • International applicants have additional admission requirements. Please see the International Graduate Admissions Policy.

    Individual program admission requirements include:

    • Writing Sample
    • 3 academic references
    • Personal statement or essay 
    • Resume or curriculum vitae
Master's Requirements
  • This Master’s degree requires 36 units distributed as follows:

    • Core requirements: 12 units
    • Select Electives or an Emphasis area: 18-21 units
      • Communication Elective Coursework: 18-21 units
      • Documentary Studies Emphasis: 18-21 units
      • Strategic Communication Emphasis: 18-21 units
    • Select a Thesis or a Project: 3-6 units

    Take the following 36 units:

    Core requirements (12 units):

  • Communication Electives or Emphasis Requirements (18-21 units)
    • Students complete 18-21 units depending upon their Thesis or Project Option
  • Select one of the following:
  • Communication Elective Coursework: (18-21 units)
    • Elective Coursework is chosen in consultation with your advisor
      • Courses may include, with advisor approval, up to 9 units of coursework outside of Communication and Communication Studies.
      • No more than 6 units of individualized studies as independent studies, directed readings, and research are allowed in the student’s coursework.
    • Documentary Studies Emphasis (18-21 units)
      Offered in-person at the Flagstaff campus; not currently offered online.

      • COM 535 (3 units)
      • COM 550 (3 units)
      • COM 605 (3 units)
      • Additional coursework chosen in consultation with a graduate faculty advisor. Select elective courses from any graduate program at NAU that will help provide you the research tools, specialization, knowledge, and intercultural understanding for documentary work. Such disciplines could include, but are not limited to: anthropology, communication, environmental science, ethnic studies, women’s and gender studies, sociology, among others. (9-12 units)

      Strategic Communication Emphasis (18-21 units) 
      Offered in-person at the Flagstaff campus; not currently offered online.
      • COM 525, COM 546, COM 560 (9 units) 
      • Additional coursework chosen in consultation with a graduate faculty advisor.  Select elective courses from any graduate program that will help provide you with the research tools, specialization, and knowledge needed for work in the strategic communication industries (advertising or public relations) or for preparation for doctoral studies. (9-12 units) 
  • All students will select either the Thesis or Project Option (3-6 units)

    • Thesis Option
      • COM 699 (6 units). Be aware that students may end up taking more than the 6 units that count toward the degree, as enrollment in COM 699 is required each fall and spring semester once a student begins the thesis until the student graduates. Additionally, students must enroll for at least 1 unit of COM 699 the semester in which they plan to defend and graduate, including summer, regardless of the number of units already taken (6 units). Students selecting the thesis option are required to complete 18 units of formal letter-graded coursework.
    • Project Option
      • COM 690 (3-6 units). Be aware that students may end up taking more than 3 units as enrollment for at least one credit of COM 690 may be required each semester in which a student works on a project.  Students selecting the project option must complete 24 units of formal letter-graded coursework.
  • Students enrolled in this plan may not enroll in or pursue the following due to the number of overlapping units:

    • This program is available as an Accelerated Undergraduate/Graduate Plan wherein a student may start a Master's degree while simultaneously completing their Bachelor's degree.

    • While completing the (Bachelor's Plan Name), students can start a (Master's Plan Name) at NAU.

    • Students must apply to the master's program by the graduate program's application deadline, meet all admissions requirements listed in the policy Accelerated Bachelor's to Master's Programs, as well as the admissions requirements for the specified master's plan to be considered for admission. Admission to programs is competitive and qualified applicants may be denied because of limits on the number of students admitted each year.

      Be sure to speak with the Master's Program Director/Coordinator regarding your interest in the accelerated plan.
    • Students accepted into the Accelerated Program should complete the following requirements:

Additional Information
  • Be aware that some courses may have prerequisites that you must also successfully complete. For prerequisite information, click on the course or see your advisor.