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Master of Arts in Communication Studies

The master of arts degree program in communication studies is designed to promote understanding of the functions of human communication in its various forms and venues and emphasizes four substantive research areas:  rhetoric and political discourse, interpersonal communication, organizational leadership, and communication and culture.

Students can pursue one of three different options:

  • Academic – Comprehensive Exam Option: for students who wish to fulfill teaching requirements in communication studies or who want to pursue advanced degree work. It requires a comprehensive written examination to demonstrate proficient knowledge in the selected area of study.
  • Research – Thesis Option: for students who plan to continue their careers in academia and pursue advanced research opportunities. It requires an original thesis project in a specific research area of interest.
  • Professional – Capstone Portfolio Optionfor students who plan to pursue professional careers. It requires an internship or professional project and submission of a final Capstone Portfolio that provides a comprehensive overview of the work completed.

For distance learning students, this degree program can be completed entirely online, with a 12-hour elective emphasis in Organizational Leadership designed for working professionals, choosing either the academic or the professional option.

Admission Requirements

The department reviews applications for fall, spring, and summer admission into the program. Applications submitted to the Graduate School by May 1 will be reviewed by the department for fall admission, or by November 1 for spring admission, to the main campus program. Admission decisions regarding distance learning applications for the program are made on a rolling basis. To be eligible for consideration for departmental graduate assistantships, awarded in the spring for the following year, new students must have been accepted by the Graduate School for admission into the program no later than March 1.

Applicants must submit one of the following examination scores in support of their applications:  the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). Subject to the approval of the department chairperson and the dean of the Graduate School, a maximum of 12 semester hours of graduate courses may be transferred from another institution.  These hours must be in communication studies or in a closely allied subject and must contribute to the educational objectives of the student.

Graduate students in communication studies may choose elective courses to complete their plans of study, with approval of their academic advisors. A minimum of 24 graduate hours must be completed in communication studies.

See the Admission Criteria section of this catalog for more information.

Requirements for the MA Degree

The Department of Communication Studies uses a form of contract advising. Graduate students are required to plan contractual programs of study with their assigned advisors during the first semester of coursework. These contractual programs must be approved by the academic advisor and filed with the graduate program coordinator by the end of the first semester of coursework. Each plan of study must meet the minimum program requirements established by the Department of Communication Studies and the Graduate School.

Degree Requirements

A master of arts degree in communication studies requires a minimum of 30 hours, based on the following component areas of study:

More InformationHours
Core requirements
Theory courses (12 semester hours)
Students must successfully undertake one theory course each from A, B, and C, plus one additional theory course from A, B, or C
A. Rhetoric and Political Discourse3
B. Interpersonal and Organizational Communication3
C. Communication and Culture3
Elective Theory Course (from A, B, or C)3
Methods Course (3 semester hours)
COM 548 or Sem Rhetorical Criticism (or other approved research methods)3
COM 550 Qualitative Research Methods in Communication
Methods Applied Course, Plan II: Professional (3 semester hours)
COM 598Professional Project (or COM 590 Internship)3
Elective or Emphasis Courses (12-15 semester hours)
To be determined with the approval of one's academic advisor.12
Total Hours30

Plan I: Thesis option, which includes 6 hours of thesis research COM 599 Thesis Research. In addition to completing the courses specified above and electives stipulated by their plans of study, students who choose Plan I must successfully complete a master's thesis, orally defend that thesis, and have the thesis accepted by the Graduate School.

Plan II: Non-thesis Options, which include minimally six hours of electives in the department. All students who choose Plan II must complete a minimum of 30 hours of graduate coursework, including the courses specified above and others stipulated by their approved plans of study. Students following the Plan II option have a choice of two plans:

  • Academic Plan: Students who choose this plan must pass a comprehensive examination, to be taken no later than the semester in which the course requirements for the master's degree are to be completed. The examination is designed to reveal the knowledge gained by the candidate through both the theory courses and the electives taken in the program, as well as the candidate's ability to express that knowledge in acceptable form. The questions will be formulated and evaluated by the comprehensive examination committee.
  • Professional Plan: Students who are primarily pursuing professional interests may choose this alternative plan. It provides students with an opportunity to include in their plans of study some type of practical application of their academic work. Students who choose to pursue this plan must secure permission to do so by submitting a formal proposal to their academic advisor, no later than upon completion of 12 hours of graduate coursework. To complete this plan of study, students are required to submit, at the end of their coursework, a Capstone Portfolio for their advisor's approval.

Plan of Study for Organizational Leadership Emphasis 

Organizational Leadership EmphasisMore Information

Organizational Leadership Emphasis (12 hrs)
COM 555Conflict and Negotiation3
COM 560Group Leadership3
COM 571Sem Organizatn Communctn3
COM 572Org Assessment/Intervent3
Communication Studies Theory Core (12 hours)
COM 525Gender & Political Comm (or approved equivalent)3
COM 563Relational Communication3
COM 513 or Communication And Diversity3
COM 575 Tech,Culture, & Human Comm
COM 561Human Communication Theory3
Methods and Application Requirement (6 hours)
COM 550Qualitative Research Methods in Communication (or approved equivalent)3
COM 598Professional Project May elect Comprehensive Exam option & substitute an approved elective3
Capstone Portfolio: Students will submit a final Capstone Portfolio upon completion of coursework and professional project.
Total Hours30

Master's Degrees

The primary purpose of master’s degree programs is to provide students with subject matter at an advanced level in their fields of study.  Master’s degrees are designed to assist students either to continue their graduate studies or to meet the goals of their professions.  In most cases, master’s programs also help students become familiar with methods of independent investigation.

Program Requirements

Two plans are offered for the master's degree:

Plan I.  Candidates for the master's degree under Plan I must earn a minimum of 24 semester hours of credit in coursework plus earn a minimum of 6 additional hours of thesis research hours, for a total of 30 hours.

Plan II.  Candidates for the master's degree under Plan II must earn a minimum of 30 semester hours of coursework credit and pass the comprehensive examination or complete a culminating or “capstone experience” as described under the Comprehensive Examinations section below.

Both plans require a minimum of 18 semester hours in the major subject.  With the approval of the major department, the remainder of the coursework may be completed in either the major or a related field.

In some divisions and in many departments of the University, candidates are required to do their work under Plan I.  Candidates working under Plan II may be required to participate successfully in seminar or problem courses that will give them an acquaintance with the methods of research and an appreciation of the place and function of original investigation in the field.

Residency Requirements

A student's program at the master's level must provide sufficient association with the resident faculty to permit individual evaluation of the student's capabilities and achievements.

Graduate Credit

A student must be admitted to the Graduate School and must register as a graduate student in order to receive graduate credit.  Approval for graduate registration must be obtained from program advisors prior to registration.

Graduate Credit for Noncredit Experiences

All course credit used toward a UA graduate degree must be taught at the graduate level.  No graduate credit may be earned by correspondence study or for experiential learning not conducted under the direct supervision of graduate faculty of The University of Alabama.  UA does not offer graduate credit for noncredit workshops, seminars, continuing education experiences, professional development, internships, work/life experience, and so forth.  

Transfer of Credit

Courses of full graduate-level credit earned in a regionally accredited institution where a student was enrolled in the graduate school may be submitted for review for inclusion in a master's degree program. Evaluation of credit for transfer will not be made until after the student has enrolled in the Graduate School of The University of Alabama. Acceptance of credit requires the approval of the student's advisory committee and the dean of the Graduate School.  Credit will not be accepted for transfer from any institution at which the student failed to achieve a "B" average on all graduate work attempted.  Only courses in which a student earned a "B" grade or better may be transferred. Thesis Research (599) may not be transferred in from an outside institution.

In some cases, foreign educational credentials may not meet the Graduate School's criteria for transfer of credit.  It may be necessary for students in this situation to secure an evaluation of their credentials from World Education Services Inc. (WES), an external foreign credential evaluation service.  Additional information on their services can be found at their website. 

A student initiates at the Graduate School’s website a Request for Transfer of Graduate Credit earned at another institution.  It is also the student's responsibility to assure that the Graduate School receives an official transcript from the other institution where the transfer credit has been requested, well in advance of the final semester. 

With the approval of the student's department and the dean of the Graduate School, the greater of 12 hours or 25 percent of the required coursework for a master's degree may be transferred from another institution.  All credit toward the master's degree, including transfer credit, must have been earned during the six years (18 fall, spring, and summer semesters) immediately preceding the date on which the master’s degree is to be awarded.  Revalidation or recertification of graduate credits that will be more than 18 semesters old at the time of UA master's program completion is not an option.

Please note that some departments allow fewer than 12 hours of graduate transfer credit.  Be sure to check with your department's graduate coordinator regarding your department's transfer policy.

400-Level Courses

A maximum of 6 semester hours of 400-level course credit may be accepted for a master's degree program, but only if a form for Approval of 400-Level Course Work for Master's Credit is approved by the Graduate School prior to the semester in which the 400-level coursework will be taken.

Time Limit

All requirements for the master's degree must be completed during the six years (18 fall, spring, and summer semesters) immediately preceding the date on which the degree is to be awarded.  There is no provision for an extension of the time limit beyond six years for master's students.

Admission to Candidacy

During the 2013-2014 academic year, the Graduate Council eliminated the master’s candidacy requirement.  Departments may monitor master’s candidacy if they wish, but the Graduate School does not monitor it and will not accept master’s candidacy forms.  Doctoral and Educational Specialist candidacy are not affected and remains an important program requirement.


A thesis evidencing research capacity, independent thought, and the ability to interpret materials is required of all master's degree candidates who pursue Plan I.  The subject chosen must be in the major field and must be approved by the graduate committee of the major department or school and by the head of the student's major department or division.

The final oral thesis defense is the culminating experience in the master’s program.  As such, all members of the thesis committee are expected to attend and participate in real time.  Virtual attendance via interactive video or teleconference is permitted for off-campus external committee members, but Tuscaloosa campus faculty should attend in person unless extraordinary circumstances dictate the need for virtual attendance.  

A thesis committee must consist of at least three members appointed by the dean of the Graduate School.  A form for Appointment or Change of Master's Thesis Committee is used to request that the graduate dean approve all members of a thesis committee.  The request normally is made as soon as the successful defense of the thesis proposal has been completed.  All members of a thesis committee must be members of the Graduate Faculty.  The Committee Chair must be a full or associate member of the Graduate Faculty.  One member must be from outside the student's major department.  If the outside member is not a full or associate member of the UA Graduate Faculty (e.g., a highly qualified person from another university, a business, or industry), the graduate dean needs to appoint that member by approving Temporary Graduate Faculty status for the specific purpose of serving on the student's thesis committee.  Unless there are extraordinary circumstances meriting approval by the graduate dean before the final oral defense of the thesis, all members of the thesis committee must attend the defense.

The candidate must give members of the examining committee a minimum of two weeks to read the thesis before the date of the final oral examination.  A final oral examination is required of all students completing a thesis.  All members of the thesis committee must be members of the UA graduate faculty and must attend the final oral examination unless there are extraordinary circumstances warranting the graduate dean's approval of the absence prior to the defense meeting.

Article Style vs. Journal Format

Article Style.

At the doctoral level, "article-style dissertations" are unified works that include several distinct but related studies of research or creative activity, each of which is of publishable quality.  The University does not permit an "article-style thesis" to be presented for a master's degree.

Journal Format.

A "journal-format thesis" is acceptable.  Such a thesis follows the format of a particular journal in which the student and advisor want the thesis to be published.  To prepare a journal-format thesis, the student uses the journal's "information for authors" or similarly titled guidelines in conjunction with the Graduate School's Student Guide to Preparing Electronic Theses and Dissertations.

As of August 15, 2009, all theses are submitted electronically rather than on paper.  See the Graduate School's homepage for a link to information on Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD) for details.

Theses must comply with the regulations set out in A Student Guide to Preparing Electronic Theses and Dissertations, available on the Graduate School's website.  Approval of the thesis by the graduate dean is necessary before graduation.

The thesis should be completed, if possible, while the student is in residence at the University.  To request permission to complete a thesis in absentia, the student must, before leaving the University, submit a satisfactory outline of the thesis, as well as evidence that adequate facilities are available where the work will be done, to the head of the student's major department.

Protection of Human Subjects for Research

Scientific research involving human subjects has produced substantial benefits for society, but it also can pose troubling ethical questions.  The mission of the University's Institutional Review Board (IRB) for Protection of Human Subjects is to ensure that research involving human subjects is conducted ethically.  University and federal policies require that review and approval to use human subjects in research precede the research.  In the case of thesis research that involves the use of human subjects in any way, the principal investigator is responsible for contacting the college Human Research Review Committee to obtain approval for the planned research. 

Comprehensive Examinations

In addition to the regular course examinations, a final comprehensive examination representing a "culminating" or "capstone" experience for a degree is required of all candidates for the master's degree (except for those candidates pursuing the Master of Accountancy, the Master of Business Administration, the Master of Library and Information Studies, the Master of Social Work, and the Master of Tax Accounting).  The comprehensive examination is a culminating experience in which the student is expected to integrate prior learning.  Each department, with approval of the Graduate Council, determines the most appropriate format. The various exams may consist of one or more of the following: 

  • a written and/or oral examination based on the content of the degree program;

  • a thesis and final oral defense;

  • a course requiring interpretation and integration of information from previous courses;

  • a research paper, a "policy and practice" paper, or equivalent experience;

  • a public performance or exhibition along with a contextualizing paper; and/or

  • a practicum or internship.

If the comprehensive exam requirement is met with option 1 and/or 2 above, then the examining committee for comprehensive examinations must consist of at least three members of the graduate faculty from that department and appointed by the dean of the Graduate School.  The examination must be given at least six weeks before the date of graduation (two weeks before for Plan II) and reported promptly to the dean of the Graduate School on appropriate forms.  A final report, on the Master's/EdS Examination Form (this link needs to be changed to is on the Graduate School website.  The form should be submitted when all examinations are completed.  A student may take the final oral or written examination only twice.  Failing the examination twice results in dismissal from the degree program and the Graduate School.

Application for Graduation

Each candidate for a master's degree must apply for graduation through myBama no later than the last day to add a class for the semester or the first session of the summer term in which requirements for the degree are to be completed.  

Second Master's Degree

Six (6) semester hours of eligible credit from one master's degree at The University of Alabama may be applied to the requirements for a second master's degree, but only if the department of the second master’s agrees to the courses in the plan of study.  Any hours from the previous master’s degree must have been earned during the six years (18 fall, spring, and summer semesters) immediately preceding the date on which the second degree is to be awarded.  ***Please note that if a student double counts six hours between two master’s degrees, no hours may double count toward any additional master’s degrees.