Curriculum and Courses

36 points for degree completion Part-time or full-time program*
3 to 4 terms (full-time)** or up to 3 years (part-time) On-campus instruction and possible online instruction***
Fall intake only  
Optional Practicum
Capstone Project

* International students are responsible for ensuring they have read and understand the University’s student visa application eligibility and requirements. Please note that it is not permissible to enroll while in B-1/B-2 status. In addition, if studying on a student visa, you must enroll full-time (12 credits per term) and study on campus.
** Non-native English speakers may be required to take two non-credit courses: a six-week course during the Summer and a course during the Fall term.
*** For part-time students, some courses with evening schedules may only be available online. Full-time students have the opportunity to take some courses online.

The Master’s Program in Strategic Communication embraces a “Scholar Practitioner” approach to learning where you will learn both classical and modern approaches to communication and apply them through simulated and real-world scenarios.

The program’s wide and varied range of electives gives students the opportunity to take classes at the School of Professional Students outside of the program and elsewhere at Columbia. Through their elective selections, students can craft a path of study aligned with specific interests and objectives.


There are three ways to complete the program:

  1. Part-Time (up to 3 years). Students take 2 classes their first Fall and Spring terms. During subsequent terms, students will have the ability to scale-up or scale-down their course load, provided they take the remaining required core courses during their program and complete within 3 years.

  2. Full-Time without Practicum (3 consecutive terms)

  3. Full-Time with Practicum (4 consecutive terms)

Click on one of the pathways here to see sample courses of study for successful completion of the program.

Sample Part-Time Pathway

first term: fall (6 points)
Strategic Communication Management
Principles in Persuasion
second term: spring (6 points)
The Compelling Communicator
Digital Media and Analytics
third term: summer (6 points)
The Reflective Leader
fourth term: fall (6 points)
Research Methods and Insights
fifth term: spring (6 points)
sixth term: fall (6 points)

Sample Full-Time Pathways

One-Year Path Practicum Path
summer summer
English for Strategic Communication (if required*) English for Strategic Communication (if required*)
first term: fall (12 points) first term: fall (12 points)
Strategic Communication Management Strategic Communication Management
Principles in Persuasion Principles in Persuasion
The Compelling Communicator The Compelling Communicator
Industry Insider Industry Insider
second term: spring (12 points) second term: spring (12 points)
Research Methods and Insights Research Methods and Insights
The Reflective Leader The Reflective Leader
Digital Media and Analytics Digital Media and Analytics
Elective Elective
third term: summer (12 points) third term: summer (3 points)
Elective Practicum (Elective)
  fourth term: fall (9 points)

* Non-native English speakers may be required to take two non-credit courses: a six-week course during the Summer and a course during the Fall term.

International Students

As a result of the application and interview process, some students will begin their program of study with a six-week summer course, English for Professional Purposes: Strategic Communication. There may also be a requirement for an additional non-credit course in the Fall term, focusing on spoken and written communication skills.

These courses are offered through Columbia University’s American Language Program and are designed to strengthen English skills and familiarize students with the U.S. academic context to better meet the demands of SPS’s rigorous curriculum and achieve success in the professional world. The courses are designed in collaboration with the Strategic Communication faculty, and cover topics relevant to professionals in the communication field. Participants will hone their discussion and presentation skills, and enhance their listening and reading abilities through lectures, articles and papers by professionals from the communication industry.

International students have specific guidelines that they must follow to work for an organization for the Practicum elective. To be considered a full-time student, an international student must be registered for at least 12 points per semester, with the exception of their final semester.

Elective Requirements

Part-time students are required to take 5 electives and full-time students are required to take 4 electives. For part-time students, some courses with evening schedules may only be available online. Students have the opportunity to take up to two electives through other programs in the School of Professional Studies or other schools at Columbia, subject to the approval of the Program Director. Not all electives are available in every semester and registration is based upon availability. Electives may be offered as semester-long courses in Spring, Summer and Fall, online, or through a select number of one-week block intensive courses.

Expectations and Time Demands

In order to receive the master's degree in Strategic Communication, you must complete all requirements of the degree within 3 years with an overall grade point average of 3.0 (B) or better.

Courses take place during the day, evenings, and – if available – in a one-week intensive format. Class meetings vary in length from two to seven hours (for block-week courses). Some electives have seven-hour classes available on weekends. For part-time students, some courses with evening schedules may only be available online. Full-time students have the option to take some courses online.

If a situation arises where you must leave for the semester, under certain circumstances, it may be possible to resume the following year.

Required Course List

Principles in Persuasion. 3 pts.

How do we change minds and move people to action? It’s an eternal human question and one that’s critical for strategic communicators. This course focuses on key principles in persuasion, from classical rhetoric to social psychology. Students learn to gauge audience needs and desires, anticipate decision-making processes and choose the persuasive strategies that best fit the situation. Because our aim is audience-centered communication, we also consider the ethical basis for persuasion.

Strategic Communication Management. 3 pts.

This course examines the strategic role for communication in driving organizational outcomes. It covers key aspects of communication management, including how to plan, implement and measure strategic communication initiatives. Students learn to assess organizational needs, identify stakeholders and draft messaging that speaks credibly to a variety of constituencies, both internal and external. We also emphasize fundamental business skills, such as interpreting financial reports and understanding the language of business.

The Compelling Communicator. 3 pts.

The ability to communicate clearly is a key factor in career advancement. Whether leading teams, pitching new business or attempting to influence clients, colleagues or bosses, effective workplace communication can quickly set us apart from others. But it’s a skill that requires practice. In this course, students learn the verbal and interpersonal skills needed to thrive in a variety of communication and leadership roles.

Industry Insider. 3 pts.

This course gives students visibility into the rapidly changing communication industry and the wide range of careers available. Curated site visits take us inside world-class agencies and corporate/nonprofit organizations to see how they use strategic communication in the real world. Students gain firsthand exposure to leading practitioners while learning the dynamics of collaboration between internal and external stakeholders. Relevant coursework provides additional perspective.

This course is waived for students in the part-time format, who will take an additional elective in its place.

Research Methods and Insights. 3 pts.

To make informed decisions about communication, we need a clear understanding of our audience and its motivations. We begin by asking the right questions and interpreting the results. This course covers essential market research methods, including quantitative and qualitative techniques. Students gain direct experience in collecting and analyzing data, developing insights and choosing research-driven communication strategies that meet client objectives.

Digital Media and Analytics. 3 pts.

As communication work becomes increasingly mobile and social, students need a solid foundation in current practices and emerging technologies. This course covers major themes in digital communication, from content strategy to mobile and programmatic marketing. Students learn how to read and interpret data analytics within the context of integrated media campaigns.

The Reflective Leader. 3 pts.

Beyond general intelligence and technical proficiency, what separates effective leaders from average managers are individual skills—such as the ability to make sound decisions—and social skills—such as the ability to manage teams effectively. This course will help you identify these critical leadership skills, and will provide ideas and tools for improving them.

Capstone. 3 pts.

The Capstone Project is an opportunity for students to synthesize and apply learnings from throughout the Strategic Communication program. Under the guidance of expert advisers, you’ll investigate a real-world communication issue, devising solutions and strategies that bridge the gap between theory and practice.

English for Strategic Communication.


This course may be taken by invitation only.

This course will further develop the language skills and techniques you need to succeed in the master’s program. You will become more skilled, comfortable, and confident listening to, speaking and writing English. With an eye toward broadening your news and cultural worldview, you will explore social media, magazines, advertisements, and other media. You will learn to hone your language and minimize errors, develop your awareness of the importance of ‘audience’, and improve your spoken and written storytelling skills.

Elective Course List

Leadership Development. 3 pts.

Leadership Development is a process that expands the capacity of individuals to perform in progressively responsible management roles within organizations. In today’s fast-evolving business landscape, the ability to be an agile leader who can adapt to a variety of situations is increasingly valuable to organizations and the workforce. These roles demand flexibility and the ability to facilitate the execution of a company’s competitive strategy through enhancing collaboration and alignment, influencing buy-in and mindshare of key stakeholders, and cultivating the capabilities of relevant constituents.

This experiential, executive-style seminar will help experienced graduate students develop the tools they need to diagnose and solve business problems, effectively lead individuals, groups, and organizations; and, ultimately, advance to the next level of their career trajectory. Students will interact in meaningful ways with invited guest executives and peer classmates. The seminar will focus on developing competencies through readings, self-exploration exercises, executive coaching, role-play, guest lectures, case studies, assessments, and feedback. Through these exercises and feedback, students will build the confidence, flexibility, and skills required of 21st-century managers.

This face-to-face, intensive block week course will immerse in best practice review for:

  • Applying critical, analytical thinking to crucial business issues—a component of the intellectual skill set that defines exceptional leaders. In small group settings, students will receive intensive training, practice, and feedback in the construction, presentation, and evaluation of clear, concise and well-reasoned arguments. By honing critical analytical thinking skills, participants will be able to better identify and communicate arguments and improve decision making.
  • Discovering the principles of design thinking and how to use those principles to create organizational structures, work groups, and individual jobs—as well as social networks, change efforts, and cultural norms.
  • Refining a set of personal leadership skills, including influence, motivation, change management, resiliency, and communication, through the use of in-class scenario practicum and executive coaching.

Please note, the seminar will led by the Dean and be held in San Francisco during the University Spring Break period, March 11–14, 2018. Class size is capped, and interested students must apply to be selected for participation.

Enrollment is open to students in the M.S. programs in Applied Analytics, Bioethics, Strategic Communication, and Technology Management, as all are approved for course instruction in San Francisco. If you are interested, please send your resume to Bianca Swift at with the subject line COMM PS5011 Leadership Development by December 15, 2017.

Decisions will communicated by December 22, 2017.

Please be aware that students are responsible for their own travel and accommodation expenses. Students studying on an F-1 visa in their final semester must also be enrolled in other courses that start in January and end in May.

This course is a complement to Organizational Strategy and Learning.

Practicum. 3 pts.

The Practicum is an attractive offering of the program for full-time students and an opportunity to immerse yourself in real-world application. You work in a communication function at a firm to gain valuable, relevant job experience as a fully functioning member of a communication team. The practicum can be an important part of your post-graduation job hunt, providing demonstrable, resume-expanding experiences as well as a valuable network of contacts in the field.

Generally the Practicum is completed during the Summer; it may be possible to complete it in the Fall or Spring, subject to certain conditions.

The Strategic Storyteller. 3 pts.

This course teaches you how to craft and deliver presentations that engage audiences and inspire action. You will learn how to find a theme that resonates with your audience and create “sticky” content through image, metaphor, emotion, and story. Particular attention will be paid to the elements of story, how to find good stories, and how to tell them for greatest effect. Presentation skills will be sharpened through on-camera practice and storytelling exercises.

Developing and Implementing Ideas. 3 pts.

This course will guide you through the dynamic process of taking an idea from inception to completion on behalf of internal and external clients. You will learn how ideas are developed and implemented and be able to use research, mobilize teams, and devise solutions for a variety of challenges across various industries. The value of measurement will be stressed and methods for ensuring actionable results will be taught.

Building Internal Engagement. 3 pts.

Through strategic internal communication, employees are focused on driving business results and encouraged to act as brand ambassadors on behalf of their organization, building the organization's reputation. This course focuses on communication from the inside-out, addressing the opportunities, challenges, and issues communication professionals face today in dealing proactively and reactively with internal stakeholders.

How can leaders build credibility with employees in an authentic way? How do you influence your CEO to take a leadership position and act as the champion of the employee communication effort? How can an internal communication strategy ensure truthful and respectful communication during times of change?

Crisis Communication. 3 pts.

This course covers the basic elements of crisis communication and the procedures for creating crisis communications plans and for reacting to crises when they occur. How best to develop various plans for different critical audiences and understand the most effective strategies for communicating your organization’s message during a crisis is explored. The course examines various types of crises that can occur with corporations and nonprofit organizations and the differences and similarities among them. How to avoid the classic and common pitfalls of crisis communication are addressed, as are ethical issues that arise during crises. Numerous case studies are discussed in class and exercises both in and outside of class are assigned so students gain experience in crisis communication situations.

Communication for Social Change. 3 pts.

Analyzing how strategic communication can be used to generate and impact public discourse, and, ultimately, to produce social change is a critical component of understanding the democratic process. How does the use of the media affect the tenor and quality of public debate? What methodologies are nonprofit strategists using to determine messages and test salience? How do they evaluate whether their efforts serve intended audiences? We explore both the theoretical context and practical applications related to the use of communication by not-for-profit organizations.

The Master Narrative. 3 pts.

This course provides students with an understanding of how large organizations develop a compelling story, or “master narrative,” and tell that story consistently, via multiple media platforms, in a competitive communication environment. Using case studies, students will examine the process organizations undertake to define and drive a master narrative through positive and negative news cycles and understand the importance of integrating all communication — media, Internet, marketing, advertising, government and stakeholder outreach — in the effort to craft and sustain a compelling narrative.

Students will learn how to create a master narrative, how to define a message frame that fits the narrative and keep all communication within this frame, how to determine key audiences, vehicles for reaching these audiences, how to manage online and traditional media in telling a story, how to measure success and readjust a master narrative based on circumstances, how to take advantage when the 24/7 communication cycle puts an organization in the spotlight, and how to define and manage through crises to protect a master narrative.

Communication and Global Brands. 3 pts.

This course examines the discipline of global marketing communication, including the environmental factors that enabled global marketing. The course assesses early models of communication management and the current factors that enable global communication programs: the identification of global target audiences; the kinds of products and services that lend themselves to global communication and those that don’t; and the characteristics of leadership brands that are preeminent in global communication today. Students consider how levels of development and cultural values affect communication programs and how local differences can be reflected in global programs. Message creation and the available methods of message distribution are evaluated in the context of current and future trends. Students learn how to approach strategy and develop an integrated, holistic global communication program and how to manage such a program.

The Power of Opinion. 3 pts.

In this small, intensive workshop, students learn to how to express a strong, well substantiated point of view in an op-ed, speech, and media interview. Classroom work includes analyzing the best examples of each genre, articulating the differences between them, and critiquing student work.

The Business of Issues. 3 pts.

This course explores the role and responsibility of corporations in addressing social issues; as well the benefits of well developed and implemented corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. Through the use of articles, case studies, guest speakers and individual and group assignments, students will learn how strategic CSR can be a lever for social and business impact. At the conclusion of the semester, students will be empowered to develop a comprehensive CSR plan for elevating a company’s brand reputation, strengthening employee and consumer engagement, as well as driving business and social impact.

The Value of Brand: Making the Business Case. 3 pts.

This course introduces students to the economic importance of brand building activities based on the proven link between brand equity and business performance. Students examine the role that strategy and communication play in building brand equity, and explore how the changing media landscape is causing companies to rethink traditional brand-building practices. Students will use critical thinking, case-analysis, market research, and strategic presentations to persuade a business decision maker to invest in brand building efforts. For students who are interested in building stronger brand cultures within their organizations (for both the profit and nonprofit sectors) and/or for pursuing careers on the brand side of strategy, this course answers the question: Why should businesses and institutions care about branding?

Strategic Visual Communications. 3 pts.

This course focuses on exploring and clarifying the value and role of strategic visual communications within today’s broad business context. Through a combination of readings, case studies, class discussions, simulations, and media, students will recognize the importance visuals play in effective communications, gain insight into how visuals can help them to communicate more clearly and effectively, and understand the role of visuals in developing brands and marketing messages. In addition, students will build practical competencies in “the language of design” that will increase their effectiveness in selecting, briefing, leading, and evaluating design resources and their creative work.

Content Strategy: Achieving Business Goals Through Content. 3 pts.

Sitting at the intersection of business strategy, digital development, user experience, communication, and publishing, content strategy has emerged over the last few years as a discipline examining the purpose behind content (in all manifestations) and how it supports business, organizational, and user goals. While it originated in digital web design and user experience, content strategy now encompasses a much broader set of considerations and addresses content creation, distribution, and governance across multiple channels, especially the interplay among digital, social, and traditional media. Content strategy provides a holistic approach for unlocking the value behind content and for increasing its effectiveness in achieving business and organizational objectives. This course will present the fundamentals of content strategy and explore the discipline’s approaches, techniques, and tools that course participants can apply directly to the content situation in their own organization. It will draw parallels with – and highlight distinctions among – traditional communication strategy, publishing, and content strategy, and provide students with a framework to create a sustainable program grounded in meaningful, actionable content.

Cross Cultural Communication. 3 pts.

This elective course gives students the knowledge and skills they need in order to practice public relations and strategic communication across nations and cultures. As corporations increasingly pursue overseas markets for production and sales and countries become more dependent upon global cooperation in order to achieve national priorities, public relations practitioners for corporations, governments, and nonprofit organizations are expected to practice their craft globally. This course introduces students to the global, local, and generic-specific theories of international public relations. Students will learn how to develop effective global public relations strategies and tailor their strategies, tactics, and messages for different cultures. Additionally, students will learn how to adapt their own workplace behavior and strategies when practicing public relations in global environments.

Critical Conversations. 3 pts.

Effective dialogue is one of the single most important activities of leaders today. Whether you are confronting a team member who is not keeping commitments, critiquing a colleague’s work, disagreeing with a spouse about financial decisions, or telling someone no, critical conversations are often avoided or handled in clumsy ways. This course will provide the theory underpinning these conversations, diagram their structure, and provide specific strategies for approaching them successfully.

Battle of the Mind: Using Communication to Influence Decision-Making. 3 pts.

This course places students at the intersection of two converging fields, behavioral economics and communication, to teach them how our predictable irrationality can become a competitive advantage in persuading people, groups and organizations to take favorable actions. Through lectures, case analysis, and group projects, students learn and apply a variety of psychological principles to communication thinking, planning and leadership. Students are challenged to think broadly about communication — advertising, public relations, social media, content and internal communication — in their application of cognitive bias and heuristics principles including anchoring, framing, loss aversion, group biases, time-discounting and choice overload.

The University reserves the right to withdraw or modify the courses of instruction or to change the instructors as may become necessary.