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|
* 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:
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.
Full-Time without Practicum (3 consecutive terms)
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|
|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|
|third term: summer (12 points)||third term: summer (3 points)|
|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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.