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    Nov 28, 2021  
American University Catalog 2020-2021 
American University Catalog 2020-2021 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Communication (PhD)

Offered by the School of Communication , the Communication (PhD) examines the intersections of media, technology, and democracy with an emphasis on the role of new media in civil society. Its purpose is to foster scholarship that builds new theory and knowledge, and enhances the ability of institutions, social groups, and professionals to apply that knowledge to address salient political and social challenges. Drawing from the offerings of the School of Communication  and from the diverse intellectual resources across American University and Washington, DC, the program combines humanistic and social scientific approaches to the study of communication to analyze the complex interactions among various players, including news media, entertainment media, digital communications, nonprofit organizations, government, and business. In combination with research and scholarship, students have the opportunity to create, promote, and evaluate media projects and communication initiatives.

The accelerated design of the program offers an 11-month mentoring and learning environment, enabling students to complete their degrees in three years. Graduates will be qualified for tenure-track faculty positions at institutions of higher education in communication, media studies, public relations, journalism, film and media arts, and related fields. They will also have the advanced qualifications to work in public policy, research, communication, marketing, and production positions at media, nonprofit, advocacy, government, and industry organizations.

Admission to the Program

Applicants for the PhD degree program must hold an accredited bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in Communication, or a related field, with a cumulative GPA of 3.30 or higher, unless the applicant demonstrates comparable experience. All applicants are required to submit: a combined score of at least 316 on the GRE General Aptitude test (or a score of at least 1200 if the test was taken prior to November 2011); two letters of recommendation; and a written statement of purpose. Applicants must complete an interview with the PhD program director and admissions committee. Non-native English speakers are required to submit the results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The minimum TOEFL score for full admissions consideration is 100 on the Internet-based test (iBT) or 600 on the paper-based test (PBT). The minimum IELTS score is 7.0. 

Degree Requirements

  • 33 credit hours of approved graduate coursework, exclusive of COMM-898 /COMM-899  
  • Minimum 3.00 cumulative GPA maintained during all work toward the degree
  • Four semesters of approved full-time coursework and one summer session in residence at American University in the first two years of the program
  • Pass the comprehensive exam, qualifying for dissertation work
  • Successfully defend a doctoral dissertation
  • Comprehensive Examination Advancement to Candidacy, and Dissertation
    • No later than the end of the fall semester of their second year, students consult with their faculty advisor to select faculty members to serve on their comprehensive exam and dissertation committee. Committees are comprised of the student’s faculty advisor and three additional faculty members. At least two faculty members should be from the field of communication and at least one should be from an outside discipline. Committee members are subject to approval by the student’s faculty advisor and the program director. The comprehensive exam is administered in the spring semester of the second year
    • After passing the comprehensive examinations, students complete a formal dissertation proposal, which must be approved by all the members of the committee and the program director
    • Following approval of the dissertation proposal, students advance to candidacy and proceed with the research and writing process. After completion of the dissertation, students submit it to the committee for oral defense and final approval. Committee members must unanimously agree that the dissertation meets program and university standards for rigor and quality. (Please refer to the Graduate Academic Regulations for university requirements regarding completion of the doctoral degree)

Course Requirements

Statistics/Methods (3 credit hours)

  • 3 credit hours in approved graduate statistics or research methods coursework

Concentration (6 credit hours)

  • 6 credit hours of approved coursework, including courses from outside School of Communication , in a self-designed concentration area. Options may include:
    • Media Industries and Institutions
    • Media, Public Issues, and Engagement
    • Media, Technology, and Culture


Note: Upon advancement to candidacy, a student maintains enrollment status by registering for COMM-899  each semester.