Skip to main content
Expand AU Menu

PhD in Communication

SOC PhD students at desks

Program and Admission Requirements

Learn More

Program Requirements

In contrast to the traditional 9-month schedule, the yearly course of study for the program will take place over an 11-month period, which includes faculty supervision and mentoring via formal course work, organized research group meetings, and online collaboration.

Students in the Ph.D. program will be required to complete four semesters of approved full-time course work and one summer session in residence at American University before advancing to candidacy. These will include: seven core courses (Comm 704 Media, Technology and Democracy, Comm 750 Advanced Media Theory, Comm 751 Advanced Media Research Methods, Comm 754 Media Law and Policy, Comm 711 Teaching Seminar in Communication, Comm 861 Advanced Research and Project Development, Comm 860 Seminar in Doctoral Research, and Comm 899 Dissertation Research); an approved graduate course in statistics, as well as an additional approved elective in research methods; and at least three approved electives at the 600 level or above that focus on a student's concentration area (see concentration descriptions). All students must pass a qualifying exam and successfully defend a doctoral dissertation.

Read the program curriculum.

Admissions Requirements

Priority application deadline for fall 2016 admission is December 15, 2015

In addition to the admissions requirements list on this page, doctoral program applicants must:

  • Hold a researched–focused masters degree in Communication or a related field from an accredited college or university with a cumulative GPA of 3.3 or higher
  • Obtain 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)
  • Include in the statement of purpose a section outlining the applicants' intended research area
  • Submit a copy of the master's thesis or other sample of academic work

The admissions committee may ask applicants to interview with the program director and affiliated faculty. Interviews are conducted either on campus or via Skype or similar tool.

Each year SOC will welcome several doctoral students with full tuition remission as well as a graduate assistant position. SOC may also offer admission to top candidates without merit funding. If funding comes available, students admitted without funding may be eligible to receive a merit package from the department.

Apply now.

Communication (PhD)

Offered by the School of Communication, the PhD in Communication 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 (SOC) 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

Doctoral program applicants must have a master's degree in Communication or a related field from an accredited college or university with a cumulative GPA of 3.3 or higher; a combined score of at 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; a written statement of purpose; and an interview with the PhD program director and admissions committee. Non-native English speaking applicants must submit results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The minimum TOEFL score is 100 on the Internet-based test (iBT) or 600 on the paper-based test (PBT).

Degree Requirements

  • 33 credit hours of approved graduate coursework, exclusive of COMM-898/COMM-899.
  •  A grade point averages of 3.00 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 a qualifying exam
  • 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

Core (24 credit hours)

Concentration (9 credit hours)

  • At least three approved courses, including courses from outside SOC, in a self-designed concentration area. Options may include:

Media Industries and Institutions

Media, Public Issues, and Engagement

Media, Technology, and Culture


Upon advancement to candidacy, a student maintains enrollment status by registering for COMM-899 Doctoral Dissertation (9) for 9 credit hours per semester.