Ph.D. in Mass Communication


UNC School of Media and Journalism doctoral students are expected to attain a high degree of competence in research methodology and develop expertise in at least one substantive area of study as well as a broad range of knowledge concerning mass communication in modern society. The specific content of students’ programs will be determined by the students themselves and their committees, and will vary with the background, interests and goals of each student. The school also offers a J.D./Ph.D. dual degree program in conjunction with the UNC School of Law.

The school currently requires students to take four core courses:

  • MEJO 701: "Mass Communication Research Methods"
  • MEJO 705: "Theories of Mass Communication"
  • MEJO 740: "Mass Communication Law"
  • MEJO 742: "Readings in Mass Communication History"

Any incoming student who has been accepted into the Ph.D. program and wishes to waive any of the four core course requirements should submit a copy of the syllabus from the graduate-level course he/she has already taken, along with copies of any papers written for and exams taken in the course. Waiver requests will not be allowed for any courses taken more than five years ago, and requests will be accepted only from those students who received an “A” or “B” (or the equivalent) in the previously taken course.

Waiver requests should be submitted by June 1 each year. Requests will be reviewed by a committee consisting of the associate dean for graduate studies, the director of the Ph.D. program and the faculty member who most recently taught the core course. This committee will determine whether the previously taken course is substantially similar to the MEJO-required course in terms of material covered, skills required and quality of instruction. Students will be notified by July 1 if their waiver applications have been approved. If a student’s application is approved, the core course requirement will be waived, but the student will be required to take another three-hour course in its place.

No more than two core course waivers will be granted.

Sixteen courses, totaling at least 48 graduate credits (400-level and above courses), in addition to at least six dissertation credits, are required for the doctorate. Those 16 courses must be arrayed into three groups of courses: (1) a substantive area of study, consisting of at least 15 hours of coursework, (2) research methods, consisting of at least four courses and (3) if a student chooses to declare a secondary area, it must include at least 9 hours of coursework. Areas of specialization should be selected from the substantive areas of study. The research methods a student chooses to study must be appropriate to the student's areas of specialization and dissertation topic. Programs are reviewed and approved annually by the student's adviser and the Ph.D. program director.

If a doctoral student gets an “L” (low passing grade) in a core course (MEJO 701, MEJO 705, MEJO 740, MEJO 742), he or she must pass a comprehensive examination given during the following semester. If the student fails the exam, he or she will be allowed to retake the course once. If the student again earns an “L,” he or she will not be allowed to continue in the program.

If a graduate student receives any funding for his or her education from a school-based source, continued funding is based on a student’s satisfactory progress in his or her coursework and satisfactory performance in the assistantship. Satisfactory performance in the assistantship will be determined by the associate dean for graduate studies in consultation with the student’s assistantship supervisor, the student’s adviser and the Ph.D. director. If a student gets an “L” in one of the core courses, that “L” is not removed by passing the examination or by getting a “P” upon retaking the course.

Other requirements include the following:

  • At least eight courses, totaling at least 24 credits, at the 700 through 900 levels within the School of Media and Journalism.
  • At least four semesters in residence, with a minimum of two semesters in continuous study at UNC-Chapel Hill.
  • Satisfactory performance on written and oral comprehensive exams. Students must take both written and oral exams at the end of their doctoral coursework. The written exams consist of five exams of four hours each; each doctoral committee member is responsible for a four-hour question block. These exams come before the oral examination or the proposal defense, which may be combined. Students must pass all five of the written exams before they are allowed to go forward with the orals or the proposal defense. The Graduate School allows students to retake failed written questions one time only. Three months must elapse between the original examination and the retaking of the failed portion.
  • Successful completion and oral defense of a dissertation.

Length of Program

Students normally spend two years taking courses, then take comprehensive exams early in their third fall semester. They then write their dissertation proposals. After the proposal is approved by the student’s doctoral committee, the student must be completed and defended. The nature of the dissertation research will govern the length of time a student spends on the project, but many students find it takes about one year to complete a dissertation. In general, it takes at least three years — and often more — to complete the Ph.D. J.D./Ph.D. students can complete the dual degree program over approximately five years depending on each individual student’s progress and program of study.

The Graduate School requires students to complete the degree within eight years of entry into the program. Students who do not finish within eight years can petition for an extension.

Continuous Enrollment Policy

The Continuous Enrollment Policy of the Graduate School states that students are required to be registered whenever University resources (including faculty time) are being consumed to appropriately reflect work being done. This means that if students are away from campus (such as working on your dissertation at home or working in an academic or research job) and using any University resource(s), they must be registered.

Doctoral Committee

Each doctoral student selects a five-member supervisory committee, which is approved by the associate dean for graduate studies. This committee consists of three School of Media and Journalism faculty members and two graduate faculty members from departments outside the school. The student's adviser serves as chair of the committee. The committee should consist of professors with whom the student has taken courses. The committee guides the student's academic development, administers and evaluates the comprehensive exams and approves the dissertation proposal and dissertation.


Admissions decisions are based not only on the standard criteria — GRE scores, grade averages and letters of recommendation — but also on a determination of whether the applicant's interests and goals fit with those of the program and faculty. For that reason, the statement of purpose and statement of research interests that must accompany an application are extremely important, and applicants are encouraged to be as specific as possible in outlining their research interests and career goals.

The annual application deadline for fall admission is in mid-December.

Cost and Funding

Final 2016-17 tuition and fees are now available. Funding is available through the prestigious Park Fellowships.

Learn More

To receive more information about the Ph.D. program,  please complete the form below (all fields required). Questions? Contact