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Custom Leadership Program

Select four elective courses to meet your individual needs.

Earn Your MS In Communication with the Custom Leadership Program

Communicate. Collaborate. Advance your goals.

Discover your voice. Learn to write persuasively. Become a collaborative leader and transform the world.

In the Northwestern Custom Leadership Program (CLP), students earn a MS in Communication while learning how to affect positive change.

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Find out how MS in Science alum Chris Block learned to bring humanity back into the workplace.

Customized Curriculum

Strengthen your skills or stretch into new arenas by creating your own customized MS in Communication program.

Accelerated Career Path

Accelerate your career and propel yourself into new opportunities with an ambitious and challenging MS in Communication program.

NU Alumni Network​

Join an extensive, elite network of Northwestern University alumni — and build the career you’ve always desired.

An MS in Communication Program That Fits Your Schedule

Work. Family. School. A custom program lets you do it all.

Our part-time, Saturday-only schedule means you’ll be advancing your career, not pausing it.

You’ll take the lessons from class each week directly into the workplace, improving your effectiveness and standing out from the crowd.

The program takes less than a year to complete, and you can start putting into practice what you’ve learned beginning on day one.

Featured Story

Finding Career Clarity and Focus

Stand out in a crowd. Land a dream job.

Learn how the program paid off almost immediately for Gabrielle Torina in the form of a new job—her dream job.

The MS in Communication program taught Gabrielle how to answer in-depth questions in front of an interview panel and create a presentation in response to a specific situation.

Year to Complete Your Degree
Different Customizable Program Paths
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Professors & Industry-Leading Faculty

MS In Communication CLP Curriculum Overview

Design a program that aligns to your career — and life — goals.

In the Custom Leadership Program, MS in Communication students take 4 core courses and choose electives that strengthen current skills and open new doors.

Core Courses

This action-oriented course builds participants’ collaborative leadership skills. Through a series of case studies, activities, and projects, students learn how to effectively lead diverse and often distributed teams. The course explores the specific challenges associated with leading teams, some of which include: building and designing teams, managing information exchange within and across teams, structuring effective group decision processes, igniting creative thinking, enabling complex problem solving, and managing team conflict.

Read Professor Leslie DeChurch’s Biography >>

At its core, organizational change management is about implementation of new ideas and practices. Because organizational change requires individuals and units to change, this course examines both how an individual’s attitudes and behavior might be altered and how an organization’s policies and practices might change. Consequently, this class will focus on material related to persuasion, bargaining and negotiation, and organizational campaigns. These theories will be drawn from a variety of disciplines including organizational behavior, industrial relations, political science, social psychology, and communication. Although the primary method of teaching will be lecture, students are encouraged to ask questions and offer examples.

Read Professor Michael Roloff’s Biography >>

This course provides students with the concepts, insights, and techniques that will give them a competitive edge as they discover, diagnose and design networks. The course offers a set of strategic principles for students to create, maintain and dissolve network ties. These principles vary depending on a student’s desire to explore innovations, engage in entrepreneurship, exploit existing resources, implement change, or mobilize strategic partnerships. The course will identify the optimal principles in these diverse contexts using a set of case studies, review articles and computer-based visual-analytic demonstrations. By the end of the course, students will have the conceptual tools and techniques to assess an existing network and rewire them to achieve any desired individual or organizational goal.

Read Professor Noshir Contractor’s Biography >>

This course offers the opportunity to examine the ethical choices that people make and the repercussions and limitations of those choices. Most people deal with difficult questions in their professional lives in which they must act on behalf of an organization, usually without the agency to be fully free to choose how to respond. Good communicators must focus not just on thinking ethically, but also on how an ethical organization is able to communicate its engagement to its stakeholders in ways that support and enhance the purposes to which the organization is dedicated. Using case studies, practical situations and a bit of philosophical perspective, the course examines the costs and benefits of thinking and acting with concern for others and the desire to behave consistently across organizational contexts. The goal of the course is to help students build virtuous organizations with the structures and habits that encourage consideration of multiple perspectives, which in turn leads to the practice of ethical behavior.

Read Professor Randall Iden’s Biography >>


This course emphasizes learning and development for adult and organizational change in many different settings – educational institutions, business and non-profit or government institutions, and community settings. It is grounded in research focusing on learning at work, through work and for work. To meet the complex global challenges found in the workplace, it is necessary to develop new kinds of professional expertise and knowledge, new types of work identities, new forms of collaboration, and, foremost, new ways of learning. Students will analyze and synthesize forms of learning that enable people to engage in transformative and innovative rather than in rote and reproductive learning, and in networked and social learning rather than isolated and individual learning, as well as, in ethical and (organizational) value-conscious rather than ‘value-free and objective’ learning. Students in this course will also gain perspectives on teaching as a complex intellectual activity through an in-depth study of andragogy within an integrated and interdisciplinary model. All of these components require deep, research-based study and participation in simulations and (re)creations designed to uncover of how learning takes place and how it can be generated and enhanced in workplaces.

Read Professor Amy J. Hauenstein’s Biography >>

Traditionally, the study of business communication has been divided into marketing communication (advertising, marketing and public relations) which is primarily addressed to outside audiences for purposes of selling, promoting or spinning; and organizational communication which is addressed to both inside and outside audiences for the purpose of defining the parameters of the company or business unit. Developments in Communication Studies over the past 20 years have shown this distinction to be spurious and, often, detrimental to the achievement of individual and group goals. In addition, the very parameters of the organization and who counts as its members have been called into question. 

Strategic communication is the study of the integrated messaging among stakeholders of an organization which acknowledges the contested boundaries of contemporary organizations. The course will explore the way language is used to construct meaning for an organization and how mission statements can be used to develop authentic, nuanced messages among stakeholders that will augur to the long-term benefit of the organization and its stakeholders in the broader sense. We will use business cases and other examples to explore the ways in which strategic communication can be purposefully and consistently implemented in a variety of organizations.

Read Professor Erik Nisbet’s Biography >>

This course will discuss the issues (problems, challenges, and opportunities) arising from the confluence of commerce, culture and politics under the current regime of globalization. While there is more to globalization than economics (integration of markets and finances) and technology (mobility and connectivity within the knowledge based and information driven wired/wireless world), one has to begin by attending to the techno-economic forces transforming the world today. On the other hand, even though our world driven by technological innovations and economic imperatives it is rapidly globalizing, the cross-border differences—cultural, political and geographical—still matter a great deal. Paying attention to and leveraging those differences is critical for the success of any individual manager and also any corporation or nation now compelled to compete on the global stage. This is where strategy or global strategy becomes relevant. This course will explore, by way of case studies and theoretical reflection, how to identify, negotiate, and overcome/or utilize differences strategically. Please note that this is not a “business model” course, even though there will be ample use of corporate case studies.

Read Professor Dilip Gaonkar’s Biography >>

Michelle Shumate, PhD

This course focuses on the challenges of leading a nonprofit organization that stretch even the most seasoned leaders – exploring concepts related to maximizing both the social impact of their work and financial obligations of the organization. In this course, students delve into the challenges of nonprofit leadership with an overview of the nonprofit sector and the leadership roles in typical nonprofits. Students learn about the sector in general, the fiduciary and normative roles of board members, and typical responsibilities of chief executives. In addition, special attention is given to the relationship between the board and staff, which can be managed in a variety of ways.

Read Professor Michelle Shumate Biography >>

This course covers business and regulated industries and uses the communications industry as a model to discuss two important general business concepts: strategies for operation in regulated environments and the intersection of technology and regulation. The general concepts are then extended and applied to several example industries. Students will learn about the policy and law surrounding businesses as well as the practical applications of strategies of dealing with operational challenges and regulation in a way that can be applied to any business in any industry (financial, pharmaceutical/medical, auto/transportation, etc.). The course and the exercises combine theory and practice and deals with real-world strategies of communication and business. The strategies discussed in this course will be of immediate use to students.

Read Professor Rick G. Morris’ Biography >>

Contemporary society is inundated with visual messages. Aside from the pervasive images and icons used in advertising, visual information permeates every aspect of our lives (from politics, fashion and architecture to data, computers and the domestic objects that require our daily use). While visual information in society has become more prominent in the digital age, many of the methods for communicating visually remain the same. Visual Communication uses a set of universal principles to effectively communicate through the design and layout of images and data. Through the study of Design, Cognitive Science, Cartography, Human Machine Interface, Typography and semiotics, this class will study the ways that we perceive visual messages, how we interpret them, how to create them for a variety of purposes, and how to problem solve visually.

Read Professor Erik Patrick’s Biography >>

This course introduces students to the field of conflict analysis and management. it teaches how to describe conflict accurately, how to assist parties in resolving it, how to negotiate and to conduct mediation, and how to manage anger, aggression, and bullying that lead to destructive conflict developments. The class materials also cover important topics for successful conflict resolution. The student will learn skills that will be useful for application in a variety of settings: workplace, family, media, elections, business, etc.

Read Professor Olga Kamenchuk’s Biography >>

This course investigates how individuals influence group decisions. Students are videotaped in decision-making interactions in order to assess and improve their leadership and analytical thinking skills in groups. This course is highly interactive – allowing students to evaluate and practice real world challenges in this content area.

Read Professor Paul Arntson’s Biography >>

This course is an exploration of the ways in which communication can be more effectively used to exert influence and to exercise power — bringing together a variety of disciplines including rhetorical analysis, leadership theory, composition, speechwriting, and public speaking. The goal is to help students understand how the beliefs and behaviors of decision-makers and publics can be influenced by effective communication.

Read Professor Jason DeSanto’s Biography >>

Crestodina, AndyBob RowleyMarketing communication in the digital age plays by a new set of rules yet is founded in the timeless art of persuasion. This course will connect evidence-based audience evaluation techniques with persuasive messaging that will empower learners to manage content as a business asset. This course will explore the mechanics of content, online networking and the power of influencers, social media and email promotion, and web analytics and marketing ROI. The skills you will learn in this course will focus on ways to engage an audience, using content to drive profitable behaviors. You will learn how to win better results through content for yourself, your company and your clients.

Read Professor Andy Crestodina Biography >>

Read Professor Storer H. (Bob) Rowley Biography >>


Your MS in Communication Capstone Project​​

A Cumulative Assessment You’ll Actually Use

Over the course of the program, you’ll create a three-part cumulative deliverable that integrates academic discoveries, a skills-based project, and the design and implementation of your own personal brand.

Component 1
Visual Portfolio

Your Visual Portfolio is a website you will create, designed to showcase you and your work. It provides a multi-media platform where assignments are reflected upon, synthesized and presented to demonstrate and substantiate your learning as an MSC student.

Component 2
Professional Identity

You will elegantly communicate your professional identity by creating thoughtfully branded collateral, often called a media kit. You will also use the items you create here as content for your website.

Component 3a
Case Interview

Use the things you have learned to solve a problem. If you choose to conduct a Case Interview, you sign up for a time, and will receive a case 24 hours in advance of your interview. The case will be closely related to your coursework. You are expected to present a brief diagnosis of the case’s problem as well as a suggested solution, and you'll receive immediate feedback.

Component 3b
Applied Research Project

Use data and the skills you have learned to solve a problem. If you choose the Case Development path, you'll use data and experiences from a real-life situation to conduct an in-depth study of the underlying causes of a problem and present a recommendation. You'll receive feedback to strengthen the knowledge you have gained throughout the program.

Founded On Theory. Designed For Practice.

Center your studies on our three foundational themes.

Study the intersection of theory and practice with Northwestern’s MS in Communication.

Learn to be a more effective and valued leader through an integrated curriculum that is built on proven research in the fields of communication, management, ethics, and innovative technology.

Managing Complexity

Proactively embrace complexity while learning to assess and navigate intricate organizational structures in the service of your broader communication goals.

Collaborative Leadership

Discover how to lead collaboratively through experiential curriculum that focuses on decision-making, networking, and diverse group management.

Elegant Communication

Learn to critically analyze and deliver elegant messages — appropriate to your audience, purpose, and context — and evolve your strategic communication planning practice.

Sam Wijeyakumar

“I came geared up for this program because it was going to help my nonprofit, but it helped everything. It helped me as a person. All avenues of my life got better. And when a leader gets better, everyone wins.”

Sam Wijeyakumar

Vice President, Veriday
2019 MS in Communication Alumni

Northwestern’s MS in Communication Admissions Information

Explore program requirements and application details before applying.
MSC Degree Requirements

Find out what you need to apply to the MSC program. The MSC does not require a GRE or GMAT score, so it’s easy to apply at your own pace.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Learn more about the MSC program tuition and financial aid.

How to Apply

The MSC accepts applications on a rolling basis, and acceptance decisions are made once an application is received — so begin yours today.

International Applicants

The CLP is structured so that international students can enroll full-time. Find out how the CLP helps you build your career.

Earn an Accelerated MS in Communication with the CLP

Create a custom leadership program and become the leader you want to be.