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Custom Leadership Program

Select elective courses to personalize your MSC experience

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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Complete your degree in as little as 12 months
Different Customizable Program Paths
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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 (required)

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 >>

Strategic communication and marketing are critical components of organizational leadership and success. Without the engagement of external stakeholders and audiences – whether in a business, nonprofit, advocacy, or community contexts – an organization cannot achieve its core goals. Marketing is a broad business practice that encompasses four sets of considerations typically described as product, price, place, and promotion. Foundations of Strategic Communication will focus specifically on this last component of marketing and introduces students to contemporary principles and practices associated with consumer-centered strategic communication, often known as Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC).

We will focus on providing the necessary knowledge, skills, planning in branding, audience segmentation, consumer psychology and behavior, strategic message design, and leveraging paid, owned, and earned media to meet promotional goals and objectives. These fundamentals of promotion and branding will be supplemented with specific scholarship, case studies, and speakers. By the end of the course, students will have a broad understanding of strategic communication and experience in developing the major components of an integrated marketing communications plan.

Read Professor Erik Nisbet’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 >>

In this course, a variety of theories and research projects that focus on how organizational change can be managed will be presented. At its core, organizational change management is about implementation of new ideas and practices. Because organizational change might be focused on a micro and macro level, we will examine perspective that focus on how an individual’s attitudes and behavior might be altered as well as how an organizations policies and practices might be changed. Consequently, we 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 >>

Core Courses (Full time only)

Randy IDenAnne Marie Adams

Designed specifically with early career professionals in mind, this course provides an opportunity to develop and refine communication and analytical skills in business-oriented research, writing and oral presentation that will be useful in the professional world. The focus of the course will be on learning communication and professional practices that are relevant to understanding and thriving in a variety of organizational contexts. Students will learn and practice the skills necessary to effectively and persuasively communicate knowledge and insights using both written and oral modalities. Students will also gain skills in working collaboratively on business-oriented projects and tasks.

Read Professor Anne Marie Adam’s Biography >>

Read Professor Randall Iden’s Biography >>

Read Professor Amy Hauenstein’s Biography >>

Globalization, information, and technology access have transformed the face of the business world in the last decade. Although multinational organizations continue to increa­se their influence worldwide, these trends have also transformed and impacted businesses of all sizes, locations, and industries. The speed of change and the instant interactions between cultures have created immense business oppor­tunities. Whole industries have been re-defined, (i.e., impact on cost structure by foreign manufacturing, speed of product development, and ability to leverage global resources for almost any business need). These opportunities also create new challenges for today’s managers. As Managers, is critical to become more effective leaders in a multicultural and global economy. This course uses an action-oriented approach to develop a good understanding of international management and their practical implications when leading and managing teams.

This course introduces students to the field of international strategic communication. The aim of the course is to provide you with knowledge and the skills to create and run effective strategic communication programs for foreign markets. We will address the context, the process, and the outcomes of international strategic communication: from theory and research, through international consumer psychology and global market analysis, to creative execution and media planning.

Read Professor Olga Kamenchuk’s Biography >>


The course provides a general introduction to the social scientific study of persuasive message design, emphasizing message, source, receiver, and contextual factors that either enhance or attenuate the effectiveness of strategic messaging. The course covers key factors that underlie human behavior change and discusses the ways in which behavioral change can be measured, analyzed, and validated. The larger purpose of the course is to provide a toolkit for thinking about how to influence behaviors through effective messaging. Additionally, students will put knowledge into practice, by completing an original research project that tests the effectiveness of a particular persuasive message.

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 Eric Patrick’s Biography >>

This team-taught course will have students learn from three leading experts about using and managing artificial intelligence (AI) in professional and organizational settings. The focus is on providing practical skills that enable students to apply AI responsibly in their organizations, with an emphasis on the importance of ethics and trust in AI use. 
Richard Jolly

Power, status, and influence are topics that make many people a little uncomfortable. However, their existence permeates all aspects of organizational and social life. Power and influence are the key mechanisms by which things get done. We have a good understanding of the rules that determine who gets to positions of power and of the tactics necessary to exercise power with integrity. This course is designed to familiarize students with concepts useful for understanding power and influence and to provide them with tools to analyze power dynamics in organizations. More importantly, this course will encourage students to think about your own personal path to power (which can include, of course, a path away from power), and to develop their ability to exercise influence. Don’t be naïve about how the world works – understand the ‘rules of the game’ and come up with a strategy to achieve ones career goals.

Read Professor Richard Jolly’s Biography >>

In this course, students study the use, collection, analysis, and application of information in organizational planning and decision-making. Particular attention is given to sampling methods, survey methodology, social media/website analytics, and focus groups. The goal is to produce students who make informed decisions when presented with organizational and market research.

Read Professor Olga Kamenchuk’s Biography >>

This course takes an integrated approach to digital storytelling connecting the disciplines of data-driven insights and strategy, omni channel media buying, influencer marketing and e-commerce to create and amplify behavior changing stories across mediums. Taught from a theory-connected-to-practicum perspective, students will learn how to develop and deploy compelling global stories supported by a permutation of readings, in-class activities, trainings, and perspectives shared by a roster of industry leaders. Coming out of the course, students will have practical knowledge and tools they can apply for a career in the digital marketing and communication industry.

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 must begin by attending to the technoeconomic 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 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 >>

This course covers business and regulated industries and uses the communications/media industry as a model to discuss several important general business concepts: strategies for operation in regulated environments, crisis response for business operations, and the intersection of technology and regulation. The general concepts are then extended and applied to several example industries and current issues, from climate/energy, global technology, healthcare, etc. and are usable equally for people in established business or for start-ups and entrepreneurs. This course covers “how to get things done” in the business world through examining the meta-record of what has worked and not worked in the past and what is rapidly developing daily. We will cover both business-based strategies as well as social issue and social justice strategies.

Read Professor Rick G. Morris’ Biography >>

This course focuses on the evolving media landscape and the adaptation of strategic communications to media technology and usage. The lectures will cover topics such as emerging media technologies, paid/owned/earned media, data-driven and data-informed media planning, programmatic and computational advertising, digital marketing and analytics, electronic word-of-mouth and customer reviews, and the business of audience and media measurement. The goal of the course is to provide students with fundamental knowledge and skills to design and evaluate evidence-based media strategies for different purposes.

You no longer need to be a Hollywood producer/director or Madison Avenue ad executive to produce compelling video narratives. Today, most people have the means of production (a video camera on their phone and a computer) and the means of distribution (the Internet) to communicate their story to audiences around the world. This hands-on course combines messaging theory, storytelling, and production skills development in conceiving, scripting, shooting & editing, and campaign implementation. Students will conceive, write, shoot, and produce their own videos on topics and/or campaigns of their choosing. The course explores how to use research techniques to refine a message and present that message in narrative form that gets noticed; and is most accessible to their chosen target audiences. In our video storytelling age, students will hopefully leave the course with skills and an approach that will serve them long into the future, both professionally and personally.

This course introduces students to communication strategies in engaging with various forms of media to effectively reach desired target audiences. Through readings and practical application, students will learn to execute broader communication strategy within nuanced media spaces through designing messaging by function and branding, audience analysis beyond data and demographics and effective approaches to messaging delivery. This course will explore concepts of internal and external communication, persuasion, storytelling, branding, performance training and the nature of media itself.

Read Professor Jeanne Sparrow’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 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 >>

Corporations, whether for profit or not for profit, are social actors. There is now general agreement among scholars and business executives that corporations must consider the impact of their activities beyond simply calculating returns to shareholders or customer satisfaction. The general acceptance of stakeholder theory demands that corporations be responsible to a a wide range of stakeholders. It is, therefore, necessary for corporate communicators to assess and disseminate information about any organization’s socially responsible theories and practices. In fact, it is increasingly uncommon to encounter a corporate website or report that does not contain a statement of corporate social responsibility. This course examines the role of strategic communication in coordinating information about social responsibility and ensuring that it is represented in marketing, public relations, internal and legal forms of corporate communication. Students will learn how to develop strategies for authentic development of responsible practices and how these practices can be effectively communicated for both the benefit of the corporation and its stakeholders.

Read Professor Randy Iden’s Biography >>

Social media is an integral part of organizations, providing copious data on the public as well as their relationship with the public. With the growth of electronic sources such as cell phones, online messaging platforms, and applications, every second new data is being added globally, whether it’s a Google Review on a laundromat in Sri Lanka or Tik Tok comments on a new foundation release, or Facebook comments on an advertisement in New York Times. This course provides a hands-on tutorial on introductory methods in mining social media data, to analyze a company, listen to its publics, and engage with the data analytics. At the end of the course students will leverage their analysis using real-world cases to provide evidence driven solutions to social media strategies of organizations.

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 >>

Maddie Stengel

“My professional and personal growth has been entirely reshaped by the MSC program. I’m a stronger writer and a better teammate because of our classes. I have a much different perspective on effective leadership. I also built invaluable mentorship relationships – I landed my current job on the Pritzker campaign thanks to the advocacy of one of my closest professors.”

Maddie Stengel

Jr. Speechwriter & Press Assistant, JB for Governor
2022 MS in Communication Alumni

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.

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.

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.