Best Online Master’s in Public Relations Programs

In a world powered by digital interaction and social media, the styles and strategies we use to communicate are constantly changing. Public relations professionals work at the forefront of this shifting landscape, following the latest trends and platforms in order to best promote and represent the interest of their clients.

In the age of social media, the PR field is growing quickly, especially in the healthcare, technology, and finance industries.

Public relations (PR) is a subfield of marketing dedicated to representing and promoting individual clients, groups, organizations, events, and noteworthy causes. PR professionals work at the forefront of digital communication and social media, using the latest technologies in order to best serve their clients.

Earning an online master’s degree in public relations is an effective, convenient way to prepare for a career in this dynamic field. Online students learn how to craft persuasive press releases, book public appearances, and use various tools and platforms to promote their clients. Many online master’s in PR programs culminate with a capstone project, which allows students to demonstrate everything they have learned over the course of their program. Some may also participate in an internship or practicum course, which provides them with supervised hands-on training from experienced professionals.

Read on to learn more about what you can do with a master’s degree in public relations, and what kind of career opportunities you can pursue after you graduate.

WILL AN ONLINE MASTER’S IN PUBLIC RELATIONS PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?

The master’s is considered a terminal degree in the field, so candidates who have earned a master’s degree will be qualified for most non experience-based positions. Students in PR master’s programs will learn about different strategies for representing and promoting clients, including social media, brand-building, consumer engagement, and search engine optimization. Other key concepts include business law and ethics, marketing analysis, and communication methods.

WILL AN ONLINE MASTER’S IN PUBLIC RELATIONS WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?

Online PR programs offer a flexible alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar instruction. Students will be able to download course materials, submit written assignments and projects, take exams, and communicate with their professors at any time of day. Current technology also allows distance learners to study away from their home computer using a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other device with Wi-Fi capabilities.

WHAT JOBS CAN I GET WITH MY MASTER’S IN PUBLIC RELATIONS?

Most careers in PR are attainable with a bachelor’s degree or less. Master’s-holders will be qualified for most top entry-level positions, as well as some managerial roles and other titles normally reserved for applicants with an advanced degree. Popular roles for PR master’s recipients include PR specialists, PR managers, fundraisers, marketing analysts, and advertising/promotions managers. Some may work freelance, helping clients individually, while others find work as part of PR teams for corporations, nonprofits, and other large organizations.

WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE MASTER’S IN PUBLIC RELATIONS PROGRAMS?

Choosing a program is a very personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school matches your professional ambitions. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online master’s in public relations programs in the United States. Our ranking is based on the courses these colleges offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. If you are considering going back to school for an online master’s in public relations degree, start your research by looking at these top programs.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1The George Washington University81.824/580%Washington, DC

GW’s online master's degree in public relations takes full advantage of its location and connections in the nation's capital. Unique to the program is the focus on politics and government, and specifically, its impact on business, technology, and communications. GW's online master's degree in public relations isn't just for those preparing for careers in politics. It also attracts advertising pros, professionals transitioning from the fields of marketing, and journalism and seasoned public affairs officers.

Spearheaded by an acknowledged faculty and leaders in the field, GW's program is comprised of 10 three-credit courses and can be completed entirely online in two years. The curriculum examines the role of a PR professional in a variety of employment settings, and the expanding role that new media outlets and consumer engagement have on the profession. Students may apply for GW's Global Perspective Residency and choose among six locations, including Istanbul, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, and London, to gain the skills required for effective communication with governments and decision-makers around the world.

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2Marist College69.744/580%Poughkeepsie, NY

The online master's degree in public relations at Marist College specializes in digital interactive marketing and strategic communication tactics across a variety of channels. Part-time students have up to three years to complete the 30-credit public relations master's degree online; full-time, the degree can be completed in three semesters. Developed by industry leaders, the curriculum focuses on market research, strategy, and analytics, and includes courses in social media, advertising management, and branding. Students graduate with the knowledge and tools needed to succeed in an overcrowded and highly competitive digital world.

Located in the city of Poughkeepsie on the banks of the Hudson River, Marist College is 68 miles north of New York City and 80 miles south of Albany, the state capital. Although not required, students enrolled in the masters in public relations online degree program are encouraged to take advantage of internship opportunities available in both cities to enhance their education with real-world situations and measurable outcomes.

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3Webster University67.314/564%Saint Louis, MO

With campuses in 14 countries, 20 states -- including seven locations in its home state of Missouri -- and the District of Columbia, Webster is arguably one of the most diverse and global universities in the world. Its main campus, minutes from downtown St. Louis, Missouri, offers more than 60 graduate programs, including a masters in public relations online. The 36-credit curriculum includes courses in multinational public relations, speech writing, and media regulations.

In addition to its rigorous academic component, the online master's degree in public relations provides opportunities to test and evaluate concepts by working on actual projects with real clients. Successful graduates of Webster's online program acquire the writing skills necessary to deliver concise messages to target audiences. And because of the university's global reach, distance learners are exposed to a worldwide network of fellow students who live, work, and study around the country and throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.

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4Mississippi College64.573/562%Clinton, MS

Mississippi College is a private, co-educational, Christian university of liberal arts and sciences. Recognized as the state’s oldest, the college is located 10 miles west of Jackson and known for its commitment to the cause of Christ and its integration of faith and curriculum.

The college offers an online MS in applied communication-generalist, and an online MS in professional communication in health services administration. Both programs share the same core courses, including communication research and persuasion, but differentiate themselves in the 15-credit electives. Admission and degree requirements vary by concentration.

Students pursuing an applied communication/generalist degree choose from courses like media programming, listening, and negotiation; those choosing the HSA concentration are required to complete 12 credits of coursework in the field of health services administration. Courses for both programs run for eight weeks. There are two online terms in the fall and spring semesters, and one in the summer.

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5West Virginia University58.823/556%Morgantown, WV

The integrated marketing communications (IMC) graduate program at WVU has more than 400 active students earning the skills needed to position themselves as leaders in their field. WVU's online master's degree in public relations offers a customizable curriculum, allowing students to build a program that best suits their goals. Students have some 20 electives to choose from, including the basics -- crisis communication, social media, and web metrics -- to the more specialized, like digital storytelling and visual information design, plus a host of marketing pursuits: sports, mobile, political, and healthcare. Students learn from a faculty comprised of marketing directors, academics, and entrepreneurs who bring years of industry experience into the virtual classroom.

The academic year is comprised of accelerated eight-week classes spread over five terms: early fall (August to October), late fall (October to December), early spring (January to March), late spring (March to May) and summer (May to July). Most students complete the 33-credit program in just over 12 months.

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6California Baptist University48.244/559%Riverside, CA

At CBU, all programs, including the masters in public relations online, incorporate a Christian perspective and are designed for adult learners saddled with the responsibilities of jobs and family. CBU's online faculty members deliver a faith-based curriculum designed to equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to achieve their goals and live their purpose.

CBU, with its main campus in Riverside, California, offers 16 post-graduate degrees, including the public relations master’s degree online. Classes start every eight weeks; online tutorial support and individual counselors ensure academic success. With a strong emphasis on social media, the 33-credit online program prepares graduates for the rigors of the digital world, including how citizen journalism and blogs impact the message and credibility of the PR professional.

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7Southern New Hampshire University45.744/559%Manchester, NH

Designed for novices and PR pros alike, SNHU’s online public relations master's program can be completed in as few as 15 months. GMATs or GREs aren't required for admission, and acceptance to the program, made on a rolling basis, is often received within days of submitting the required materials, which includes a statement of purpose and writing sample.

The degree, an MA in communications with a public relations concentration, consists of seven core courses, four specialized courses, and the culminating capstone project -- where students synthesize the coursework to successfully produce a real-world PR campaign. By the program's end, students know best practices for building and managing brands, and how to communicate with credibility, relevance, and impact.

Founded in 1932, the 300-acre SNHU is a private, nonprofit university with more than 3000 on-campus students. Hosting more than 60,000 online students, SNHU is one of the fastest growing universities in the country.

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8Ithaca College42.085/577%Ithaca, NY

Ithaca College's online master's degree in public relations is selective; each year, fewer than 10 “high potential” professionals are accepted into the rigorous 24-month of program. Those typically chosen to pursue their online degree at Ithaca, located in New York state's Finger Lakes region, already hold jobs with prominent businesses and organizations, like Paramount, MIT, Showtime, and the MLB network.

One hallmark of Ithaca's online master's degree in public relations is the long-weekend intensives, where students meet face-to-face with facilitators in a variety of settings to hone their skills and learn from the best in the business. Past intensives have included site visits to Facebook, Disney, Austin's SXSW festival, and destinations overseas. Maintaining a valid passport is a program requirement.

The curriculum includes topics in media economics, systems modeling, human perception, consumer behavior, and global leadership, culminating in a capstone project and a fully-researched business plan. Upon completion of Ithaca's master’s degree in public relations online, graduates are prepared to lead, innovate, and problem-solve with impact and exactitude.

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9Kent State University38.663/552%Kent, OH

Kent's 36-credit online MA in journalism and mass communication with a concentration in public relations prepares students to take on leadership positions in a job market which promises continued growth through 2024.

Kent's faculty members bring real-world experiences into the online classroom with a curriculum that mirrors the evolving nature of PR in the 21st-century. Focusing on public relations as a key function in management, the curriculum incorporates concepts and coursework from multiple disciplines because PR pros not only need skills in strategic writing and messaging, but also finance, law, and budgeting.

Kent's masters in public relations online is a good fit for the career-changer seeking the skills needed to expand their earning potential, as well as for those just entering the job market and looking to differentiate themselves from other recent college grads. Kent has eight locations in Ohio and a 30,000+ student body; 6,000 live on the university's main campus in Kent.

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10Montana State University – Billings37.993/533%Billings, MT

MSUB's 30-credit online master's degree in public relations consists of seven core courses and three courses in the concentration of choice: theory and practice; health communication; political and public communication; and media and society.

Core courses for all students include topics in media criticism and PR ethics; concentration electives are more specific in scope, reflective of the emphasis chosen. Students studying health communication learn about health law and healthcare marketing; those interested in political communication take courses in feminist rhetoric and media for social change.

All students pursuing a public relations master's degree online have access to the university's advising and career services and are eligible for research assistantships and internship opportunities. The number of students admitted to the program each year is limited; requirements include GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.

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Timeline
1 to 2 years
Program Costs (when available)
$15,000 to $30,000 in full tuition
Concentrations
In many broader master’s programs (including Master of Business Administration degrees), ‘public relations’ is considered a concentration or specialization on its own. For some PR master’s programs, the following degree specializations are available: International Public Relations, Marketing Technology, Marketing Research and Analysis, Fundraising, Nonprofit Management
Accreditation
Certification in Education for Public Relations (CEPR)

Master’s vs Bachelor’s in Public Relations

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that master’s degree-holders enjoy lower unemployment rates on average than employees with less education. The latest BLS data reveals that master’s degree-holders across all industries face an unemployment rate of 2.4%; by comparison, the unemployment rates for bachelor’s and associate degree-holders are 2.8% and 3.8%, respectively.

According to 2011-12 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of master’s recipients who major in PR-related fields is much smaller than the number of PR bachelor’s degree-holders. Additionally, the data shows that nobody graduated with a doctoral degree in public relations that year. These educational trends leave students with a master’s degree in PR well-positioned to compete in the job market. The NCES findings are detailed in the table below.

Major Field of Study Bachelor’s Degrees Conferred (2011-12) Master’s Degrees Conferred (2011-12) Doctoral Degrees Conferred (2011-12
Public Relations, Advertising and Applied Communication 1,050 14 0
Public Relations/Image Management 4,121 508 0
Public Relations, Advertising and Applied Communication (Other) 964 152 0

Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

Earning a Living

In addition to more favorable job placement rates, job candidates with a master’s in PR also stand to earn higher salaries than their counterparts with a bachelor’s degree. The BLS reports that the median earnings for master’s degree-holders across all industries is $1,341 per week. Comparatively, bachelor’s-holders earn $1,137 in median weekly wages and associate-holders make a median weekly salary of $798.

Salary expectations in the public relations sector reflect these general trends. The 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report reveals that PR master’s graduates earn a higher salary than bachelor’s recipients in the same field. The following table uses data from the report to explore salary expectations for bachelor’s and master’s degree-holding PR professionals at two career benchmarks.

Degree Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Annual Salary Premium for Master’s Degree-Holders
Bachelor’s in Public Relations & Communication $39,400 $72,300 19.5% at Entry-Level mark; 10.7% at Mid-Career mark
Bachelor’s in Public Relations $39,000 $69,400 20.8% at Entry-Level mark; 15.3% at Mid-Career mark
Master’s in Public Relations & Communication $47,100 $80,000

Source: 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report

As the table indicates, those with a master’s make roughly 10%-20% more than their bachelor’s degree-holding peers at both the entry-level and mid-career stages. However, it’s also important to note that salary expectations for specific jobs will depend on a few factors, including the location of the position and its job title.

The next table examines salary expectations at four career stages for four different PR-related professional titles.

Occupation Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)
Public Relations Manager $48,962 $65,285 $75,088 $76,623
Public Relations Specialist $41,175 $50,691 $56,079 $60,334
Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator $37,605 $41,918 $44,184 $50,868
Public Relations Director $49,158 $78,481 $92,716 $90,077

Source: PayScale

Of the four professions listed, public relations directors enjoyed the highest salaries at all four career benchmarks, despite a slight decline in salary between the experienced and late-career stages. Directors also saw the highest career salary growth, with an increase of 82.3% between the entry-level and late-career marks.

Career Opportunities

Graduates leave school qualified for dozens of job openings, although your eligibility for specific positions will depend on factors like degree specialization and your experience. Below, we’ve coverd some of the most common career pathways in PR in detail.

Public Relations Specialists: These PR professionals usually work directly with individuals, organizations, and other clients. They conduct detailed market analyses to determine the best course of action for promoting their clients, and will perform post-campaign evaluations using sophisticated tools and platforms. Other day-to-day duties include writing press releases and speeches, arranging interviews and public appearances, and issuing surveys on social media.

Public Relations and Fundraising Managers: PR and fundraising managers usually lead teams of PR professionals as part of large-scale promotional or advertising campaigns. They work to pinpoint target audiences for their clients, and prepare them for interviews and media appearances. Fundraising managers develop strategies for generating organizational income and securing potential donors.

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers: These managers supervise teams that develop promotional campaigns for individuals, organizations, and special interest groups. They may design or work on print and online media campaigns, billboards, radio ad spots, and other marketing materials.

Market Research Analysts: Professionals in this data-driven field will study various patterns, trends, and market activities to determine the best course of action for representing and promoting different clients and products. They often conduct surveys, polls, and questionnaires on behalf of their clients, and report their findings in a variety of mediums.

Occupation Median Annual Salary Projected Job Growth (2014-24)
Public Relations Specialists $56,770 6%
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers $104,140 7%
Advertising, Promotions and Marketing Managers $124,850 9%
Market Research Analysts $62,150 19%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to public relations is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below, you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for PR professionals. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.

  • Public Relations Society of America: Founded in 1947, the PRSA is considered the world’s largest PR-related professional organization, boasting more than 22,000 members in the PR and media communications industry. A comprehensive professional development tool on the organization’s website allows users to browse courses and training sessions by category and location.
  • International Public Relations Association: Originally created as a consortium for British and Dutch PR personnel, the IPRA today focuses on the public relations industry in both developed and emerging nations. Standard and professional membership options are available.
  • National Black Public Relations Society: The NBPRS advocates for African-American professionals in PR, investor relations, government affairs, and other related fields. Membership benefits include mentorship, peer-to-peer support, networking events, and professional development opportunities.

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.

FINANCIAL AID FOR ONLINE COLLEGE STUDENTS

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR WOMEN

Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We’ve curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.

Best Online Master's in Public Relations Programs of 2016
Rank School Location
1 The George Washington University Washington, DC
2 Webster University Saint Louis, MO
3 Kent State University Kent, OH
4 Southern New Hampshire University Manchester, NH
5 California Baptist University Riverside, CA

Best Online Master's in Public Relations Programs of 2015
Rank Name Location
1 George Washington University Washington, DC
2 California Baptist University Riverside, CA
3 Kent State University Kent, OH
4 Southern New Hampshire University Manchester, NH
5 Montana State University-Billings Billings, MT