Best Online Master’s in Public Relations Programs of 2021

portrait of Reese Lopez
by Reese Lopez
Published on November 3, 2021
Edited by Darlene Earnest

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Public relations focuses on creating effective communication strategies for organizations of all types. Businesses, government agencies, and even individuals use public relations tools to engage audiences and create a favorable image of their brand.

A master's in public relations program can give students the skills to pursue advanced career paths with higher salary potential. An online master's in public relations program may help candidates reduce the cost of their education. Distance learners may save money on transportation, relocation, and other expenses.

Careers for public relations graduates are projected to grow steadily in the coming decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Master's graduates can pursue careers that also offer competitive salaries. For example, public relations specialists make a median annual salary of $62,810, as of May 2020. Public relations and fundraising managers earn a median annual wage of $118,430.

This guide explores master's in public relations programs, including application requirements, common courses, and career paths after graduation. If you're interested in exploring other degree options, check out our guides to the best online colleges and business degrees.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Public Relations Program?

Successful public relations professionals must have a broad skill set that includes problem-solving, organization, and leadership. Above all, candidates need to be excellent communicators. Strong interpersonal skills should go along with public speaking and writing abilities. Candidates who have these qualities may likely excel in master's in public relations programs.

Master's programs typically include 30-40 credits and take 1.5-2 years of full-time study to complete. Many schools offer part-time programs that take longer to complete but offer a lighter course load each semester. Public relations students can often specialize their degree with a concentration such as:

Some online master's in public relations programs let students complete their degree without ever visiting a campus. However, other programs include in-person requirements such as campus class sessions or residencies.

Many programs also require candidates to complete an internship or practicum with a public relations organization. Online students can typically complete these activities in their own communities. However, students should always check with programs to determine their exact in-person requirements.

When preparing for graduate school, be sure to consider any campus requirements, potential internship options, and any other unique requirements a program might include.

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Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Public Relations Program?

Public Relations Writing and Content Creation

This course highlights the role of written content in communications strategies. Students learn to create clear, concise writing and understand target audiences. This course also may explore methods for evaluating written communication.

Consumer and Audience Analytics

Public relations specialists depend on consumer data to effectively target their public communications. This course explores the key tools and methods used to gather consumer data and improve messaging strategies.

Public Relations Ethics

This course examines best practices for ethical public communication. Students may explore topics including ethical decision-making models and ethics theory. This course also may highlight crisis communications and issues of corporate social responsibility.

Mass Communication Theory

This course introduces the field of mass communication theory, including its history and modern applications. Students explore the role of mass communications in relation to social media and other digital communications.

Media Communications and Technology

Technology has affected every aspect of communications. This course highlights its impact on public relations. Students may focus on various media channels and the use of technology to engage audiences.

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Public Relations Program?

Most online master's in public relations programs have the same admissions requirements as on-campus programs. Regardless of where you apply, you'll need to submit your undergraduate transcripts. You also may need to submit test scores, letters of recommendation, a resume, and application essays.

This list highlights the major components required for most graduate school applications. Keep in mind that some schools may require additional components not listed here, such as an admissions interview.

Application

Nearly all programs require you to complete an online application. The application typically asks for your personal information and supporting documents such as transcripts, essays, and letters of recommendation. Larger public universities may use a statewide application system that lets you apply to multiple schools in the same state. However, graduate students typically must apply directly to the school or program of their choice.

Test Scores

Some online master's in public relations programs require you to submit scores from standardized tests such as the GRE or GMAT. These tests can assess your critical thinking, vocabulary, and quantitative reasoning abilities. Score requirements vary widely among programs. However, careful test preparation may help you achieve your desired score.

Letters of Recommendation

Most graduate programs ask for 2-3 letters of recommendation. These letters should come from professors or supervisors familiar with your professional or academic work. Always make sure to ask for letters of recommendation early in the application cycle. This gives your recommenders plenty of time to prepare.

Resume and Work Experience

Given the field's professional focus, most online master's in public relations programs will ask for your resume. While you may not need work experience in the public relations field, graduate programs may require you to hold 2-3 years of professional experience. Always be sure to revise your resume and/or cover letter to best reflect the program you're applying to.

Essays

Graduate programs usually require you to submit a statement of purpose or other application essays. They give you the chance to present yourself beyond resumes and academic transcripts. Application essays often ask you to discuss your background, your professional goals, or your reasons for applying to the program.

Official Transcripts

Graduate programs require that you submit your undergraduate transcripts. If you've completed another graduate degree or graduate-level coursework elsewhere, you'll also need to submit these transcripts. Some online master's in public relations programs may accept transfer credits from other graduate programs. However, you'll need to check with individual schools to determine credit transferability.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Public Relations Degree?

Career Outlook

The public relations field offers stable job growth and plenty of career potential. From 2020-2030, the BLS projects careers for public relations specialists, public relations managers, and advertising and promotions managers to grow faster than the average for all U.S. occupations. Careers for fundraisers are projected to grow faster than average as well.

Public relations students likely may earn competitive salaries upon graduation. Entry-level positions in the field feature median annual salary levels around $50,000-$60,000. However, candidates often can increase their starting salary by earning a master's degree. Management positions in public relations offer annual median salaries in the low six-figure range.

An online master's in public relations also may prepare candidates for many other jobs that feature public communications. Graduates may find work in adjacent fields such as government, politics, media, and marketing.

Explore your options with a master's in public relations. Learn more about public relations careers.

Career Paths

Public Relations Specialist

Public relations specialists help clients create favorable public images. They work through media and other communications channels to influence public perception of individuals, organizations, and brands. They also assess and evaluate public relations strategies to determine their effectiveness at reaching audiences.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $62,810

Fundraiser

Fundraisers help organizations raise money through events and other campaigns. They research potential donors, develop fundraising messaging strategies, and organize donation campaigns. Fundraisers may work to raise money through specific capital campaign funding, annual donation campaigns, and recurring donations. Fundraisers also may work closely with individual donors who give large amounts of money.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $59,610

Public Relations and Fundraising Manager

While occupying different roles, public relations managers and fundraising managers perform similar work. Both work at the upper levels of organizations, overseeing strategies for engaging with audiences and potential donors. Public relations managers often direct an organization's overall image and identity. Fundraising managers determine an organization's overall fundraising strategy.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $118,430

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Manager

These managers develop and oversee programs to generate interest in products or services. They may direct an organization's overall marketing or advertising strategy, coordinating with other executives and department heads. Advertising and promotions managers commonly work with advertising agents, art directors, and other employees to create a cohesive approach to advertising and marketing strategy.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $141,490

Market Research Analyst

Market research analysts determine the best ways to sell products or services through extensive market research. They closely examine market conditions and attempt to predict sales trends. Market research analysts also may evaluate the effectiveness of past marketing strategies and determine the best methods for gathering consumer data.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $65,810

Public Relations Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

In general, a master's degree typically serves as the highest level of education required in the public relations field. Some master's graduates may go on to pursue doctoral programs in public relations. Others may decide on Ph.D. programs in communications, which explore similar topics in a research-based context.

A Ph.D. is usually for candidates interested in academic and research careers. Public relations professionals may seek to improve their career prospects with certifications from organizations such as the Global Communication Certification Council.

How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Public Relations Program?

Cost

College costs vary widely between public and private schools. Online and on-campus programs also may have different expenses. When researching colleges, always factor in a program's true cost. Besides tuition, this cost includes associated expenses such as technology fees and transportation.

Program Format

Master's in public relations programs offer a variety of formats to accommodate different students. Some programs use a fully asynchronous format with no scheduled class sessions. Others use a synchronous format with live online class sessions. Programs also offer full-time, part-time, and accelerated enrollment options.

Location

Many online programs let you complete a degree without ever visiting a campus. However, some master's in public relations programs may include residency sessions or other on-campus requirements. If you'll need to travel to campus, it may be easier to choose a program closer to home.

Accreditation

Accreditation is the process that evaluates and regulates colleges. It ensures academic programs meet certain federal and state education standards. Regional accreditation serves traditional four-year colleges, while national accreditation serves vocational and trade schools. Any school offering a master's in public relations should hold regional accreditation.

Student Support

When researching colleges, always investigate their academic resources and student services. Many schools offer mentorship programs, career services, and connections to internships and other experiential learning opportunities. If you plan to enroll fully or primarily online, also check into a school's online student services, which may differ from on-campus services.

2021 Best Accredited Online Master's in Public Relations Programs

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University of Southern California true View School Profile Los Angeles, CA

USC offers an online master of communication management program that allows students to graduate in 16 months. Students can choose from concentrations in marketing communication, strategic and organizational communication, and market research and analytics.

Coursework focuses on preparing for the demands of global business communication.

Applicants must have a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution and submit a resume, statement of purpose, writing sample, and recommendation letters.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: Varies
  • Program Length: 16 months
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 32 credits
  • Instruction style: Asynchronous
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Private
  • School Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign true View School Profile Champaign, IL

Illinois' online master's in strategic brand communication program focuses on driving brand messaging across channels, building leadership skills in students, and refining learners' data analytics capabilities.

At the end of this program, students complete a capstone, which allows them to apply the concepts they learned to a real-world project.

Prospective students must hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution and provide letters of recommendation and a letter of purpose with their application.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $898 per credit
  • Program Length: 16 months
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 32
  • Instruction style: Asynchronous
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Public
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
George Washington University true View School Profile Washington, DC

GW's master's in strategic public relations program helps prepare students to pursue careers in the modern PR world.

A course on media relations in the digital age, for example, examines the shifts that have taken place in the media environment and how they affect the work of public relations professionals.

Eligible applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college or university. They also must submit a purpose statement, resume, writing samples, and recommendation letters.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $1,825 per credit
  • Program Length: 15 months
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 30 credits
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Private
  • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Webster University true View School Profile Saint Louis, MO

Webster's master's in public relations program focuses on identifying and solving the most pressing communication challenges for organizations. Students examine current and future trends in public relations and how they can assist businesses in competing at a global level.

The program includes courses on strategic communication, international communication, and media research.

Prospective students must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 2.5 GPA.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $780 per credit
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 36 credits
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Private
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Purdue University true View School Profile West Lafayette, IN

Purdue's master's in communication program features a concentration in strategic communication/public relations. Students learn how to manage crisis communications and develop strategies tailored to specific audiences.

The program's admission requirements include a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution with minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants also must have experience in the communication field and submit a resume and statement of purpose.

The communication master's program also offers concentrations in integrative communication and advertising, communication and leadership, and health communication.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $520 per credit for Indiana residents; $820 per credit for out-of-state students
  • Program Length: 12-20 months
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 30 credits
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Public
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Texas Tech University View School Profile Lubbock, TX

Texas Tech delivers an online master's in strategic communication and innovation program to build the skills of emerging communication professionals.

Students take seven core classes and three electives, choosing from topics like advanced social media practice, interpersonal communication, and data analysis reporting. A course on multimedia storytelling details how to tell stories using photos, audio, and video.

Eligible applicants to the program must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: Varies
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 30 credits
  • Instruction style: Asynchronous
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Public
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
University of Louisiana at Monroe View School Profile Monroe, LA

ULM's master of arts in communication features a concentration in strategic communication. Students learn how to engage in goal-oriented organizational communication.

Strategic communication-focused courses include public relations practices, creative media strategies, advanced organizational communication, and communication and gender.

Prospective students to this program must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 2.5 GPA. Applicants also must submit GRE scores.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $500 per credit
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 33 credits
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Public
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Marist College View School Profile Poughkeepsie, NY

Marist offers a master's degree in integrated marketing communication program. It helps students develop communication strategies to optimize a brand's products, values, and position across various channels.

The program features classes on brand management, global consumer insights, and social media strategies and tactics. Students complete a capstone project before graduating.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution and submit a personal statement, a resume, and three recommendation letters.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $870 per credit
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 30 credits
  • Instruction style: Asynchronous
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Private
  • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Sam Houston State University View School Profile Huntsville, TX

The SHSU master's in communication studies program offers in-depth perspectives on concepts like interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, and persuasion.

The program can prepare students for communication-focused careers and academic research. Many graduates move into Ph.D. programs.

Prospective students must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants also must submit their GRE scores, three recommendation letters, a resume, and a letter of interest.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: Varies
  • Program Length: 18-24 months
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 36
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Public
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Ball State University View School Profile Muncie, IN

Ball State's online master's in public relations program helps mid-career professionals develop advanced communication skills with a focus on entrepreneurship and innovation.

Coursework covers the areas of public relations research, campaign management, data and media analytics, and communication planning. Students complete a capstone thesis, where they conduct research and complete a creative project of their own design.

Eligible students must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution. Applicants do not need to submit GRE scores.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $566 per credit for Indiana residents; $781 for out-of-state residents
  • Program Length: 5 semesters
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 30-33 credits
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Public
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Public Relations Programs

Is a master's in public relations worth it? true

Earning a master's in public relations can prepare candidates to pursue advanced career paths in the field. These jobs usually come with greater responsibilities and higher salary potential. Given the potential for job growth in the field, earning a master's can be a practical choice for improving your professional outcomes.

If you're considering graduate school, earning a master's degree online eliminates some of the biggest obstacles associated with going back to school, such as moving to a new city. You also may be able to keep your current job while in school.

What can I do with a master's in public relations? true

A master's in public relations can prepare you for higher-level jobs in public relations, communications, fundraising, marketing, and advertising. Graduates commonly pursue careers such as public relations specialist or public relations director. You also may find employment in other fields, such as government and nonprofit work.

Public relations is a versatile discipline. Essentially, any organization that offers goods or services needs some level of public communication. This makes the degree applicable to almost any professional field. Industries as diverse as education, media, and religious services all make use of public relations strategies.

Are public relations majors in demand? true

The BLS projects strong growth for many jobs in the public relations field from 2020-2030. Jobs for public relations specialists are projected to grow 11%, which is higher than the national average. Jobs for public relations and fundraising managers are expected to grow 13%. Jobs for market research analysts should grow 22%, a rate far higher than the national average of 8%.

Other careers related to public relations also are expected to experience relatively stable growth through 2030. The BLS projects jobs for advertising, promotions, and marketing managers to grow 10%. Holding a master's degree may increase your chances of landing a job in the public relations industry.

How much money can I make with a master's in public relations?

Master's degree-holders often may move into upper-level positions with higher salaries. Public relations specialists and public relations managers earn an annual median salary of $62,810 and $118,430, respectively. This wide range demonstrates the salary potential in the field and the gains that can come with advanced education and professional experience.

In general, salary levels in the public relations field vary according to experience level, location, and industry of employment. For example, public relations managers employed at private companies earn an annual median salary of $134,790. Those employed in education services earn an annual median salary of $105,750.

What are the highest-paying jobs with a master's in public relations?

Public relations management positions typically offer the highest salaries in the industry. Managers in public relations, fundraising, and advertising earn median annual salaries in the low six figures.

Some of the highest-paid managers work in advertising and marketing, earning an annual median salary of $134,120. Managers employed by companies and enterprises earn a similar annual salary of $134,790. Public relations and fundraising managers earn an annual median salary of $118,430.

Salary levels increase as public relations specialists gain experience. Pursuing specialized certifications and continuing education also may help public relations professionals obtain higher-paying positions.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

Learn how to build your public speaking skills through a variety of proven tips and see how public speaking can enhance your career opportunities. Learn how to write an email asking for an internship and read an example internship request. Follow our five simple steps for how to prepare for graduate school and get tips on the best ways to start off the semester smoothly.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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