Best Online Master’s in Public Relations Programs
Build your career with a master's in public relations program. Learn about admissions requirements, common courses, and career paths.
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.
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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:
- Strategic Communications
- Media Relations
- Digital Media
- Organizational Communications
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Best Accredited Online Master's in Public Relations Programs
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Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Public Relations Programs
Is a master's in public relations worth it?
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?
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?
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.
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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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