As journalism jobs become few and far between, public relations has begun to assert itself as one of the fastest-growing media fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects growth rates between 9% and 10% for public relations jobs over the next eight years. Public relations specialists also earn median salaries that far outstrip those of journalists.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects growth rates between 9% and 10% for public relations jobs over the next eight years.
With more and more companies operating public-facing platforms — including social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram — organizations have more opportunities to build their brand through individual public interactions. Consequently, companies need professionals with skills in public relations to manage these campaigns. Because of this high demand, a master’s in public relations constitutes a particularly valuable investment in 2018.
Should I Get a Master's in Public Relations?
Ideal candidates for a master’s in public relations often demonstrate strong communications skills, both written and oral. Candidates must also have the ability to work both independently and in teams. In modern times, students pursuing a public relations master’s degree must possess — or be willing to adopt — a strong inclination toward social media and a healthy knowledge of search engine optimization.
Students pursuing a master’s degree in public relations often have at least two options for programs: online or on campus. Each method caters to a particular type of student. Working professionals who have spent more time in the workforce often opt for online programs so that they can maintain full-time employment. Many career-changers also opt for online programs. Students who live in remote areas who do not have easy access to higher education can use online courses to receive their education.
On-campus programs cater more to students who enter college directly after college. Additionally, many full-time students prefer taking courses on campus. Learners who need the structure of regular meetings in a physical classroom should also choose an on-campus program.
No matter what delivery method you choose, a public relations master’s degree indicates that you have skills in communications, social media, press releases, and public speaking. While a bachelor’s in public relations often focuses on survey courses, a master’s usually includes more direct, hands-on work and project-based assignments. In addition, many graduate schools maintain relationships with local employers and help students find jobs after graduation.
What Can I Do With a Master’s in Public Relations?
Students who earn a master’s in public relations can choose from several different paths. While most graduates opt to join a public relations firm, students can also pursue adjacent fields such as journalism, writing, or editing. No matter which path they choose, individuals who hold a master’s in public relations should write well, communicate well, and work well both in teams and individually. These careers may require employees to work long or irregular hours.
The list below spotlights five of the most popular paths students can pursue with a master’s in public relations.
- Public Relations Specialist
Public relations specialists often work as consultants for industry firms or in-house professionals with different companies. They create campaigns to make sure that their client projects the public image that it desires. These professionals always need a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s degree can often lead to a higher salary. PR specialists often work long hours during crises for their clients or companies.
Median Annual Salary: $59,300
Projected Growth Rate: 9%
- Journalist or Reporter
Journalists and reporters tell the public about breaking news and other important stories. They can work for print publications, radio stations, or television stations. Reporters must work long hours, especially when they find themselves in the midst of a big story. These professionals always need a bachelor’s degree, but since the industry involves such heavy competition, a master’s degree can often help candidates secure employment.
Median Annual Salary: $40,910
Projected Growth Rate: -9%
- Advertising, Promotions, or Marketing Manager
One of the top jobs for professionals with a master’s in public relations, these managers oversee public relations specialists, advertising managers, and art directors. They often make six-figure salaries and work in corporate offices or advertising agencies. They need at least a bachelor’s degree, though a master’s degree can improve salary and job prospects.
Median Annual Salary: $129,380
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
These professionals create written material, including advertisements, white papers, articles, blog posts, copy, novels, magazines, scripts, and screenplays. Many authors work at home, and two out of three writers were self-employed as of 2016. Writers must possess a great deal of independence and discipline, since they often do not work within hierarchical structures. Many introverts find success and fulfillment in writing.
Median Annual Salary: $61,820
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Many writers ultimately move on to editor positions, more or less a managerial position in the field. Editors review other writers’ work and make suggestions to improve copy. They also plan content for magazines, newspapers, and other publications. Sometimes, editors listen to pitches from writers. All editors must have at least a bachelor’s degree, though a master’s degree can lead to a salary increase.
Median Annual Salary: $58,770
Projected Growth Rate: -1%
How to Choose a Master's in Public Relations Program
Many applicants focus on cost and location when choosing which master’s in public relations program they want to pursue. Although these aspects are particularly important, other factors can also help students choose a program.
Although master’s programs usually take two years to complete, credit requirements and exact length vary. Several factors can affect time to completion, including whether or not the school offers both full- and part-time study. Full-time students complete their degrees more quickly than their part-time counterparts. However, full-time study may not fit with certain students’ schedules, especially working professionals.
Students should not enroll in programs that they cannot afford. Some schools charge higher rates, but also offer more financial aid and other assistance. Additionally, candidates should check whether their program charges tuition per credit or per semester. Part-time students should enroll in programs that charge per credit, as these programs will not penalize them for taking more time to complete their studies.
On-campus students should choose a school in a location that they like. Many learners prefer to attend a school close to home, while others do not mind moving to another city or state. Because many graduate schools maintain relations with local employers, students should try to attend school in the area where they hope to find employment after graduation.
- Online vs. On-Campus
As discussed above, online programs in public relations often benefit part-time students and working professionals. On-campus programs often provide a better fit for students fresh out of high school and learners who prefer the structure of a physical classroom.
Students should review the curricula of all their potential programs before making a final decision. Many programs offer a practicum, internship, or other form of field experience. This prior work experience serves as an invaluable asset when searching for a job after graduation. Most programs also offer some sort of capstone, usually in the form of a thesis, project, or seminar. Lastly, students who have a desire to study something specific within the field of public relations should make sure that their chosen program offers a related concentration or specialization.
Students should ensure that their program has at least earned regional accreditation.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master’s in Public Relations Programs
All students should make sure that their school has received regional accreditation. Regional accreditation — overseen by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation — ensures that schools meet high academic and professional standards. Six geographic organizations visit schools to carry out a thorough, independent, impartial vetting process. Instead of regional accreditation, some schools hold national accreditation. However, this form of accreditation does not always feature high standards or a thorough review. Most employers prefer degrees from regionally accredited schools.
In many fields, professional organizations accredit individual departments or programs in a school. However, the field of public relations tends to offer certification instead of programmatic accreditation. For instance, the Public Relations Student Society of America offers a certification in education for public relations (CEPR) to schools that meet all of the society’s standards. Schools and programs may choose to apply for this certification in order to demonstrate their rigorous curriculum and professional outcomes. The certification process includes a two to three day review and site visit from a committee. While this accreditation can prove a program’s excellence, students should not eliminate programs that have not earned this certification from their search.
Master's in Public Relations Program Admissions
On-campus master’s programs typically stick to similar admissions requirements: an application form, transcripts, a minimum GPA, and letters of recommendation. Some schools also require standardized test scores and professional work experience. In recent years, the Common Application has simplified the admissions process by bringing all of these elements together in a central location. Some PR programs include an interview as an admissions requirement.
Online program admissions often include more elements, since admissions advisers want to ensure that candidates can succeed outside of a physical classroom. Online programs often provide each applicant with an adviser to help them through the process. All students should apply to at least three schools. Many advisers recommend that students apply to one prestigious school where they might not receive admission, one school that matches both their professional interests and academic history, and one safety school where they will definitely receive an admission offer.
- Bachelor’s Degree: Students must have completed a bachelor’s degree or be in their final year of a bachelor’s program before they can apply for master’s in public relations programs. While applicants do not necessarily need a bachelor’s degree in a related field, prior coursework in PR can often help an applicant’s chances.
- Professional Experience: Many PR programs do not require applicants to have any professional experience. However, several professionally focused programs — especially online options — require a year or two of work history.
- Minimum GPA: Most master’s programs require students to have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Students with lower GPAs can sometimes offset this requirement with exceptional GRE scores or work experience.
- Application: Most graduate applications consist of two elements: personal information and personal essays. The personal information section — your address, your email address, your name — usually takes an hour or less to fill out. Students should allocate 8-10 hours for the essay portion. This window gives students time to brainstorm responses, write, and edit. Many schools use the aforementioned Common App to make the process a little easier.
- Transcripts: Transcripts list all of the undergraduate courses that an applicant took and the corresponding grades that they received. Students should submit a transcript request form to their prior college’s registrar. Most schools charge a small fee for this service.
- Letters of Recommendation: Letters of recommendation explain why the applicant should earn admission to the program. When applying to PR master’s programs, students should ask for letters from trusted sources, including at least one professor. Applicants should ask for letters at least two or three months in advance.
- Test Scores: Many PR graduate programs require students to submit GRE scores, although some also accept MAT or GMAT scores. Minimum quantitative and verbal scores vary from program to program.
- Application Fee: Most schools ask for an application fee of between $20 and $100. Graduate fees typically cost more than undergraduate fees. Students who demonstrate financial need can sometimes receive a fee waiver.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Public Relations Program?
This section examines the concentrations and coursework that you can expect from a master’s in public relations program. While this information applies to most programs, keep in mind that individual details vary from school to school. Not all schools offer every concentration or every course.
|International Public Relations||Students in this concentration prepare to manage global public relations campaigns. Graduates may find jobs with large companies who do business internationally or with government agencies that operate around the globe.||Communications Strategist; Global PR Specialist|
|Corporate Communications||Students in this concentration learn how to manage public relations for large corporations. Students examine strategic communications, messaging, branding, and media from an overtly corporate perspective.||Corporate PR Director; Communications Strategist; Corporate Social Responsibility Specialist|
|Digital Communications||Social media exists at the forefront of contemporary public relations. This concentration ensures that students master the ins and outs of search engine optimization, social media analytics, and other relevant topics.||Social Media Director|
|Marketing Research and Analysis||A more research-oriented option, this concentration prepares students to use analytics and data to forecast marketing and public opinion trends. Upon graduating, these professionals may work more behind the scenes than typical PR specialists. Possible coursework includes quantitative methods, market analysis, and introduction to marketing.||Market Researcher|
|Nonprofit Management||Graduates from this concentration often find jobs in the communications wing of a nonprofit organization. These organizations are usually smaller than typical PR firms, but focus on human rights and community service work. Possible coursework includes project management, organizational management, and grant writing.||Nonprofit Communications Specialist; Communications Strategist|
Courses in a Master’s in Public Relations Program
As in most fields, specific coursework and curricula vary between PR schools and programs. Nevertheless, all master’s in public relations programs must cover similar topics in order to prepare graduates for the workforce. The following sample curriculum describes five common public relations courses students can expect to take.
- Public Relations Principles and Practices
Often the first course in a PR master’s program, this class serves as a broad introduction to the public relations discipline. Students build a foundation for any public-relations career that they may want to pursue.
- Ethical Standards in Public Relations
Like any public-facing field, ethics and standards inform the actions that public relations professionals should take when organizing campaigns or dealing with the public. Any student who plans on a public relations career must complete this course, or at the very least familiarize themselves with relevant materials.
- Media Relations in the New Media World
Social media and networks have changed modern public relations, and graduates must know how to function in an increasingly digital landscape. This class prepares students for positions such as social media manager or digital communications director.
- Issues Management and Crisis Communication
This course prepares students to deal with crisis situations for an organization or company. Students review case studies, best practices, and strategies. This course often prepares graduates to work in third-party PR firms that handle disaster situations.
- Capstone Research Project
Most master’s in PR programs feature a capstone. Students in this course usually complete a public relations case study and conduct original research to show how they would handle a crisis or campaign. This hands-on course prepares graduates for all elements of a public relations job.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Public Relations?
Full-time students can complete a master’s degree in public relations in about two years. Part-time students usually take between two and five years to finish course requirements. A typical master’s in public relations consists of 36 credits; however, some curricula include as many as 54 credits. Some schools offer accelerated options, which allow students to graduate within one calendar year. These programs typically feature shorter courses or larger course loads.
Online programs may deliver coursework either asynchronously (no set class times) or synchronously (set class times). Synchronous programs offer more accountability and peer support, which can help students stay on track for graduation. Self-paced asynchronous courses, on the other hand, may allow students to move through coursework as quickly or slowly as they would like. Working professionals and busy students often prefer asynchronous courses because they can set their own schedules.
How Much Is a Master’s in Public Relations?
Though costs vary from program to program and school to school, most master’s in public relations programs cost between $10,000 and $50,000. However, several factors can affect how much students actually end up paying.
- Per Credit or Per Semester
Per-credit tuition may prove beneficial to working professionals and part-time students who only take one to two courses per semester. Per-semester rates benefit full-time students who can focus all their energy on their studies.
- On-Campus Fees
On-campus students must take other factors into account, including housing, technology fees, activity fees, and facility fees. Additionally, some schools require first-year students to buy a meal plan.
- Online Discounts
Some online master’s in public relations programs allow online students to pay in-state tuition or a discounted tuition rate. However, online students may also have to pay a distance learning fee or technology fee.
- Competency-Based Education
Some online programs — such as Western Governors University — allow students to move through coursework at their own pace. Students may take as many or few courses in a semester as they would like. Students can also receive credits through testing and past experience. These schools generally charge tuition per semester, so enterprising students who work quickly can pay less for their education.
Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Public Relations Prepares For
- Accreditation in Public Relations
The most common, industry-standard certificate in public relations, the APR prepares experienced public relations professionals for leadership positions in the field. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) administers the APR. Candidates must pass two exams, complete a panel presentation, and commit to continuing education.
- Crisis Communications Certificate
The Business Continuity Management (BCM) Institute administers this credential. The certificate targets professionals working in IT disaster recovery, crisis management, and BCM. Candidates must pass a qualifying exam and pay a fee.
- Certificate in Strategic Communication
Many different universities offer a 20-credit, five-course graduate certificate in strategic communication. An adjacent field to public relations, strategic communication focuses on achieving a particular goal through messaging. Some programs offer a focus in diplomatic affairs, international communication, or intelligence.
- Reputation Management Certificate
Another certificate offered by PRSA, this credential prepares students to manage corporations’ public images. Similar to strategic communication, this course helps managers, communications officers, and corporate social responsibility workers control and shape the public’s attitude toward their client. Candidates must complete coursework and pass an examination to earn this certificate.
- Crisis Communications Certified Expert
Another certificate from the BCM Institute, this certificate confers expert-level status to management-level employees who work in crisis communications. Students must pass a qualifying exam, have three years of work experience, and take certain prerequisite courses.
Resources for Public Relations Graduate Students
HubSpot offers one of the leading customer relationship management software programs in the nation. On this page, the platform has culled all of their public relations resources together in one place. You can search by title, topic, or content type.
This article provides a list of the top 10 online master’s in public relations programs in the nation. The page also includes expectations, program data, and career opportunities.
On this page, PRSA brings together case studies on professional ethics in public relations. The studies fall under four categories: professional conduct, content issues, digital issues, and organizational issues.
A strong professional development resource, this webpage provides a list of webinars hosted by PRSA. Webinar titles include “How to Prepare a Personal Crisis Plan” and “Master the Art of the Storyteller.”
Another ethics-centric resource, this guide gives communications professionals relevant information on ethical leadership and the underlying principles of effective communications.
Professional Organizations in Public Relations
In the people-centered field of public relations, connections and networking matter a great deal when searching for a job. Many large PR firms control the employment market in cities, meaning that getting a foot in the door at one of these organizations can greatly help your job search. Professional organizations can greatly help students and professionals make these crucial connections. Professional associations offer networking opportunities, professional development, job boards, and other resources. The list below highlights five of the PR industry’s best professional organizations.
As touched on above, PRSA offers industry-standard certificates and continuing education opportunities. The organization also maintains an extensive job board and hosts networking opportunities throughout the year.
Particularly technology-focused, ACA helps public relations and communications professionals master innovations such as social media. The association also provides a peer-reviewed journal and an online textbook for public speaking.
Based out of Switzerland, Global Alliance brings together public relations professionals around the world. The alliance offers forums, projects, continuing education, and research.
A coalition of public relations professionals who work for corporations, IABC provides resources such as books, podcasts, videos, and research. The association also maintains a professional development academy and hosts an annual world conference.
Founded over 70 years ago by Dutch and British PR professionals, IPRA offers annual conferences, a gala, and professional resources. Members gain access to thinkpieces and publications by other PR professionals.