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.
Choosing a Program
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.
Accredited Online Master's in Public Relations Programs
|1||Georgetown University Washington, DC||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 15%||
GW’s online master's degree in public relations takes full advantage of its location and connections in the nation's capital. Unique to the program is the focus on politics and government, and specifically, its impact on business, technology, and communications. GW's online master's degree in public relations isn't just for those preparing for careers in politics. It also attracts advertising pros, professionals transitioning from the fields of marketing, and journalism and seasoned public affairs officers.
Spearheaded by an acknowledged faculty and leaders in the field, GW's program is comprised of 10 three-credit courses and can be completed entirely online in two years. The curriculum examines the role of a PR professional in a variety of employment settings, and the expanding role that new media outlets and consumer engagement have on the profession. Students may apply for GW's Global Perspective Residency and choose among six locations, including Istanbul, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, and London, to gain the skills required for effective communication with governments and decision-makers around the world.
|2||University of Florida Gainesville, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 43%||
Founded in 1789, Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University is the oldest Jesuit Catholic postsecondary institution in the United States. Today, Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies offers a variety of professional online degree programs, including an online master's degree in public relations and corporate communications.
Distance learners may enroll in the 30-hour program as full- or part-time students, and typically earn their degree in two to five years. Featuring concentrations in corporate communications, digital communications, and public relations, the customizable curriculum lets students choose from a wide range of electives, such as consulting or digital analytics and measurement. All learners complete a required ethics course, as well as a field-based capstone experience. Most classes are presented in an asynchronous, 15-week format.
While GRE scores are not required, prospective students should provide a personal statement, resume or CV, two letters of recommendation, and official transcripts.
|3||George Washington University Washington, DC||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 30%||
Based in Gainesville, the University of Florida conducts more than 200 web-based degree programs, including a 33-credit master's degree in public relations online developed in partnership with communication consultancy group APCO Worldwide. Building off of fundamental concepts in communications and marketing, coursework equips students with advanced skills in strategic messaging, crisis management, and brand management. The program culminates in a three-hour capstone course, in which learners work in teams to develop a communication campaign according to client specifications.
Students may enroll in the online master's program in spring, summer, and fall. Each semester lasts 12 weeks, and most full-time students earn their degrees in two years. Applicants should have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher, as well as a minimum GRE verbal score of 156 and a minimum GRE quantitative score of 146.
|4||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 18%||
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s master's of science in strategic brand communications is an online public relations master's conducted in partnership with the media college's advertising department and the business school's department of business administration. Aimed at working professionals, the 30-credit program allows students to graduate in approximately 15 months.
Students explore business strategy and finances in Combining business management coursework with classes in social science and marketing, the curriculum explores the sociological and cultural circumstances behind consumer purchasing decisions, as well as marketing theory and promotional strategies. Learners also complete a two-credit capstone course, in which they integrate and exhibit their acquired strategic brand management skills in a final project.
Applicants must have achieved at least a 3.0 GPA in their last two years of undergraduate study, and should maintain a 2.75 GPA within the program.
|5||Webster University Saint Louis, MO||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 45%||
With campuses in 14 countries, 20 states -- including seven locations in its home state of Missouri -- and the District of Columbia, Webster is arguably one of the most diverse and global universities in the world. Its main campus, minutes from downtown St. Louis, Missouri, offers more than 60 graduate programs, including a masters in public relations online. The 36-credit curriculum includes courses in multinational public relations, speech writing, and media regulations.
In addition to its rigorous academic component, the online master's degree in public relations provides opportunities to test and evaluate concepts by working on actual projects with real clients. Successful graduates of Webster's online program acquire the writing skills necessary to deliver concise messages to target audiences. And because of the university's global reach, distance learners are exposed to a worldwide network of fellow students who live, work, and study around the country and throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.
|6||Syracuse University Syracuse, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 25%||
This New York institution offers a 33-credit public relations master's degree online that can be completed in a year and a half. Students pursuing a communications degree with an advertising specialization explore cutting-edge concepts and technologies used in multimedia storytelling, digital communications systems, social media, and media law. During the program’s six-credit capstone experience, learners solve complex, real-world marketing problems as they create a unique advertising project. The curriculum also includes two weekend-long immersion experiences, in which students travel to different cities for industry events, gaining first-hand experience in advertising and public relations.
Prospective students should include a personal statement and three letters of recommendation with their application. No minimum GRE scores or GPA are required; however, applicants must complete a video interview.
Syracuse University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and its Newhouse School of Public Communications receives additional accreditation through the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.
|7||Mississippi College Clinton, MS||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 34%||
Mississippi College is a private, co-educational, Christian university of liberal arts and sciences. Recognized as the state’s oldest, the college is located 10 miles west of Jackson and known for its commitment to the cause of Christ and its integration of faith and curriculum.
The college offers an online MS in applied communication-generalist, and an online MS in professional communication in health services administration. Both programs share the same core courses, including communication research and persuasion, but differentiate themselves in the 15-credit electives. Admission and degree requirements vary by concentration.
Students pursuing an applied communication/generalist degree choose from courses like media programming, listening, and negotiation; those choosing the HSA concentration are required to complete 12 credits of coursework in the field of health services administration. Courses for both programs run for eight weeks. There are two online terms in the fall and spring semesters, and one in the summer.
|8||Marist College Poughkeepsie, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 34%||
The online master's degree in public relations at Marist College specializes in digital interactive marketing and strategic communication tactics across a variety of channels. Part-time students have up to three years to complete the 30-credit public relations master's degree online; full-time, the degree can be completed in three semesters. Developed by industry leaders, the curriculum focuses on market research, strategy, and analytics, and includes courses in social media, advertising management, and branding. Students graduate with the knowledge and tools needed to succeed in an overcrowded and highly competitive digital world.
Located in the city of Poughkeepsie on the banks of the Hudson River, Marist College is 68 miles north of New York City and 80 miles south of Albany, the state capital. Although not required, students enrolled in the masters in public relations online degree program are encouraged to take advantage of internship opportunities available in both cities to enhance their education with real-world situations and measurable outcomes.
|9||California Baptist University Riverside, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 30%||
At CBU, all programs, including the masters in public relations online, incorporate a Christian perspective and are designed for adult learners saddled with the responsibilities of jobs and family. CBU's online faculty members deliver a faith-based curriculum designed to equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to achieve their goals and live their purpose.
CBU, with its main campus in Riverside, California, offers 16 post-graduate degrees, including the public relations master’s degree online. Classes start every eight weeks; online tutorial support and individual counselors ensure academic success. With a strong emphasis on social media, the 33-credit online program prepares graduates for the rigors of the digital world, including how citizen journalism and blogs impact the message and credibility of the PR professional.
|10||Quinnipiac University Hamden, CT||Cost: $$$$$||Enrolled Online: 48%||
A private school located in Hamden, Connecticut, Quinnipiac University maintains a student body of around 9,000 individuals enrolled in traditional and online degree programs. One of Quinnipiac’s 10 web-based graduate degrees, the master's in public relations online program prepares students to sit for PRSA’s Accreditation in Public Relations exam through 36 hours of coursework. The curriculum plan includes 24 credits of core courses – such as public relations writing, branding, and global strategy – and nine credits of electives, which range in subject from social media practice and community management to investor relations. In a final three-hour capstone course, degree candidates develop and present a research project based on one or more course topics.
Applicants must hold an undergraduate degree with a 3.0 GPA, and provide a resume, two letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Prospective students should also have completed at least three years of relevant work experience.
Quinnipiac University’s public relations degree program is one of only three in the nation to have received the PRSA's Certification for Public Relations. The university is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
WHAT ELSE CAN I EXPECT FROM AN ONLINE MASTER'S IN PUBLIC RELATIONS PROGRAM?
|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)|
EMPLOYMENT OUTLOOK FOR MASTER'S IN PUBLIC RELATIONS GRADUATES
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|
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|
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.
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
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.
Financing Your Online Master's in Public Relations
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 2017
Rank School Location 1 George Washington University Washington, DC 2 Marist College Poughkeepsie, NY 3 Webster University Saint Louis, MO 4 Mississippi College Clinton, MS 5 West Virginia University Morgantown, WV 6 California Baptist University Riverside, CA 7 Southern New Hampshire University Manchester, NH 8 Ithaca College Ithaca, NY 9 Kent State University at Kent Kent, OH 10 Montana State University-Billings Billings, MT
- 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