There are several schools offering master's degree programs in public relations in a fully online or hybrid format. They may be combined with study in corporate communications, marketing, management, or another related field. Additionally, emphases may be offered in areas like new media, brand development, or reputation management. Students may be able to choose between thesis and project tracks, and on-site experience is required in hybrid programs.
These programs are typically designed for working professionals who want to move into management positions, so classes can often be completed part-time on students' own schedules. Applicants usually must have a bachelor's degree in public relations or a related communications field.
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Master's Degree Programs in Public Relations
At the graduate level, online public relations programs usually lead to a Master of Arts. Public relations professionals train to assume leadership roles within the field. Students gain an advanced understanding of the theories and processes that facilitate communication between individuals, organizations, and groups. They also further their own communication skills in order to best create and maintain a positive public image for individual clients or a company. Program applicants typically have an undergraduate degree in public relations or another communications field, such as journalism, marketing or advertising.
Program Information and Requirements
Online master's degree programs for public relations require approximately 30-34 credit hours and can be completed in 18-24 months. In addition to offering hybrid programs that provide a combination of on-campus and online instruction, many schools offer a curriculum that can be completed 100% online. Curriculum for both options utilizes case studies to emphasize various principles in public relations management, ethics, and research. They can usually choose from thesis and non-thesis options.
Students participate in online discussions and submit assignments via the Internet; therefore, a high-speed connection is required. Some programs may require or allow for approved on-site experience to count toward credit fulfillment.
List of Common Public Relations Courses
Graduate-level online public relations coursework is typically offered in an asynchronous format. This means that master-level students can log in at any time of day to complete assignments, post to discussion boards, and view lecture videos. In addition to teaching the fundamentals of public relations in terms of both theory and practice, courses in the following topics are usually required.
Writing for Public Relations
This course provides students with an understanding of audience analysis and how to write for specific stakeholders. Students apply public relations theories and strategies to compose communication materials, including financial reports, press releases, crisis communications and white papers.
Students gain an in-depth understanding of human communication through various time periods, obstacles, formats and settings. This course often requires students to complete an extensive research project.
This course focuses on the role of communication within contemporary organizations. Topics covered include formal and informal communication networks, organizational climate and culture, employee motivation and employee values.
Those who graduate from an online master's program in public relations are prepared for a variety of career opportunities in fields such as corporate communications, public opinion research, non-profit public relations, fundraising, or marketing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for public relations and fundraising managers are expected to grow at a rate of 7% between 2014 and 2024. Salary and wages for public relations professionals vary substantially depending on experience, location and company size. In May 2015, the BLS reported the median annual wage for public relations and fundraising managers as $104,140.
Certification and Continuing Education
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) offers an Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation. This allows experienced professionals to demonstrate to potential employers and clients that they have the knowledge and skills needed to effectively practice public relations in today's global marketplace. This voluntary certification is awarded to those who have passed the corresponding examination. Renewal is necessary every three years; this process requires individuals to complete continuing education credits and participate in professional development activities.
PRSA also provides a number of continuing education opportunities to both accredited and non-accredited public relations professionals. PR workers can take advantage of a variety of seminars, webinars, podcasts and conferences at both regional and national levels. Some of the topics covered during these educational opportunities include social media and emerging trends, public relations techniques and tactics, media message control and communications planning.
Online master's degree programs in public relations are offered in several schools and may be completed either entirely online or through a combination of on- and off-campus coursework. Working professionals who want to take management positions may pursue these programs, which are designed to be completed part-time for scheduling flexibility.