Public relations professionals function as advocates for individuals, companies and organizations seeking to build positive relationships with the general public through the media. Two-year associate degree programs introduce students to the field of study, while four-year bachelor's degree programs prepare students for entry-level jobs. To enter an associate or bachelor's degree program, students must have a high school diploma or equivalent.
Master's degree programs provide students with the education they need to pursue occupational advancement. For admission into a master's program, applicants typically must hold a bachelor's degree in public relations, communications or a closely related field from an accredited college or university. Candidates generally are required to have completed undergraduate coursework in areas such as writing for the media, interpersonal communications or ethics. Students can choose to specialize in public relations management or corporate and organizational communications. In a master's program, students gain experience in effective public relations strategies in a variety of communication environments through a practicum, capstone project or academic research, and a thesis is typically required to graduate.
Associate Degree in Communications
Through associate degree programs, such as the Associate of Science (A.S.) in Communication, Associate of Arts (A.A.) in Pre-Communication or A.A. in Communication Arts, students explore fundamental concepts in communications and public relations. Areas of focus include development of written and digital content for mass consumption, understanding the social effect of media, and ethics of public relations. Associate degree programs are comprised of classes that emphasize the roles and responsibilities of communications professionals, as well as their application in a variety of business and organizational settings. Possible subjects covered in this curriculum include:
- Introduction to mass media
- Interpersonal communications
- Media and public relations
- Audience survey and research
- Writing for the media
Bachelor's Degree in Public Relations
Bachelor's degree programs in public relations typically award the Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts. Students in these programs examine the written, verbal and visual components that comprise an effective public image. Emphasis is also placed on building relationships with the media as well as the community, developing marketing opportunities and best practices in crisis communications. Many programs also include a public relations internship opportunity and require computer literacy, writing skills and completion of prerequisite coursework prior to admission to the public relations major. Classes generally cover theoretical and practical aspects of public relations, including the development of effective strategies and tactics used to convey key messages to a variety of audiences. Course subjects may include:
- Contemporary public relations
- Strategic communications
- Public relations writing
- Public relations campaigns
- Crisis communications
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Master's Degree in Public Relations
Master's degree programs, including the Master of Science in Public Relations and Corporate Communication, Master of Professional Studies in Public Relations or Master of Arts in Public Relations, focus on advanced theoretical and practical concepts in public relations and corporate communications. Topics of discussion include strategic planning, written and oral communication, internal and external communications tactics, branding and crisis communications. Graduate degree programs generally offer classes that provide advanced knowledge in core public relations principles and their application in a variety of settings. Possible subjects covered in the program include:
- Managing media relations
- Employee engagement and internal communications
- Social media strategies and tactics
- Strategic writing and messaging
- Investor relations
Popular Career Options
Graduates are equipped to seek entry-level positions in a variety of settings where public relations and communications skills are required to serve the needs of a business or organization. Graduates with a master's degree are qualified to seek senior and advanced level positions in public relations or a related field. Some career options include:
- Product promoter
- Communications assistant
- Guest service representative
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment of public relations specialists is expected to grow by 6% from 2014 to 2024, due to the increased use of social media platforms (www.bls.gov). The BLS noted that the average annual salary for public relations specialists was $65,830 in May 2015. According to the BLS, employment of public relations and fundraising managers is expected to grow 7% during the years 2014 to 2024, and they earned an annual average wage of $119,390 in May 2015.
Aspiring publicity professionals can pursue degrees in this field at the associate, bachelor's and master's levels. Associate degree programs prepare graduates to go on to further study, while bachelor's and master's degree programs help students gain the communication, strategic planning, and marketing skills to gain employment in public relations-related fields.