Study Public Communications: Degree Program Overviews

Oct 28, 2019

Essential Information

Public communications is a broad field that can include studies in public relations, advertising, journalism or video production. Associate and bachelor's degree programs offer training in the fundamentals of public communications, while master's degree programs focus on more advanced topics and research. Many schools offer these degree programs. For admissions, a high school diploma or GED is required for undergraduate study, whilst a bachelor's degree and 3.0 GPA for students pursuing a master's.

Associate and bachelor's degree programs require students to complete general education courses such as mathematics, English composition and science. Courses related to public communications may involve public relations, print and Web-based journalism and even television scriptwriting. Students with bachelor's degrees can pursue advanced training through master's degree programs in public communications, often offering areas of specialization.

Associate Degree Programs in Public Communications

Relevant associate degree programs are typically available in communications with options in public relations or advertising. These programs can train students to be proficient with a range of different media formats and production processes intended for public consumption. Common focus areas include print journalism, press release writing and public relations, television scriptwriting, video production and desktop publishing. Most programs integrate general education topics in oral communication, public speaking and marketing. To graduate, students may be required to complete an internship or capstone project. Most programs can be completed in two years and are open to any student with a high school diploma or equivalent.

Coursework for the associate degree usually encompasses general education requirements in mathematics, sciences and English alongside theoretical and practical topics in public communications. In addition to television ads and video production, common core topics include:

  • Applied advertising
  • Mass media and communications
  • Persuasive techniques
  • Marketing principles
  • Public relations and promotions
  • Public speaking

Bachelor's Degree Programs in Public Communications

Bachelor's degree programs can further develop students' skills in public, community and business relations, as well as their abilities as writers and photographers. Programs in communications commonly incorporate additional practical topics in graphic arts and theoretical studies in media ethics, censorship and freedom of speech, organizational culture and interpersonal communications. Students may be required to complete related fieldwork, internships and senior seminars in order to finish their degrees.

Bachelor's degree programs may touch upon many of the same practical topics covered in associate degree programs, while also covering more theoretical topics about the role of media in society. Topics may include:

  • Ethical persuasion
  • Freedom of speech
  • Influence and communications
  • Media censorship
  • Organizational communications
  • Political communications

Master's Degree Programs in Public Communications

Master's degree programs in public communications provide advanced training in media research and the creation of effective public relations campaigns. Programs at this level may offer concentration tracks in corporate communications, organizational management, health communications and political communications. Students typically participate in internships or practical training at urban public relations firms. Some programs require completion of a research project or master's thesis in order to graduate.

Master's degree coursework usually consists of requirements in quantitative and qualitative research methods, as well as instruction in communications theory. Electives may vary by concentration and cover topics such as:

  • Advertising and branding
  • Digital and social media
  • Opinion writing
  • Public communications management
  • Public relations writing

Popular Career Options

Associate degree holders are qualified to pursue careers in broadcasting, public relations and news media. Possible titles include:

  • Media account executive
  • Public relations specialist
  • Radio announcer
  • Television producer
  • Videographer

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Professionals working in public communications can work in a variety of fields, including public relations and advertising. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, public relations specialists earned a median annual salary of $60,000 in 2018, while public relations managers earned a median annual salary of $114,800 ( In that same time period, advertising managers earned a median annual salary of $117,130. From 2018-2028, the BLS predicted that both advertising managers and public relations managers would see an 8% increase in job growth, while specialists would see a 6% increase.

Continuing Education

Public relations specialists may pursue certification in order to enhance their career prospects. Certification may be awarded by the Universal Accreditation Board or the International Association of Business Communicators, resulting in the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) or Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) designation, respectively. Candidates for either certification must have a bachelor's degree in communications and five years of professional experience. Other requirements vary by organization, but may include written and/or oral examinations, interviews and work portfolio reviews.

Public communication studies are available to students at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Popular career choices for graduates include a media account executive and radio announcer.

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