Best Online Master's in Public Relations Degrees

Apr 08, 2021

What Is an Online Master's in Public Relations Degree?

Online master's degree programs in public relations are available as Master of Science (MS) and Master of Arts (MA) degrees. There are online programs available specifically in public relations as well as strategic public relations. There are also several online master's programs in areas like mass communication, strategic communication, or communication management that offer a concentration in public relations.

In general, these degree programs are designed to train students how to effectively communicate with the public on the behalf of their organization. With the growing use of technology and social media, there is a need for PR professionals and a call for innovation and creativity in the field to provide customer service and build organizations' reputation.

The Best Online Masters Degree Programs in Public Relations

1. Ball State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10020 77% 67% 91% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

2. West Virginia University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8976 84% 61% 94% Yes Yes AP Credits

3. Webster University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$28700 57% 58% 96% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

4. Liberty University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$16118 51% 47% 99% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit Study.com's ranking methodology page.

Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Why Should I Get an Online Public Relations Master's Degree?

A master's degree in public relations will help equip students with specialized skills in the field that will help advance their careers. PR professionals are becoming highly valued by organizations because of the long-term success they can help provide through communication with the public. Holding a master's degree may help qualify students for various positions and often comes with an increase in pay. For example, ''PayScale.com'', reported that the median annual salary of graduates with an MA in Public Relations as of January 2021 was $59,871 as compared to the median salary of those with a BA in Public Relations of $54,131 for the same time period.

Students may choose to complete their master's in public relations online for flexibility. Some of these programs offer asynchronous courses that make it even easier to work full-time and complete work on one's own schedule.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Master's in Public Relations?

Online master's programs in public relations can usually be completed in about 2 years or less. Some are designed to be completed in about 5 semesters taking only 2 to 3 courses a semester, while others may be completed in as little as 18 months. The time to degree completion likely depends on how many courses a student is willing or able to take each semester. Other factors that may affect the time to degree completion include any graduate-level transfer credit and/or the amount of total credits required for the program.

Curriculum for Online Master's Degree Programs in Public Relations

Online master's programs in public relations may require between 30 and 48 credits of coursework, depending on the program. Typically, students take core courses in communications or public relations and then complete electives or concentration courses in public relations. The curriculum of these programs is designed to train students in skills such as:

  • Storytelling
  • Influencing public opinion
  • Communicating during a crisis
  • Project planning
  • Market researching
  • Utilizing digital analytics

Below we explore the different types of courses that are common to these online master's programs in greater detail.

Public Relations Foundational Courses

Students in online master's programs in public relations may take anywhere between 9 and 24 credits of core coursework. Some public relations programs may break the core courses into a few general core courses and some PR leadership courses that are more focused on public relations, but are not electives. Core courses may utilize case studies and other methods to help students further develop their research and critical-thinking skills in the field. Many of these degree programs also require a final capstone course in public relations that requires students to complete a project, thesis, research paper, or other culminating assignment where they apply the PR-related skills and knowledge they have gained throughout the entire program.

While the titles of courses may vary amongst programs, some common course topics for core courses in these master's programs include:

  • Global strategy
  • Ethics
  • Evaluation techniques
  • Public relations campaigns/management
  • Research methods
  • Crisis communication/management

Public Relations Specialist and Elective Courses

While online master's programs in areas of communication with a concentration in public relations will require concentration courses in public relations, master's programs specifically in public relations usually include elective courses. Some online master's programs in public relations may offer additional tracks for further focused study, such as a track in social media. Students in online master's programs in public relations may be able to choose from about 6 to 9 credits worth of elective courses. These courses are intended to allow students to further focus their studies and/or explore a specific area of interest. While each program will offer different electives, some available electives may include topics like:

  • Nonprofit public relations
  • Sports public relations
  • Social media analytics/communication
  • Investor relations
  • Strategic planning

Licensure and Certification in Public Relations

There are several professional certification options available to professionals in the field of public relations. While these certifications are usually not mandatory, many professionals may pursue the credentials to demonstrate their expertise in the field and be more competitive. One of the more common certifications is the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential offered by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). This credential requires students to meet specific education and experience requirements and pass an exam. Students must also renew the certification every 3 years through various activities, such as mentoring, teaching an APR prep course, or completing a public speaking engagement.

There are also advanced certifications available for communications professionals through organizations like the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). The IABC offers the Communication Management Professional (CMP) certification for mid-level professionals and the Strategic Communication Management Professional (SCMP) certification for senior-level professionals.

Admissions Requirements for Online Public Relations Master's Programs

Online master's degree programs in public relations vary in their specific admissions requirements, so students should be sure to research the requirements for their particular school and program of interest. In general, several of these online master's programs require students to have at least a bachelor's degree and meet a minimum GPA requirement, usually around a 3.0 or higher. It is fairly common for these degree programs to not require the GRE or GMAT test scores. However, some programs may require that students have at least a few years of professional work experience.

Most programs accept online applications that may require students to submit forms such as their official transcripts, a current resume, a personal statement/statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and/or a writing sample.

Choosing an Online Public Relations Master's Degree

There are several different factors to consider when choosing an online master's program in public relations. Students may want to begin by considering their career goals and comparing online master's programs in communication with a concentration in public relations with those programs specifically in public relations. Online master's programs specifically in public relations are usually more detailed and focused on public relations topics and commonly have certification from public relations-related organizations. For example, some online master's programs in public relations are certified by groups like the PRSA or the Certification in Education for Public Relations (CEPR). This certification helps indicate that these programs are well prepared to train students for careers in the field and aligns curriculum with industry standards.

Other factors to consider when choosing an online master's program in public relations may include the format, time to degree completion, and/or cost of the program. Some students may need to have a flexible program that allows them to work asynchronously while they work full-time or fulfill other commitments. Some students may prefer programs that allow them to finish in less than 2 years, while other students may need a program that allows them to take more time. Comparing the total cost of a program and factoring in any available financial aid options may also affect which program a student chooses.

What Can I Do with a Public Relations Master's Degree?

Students wondering what you can do with a public relations degree will be happy to know that there are a wide range of career options dealing with public relations and communications. Within public relations, there is even a variety of job titles, including public relations specialists, public relations agents, public relations managers and public relations directors. More advanced positions like public relations managers or directors may be more likely to require or prefer those with a master's degree in the field. Graduates with their master's in public relations may also consider job titles like:

  • Social media manager/specialist
  • Advertising, promotions, or marketing manager
  • Public relations specialist
  • Communication specialist
  • Event coordinator
  • Market research analyst
  • Crisis management agent
  • Global communications manager

Job Outlook for a Master's in Public Relations

Due to the diverse careers that graduates with a master's degree in public relations may qualify for, the job outlook for these graduates should be positive. Although the job outlook varies for specific positions, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that public relations and fundraising managers had a job outlook of 9% from 2019 to 2029. This outlook is much faster than average and may be due to the growing need for organizations to reach out to consumers and ensure positive customer relations. The BLS stated that competition for public relations positions, especially at organizations with a strong media presence and/or prestigious public relations organizations, will be high.

How to Become a Public Relations Manager

Aspiring public relations managers need to have at least a bachelor's degree and several years of relevant work experience. Some positions may require, or some employers may prefer, those with a master's degree. Students may have a degree in areas like public relations, journalism, communications, or another related area. Relevant work experience may come from working as a public relations specialist, fundraiser, or other related position. Public relations managers may not be required to pursue professional certification in the field, but certification can help job prospects and/or demonstrate excellence in the field. These managers must have great problem-solving, communication, and interpersonal skills.

The BLS reported that public relations and fundraising managers made a median annual salary of $116,180, as of 2019. Public relations managers are usually responsible for creating and maintaining an organization's image and reputation with the public. They may be responsible for providing information to the media, identifying a spokesperson for the organization, and overseeing the work of public relations staff.

How to Become an Advertising, Promotions, or Marketing Manager

Similar to public relations managers, advertising, promotions, and marketing managers typically need to have at least a bachelor's degree and some prior work experience. Some employers may require or prefer those with a master's degree. Degrees and/or prior work experience may come from a wide range of areas, including public relations, marketing, advertising, sales, promotions, management, journalism, and more. Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers also need to have great interpersonal and communication skills, as well as some creativity and analytical skills.

According to the BLS, advertising, promotions, and marketing managers made a median annual salary of $135,900, as of 2019, and the job is projected to grow by 6% in by 2029. While each position has its own job duties, in general, these managers work to create interest concerning their organization's products and/or services. Advertising managers may focus on spreading the word about a product or service. Promotions managers oversee purchasing incentives and other campaigns to generate sales. Marketing managers try to identify potential markets for the product or service and determine the demand for it.

Public Relations Professional Organizations

Professional organizations are available in many career fields, including public relations. These organizations are usually designed to help further advance the field through professional development opportunities, advocacy efforts, and/or research initiatives. Often, these professional organizations will provide professional certifications and/or licenses to professionals in the field and membership to the group. A couple of organizations that are common for public relations professionals include:

  • Public Relations Society of America- The PRSA not only provides the APR certification, but also a variety of professional development workshops and master's classes to help professionals further advance their careers. Through the group's website, professionals can connect with potential mentors, explore career resources, read news and publications, and see upcoming conferences.
  • International Association of Business Communicators- The IABC also provides a couple of communications-related certifications, as well as online learning and courses through its IABC Academy. Professionals can also take advantage of webinars, conferences, and the group's job center. The organization is organized into chapters and regions and does offer awards in the field.

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Public Relations

Online master's degree programs in public relations do not usually require applicants to have a bachelor's degree from any specific field. However, those interested in a career in public relations may begin their undergraduate study in public relations or other communications- or business-related majors. For example, many public relations manager positions require students to have at least a bachelor's degree in public relations or areas like communications, journalism, English, or fundraising. It may be helpful for these managers to have taken courses in areas like writing, business administration, advertising, and public affairs.

Post-Graduate Options After Completing a Master's in Public Relations

Students interested in continuing their studies in public relations will usually need to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in a closely related area, such as communications or public affairs. Some PhD in Communications programs are offered in an online format for flexibility, but most are available in on-campus formats. Some online PhD in Communications programs can be completed in as little as 3 years, and these doctoral programs commonly require a dissertation. Graduates may move into advanced leadership positions, work as consultants, or pursue a career in academia.

Financial Aid, Scholarships and Grants for Online Master's in Public Relations Programs

Paying for one's education can be a challenge. Graduate students, like undergraduate students, should still begin the process by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see what grants or loans they qualify for at the federal and state level. Based on the outcome, students may then begin to pursue additional ways to cut costs. While online students may save some money in the form of housing, some schools may offer additional ways to save, such as military benefits or employer assistance programs.

Scholarships are another great way to help pay for school and do not have to be repaid. These awards are available from a variety of postsecondary institutions and outside organizations for an array of reasons, including area of study, demographics, talents, financial need, and interests. Some professional organizations may even provide scholarships for aspiring professionals in their specific fields. A couple examples of scholarships provided by the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) include:

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