Public Relations Graduate Programs Overview

Graduate degrees in public relations (PR) include both programs focusing solely on public relations and programs combining public relations courses with those in related fields. Most programs result in a master's degree.

Essential Information

While a Master of Arts is the most commonly awarded PR degree, some programs can result in a Master of Science; more rarely, a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is awarded in this field of study. Course topics range from communication theories and issues to PR campaign management and marketing strategies. Depending on individual interests, a student may choose a program singularly emphasizing public relations or one with a broader focus on mass communication.

Before earning a master's degree in public relations, students must first hold a bachelor's degree. Entrance into a public relations graduate program is also contingent upon GRE scores for many schools, along with a minimum GPA. Participation in relevant extracurricular activities, such as student government, can also be useful.

Master's Degree in Public Relations

Master's degree programs in public relations teach students about measuring and influencing the public's perception of certain businesses, ideas or products. Students in these programs investigate the research methods used to track public opinion. Students can often choose between completing a thesis and having fewer required courses or finishing more courses (or a project) in lieu of a thesis. Classes may span related disciplines, such as marketing, advertising, sales and mass media communications. Course topics may include:

  • Management for marketing
  • Planning public relations campaigns
  • Public relations theory
  • Managing public relations crises
  • Strategic communication

Master's Degree in Public Relations and Advertising

Many graduate degree programs combine coursework in public relations and advertising, preparing students to work in either discipline. Such programs teach students to design and supervise creative campaigns related to managing public perception of products and services. The curricula for these master's degree programs often emphasize the theoretical aspects of both public relations and advertising. Students spend significant time learning about the concepts, research methods and ethics relevant to working in the field of perception control. The topics listed below are usually covered:

  • Contemporary issues in mass media
  • Strategic advertising
  • Public relations in politics
  • Public relations research methodology
  • Ethics in mass communications

Doctorate in Media Studies with a Public Relations Emphasis

Doctoral degree programs exclusively covering public relations are relatively rare, but some schools do offer programs awarding a doctorate in mass communications with an emphasis on public relations. Most doctoral programs only admit a few students each year, so only the most qualified applicants are accepted. Applicants should have an excellent academic record and demonstrated aptitude for critical thinking and analysis.

These programs focus on the theoretical aspects of the field and often allow for significant interdisciplinary study. Students also dedicate a large portion of their time to completing a dissertation. While students concentrate on courses related to their dissertation topic, they also learn about subjects related to public relations and media communications. Below are some popular topics of study for doctoral students:

  • Theories of mass communication
  • Statistics in public relations
  • Public relations ethics
  • Sociology of mass media
  • Politics and public relations

Popular Career Options

Earning a master's degree in public relations prepares graduates for careers in both the management and creative aspects of the field. Graduates may choose to become:

  • Speechwriters
  • Marketing managers
  • Campaign managers

Those who earn a master's degree in public relations and advertising can often find advanced careers in either discipline. Some common career options are an advertising account manager, political campaign consultant or public opinion researcher.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Graduates develop strong analytical thinking skills that prepare them for a variety of careers. Earning a doctorate in public relations prepares graduates for careers as a university professor, political strategist or campaign manager. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), postsecondary teachers were predicted to see 13% growth in employment from 2014-2024. Median annual salaries for postsecondary communication teachers were listed as $63,410 in May 2015.

At the graduate level, master's programs in public relations are most common, though master's programs that emphasize both public relations and related fields, like advertising, are available as well. Doctoral programs aren't as common. Graduates of these programs may find work writing speeches, managing campaigns or teaching college students.

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