Public Relations Degrees

Check out the types of degrees offered in public relations. Distinguish between PR and advertising, and learn about the types of jobs you can pursue in public relations.

PR Degree Overview

Public relations (PR) can be a lucrative profession, but it's also highly competitive. To stand out in the PR job market, you'll need a good education; most jobs require at least a bachelor's degree.

Through an undergraduate program in public relations, you can build the communications and marketing background needed to get your foot in the door of this fast-paced field. However, it often takes leadership and specialty skills developed through a graduate degree program to advance to public relations management positions. Let's look at the four levels of degree programs in public relations.

Public Relations Associate's Degree

If you're not quite sure that public relations is the career field for you, you might opt to start your education with an associate's degree in public relations. These 2-year programs can prepare you for some entry-level positions in media relations or market research, or you might use an associate's degree program as a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree program in public relations. In an Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.), Associate in Science (A.S.) or Associate in Arts (A.A.) program, you'll typically complete general education courses along with introductory-level classes in public relations, including:

  • Communications
  • Marketing
  • Research
  • Public relations writing
  • Media studies

Public Relations Bachelor's Degree

While many colleges and universities offer 4-year Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Public Relations, you'll also find PR as a specialty in some business and communications degree programs. Bachelor's degree programs in public relations focus on developing the following skills:

  • PR writing
  • Digital production
  • Strategic planning
  • Social media

Additionally, they often include opportunities to gain real-world experience through an internship or capstone project. With an undergraduate degree in public relations, you should be prepared for entry-level PR jobs, like public relations assistant, as well as some more advanced positions, like PR specialist.

Master's in Public Relations

If you want to work in PR management, a master's degree in public relations might be required, or at least highly desired, by prospective employers. These programs typically require one to two years of full-time study, and they might award a Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Science (M.S.) or Master of Arts (M.A.) in Public Relations.

While master's programs in public relations build on skills learned through undergraduate study, they also tend to offer the opportunity to explore specialty areas of the field, such as:

  • Corporate and organizational communication
  • Public relations management
  • Sports communication
  • Strategic communications

Most master's programs require that you write a thesis before earning your degree.

PhD in Public Relations

On the doctoral level, public relations usually is found as a specialty in a broader communications or advertising program. You might want to pursue a Ph.D. in public relations if you plan to work in academic or industry research or if you want to teach public relations at the postsecondary level.

For those already holding a master's degree, a Ph.D. program could take four years or less to complete; otherwise, the typical Ph.D. duration is between five and six years. During the program, you'll do research in the field and take courses while working on a dissertation. Depending on your program, you also might be expected to serve as a teaching assistant, publish articles in peer-reviewed journals and present at industry conferences.

Online Public Relations Degree

You can study public relations online at the associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels, as well as get a PR certificate online, though online programs tend to be most prevalent at the master's level. This can be especially beneficial if you're already employed, allowing you the convenience of earning your degree--and advancing your career--without having to take time away from work. Online public relations programs also allow you the flexibility to complete classes on your own schedule, whether that means setting aside a few hours each night or squeezing in a study session on your lunch break. Additionally, some online programs have lower tuition than their on-campus counterparts, so you may be saving money as well as saving time.

Two important things to keep in mind: First, online programs aren't for everyone. You need to have the self-motivation to dive into your coursework on a consistent basis and the organizational and time management skills to make sure you're completing your work on time. Second, not all online PR programs are created equal. Make sure you choose a program that's accredited from a reputable educational institution.

What Can You Do with a Public Relations Degree?

Public relations professionals are in demand at PR agencies, large corporations, government entities and nonprofit organizations, so you have plenty of options on what you can do with a public relations major . You might work in a generalist position, or you could concentrate on a particular activity, like speech writing, or a specialty area, like fundraising. Here's a sampling of public relations careers:

Public Relations vs. Marketing

Marketing is an essential skill for public relations specialists to have, but there's a significant difference between the two that's important to understand before choosing your educational path. Both marketing and public relations are focused on selling a company or brand. The following table outlines some of the differences:

Public Relations Marketing
Build company or product reputations Sell products and services
Raise revenue through investors Raise revenue through sales
Promote customer relationships Promote products and services