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Online Bachelor's Degree Programs in Public Relations

Finding the Right Public Relations Program & Exploring Careers

Updated on: 12/12/2018
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In today's digital age, companies and brands are more visible than ever. Each company, no matter how small, needs employees skilled in the art of public relations. From social media to printed formats, you can be a guiding voice in the trajectory of an organization's reputation in the public eye. As a student in an online public relations degree program, you'll learn the necessary skills to manage community outreach, branding, and customer relations at virtually any type of company. Many public relations professionals have their own companies and work with clients in industries that best suit their interests and strengths.

The job outlook in public relations is promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs in public relations will grow 9% by 2026, which is higher than the economy as a whole.

In the guide that follows, we explore some of the essential components of choosing a school and pursuing an online bachelor's degree in public relations, including coursework, scholarships, salary, and prospective career paths.

How Much Can You Make in a Public Relations Career?

JOB GROWTH 2016-2026: 9%
Job Description

Public relations specialists help promote businesses, brands, or individuals. They manage elements of advertising and branding and may also arrange publicity opportunities, write speeches for clients, and evaluate public opinion on social media outlets.

JOB GROWTH 2016-2026: 11%
Job Description

Event planners meet with clients and help them plan and organize events of all kinds. In many cases, event planners are in charge of arranging all event services, including hotel rooms, transportation, and food, depending on the event. These professionals typically oversee events to ensure they go smoothly. They must have the ability to problem-solve and follow through on tasks.

JOB GROWTH 2016-2026: 10%
Job Description

These professionals manage an organization's communication with the public sphere and work to meet fundraising goals. They have excellent interpersonal skills and meet with clients and potential donors face-to-face. They also secure funding for projects through skillful grant writing and advertising.

JOB GROWTH 2016-2026: 8%
Job Description

Writers may hold disparate positions, from copywriting to screenwriting. These professionals help generate the content that goes out into the world to promote products, services, companies, or individuals. They may also be creative writers who compose fiction or nonfiction that connects with people and garners a readership.

JOB GROWTH 2016-2026: 10%
Job Description

These professionals create interest among potential buyers of a product or service. They must generate ideas for online and print publicity campaigns, and develop pricing strategies to help organizations maximize profits. These professionals typically work as part of small teams and often interact directly with clients.

Sources: BLS 2018

Your salary and job outlook depends on where you live. Public relations is a field with disparate positions and high variability from job to job, which significantly affects earned wages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the states with the most employed public relations specialists are Texas, California, and New York. The highest earning public relations specialists reside in the District of Columbia, Virginia, and California.

What Courses Can be Taken for an Online Public Relations Degree?

Coursework varies between schools, but most accredited schools ensure that you acquire a similar knowledge base of foundational material. As a public relations major, you should expect to take courses in communications, marketing, digital media, and even advertising. The following is a small sample of some core classes and electives students can expect to encounter while pursuing an online public relations degree. If you have specific questions about core requirements, specialized tracks, or electives, you may contact a prospective school directly.

Interpersonal Communication

Here, you'll analyze and discuss theories and models of communication, both verbal and nonverbal, and learn how to enhance your communication with others. Students also work on listening skills and offering and receiving feedback.

Modern Fundamentals of Writing

Students examine purpose, context, voice, and structure in writing for various mediums. You'll learn the best uses of productivity software, hone your presentation skills, and focus on understanding the human interpretation of writing in the digital age.

Media, Culture, and Communication

In this course, you'll learn how one's cultural background and personal identity affects their communication style and their interpretation of stimuli in the world. You'll also learn how to distinguish different modes and styles of communication in relation to the cultural context that generates them.

Media and Mass Communication

Students explore blogging, podcasts, social media, wiki pages, text messages, and other digital technologies as a means of human expression. You'll learn how to harness the power of digital technology to create demand for products and engage target audiences.

Project Management

This course helps students absorb organizational skills and habits that yield successful project management. You'll focus on management methods and techniques, explore team projects, leadership responsibilities, and using project management software.

How to Choose the Best Online Public Relations Program

There are several important factors to consider when choosing an online degree program. The value of your education is in part tied to your school's reputation and accreditation. Every school has unique characteristics, from online resources and faculty members to its public relations curriculum. In addition to cost, graduation rates, and retention rates, consider how the faculty, student resources, and curriculum can enhance your career prospects.

In the section that follows, we answer some significant questions commonly asked by prospective undergraduate students.

What strategies should I follow in choosing my public relations courses?

Bachelor’s degree programs in public relations usually list their required major courses and available electives. The curriculum should give you a general idea of the strengths of the department and what kinds of topics students can explore while enrolled. Most courses are predetermined and designed to give you a strong foundational understanding of work in this field. If you have questions concerning which electives to choose, or need help deciding on a specialization or minor concentration, consult an academic advisor or trusted faculty member.

Will this degree curriculum help me reach my goals?

If you wish to study a specialized area in the field, seek out programs that offer courses or minor concentrations on that subject. If you are uncertain which area to specialize in, most schools offer a far-reaching curriculum, and you can decide which aspect of the public relations field you want to specialize in later on. It can be helpful to talk to faculty members in a program or to public relations professionals whose careers you admire. They may be able to offer guidance on choosing coursework, specialty tracks, minor concentrations, or even which schools might be a good fit for you.

I plan on working with clients directly. Will I be able to develop the necessary communication skills in an online program?

Yes. Most online programs require both a study of communication theory and methods and hands-on team projects that require active communication between you, your classmates, and the professor. In some cases, online public relations programs require students to offer free consulting with local businesses, giving online students real-world experience working directly with clients. While you do not receive monetary payment for this work, you receive credit toward your degree to participate in required course projects.

What kind of accreditation or certifications should I look for in a program?

Regional accreditation is the gold standard for any college or university in the U.S. Not all schools that have regional accreditation will also have programmatic accreditation. As far as public relations bachelor's degrees online are concerned, a certification from the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) ensures a high standard of education. Additional accrediting and certifying bodies include the Public Relations Society of American, the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, and the National Communication Association.

How long will it take to complete a bachelor's degree in public relations?

Most bachelor's degree programs require 120 credit hours for graduation. Most full-time students need around eight semesters, or four academic years, to complete those hours. Part-time students, depending on their availability and course load, may take six years or more to finish their degree requirements. Some programs allow students to enroll in extra courses per semester beyond the regular full-time course load. You usually need permission from the department and registrar to take on these additional courses. In these cases, full-time students may be able to finish in less than four years.

Scholarships & Financial Aid for Public Relations Programs

Be sure to seek out all opportunities to acquire funding for your college degree. While all students should submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for federal aid consideration, you should also conduct a detailed search for all relevant scholarship and grant opportunities. While your school or department may offer internal awards, there are many external scholarships offered through organizations, foundations, and individuals. There are even scholarships reserved for students in your field. You should apply for any scholarships for which you are eligible. Remember, with scholarships and grant money, you do not have to repay the money.

Betsy Plank PRSSA Scholarship

Students who are members of the PRSSA and wish to pursue a career in public relations are eligible to apply. Applicants should have practical experience in the field and documented academic achievement in all subjects.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. Foundation: Advancement of Women in Sports and Entertainment Scholarship

This $1,000 award is for female students enrolled in public relations, communications, media studies, and related majors at an accredited college or university. Applicants must be able to demonstrate financial need.

Gary Yoshimura Scholarship

A $2,400 scholarship open to students who are members of the PRSSA, pursuing a degree in public relations, and demonstrate financial need.

Judy Corman Memorial Scholarship and Internship

This $10,000 award is for high school students interested in pursuing a degree in public relations and wish to take part in a paid summer internship at Scholastic's New York City headquarters. Applicants must have a 3.2 GPA or higher.

LAGRANT Foundation Scholarship

The foundation offers 30 scholarships worth $2,500 each to ethnic minorities in four-year undergraduate programs majoring in marketing, advertising, or public relations. Applicants must have a 3.0 GPA or higher and be a U.S. citizen.