Online Master’s Programs In Public Relations

Students with an interest in public relations can earn their bachelor's degree completely online. Learn how to get started and explore top programs.

October 14, 2021

reviewed by ACO Rankings Team
Online Master’s Programs In Public Relations

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Careers & Salaries with a Graduate Degree in Public Relations

While many careers in public relations come with competitive salaries and above-average job prospects, a master's degree in public relations online can position you for lucrative leadership roles across a variety of industries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), public relations and fundraising managers earned a median salary of $111,280 in 2017, nearly three times the median salary for all other occupations. Additionally, the BLS estimates that advertising, promotions, and marketing managers earn even more, with a median salary approaching $130,000 per year.

Along with a ranking of the top online master's programs in public relations, this page offers information on the curricula and capstone projects you can expect to complete during your graduate studies. It also provides an overview of careers in public relations and some guidance on how to help finance your degree.

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What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Public Relations Program?

Public relations professionals help organizations of all stripes build, maintain, and protect their public images. To do so effectively, they must possess expertise in crisis management, opinion assessment, and strategic communication. A master's degree in public relations can help you develop or further refine this critical set of skills and prepare you for management and leadership roles.

Generally speaking, public relations master's programs consist of between 30 and 40 credits. Full-time students usually graduate in about two years, though they may need up to four years to earn a degree if they study on a part-time basis.

Online programs closely mirror their on-campus counterparts. For example, they often feature the same faculty and course materials. Many online programs also partner with public relations firms or professional organizations to give their students the internship and mentorship opportunities traditionally offered by residential programs.

What’s the difference between a master’s in public relations and an MBA in public relations?

Both degrees share a great deal in common. For example, both take about two years to earn. Additionally, whether you pursue a master's in public relations or an MBA with a concentration in public relations, you can expect to take courses in messaging, communications strategy, risk management, and both traditional and social media marketing.

In an MBA program, however, you also take foundational business courses in areas like finance, microeconomics, and operations. An MBA curriculum might also cover more advanced statistical concepts like collinearity and randomization. Alternatively, the curriculum for a master's in public relations might focus only on the statistics necessary to conduct basic analysis. Because of this, an MBA may offer more flexibility in choosing a career path.

What common courses are offered in a master’s in public relations program?

The exact classes you take while earning your master's in public relations online depends on the program you choose. However, many programs feature similar foundational coursework, especially in the first year. The list below includes five common courses found in these programs.

What exams or projects should I expect?

Most students pursuing a master's in public relations online complete a capstone project. Often a graduation requirement, this project allows students to apply their graduate learning to a real-world public relations challenge.

Students in these programs may partner with administrators at their university to help create or update a crisis response plan in the event of a campus emergency. As part of this plan, students may update emergency contact information, evaluate emergency messaging systems, or draft language for specific scenarios to help school leaders disseminate information quickly.

What elective courses are available in a master’s in public relations program?

In addition to the foundational coursework detailed above, you can also customize your learning by selecting elective classes. These classes can help you explore a possible new career path or develop skills you can apply to your current work. Here are three unique electives offered in master's in public relations programs.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Public Relations Degree?

With a master's degree in public relations, you have the opportunity to embark on several career paths. For example, you might work for a local politician as a press secretary, promoting legislative achievements and responding to media inquiries. You might lead a team of communications professionals at a larger organization or even find your own public relations firm. You could even act as a consultant, helping various clients with fundraising and communications writing.

An advanced degree qualifies you for all of the jobs detailed below, though it does not guarantee employment. Some companies require several years of professional experience for management and leadership roles.

Professional Organizations

Joining a professional organization can provide a variety of benefits to recent graduates. These groups host networking events, share professional development and continuing-education resources, and advertise job openings. They may also organize mentorship programs, helping you benefit from the wisdom and connections of established public relations professionals.

PRSA represents more than 30,000 public relations professionals. Its members meet in person at local chapter events and collaborate online through professional interests forums. The group's foundation also provides scholarships to public relations students. IPRA hosts networking events and academic symposia around the world. It also offers awards to recognize exemplary service to the field and publishes weekly "thought leadership" essays from public relations scholars and practitioners. For more than 100 years, AWC has supported the personal and professional growth of women employed in communications roles. The association hosts a national conference, online training seminars, and a job board. AMA strives to serve as the essential community for marketers in the United States. It offers a wealth of online resources on subjects such as advertising, branding, digital engagement, marketing communications, and developing and using metrics. AMCP administers five of the most renowned international competitions for marketing and communication professionals. The association also provides awards and financial support to members who offer pro bono services to individuals and communities in need.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Public Relations?

This chart includes salary information for the five careers mentioned above. A master's degree in public relations ensures that you meet the educational qualifications for these roles, though you may need additional or more relevant experience to take on certain positions.

Generally speaking, recent graduates earn at the lower end of the ranges listed below, and seasoned public relations professionals at the largest and most prestigious organizations earn salaries at the higher end. s

Job Title Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Public Relations SpecialistLess than $32,840$59,300More than $112,260+9%
Public Relations Manager Less than $61,130 $111,280 More than $208,000 +10%
Advertising, Promotions, or Marketing ManagerLess than $48,150$129,380More than $208,000 +10%
WriterLess than $30,520 $61,820More than $118,760 +8%
Market Research Analyst Less than $34,510$63,230 More than $122,770 +23%

Source: BLS

According to the BLS, all five of the jobs included in the table above exceed the average rate of growth for all occupations. Market research analysts should experience tremendous growth from 2016 through 2026, largely due to the increasing availability of consumer data and the desire across industries to make use of this information. Public relations managers can also expect above-average growth because of the need for organizations to monitor and shape public opinion on social media.

A master's in public relations can help you get your foot in the door, but it can also help significantly increase your earnings. According to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, individuals with a bachelor's degree in either advertising or public relations earned a median salary of $54,000 in 2015. Individuals with a master's degree in one of those domains earned considerably more, or a median salary of roughly $65,000 in the same year.

Online Master’s in Public Relations Program Accreditation

When choosing a master's in public relations program, make sure to select one with proper accreditation. Completing the accreditation process signals that a school or a program meets high academic standards and sufficiently prepares graduates for careers in their chosen profession. If you attend an unaccredited school, you may not qualify for all forms of financial aid. In addition, other schools may not accept your transfer credits, and future employers may not recognize your degree.

Schools and departments can pursue three forms of accreditation: regional, national, or programmatic. Typically, nonprofit institutions receive regional accreditation, generally considered the most prestigious of the three forms. For-profit and online schools often receive national accreditation. For example, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), a national accreditor, accredits many online institutions.

Programmatic accreditors work within a particular subject area or discipline, but no programmatic accreditor specifically serves public relations programs. However, you may find that some business-oriented programs receive accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

Check the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's online directory to confirm whether your school holds regional, national, or programmatic accreditation.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Public Relations Degree

Many students who pursue a master's in public relations qualify for financial aid from the federal government. You can also seek out state grants, private scholarships, and work-study opportunities offered by individual schools. If you served in the military, you and members of your family may also qualify for tuition discounts.

Online Master's in Public Relations Programs 2021

Ball State University View School Profile Muncie, IN $13642

Ball State's online master's in public relations comprises 30-33 credits. The curriculum includes coursework in social media analytics and engagement. Learners also study journalism and mass communication research methods. Students must complete six elective credits. These credits can come from other disciplines such as business, journalism, or emerging media.

Students can choose a culminating experience from the program's four options. They can complete a creative project, write a thesis, or submit a research paper. The final option is to perform and document applied research in strategic communications. Students must maintain a grade of "C" or better in each course to graduate.

The program is accredited by the Public Relations Society of America. Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA from a regionally accredited college or university. Students can enroll full time or part time.

Webster University View School Profile Saint Louis, MO Unconfirmed

Webster offers an online master's in public relations through the School of Communications. Enrollees study globalization, entrepreneurship, and ethical issues. The degree requires 36 credits. Students complete 27 core credits and nine elective credits.

The curriculum offers courses in media and culture and international communications. Learners also study media organization and regulations. Students can enroll in electives in other disciplines with advisor or program administrator approval.

Enrollees advance to candidacy after completing 12 credits with a cumulative 3.0 GPA. Students cannot apply credits from prerequisite courses toward the degree's credit requirement. Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA from an accredited college or university.

Montana State University Billings View School Profile Billings, MT $11859

MSU Billings offers a 30-credit online master's in public relations. Students earn the degree in 3-4 semesters. The program prepares graduates to work in many fields, such as advertising, communications, and media planning.

Learners study communication theory and campaign planning. They also evaluate media criticism. Enrollees must pass a comprehensive exam after completing major coursework. Students gain hands-on experience through internships. The program offers several teaching and research assistantships for qualified enrollees.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree in communication or a related field of study from an accredited college or university. The program requires a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must submit GRE scores. Ideal applicants have a score of 3.5 on the exam's writing portion. Applicants may substitute the results of another graduate entrance exam with department chair approval.

George Washington University View School Profile Washington, DC Unconfirmed

GW's Graduate School of Political Management offers a 30-credit master's in strategic public relations. Students can pursue the degree online, on campus, or in a hybrid format. The curriculum includes seven core classes and three electives.

The core curriculum covers topics such as politics, digital communication, and advocacy issues. Students enroll in classes in advanced writing for communications professionals. They also explore the principles of strategic public relations and ethical standards in public relations. Enrollees can explore multiple emerging topics through electives. Options include sustainability, multicultural marketing, and digital strategies.

Degree-seekers must complete a capstone research project. The project must focus on a topic of professional interest to the student or an existing organization. In addition, the project must produce a paper of publishable quality.

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