What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s Public Relations Program?

An online public relations graduate program teaches students how to use various tools, techniques and platforms to promote individuals, organizations or events they represent. Online programs offer a flexible alternative to traditional on-campus instruction and a convenient way for working adults or full-time students to prepare for a career in a dynamic, relatively lucrative field. Many colleges and universities offer online programs that follow the same curriculum and meticulous instruction as their on-campus programs. Online programs often offer the added convenience of allowing you to work at your own pace, which could help if you want to finish quickly. When choosing an online public relations graduate program, compare the curriculum, format and cost to ensure you choose the right program for you and your career goals.

Degrees Offered for an Online Master’s in Public Relations

CONCENTRATION DESCRIPTION CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR
International Public Relations Online public relations graduate programs with a concentration in international public relations prepares you to manage global public relations campaigns. Global public relations manager, communications strategist
Corporate Communication An online public relations graduate program with a concentration in corporate communication focuses on the interaction between corporate communications functions and best approaches to strategically integrate these functions. Corporate communications specialist, public affairs director, corporate manager, corporate social responsibility specialist, corporate recruiter
Media Relations Online master’s in public relations programs with a concentration in media relations focus on the role and function of media relations in government, corporate and non-profit organizations. Media relations advisor, media relations director, press secretary, marketing representative
Digital Communication A public relations’ graduate program with a concentration in digital communication focuses on digital tools, trends and tactics, including how digital communications relate to traditional marketing and public relations tactics, and the integration of both. Social media director, digital communication specialist, digital content manager, content marketing specialist, digital media manager

Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Public Relations

Curriculum for an online public relations graduate program may be delivered completely online or may feature both online and on-campus requirements. Programs may also be asynchronous, meaning they’re self-paced, or synchronous, and you log on to take classes simultaneously with other students. Working professionals benefit from asynchronous classes they can schedule around their work and family responsibilities

While the curriculum varies between schools, public relations graduate programs are typically structured to provide a solid foundation in the core principles of public relations, including the best practices and techniques needed to transition into a successful career. Due to the ever-increasing popularity of digital media, almost all programs focus on blending traditional and non-traditional communications tools. Besides core courses, many programs also allow you to choose electives to customize your degree to mesh with your chosen concentration. Some programs may require a capstone project or internship to complete your degree. Here are some common courses you may take in your public relations graduate program

COURSES DESCRIPTION
Public Relations Theory Focuses on understanding the abstract theoretical concepts in public relations and applying them in professional practice.
Public Relations Writing Centers on the development of professional writing skills expected of public relations professionals and cover the many forms this writing takes, such as press releases and newsletter articles.
Brand Management Teaches students how to build, measure and manage brand equity and may include a course project designed for practical application.
Ethical Standards in Public Relations Explores the importance of ethics in public relations by analyzing ethical assumptions and the standards and codes of conduct that should guide public relations professionals.
Integrated Marketing Communications Combines traditional and non-traditional technologies and approaches to communications for designing integrated public relations campaigns.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s in Public Relations?

On average, online public relations graduate programs require you to complete 30 to 36 credit hours, but some run as high as 54 credit hours. One of the biggest variables in how long it takes you to earn your degree is whether you attend full-time or part-time. Full-time students can usually earn their degree in two years, but accelerated programs allow you to shorten this time. For example, many 30-credit hour programs are designed to take two years to complete, but some take as little as 15 months.

Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Public Relations Prepares For

CONCENTRATION CERTIFICATION
Accredited in Public Relations Obtaining your master’s in public relations could help you earn your accreditation in public relations credential from the Public Relations Society of America, which sets you apart as a leader in the competitive public relations field

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Public Relations Degrees

When comparing online public relations graduate programs, it’s important to choose a college or university that’s accredited through an agency recognized by the Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Earning your degree from an unaccredited school won’t carry as much weight professionally, and if you require financial assistance to pay for your education, attending an unaccredited school makes you ineligible for federal and state financial aid and many scholarships.

While the school should be accredited, the program itself may not be, especially online programs. However, the Public Relations Society of America does offer voluntary Certification in Education for Public Relations. This allows academic programs the opportunity to have an outside evaluation administered by the PRSA Educational Affairs Committee, which endorses undergraduate and master’s level programs that meet its eight standards in curriculum, faculty, etc

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Public Relations Graduates

Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s

While most careers in public relations are attainable with a bachelor’s degree or less, earning your master’s degree makes you more qualified for the top entry-level positions, as well as some managerial roles typically reserved for more experienced applicants. Furthermore, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that professionals with a master’s degree traditionally have a lower level of unemployment and higher salaries than those with a bachelor’s degree. In 2017, graduate students had median weekly earnings of $1,401 with a 2.2 percent unemployment rate, compared to a 2.5 percent unemployment rate and $1,173 in median weekly earnings for undergraduates.

Expected Salary

Public relations is one of the fastest growing media fields, but the most coveted positions are highly competitive. Completing your online master’s in public relations degree qualifies you for numerous jobs that vary depending on your degree specialization and experience in the field. As you gain experience and move up the professional public relations ladder, your salary increases along with your title.

Job Title Salary Range
Public Relations Coordinator $30,687-$54,582
Public Relations Specialist $32,784-$70,594
Public Relations Officer $33,832-$103,762
Public Relations Manager $40,830-$96,873
Public Relations Director $46,648-$134,892

Source: PayScale.com

Where you live and pursue a public relations career also greatly impacts your projected salary. Many public relations professionals turn to the lucrative field of politics, so it’s logical that the District of Columbia tops the list of high paying locations with a median annual wage of $170,750. The map below lists the annual mean wages for a Public Relations Manager in each state.

Figures in US Dollars per year
Blank areas indicate data not available

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Opportunities

Public relations professionals may work freelance or as part of a public relations firm and may represent individual clients or corporations, government agencies or nonprofit organizations. Depending on your specialty, you could pursue a public relations career in politics, advertising, journalism or public affairs, and your advanced degree makes you a more attractive candidate for many of these career opportunities.

JOB TITLE JOB DESCRIPTION MEDIAN SALARY PROJECTED GROWTH RATE
Public Relations Specialists Public relations specialists typically work directly with individuals, organizations or other clients to create and maintain a favorable public image, which may include writing press releases and speeches and developing social media programs and various campaigns to improve public perception or increase awareness. $59,300 per year 9%
Public Relations Managers Public relations managers usually lead teams of public relations professionals through large-scale advertising campaigns, including designing and directing the creation of promotional materials to enhance the client’s public image. $111,280 per year 10%
Marketing Managers Marketing managers estimate the demand for products and/or services supplied by the company or organization they represent in relation to what’s also being supplied by its competitors and work to identify new markets and appropriate pricing strategies for these products and/or services. $132,230 per year 10%
Advertising and Promotions Managers Advertising managers typically work in advertising agencies and create interest in certain products or services by putting together advertising campaigns that appeal to potential buyers. Promotions managers oversee programs that combine advertising campaigns with purchasing incentives to further increase sales of the product or service, which may include coupons, discounts, sweepstakes, contests or free samples or gifts. Advertising and promotions managers also manage a variety of staff members working toward the same goals. $106,130 per year 3%

Professional Organizations

Professional organizations offer a great way to network with others in the public relations field no matter where you are in career. Whether you’re new to the field or a veteran, professional organizations host important networking events and often provide training opportunities, job boards, professional journals and other valuable members-only services that keep you abreast of the latest developments in your field. Some prominent organizations for public relations students and/or professionals include:

Public Relations Society of America: Considered the world’s largest PR-related professional organization, the PRSA provides academic journals and innovative lifelong learning opportunities, professional development and networking through seminars, workshops and conferences.

National Communication Association: Serving scholars, teachers and professionals, the NCA hosts an annual conference and numerous other programs and events that provide educational, networking and professional development opportunities. It also publishes 11 academic journals full of industry news and provides a career center to look for and post jobs.

Social Media Association: The SMA hosts informative events that include presentations by expert speakers, panel and roundtable discussions and networking events. It also provides a valuable job bank and other members-only benefits.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Organizational Leadership Degree

While an online master’s degree in public relations is relatively affordable, many students still need financial assistance to help cover the cost. Start your search by completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to see whether you qualify for loans, grants and other financial aid opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Some states also use this form for state aid, but some have a separate form you must complete. You may also find private scholarships and grants through various companies, nonprofit organizations and other entities; some of which are designed especially for online studies. Learn more about potential financial aid opportunities by exploring the following resources.

Resources

Scholarships

Scholarships

Details

Lawrence G. Foster Award for Excellence in Public Relations

Award: $1,500

Deadline: May

Eligibility: Public Relations Student Society of America members enrolled in the public relations field at any university

Dr. Bob Davis, APR, CPRC, Scholarship

Award: $1,500

Deadline: February

Eligibility: Any student studying to enter the public relations profession, which can be used for any education-related expenses

The LAGRANT Foundation

Award: $3,750

Deadline: February

Eligibility: Minority graduate students enrolled in at least 9-credit hours per semester in a field of study with an emphasis in advertising, marketing or public relations

Philip N. McCombs Scholarship Fund

Award: Varies

Deadline: January

Eligibility: Graduate students enrolled in an accredited program in California’s Bay Area in the field of communications and/or public relations