For individuals who have a passion and flair for strategic communications or crisis communications that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their customers, a masters in public relations online could be their first step in the right direction. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary of a public relations manager is $116,180. So, if one is looking for a master’s degree that will lead to a high salary, then a masters program in public relations is an excellent option. Typically, online master in public relations students learn in-depth about branding, market research, interpersonal transactions, organizational behavior, problem-solving, content creation, social media, public opinion, strategic communication, and corporate communications. This vocation also enhances written communication skills, encourages critical thinking, and improves professional development and public relations expertise. By the end of these master’s online programs, public relations professionals will have the potential to become industry leaders and take on lucrative, responsible roles, in a variety of industries.
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There are a ton of programs leading to a master’s degree in public relations. And it is for this very reason that students must choose from among the best ones, to ensure they get their money’s worth, along with a quality education. Certain factors play a crucial role in determining if a program can be regarded as ‘the best’, such as whether or not the private university holds regional accreditation, provides access to financial aid, offers excellent student support services, has experienced and well-qualified faculty is value for money, etc. Based on all these factors and more, OnlineMastersColleges has compiled a list of the best public relations master’s programs across the United States.
Understanding Masters in Public Relations Programs
An online master program teaches students how to sharpen and use their skills, and provides them with the knowledge necessary for lucrative careers. On that note, public relations is about using management skills to build and maintain a relationship with the public or customers, through influencing and engaging with key stakeholders across varied and numerous public avenues. It also has to do with how to construct and formulate the public perception of an organization. Individuals working in this profession would typically handle management and leadership roles in corporate and investor relations, and marketing communications. They would also be involved in crisis and reputation management, and be in product branding as well. Graduate students of public relations online complete their degrees within about two years and around 30-33 credit hours.
Public Relations Program – Degree Types
There are typically three types of programs for a master’s in public relations, namely the MA, MS, and MBA degrees, with a specialization in public relations.
MA Public Relations
The Master of Arts (MA) graduate degree in public relations deals with the more theoretical aspects of the subject. This would suit future proponents who would typically deal in reading market and consumer sentiments, and accordingly making policy decisions, modifications, and changes.
MS Public Relations
The Master of Science (MS) graduate degree in public relations typically deals with the applied aspects of the subject. This would suit future proponents who would be responsible for executing policy changes, running campaigns to manage a narrative, and influencing public sentiments.
MBA in Public Relations
An MBA in public relations is neither common nor specific to the discipline and is a mix of subjects studied in the MA and MS programs. A few examples of MBA programs are:
Specializations in Online Master’s in Public Relations
The role students would play in the field of public relations after graduation largely depends on the specialization they choose during their higher education. Therefore, one should be mindful and choose a specialization carefully, that caters to one’s interests and professional goals. For instance, those keen on careers that involve large multinationals and various forms of communication should consider the corporate communications program. Here is a list of specializations and corresponding careers one could take up consequently:
Students learn marketing and advertising from a public relations point of view. In public relations, marketing and advertising techniques are used to influence and maintain a narrative conducive to the company’s policies and ultimate goals.
Students learn to create a buzz around a brand and sell a certain narrative about it.
Crisis communication refers to the specific messaging that a company portrays in the face of a crisis or unanticipated event, which has the potential to damage its reputation or existence. In the event of such a crisis, it is the responsibility of the communications department to create a strategy to address it.
VP/Director of Public Relations
Curriculum and Skills Gained in Masters in Public Relations Programs Online courses
A master’s degree would generally have different specializations, which in turn invokes a little change in curriculum. Below are a few topics in typical masters in public relations, and their outcomes:
Strategic Writing for Public Relations
The ability to write strategic communication pieces on behalf of an organization, which also includes releasing communication during a crisis.
Public Relations Theory
This is the study of managing a brand’s reputation. It focuses on the kinds of information that the public wants, rather than the organization’s choice of information to distribute.
Measurement & Evaluation
This course focuses not only on the method and analysis for consumer insights but also on measuring the effectiveness of various promotional strategies and campaign effectiveness. This includes an overview of quantitative research methods, with emphasis on analysis and interpretation of data, and application to evaluating the effectiveness of promotional strategies.
Strategy & Messaging
The focus of this course is on creating and executing successful messages across communication channels. It explores the development of persuasive messaging through theories of persuasion, consumer-information processing, and theories of creativity. The course examines the relationship between creative strategy and creative executions while allowing students to practice creating content for traditional and non-traditional media.
This course will familiarize students with the topic of marketing communications and promotion management and will teach students the steps for planning a strategic brand communications campaign. The culmination of this course will be a campaign for a real-world client.
Strategic Media Management
This course analyzes the markets served by various advertising media, and factors to consider in the selection and evaluation of media. Markets include investors, employees, and consumer segments. This course will also cover managing media in a global context, and is designed to provide students with an advanced understanding of media analysis, planning, buying, and optimization.
Messaging Strategy involves creating and executing successful messages across communication channels. It explores the development of persuasive messaging through theories of persuasion, consumer-information processing, and theories of creativity. The course examines the relationship between creative strategy and creative executions while allowing students to practice creating content for traditional and non-traditional media. Strategic brand communication manages every message and contact point within an organization. Audiences include not only consumers, but also employees, stockholders, the media, and others.
Professional SBC Capstone Project
This course serves as a capstone, requiring the student to demonstrate a mastery of knowledge in the primary areas of Strategic Brand Communication. The project is designed to allow the student to demonstrate his/her mastery of strategic brand communication, focused on creating and executing a public relations research plan; repositioning analysis and strategy; strategic brand communication strategy & tactics; media strategy & tactics; and campaign monitoring and evaluation.
Apart from these, graduate students learn from other courses such as:
Public Relations Management
Public Relations Principles
Strategic Communication Applications
Social Media Practices
Public Relations Campaigns
Strategic Public Relations
Public Relations Ethics
Public Relations Writing
Corporate Public Relations
Digital Marketing Communication
Mass Communication Research Methods
Public Relations Strategies
Public Relations Writing
Public Relations Theory
Public Relations Research
Accreditation for an Online Master’s in Public Relations Program
Accreditation means that an institution has been evaluated by an independent accrediting body and found to meet the high standards of a rigorous education necessary for a master’s or bachelor’s degree. It is of utmost importance that the degree a student earns is recognized by academicians as well as the industry universally, as being of a certain academic and professional standard. Hence, a student must ensure that a private university located within the United States, to which they are applying, has national or regional accreditation. For example, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) is the regional commission responsible for accrediting degree‐granting institutions in several states.
Another such accrediting agency is the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The MSCHE is responsible for more than 525 accredited and candidate degree-granting institutions, which offer one or more post-secondary educational programs, including those offered via distance education, of at least one academic year in length at the Associate’s or higher level in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and any other geographic areas in which the Commission elects to conduct accrediting activities within and outside of the United States.
Accreditation for Public Relations Specialists and Professionals:
Programmatic or regional accreditation in a master’s degree is a voluntary certification program for public relations professionals. The designation Accredited in Public Relations (APR) signifies a high professional level of experience and competence. Accreditation demonstrates that the individual knows public relations strategy and best practices; an understanding of ethics; and experiences which set them apart.
The reasons to earn the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential are both professional and personal. The APR credential is increasingly becoming valued and is used as a screening criterion for hiring and professional advancement. Research has shown that accredited public relations practitioners earn more money than their non-accredited counterparts.
The Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) program is administered by the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB), a consortium of nine leading public relations organizations, including:
Timeline for graduation from an Online Master’s in Public Relations Program
Most masters in public relations typically take anywhere between 18-24 months, while many accelerated master’s programs require just one year of study after students have completed their bachelor’s. In doing an accelerated program, students can save money on tuition, and much precious time as well.
Typically, for an online master’s in public relations, students need to take 30 to 33 hours of credits. Here are some details:
Full-time graduate students typically take 9 credits (3 courses) during the fall and spring semesters, and 6 credits (2 courses) during the summer semester.
Part-time graduate students typically take 3 to 6 credits (1 to 2 courses) during the fall, spring, and summer semesters.
Online Master’s in Public Relations – Admission Requirements
Generally, every master’s program has its own admission requirements, but a masters in public relations admission would typically require a bachelors’ degree with a minimum of around 2.5 – 3.0 GPA, and in certain cases, a standardized test score, such as the GRE or GMAT. It is also not uncommon for work experience of around five years to be another requirement. Apart from these, students are required to submit an application form to the program, academic transcripts from the bachelor’s degree, a personal statement or statement of purpose, and at least 2 to 3 letters of recommendation.
Online Master’s in Public Relations – No GRE Programs
Some universities do not want to impose a standardized test on incoming students. In such cases, students enrolling in these universities can get into a master’s in public relations program where no standardized GRE score is required. However, sometimes, in place of this score, students are required to have at least 5 years of work experience. A few universities that do not require this score are:
How to Pay for an Online Master’s in Public Relations Program
Be it for a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, the average college debt among student loan borrowers in America is $32,731, according to the Federal Reserve. This is an increase of approximately 20% from 2015-2016. Most borrowers have between $25,000 and $50,000 outstanding in student loan debt. So, one would imagine that the best way to pay for a masters in public relations program would be through scholarships. Several schools like the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Florida offer public relations degree scholarships, specifically to their majors, but looking beyond campus can yield even more such scholarship opportunities or other forms of financial aid. Both the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) give generously to their members, as do firms like Fleishman-Hillard, which also has an internship program.
If someone does not qualify for a scholarship, working professionals can check with their employers if they would reimburse the tuition fee of their program. The other way of funding the master’s degree is applying for a student loan. Students can also check if they are eligible for federal student aid by filling in a FAFSA Application.
FAQs about an Online Master’s in Public Relations Degree
Q: What can I do with a Master’s in Public Relations Degree?
A: Typical roles after a graduate degree in public relations include public relations manager/director, promotion, advertising, or marketing manager.
Q: Is there a deadline for admission?
A: Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and are reviewed as they are received.
Q: Can I transfer credits from a previous graduate program? If so, how many?
A: Students may transfer up to 9 semester hours of graduate work from a previous institution. The faculty will evaluate course equivalencies on a case-by-case basis.
Q: How long does the program take to complete?
A: Those enrolled in a full-time online program, or evening students (9 credits per semester), complete the program in two years (four semesters). As course offerings allow, it is possible for those studying full-time to graduate in less than two years.
Q: Are scholarships available? How do I apply?
A: Merit-based scholarships are distributed on a competitive basis to eligible applicants. No additional materials are needed outside of the master’s degree application to be considered. Applicants are encouraged to meet with representatives in the Office of Student Financial Services to inquire about need-based financial aid, and other resources to finance their degree. Matriculated students may also apply for a variety of campus jobs, which are continually updated on Hofstra’s website. Continuing students may apply for additional scholarships, and are alerted when this opportunity arises during the semester.
Careers and Salary Outlook for Master’s in Public Relations Graduates
If one is to expect a good job, one needs to have a background of higher education that goes beyond a bachelor’s degree. Post a masters in public relations, graduates generally look at managerial positions, constructing and shaping an organization’s public relations writing strategy. Public relations professionals will include strategic public relations, and critical thinking, to take on important and relatively senior roles in public relations firms, and elsewhere. Among others, the typical career positions one would look at include, promotion, advertising, marketing, public relations managers, or even public relations directors. These roles might typically have interactions with the public and media. Below is a list of a few positions:
Median Annual Salary (US $)
Job Growth (2019-2029)
Director of Public Relations/Media Manager/ Fund Raisers
Public relations managers direct the creation of materials that will enhance the public image of their employer or client. Fundraising managers coordinate campaigns that bring in donations for their organization.
Public Relation Specialist/Director of Corporate Communication
Public relations specialists create and maintain a favorable public image for the organization they represent. They craft media releases and develop social media programs to shape public perception of their organization. Public Relations Specialists also increase awareness of the employer’s/client’s work and goals.
Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers plan programs to generate interest in products or services. They work with art directors, advertising sales agents, and financial staff members.
As brand managers, their focus may be more about a company’s brand image than about specific products, although they may also focus on the brand message that is presented within product advertisements.
Certifications and Licensing for a Master’s in Public Relations Graduate
In general, public relations careers do not require any licensing. But in almost all cases, a public relations firm will value a regional accreditation certificate from professional agencies like the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) program, which is administered by the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB).
As a skilled public relations professional, one should know that their success is dependent on staying relevant, resourceful, and inspired. The Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential certifies drive, professionalism, and principles, setting the individual apart from their peers, and positioning them as a leader and mentor in the competitive public relations field. Building on the foundation of their bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, the APR keeps professionals current on today’s best practices and applications, in the ever-evolving communications world.
Asserts professional competence.
Communicates professional expertise, plus personal and professional dedication and values.
Reflects progressive public relations industry practices and high standards.
Preparing for this public relations exam is an exercise in success, as the process will provide an assessment of the candidate’s proficiency, and accurately calibrate their craft, contacts, and career goals. Where extra support is needed, the candidate will be introduced to a tremendously skilled and experienced network of mentors, providing them with a lifetime of guidance and expertise.
Apart from the APR, one can even pursue other certification programs that always help students before they take the final plunge into the masters in public relations program. Here are a few examples:
The Certificate in Strategic Media Communications serves to provide foundational public relations knowledge for anyone interested in PR. It also is ideally suited for marketing professionals who need public relations knowledge to remain current in their industry.
This internship course provides eligible students an opportunity to earn elective credit toward the Strategic Branding and Public Relations Certificate program based on an internship position- comprising at least 120 hours of the practical application of course material- that the student has secured and had approved by UCLA Extension.
UCLA Extension students who are enrolled in the Strategic Branding and Public Relations Certificate and who have completed a minimum of 20 units in their program.
The Certificate in Principles of Public Relations Online Study Course, developed by faculty members of the PRSA Educators Academy and produced by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), helps students prepare for taking the computer-based examination.
Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA)
1. within six months of graduation (before or after) from an accredited college or university whose degree is in public relations or a related area of study; AND 2. members of the Public Relations Student Society of America or student members of another UAB Participating Organization, such as the Florida Public Relations Association or the Southern Public Relations Federation.
Additional Resources for Public Relations Professionals
Public relations students and professionals can further their careers with alliance and accreditation through professional public relations organizations. These organizations routinely organize events and conferences, and like-minded professionals from the public relations industry. Most organizations for public relations professionals would like to enroll bachelor’s degree holders, master’s degree holders, and professionals into their ranks, often offering discounts on memberships and certifications.
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