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.

Featured Online Programs

Southern New Hampshire University

PROGRAM: Online Masters Degrees in Communication

Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution with more than 3,000 on-campus students and over 60,000 online students, making us one of the fastest-growing universities in the country. Founded in 1932, we’ve been relentlessly reinventing higher education ever since and have gained national recognition for our dedication to helping students transform their lives and the lives of those around them.

We’re proud to provide affordable, accessible education that students can pursue on our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH, over our innovative online platform or at our regional centers in Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Salem, NH, and Brunswick, ME.

SNHU has earned the Best Buy and Best of Business – Best Online Degree awards and is consistently ranked as a top Military Friendly® School by G.I Jobs®.

Best Online Master’s in Public Relations Programs

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.

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College Name & AddressTuitionGraduation Rate
University of Florida
Tigert Hall, Gainesville, Florida 32611
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
601 E John Street, Champaign, Illinois 61820
University of Southern California
University Park, Los Angeles, California 90089
Georgetown University
37th and O St NW, Washington, District of Columbia 20057
Johns Hopkins University
3400 N Charles St, Baltimore, Maryland 21218
Marist College
3399 North Rd, Poughkeepsie, New York 12601
Purdue University
Hovde Hall of Administration, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907
George Washington University
1918 F Street, NW, Washington, District of Columbia 20052
Syracuse University
900 South Crouse Ave., Syracuse, New York 13244
Quinnipiac University
Mt Carmel Ave, Hamden, Connecticut 06518
Ithaca College
953 Danby Road, Ithaca, New York 14850
University of Denver
2199 S. University Blvd, Denver, Colorado 80208
Ball State University
2000 University Ave, Muncie, Indiana 47306
Florida International University
11200 S. W. 8 Street, Miami, Florida 33199
Texas Tech University
Broadway and University Avenue, Lubbock, Texas 79409
California Baptist University
8432 Magnolia Ave, Riverside, California 92504
Western New England University
1215 Wilbraham Rd, Springfield, Massachusetts 01119
Webster University
470 E Lockwood Ave., Saint Louis, Missouri 63119
Mississippi College
200 South Capitol Street, Clinton, Mississippi 39058
Liberty University
1971 University Blvd, Lynchburg, Virginia 24515

Source – Integrated Post Secondary Education Data System & University Data
*Tuition rates are for in-state and per year. Program specific rates may apply.
**NA – data not available

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:

Area of FocusDescriptionCareers the Concentration Prepares for
Strategic Communication/Strategic Brand CommunicationStudents learn to communicate the best message, through the right channels, measured against well-considered organizational and communications-specific goals.Director of Public Relations/Media Manager
Corporate CommunicationIn Corporate communications, students learn how businesses and organizations communicate with various internal and external audiences.Director of Corporate Communication
Marketing and AdvertisingStudents 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.Advertising/Marketing Manager
Brand ManagementStudents learn to create a buzz around a brand and sell a certain narrative about it.Brand Manager
Crisis ManagementCrisis 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  
Global Strategic Communicationspecialization in global strategic communication is an excellent choice for those motivated by a feeling of purpose. Student graduates will be able to interact successfully with people from a variety of cultural backgrounds. They will be able to use their communication skills to aid in and address some of the world’s most complicated challenges after completing this program. They will learn how to be influential leaders, bring about positive social change through impactful messaging, and make educated decisions from a global perspective.International Affairs Liaison, Senior International Consultant
Political Communicationspecialization in digital political communication allows students to learn about cutting-edge digital advertising, engagement, and analysis approaches. Students learn to use modern campaigning methods to help raise political awareness and effect change. They will also learn how to use digital tools to drive offline political activity, use cutting-edge political technologies to impact change, engage volunteers, donors, and voters, and how to maximize political involvement, among other things.Digital Director for Political Campaigns, Account Executive for a Political Digital Agency
Public Interest CommunicationPublic interest communication has erupted as an interdisciplinary, systems-level profession with strategic benefits extending far beyond an organization’s communications role. Students who choose this specialization will have the opportunity to learn the skills, methods, concepts, and procedures necessary to establish movements and promote positive social change through strategic communication techniques. A combination of academic and practical work is included in this multidisciplinary program, which draws on practice and scholarship in the fields of public relations and journalism, advertising, and marketing research, as well as sociology, political science, anthropology, and neuroscience. The University of Florida is one of the best places to pursue this specialization.Outreach Coordinator for a Nonprofit, Public Policy Director

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:

CurriculumDescription/Skills Gained
Strategic Writing for Public RelationsThe ability to write strategic communication pieces on behalf of an organization, which also includes releasing communication during a crisis.
Public Relations TheoryThis 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 & EvaluationThis 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 & MessagingThe 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.
Promotional StrategyThis 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 ManagementThis 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 StrategyMessaging 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 ProjectThis 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.  

Source: UIUC

Apart from these, graduate students learn from other courses such as:

  • Brand Management
  • Political Socialization
  • Public Relations Management
  • Crisis Communications
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Public Relations Principles
  • Public Communication
  • Strategic Communication Applications
  • Social Media Practices
  • Communications Planning
  • Government Relations
  • Public Relations Campaigns
  • Strategic Public Relations
  • Public Relations Ethics
  • Public Relations Writing
  • Mass Communication
  • Corporate Public Relations
  • Media Criticism
  • International Communications
  • Communications Research
  • Digital Marketing Communication
  • Organizational Communication
  • Mass Communication Research Methods
  • Public Relations Strategies
  • Strategic Communication
  • Public Relations Writing
  • Media Relations
  • Public Relations Theory
  • Public Relations Research
  • Public Opinion

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:

The UAB includes representatives from each public relation participating organization, and a chair.

Discover all there is to know about accreditation, through the AccreditationGuide.

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.

Here is a link to the list of Public Relations Scholarships

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.

Learn more on funding a master’s program from the Best Financial Guide.

FAQs about an Online Master’s in Public Relations Degree

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do with a Master’s in Public Relations Degree?

Typical roles after a graduate degree in public relations include public relations manager/director, promotion, advertising, or marketing manager.

Is there a deadline for admission?

Can I transfer credits from a previous graduate program? If so, how many?

How long does the program take to complete?

Are scholarships available? How do I apply?

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:

OccupationMedian Annual Salary (US $)Job Growth (2019-2029)Job Description
Director of Public Relations/Media Manager/ Fund Raisers116,1809%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 Communication61,1507%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/Marketing Manager135,9006%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.
Brand Manager89,8237%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.

Source: BLS and Glassdoor

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.

The APR:

  • 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:

Certificate in Strategic Media CommunicationsThe 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.NYUThe program must be completed within 3 years.
Strategic Branding & Public Relations CertificateThis 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.UCLAUCLA 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.
Certificate in Principles of Public RelationsThe 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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