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Master of Public Relations | Context - Context
Online Master of Public Relations
Master of Public Relations In Context

An online master’s degree in public relations is an increasingly popular option for students in fields such as marketing, communications, and special events planning, with the number of accredited graduate programs having nearly tripled from 26 to 75 between 2000 and 2011. [1] Public relations specialists with master’s degrees also have a higher median wage than their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees. [2]

Understanding public relations
  • What is public relations? The diverse field of public relations is tied together by a common thread — the management of company information and image, from press releases and social media posts to internal company memos and corporate speeches.
  • How do I earn a master’s in public relations? A bachelor’s degree in public relations, marketing, or communications — or two to five years of work experience — may be helpful, but is not required. Anyone interested in public relations can enroll and benefit from a graduate program in this field.
  • How long does the program take? Most programs can be finished in two years or fewer, via accelerated course formats. The program may be completely online, on-site, or in a hybrid format.
  • What else should I know? Online distance learning is a common option for graduate education in public relations. Programs may be accredited or certified by bodies such as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.
Exploring the Master of Public Relations

Accredited master’s programs in public relations usually require 30 to 40 credit hours to complete, but in some cases more. Subject matter and pacing will vary considerably from program to program.

The Commission on Public Relations Education has found that over the long term, there has been little consistency in the course content of these programs. [3] However, the group has recommended the following areas of focus and program components for graduate-level students:

  • Public relations theories and concepts
  • Public relations law
  • Public relations ethics
  • Public relations research
  • Public relations management
  • Public relations applications
  • Public relations publics
  • Public relations programming and production
  • Management and behavioral sciences
  • Communications processes
  • Internship or practicum
  • Thesis, capstone project, or comprehensive exam
Is a Master of Public Relations right for me?

Earning a master’s degree in public relations is a practical way to advance your career prospects, as well as to build research skills and specific types of expertise. Graduate education in this field is open to many undergraduate backgrounds, including popular concentrations such as English, journalism, and communications. Communications was the most common humanities bachelor’s degree reported in a survey by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. [4]

A master’s degree can help you acquire the knowledge to excel in many fields of practice, including:

  • Event planning
  • Advertising
  • Corporate communications
  • Market research
  • Fundraising
  • Content and SEO writing
  • Editing
  • Crisis management
  • Public speaking
  • Brand marketing
Why should I earn Master of Public Relations?
Motivations for pursuing a master’s degree in public relations may include the desire for greater compensation, more networking opportunities, additional professional development, or other goals. Plus, the online delivery model opens the door for students who otherwise might have difficulties fitting the program into their schedules. Reasons for enrolling in a master’s program include:

Career advancement

Your fellow graduate students may already be working public relations practitioners, press secretaries, or account executives. Accordingly, they may be able to share expert knowledge and specific job opportunities with you.

Resume enhancement

A master’s degree in public relations may make you more marketable to employers. A survey of PRSA members with master’s degrees found that 66% of them felt their educational attainment gave them superior skills and credibility. [5]

Job security

About a quarter of college students are deficient in their writing and communications skills by employers’ standards, [6] so a master’s in public relations is a great way to hone your writing abilities for multiple audiences and shore up your job security.

Earning potential

The median pay for a public relations specialist is $56,770. [7] However, master’s degree holders typically earn more and may be in position for higher-paying roles such as public relations manager, for which the median wage is more than $60,000. [8]

Career change

The expertise gained from a master’s degree program in public relations may provide the opportunity to explore high-paying jobs such as market research analyst or fundraising manager [9].

Master of Public Relations Program Length

The length of an online master’s degree program can depend on a number of variables, perhaps the most prominent of which is the pace at which you choose to study. You can finish a typical master’s degree program in about two to three years if you choose to study full-time, although some accelerated programs may be able to help you finish more quickly.

Online master’s degree programs tend to offer flexibility suitable for students who choose to study part-time. This option will likely extend your time to completion, but it can allow you to study while fulfilling your familial, social, and professional obligations.

You can find more information on this topic at our program length overview page.

How many courses are required?

Master of Public Relations programs will typically require about 30 to 40 semester credit hours. Your program’s composition will vary, but likely components of the curriculum include required or core courses, elective courses, and a capstone or experiential learning option.

Even within a particular school’s degree program, the number of courses required may vary based on the concentration you choose, your prior work experience, your number of transfer credits, or other such factors.

Master of Public Relations Admissions Requirements

While each program will set its admission requirements based on its own criteria, many requirements are universal across all programs. No matter where you apply, you can expect to provide items like transcripts from previous degrees or coursework; standardized test scores; a personal statement or essay; letters of recommendation; and an overview of relevant work experience.

In certain cases, some of these requirements may be waived.

For more information about admissions, please visit our admissions requirements page.

Master of Public Relations Alternative Degrees/Fields of Study

If you are pressed for time, working within a budget and/or looking to keep your options open, there are some alternatives:

  • Certificate in PR: Students can learn many of the same concepts covered in a master’s program, with fewer credit requirements and at less cost. Credits may also be transferable to a master’s program at the same institution.
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA): The MBA may offer broader expertise than a public relations program, while covering much of the same subject matter in terms of market research, data analysis, and business economics.
  • Master’s in journalism, mass media, or communications: A communications graduate degree may be the same in all but name to one in public relations. Mass media and journalism have heavy overlap with public relations program curricula and are often housed in the same department.
Master of Public Relations Accreditation

Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation that an online or traditional college or university can receive. It is granted only after careful consideration by private, not-for-profit organizations tasked with evaluating educational quality.

Regional accreditation is particularly important if you anticipate that you might want to transfer credits from one online degree program to another or use those credits to pursue another degree. Most regionally accredited schools will only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions of higher learning.

You can learn more on this topic at our regional accreditation page.

Public relations-specific certification and accreditation

The PRSA confers the voluntary CEPR distinction on some graduate and undergraduate public relations programs. [10] A program must meet minimum requirements in eight areas: [42]

  • Curriculum
  • Faculty
  • Resources, equipment, and facilities
  • PR students
  • Assessment
  • Professional affiliations
  • Relationships with total unit and university
  • Diversity and global perspectives

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication also offers a voluntary accreditation for public relations programs, with a very similar set of standards. Neither of these certifications/accreditations are needed for a program to be worthwhile. However, you may want to factor such distinctions into your school decisions.

Master of Public Relations Licensure and Certification
There is no mandatory licensure required for obtaining employment in public relations, nor for starting your own PR firm. However, there is the option to obtain specific professional certification, which may raise your profile in the public relations world and boost your job prospects.
What certifications are available?

The major certifications for public relations professionals are issued by the Public Relations Society of America. The main options are:

Certificate in Principles of Public Relations

This certificate is obtained during the completion of undergraduate coursework. After completing an application and certifying eligibility, students work with a faculty advisor to prepare for a computer-based exam. [26] Passing the test confers the Certificate in Principles of Public Relations.

Accredited in Public Relations (APR)

This certification is intended for practicing PR professionals looking to better affirm and market their skills. It requires an application, a computer-based exam, and a panel presentation [27] that tests knowledge in 12 key areas, including creative conceptualization, management skills, and communications skills.

APR holders must maintain their certification. This can be done by accumulating enough points from qualifying activities, such as completing an advanced degree such as a master’s in public relations, over a 3-year period.

Accredited in Public Relations and Military Communications (APR+M)

Similar to APR, the APR+M also require the same combination of an application, test, panel presentation, and maintenance activities. The difference is that it focuses on military communications. This accreditation is a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Defense, the Public Relations Society of America, and the Universal Accreditation Board. [28]

The History of Public Relations

Formal public relations emerged in the early 20th century [12], although similar practices can be observed as far back as ancient Egypt. [13] The rise of railroads and transportation monopolies led to the creation of the modern press release in 1906. [14] During World War I, controlling the flow of information became a PR necessity and was done through newly formed press bureaus and volunteer speaking campaigns.

In-house PR departments began emerging in the 1920s, followed by political consultancies in the 1930s. The spread of radio, television, and the internet reshaped PR in the following decades. Today, many organizations invest considerable resources into their PR efforts to keep up with their fast-evolving images on social networks.

Modern public relations specialists often conduct extensive research to track public opinion and understand any ramifications of their respective organizations’ actions. Accordingly, a broad skill set in writing, research, and communications is now more desirable than ever.

Master of Public Relations Tuition and Fees

There are a number of factors that can greatly affect how much your education will cost. These include whether you attend a public or private institution; whether you attend as an in-state or out-of-state student; and whether you qualify for financial aid like grants or scholarships.

For a more detailed breakdown of tuition, fees, and other financial issues, please visit our tuition and fees page.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Yes, all universities in the United States require evidence that an individual has completed his or her undergraduate program before you into a master’s degree program.

While a master’s degree is not required to work in public relations, obtaining a master’s degree can sometimes lead to career advancement or higher pay. [25] Pursuing a master’s can increase your knowledge in the subject matter and provide you with tools to succeed in your field.

As public relations degrees are broad professional degrees, they appeal to a wide variety of individuals with educationally diverse backgrounds. Most schools tend to encourage a mix of students from various cross-sections of industry and occupational disciplines, which inspires more interesting class and group work discussions. Ultimately, a diversity of backgrounds and disciplines are welcomed and encouraged to inquire and apply for a master’s in PR.

Most PR programs do not require any prerequisite courses. Students pursuing a master’s degree in PR come from a variety of backgrounds, with the majority of students having a communications undergraduate degree. While not required, it would be beneficial to have some basic foundational knowledge in communications, writing, public speaking, and organization, as those skills are important to workers in the PR field.

In most universities in the United States, the average number of credit hours required to complete a master’s degree program ranges from about 35 to 45. [42] Courses are typically worth three or four credit hours each depending on the university’s system. Assuming that each course taken is worth three credit hours, a typical master’s degree program may require taking 10-15 courses.

The average length of time a student would need to complete the degree while studying full-time is two years. However, some schools offer accelerated or part-time programs. Depending on the number of courses you enroll in during this time, some programs allow flexibility with your curriculum load, meaning you can take longer than two years if required to do so.

Key attributes to look for in an online PR degree include:

  • Accreditation: What accreditation(s) does the program or school hold?
  • Support Network: What support systems are in place to keep you connected with fellow students and faculty?
  • Delivery Method: How flexible is the program, and is it fully online, on-campus, or a hybrid?
  • Learning Experiences: Will the program offer real-world business experiences?
  • Affordability: Can I afford the program?
  • On-Campus Requirements: Are there any requirements for me to attend on-campus workshops or sessions?
  • Reputation: Does the school and program have a good reputation and ranking?
  • Faculty Experience: Are there faculty with a broad array of experience across multiple business disciplines?
  • Specializations/Concentrations Offered: What specializations or concentrations are offered in the program?

There is no particular accreditation required for this program. However, you should ensure that the university at which you study is regionally accredited, as this academic standard tends to be recognized by other schools and/or employers.

Master’s-level programs in public relations will give you the opportunity to hone your skills in a number of key topics, including:

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Organizational
  • Problem-solving
  • Speaking
  • Writing

Whether you will need to complete the GRE prior to applying for a program will largely depend on what school you have chosen. There are many programs that do not require a GRE. Check the admissions requirements for your particular school before applying.

Asynchronous coursework can be completed on your own time — a big plus for many online graduate students who may be working around a busy work schedule or home life. Synchronous coursework has to be completed within a set timeframe. This is typically done for group projects, seminars, presentations, and other learning initiatives that require multiple attendees.

The elements of asynchronous and synchronous learning in your online program depend on the professor and the course. Once you enroll, reach out to teachers for specifics, but remember that the curriculum may be divided into these two subsets.

At most universities, the faculty are not only teachers but are also public relations practitioners with years of experience in their fields. Generally the professors who teach the on-campus courses will be the same ones who teach the online courses, so you can rest assured that you will be getting the same value of education without being in the physical classroom.

Each university will have its own learning management system (LMS) that will enable you to communicate with your fellow students and faculty. [51] These systems generally allow you to chat or send messages directly to classmates and faculty, store and distribute course materials, and submit, collect, and review your graded assignments.

Accreditation helps determine if an institution meets or exceeds the minimum standards of quality set out by recognized regional or national accreditation agencies. A recognized list of regional and national institutional accrediting agencies can be found at the U.S. Department of Education. [43]

Accreditations are a strong indication of quality, but are also required for students who plan to apply for federal financial aid. Accreditation ensures that your degree is recognized by employers, professional associations, and other accredited institutions of higher education.

Yes you can. Online programs tend to be designed to fit around your personal and professional life and often allow you to take what you have learned and apply it directly to your current role. Since you can access most online courses from wherever you have an internet connection, online courses can allow for added flexibility around busy schedules. Although the program is online, you will still be able to communicate with your professors and peers through discussion boards, download course materials, take exams, and submit projects and written assignments without having to set foot in a traditional classroom.

Tuition can vary significantly based on a number of factors. However, a survey of typical Master of Public Relations programs shows the average cost of tuition to be around $40,000.

Generally there are supplementary costs apart from tuition. Tuition does not usually include the cost of books or additional fees. These additional costs will vary from program to program.

The largest provider of student financial aid in the nation is the Federal Student Aid office in the U.S. Department of Education. [44] It supplies college-level or career school students with loans, grants, and work-study funds, as needed. You can apply for federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA. [45]

There are numerous other scholarships available, but you will need to research which opportunities you’re qualified to pursue. Many states, associations, websites, and businesses award scholarships based on specific criteria. Be sure to do your research and apply for any scholarships you’re qualified to be awarded.

Certain individuals who meet the qualifying criteria may be eligible for the federal government’s Loan Forgiveness program. Find out more through the Federal Student Aid office. [46]

What each university requires will vary, but generally, you will be required to submit the following documents with your application:

  • Completed online application
  • Application fee (cost varies)
  • Statement of purpose
  • Resume or CV
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts from all previously attended institutions

While the actual courses will differ from program to program, you can expect to find courses covering the following topics in most PR programs:

  • Writing
  • Research methods
  • Ethics
  • Crisis communication
  • Digital/social media
  • Public speaking
  • Media

With the competencies typically taught in a Master of Public Relations program, graduates will have the opportunity to pursue a wide array of careers related to PR and communications. Some industries in which graduates find employment include:

  • Advertising
  • Business
  • Communications
  • Copywriting
  • Journalism
  • Marketing
  • Public relations
  • Publicity
  • Social media

Competition for public relations jobs is expected to be very strong. Prospective public relations professionals should expect to face tough competition in prestigious organizations or in industries with a large media exposure like entertainment, since these types of jobs tend to draw top talent. The BLS states that employment in public relations is expected to grow 6-7% between 2014 and 2024. [47]

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, the mean wage for public relations specialists was $56,770 [48], while public relations managers averaged $104,140 per year. [49]

No, attaining management/senior positions is not guaranteed through the completion of a master’s degree. These positions often require many years of experience and a significant level of career achievement. However, an advanced degree can help you develop the necessary knowledge and skills required for these positions and also prove your dedication to the field.

Although not mandatory, public relations managers can get certified through the Public Relations Society of America. [50] Candidate qualification is based on years of experience and successful completion of an exam to become certified. Based on their level of knowledge and expertise, they can also obtain a credential from the International Association of Business Communicators.

SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement) applies only to distance education programs in the United States that cross state lines. This agreement is made between member states and establishes comparable postsecondary national standards for distance education courses.

Not every state is a SARA member. Through SARA, member states only have to receive authorization in their home state. Without SARA, non-member states would have to receive authorization in their home state and the state of each of their online students. [52]

Every school has a department or team responsible for online education. This department will be able to answer questions regarding compliance for your home state. Additionally, you can locate the school through SARA (if it is a SARA institution) to confirm compliance.

Networking with one’s fellow PR professionals is extremely important for personal and professional development. Professional societies sponsor conferences, publish journals, and serve as reviewers or editors. They set professional and educational standards and provide job and career services for their members.

If you hope to get involved with professional PR organizations, you may want to consider:

  • Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) [53]
  • Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) [54]
  • The International Public Relations Association (IPRA) [55]
  • The Institute for Public Relations (IPR) [56]
  • The American Communication Association (ACA) [57]
  • The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management (GA) [58]
  • Social Media Association (SMA) [59]
  • National Communication Association [60]