Earning a Master's in Public Relations Online

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The field of public relations, or PR, is dedicated to developing and maintaining a positive public image for individuals, groups, and organizations. PR professionals promote their clients by coordinating interviews and media appearances, writing press releases, and maintaining social media profiles. The core aspects of PR strategy can be seen in high-profile media and sports advertising campaigns, but good PR is vital in all industries.

Candidates for PR positions must be highly organized and adept at approaching problems from different angles. Although a bachelor's degree is sufficient for most entry-level PR positions, an online master's in PR reinforces key competencies and prepares students to advance into senior roles. This guide to online master's in PR programs discusses salary and job growth potential for degree holders, financial aid options, expected coursework requirements, and professional PR organizations.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Public Relations?

Earning a master's in public relations online is suitable for candidates with a bachelor's in PR or a related field who wish to increase their salaries or advance their careers. The flexible format of online learning is also a good match for working professionals with busy schedules. Some employers prefer master's degree holders for certain advanced roles, such as public relations and fundraising managers.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Public Relations?

Pursuing Specialization

Some online PR master's programs allow students to earn specializations in areas such as marketing technology, nonprofit management, and international PR. Specializations typically entail three to five courses on top of the degree's core curriculum. A master's specialization can help recipients stand out from their fellow job seekers when pursuing PR careers in different industries. Alternatively, graduate-level communications or journalism programs commonly offer public relations as a specialization.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Those who graduate with a master's in PR online often qualify for more advanced positions with higher salaries and more day-to-day responsibilities. Top-level positions for master's degree holders may include director of public relations, public relations manager, social media director, and advertising manager. Master's in PR online coursework also equips students with the skills and knowledge needed to address the demands and challenges of their new role.

Online Learning Technology

Today's PR professionals use writing, publishing, and social media platforms to promote their clients and engage with the public. Online PR master's programs incorporate these platforms into assignments and project requirements in order to reinforce student skill-sets. For example, an assignment may ask students to draft a press release for an upcoming event or develop a mock social media campaign using established industry tools.

Prerequisites for Online Public Relations Programs

The admissions requirements for online master's degrees in PR vary by institution. However, some common prerequisites for these programs are listed below.

    • Work Experience: Online PR master's programs rarely require work experience and many accept students coming directly from undergraduate programs. However, those with a background in PR have a stronger working knowledge of different tools and platforms used in the field. An undergraduate internship may substitute for employment history.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Many PR master's degree online programs require applicants to submit GRE scores. Accepted scores vary by school, but typical requirements include minimum scores of 145 in the quantitative portion and 155 in the verbal portion. All GRE scores are valid for five years from the end of the year when the exam was taken. Some schools do not require applicants to submit scores from the GRE or other entrance exams.
    • Coursework: Online PR master's applicants are asked to submit official, sealed undergraduate transcripts. Some schools only admit students who meet minimum GPA requirements, usually 3.0 or higher. Additionally, master's students may need to take prerequisite courses, such as introductory courses in public relations or graduate studies, if they were not taken as part of a bachelor's program.
    • Recommendations: Most master's in PR programs applicants require at least two letters of recommendation. These letters should come from former employers, teachers or professors, volunteer coordinators, and other individuals who can attest to the applicant's skills, abilities, and character. Family members should never write letters of recommendation.
    • Essays: Master's in PR program applications often ask candidates to write an essay or personal statement, typically 500 or fewer words, that discusses their educational and professional goals. Applicants can use this opportunity to showcase their writing skills and their ability to promote themselves, both of which are integral to the PR profession.
    • Interviews: An online master's in PR program may conduct phone or in-person interviews with applicants. Candidates can prep for interviews by reviewing potential questions and rehearsing with a friend. However, this measure is fairly uncommon and most schools evaluate applicants on the strength of their essay, letters of recommendation, and other application details.
    • International Students: Online master's in PR programs require students to submit the same applications regardless of where they were born. Foreign applicants must secure a student visa to legally remain in the U.S. until they graduate and should begin their visa paperwork as soon as they are admitted into the program to ensure they won't miss important deadlines.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Public Relations?

According to PayScale, employees with a master's in public relations earn an average salary of $60,000 per year. However, salary expectations for these degree holders vary by specific job title. For example, public relations and fundraising managers earn a median annual salary of $111,280. The 10th percentile for this occupation makes $61,130, and the 90th percentile earns $155,830. A master's degree in PR, coupled with professional experience, can help job candidates stand out to employers and qualify for higher-paying PR positions. In addition to traditional PR careers, job seekers may also discover lucrative employment opportunities in non-traditional industries.

Traditional Careers for MPR's

Career Stats Description

Public Relations Manager

Median Pay: $111,280

Job Growth: 10%

Whether working independently for a company or as part of a firm or agency, public relations managers are responsible for maintaining and promoting the good reputation of the businesses and people they work for. While this is a full-time, office-based role, PR managers are often expected to be on call 24-7 for crisis management.

Ideal for: Quick thinkers with acute problem-solving capabilities who can handle stress under pressure.

Public Information Officer

Median Pay: $54,384

Job Growth: N/A

Public information officers are essentially PR specialists who represent government agencies and programs. They typically work under mayors, city managers, and other elected officials. Their regular duties often include making public appearances, issuing press releases, overseeing social media activities, and meeting with both government representatives and members of the public.

Ideal for: Organized, dependable workers with strong interpersonal skills.

Marketing Manager

Median Pay: $132,230

Job Growth: 10%

Marketing managers study demand trends and customer demographics in order to effectively market and sell different products. They also work with public relations personnel and other sales staff to determine the best prices for goods and services. Marketing managers also meet with executives to discuss new potential products based on market research. Stress management is key to this job, particularly when deadlines approach.

Ideal for: Analytical minds who are adept at using data to identify patterns, trends and potential values.

Advertising/Promotions Manager

Median Pay: $106,130

Job Growth: 10%

Advertising and promotions managers engage with consumers and the general public to generate positive word of mouth about different goods and services. Some work directly for the organizations that sell these products and others work for advertising firms or agencies that handle promotional campaigns on behalf of clients.

Ideal for: Organized multitaskers who enjoy interacting with the public and can handle hectic deadlines.

Non-Traditional Careers for MPR's

Career Stats Description

Social Media Director

Median Pay: $71,396

Job Growth: N/A

Social media directors use Facebook, Instagram, and other online platforms to cultivate a positive reputation for individuals and organizations. Their top priorities include promoting brand awareness, publicizing upcoming events and promotions, and engaging directly with customers. This role requires a strong background in public relations and social media communication.

Ideal for: Tech-savvy storytellers with sharp communication skills and a strong web presence.

Writer/Author

Median Pay: $61,820

Job Growth: 8%

Writers and authors produce a wide range of content including novels, plays, and other creative works. They also write magazine articles, advertisements, web content, and blogs. Nearly two-thirds of writers and authors are self-employed. Additionally, some handle public relations for private businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Ideal for: Motivated creative professionals with great communication skills and an extensive vocabulary.

Human Resources Manager

Median Pay: $110,120

Job Growth: 9%

Human resources managers oversee their organization's administrative activities and responsibilities. They have a hand in recruiting, screening, and hiring new employees. Other areas they manage include benefits and compensation, conflict resolution, and regulatory compliance.

Ideal for: Ethical leaders who can communicate effectively with different members of an organization.

Market Research Analyst

Median Pay: $63,230

Job Growth: 23%

Market research analysts determine the most effective ways to promote and sell products based on customer demand and buying trends. Their job involves reaching out to consumers with surveys and questionnaires and evaluating respondent data to identify feasible marketing strategies. They may also be asked to produce advertisements, brochures, and press releases.

Ideal for: Detail-oriented researchers who can translate hard data into meaningful, profitable marketing campaigns.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Public Relations

According to U.S. News & World Report, most two-year online master's in PR degrees cost between $14,000-$28,000 in total tuition. Students can potentially save money by enrolling in accelerated programs that can be completed in less than one year in some cases. Additionally, students can mitigate these tuition costs with scholarships and grants aimed at those seeking degrees in PR, communications, and other related fields. Read on to learn more about degree timelines, tuition costs, and financial aid opportunities for PR master's students.

Tuition Timelines

Students can complete most master's in PR online programs within one to two years, though timelines vary by institution. Next we'll look at three possible degree timelines based on student enrollment and program format.

Part-Time Path

Part-time enrollment can benefit master's students with busy work schedules and other commitments. Many part-time master's in PR options are asynchronous, or self-paced, allowing students to complete courses and projects on their own timetable. Two years is typically the minimum completion time for part-time learners.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Marist College
Total Credits Required: 30 credits
Summary: Part-time students can complete this MA program in two years, though they are allotted up to five. Most students take two courses in the fall and spring semesters, plus one course during the summer term. The total tuition cost for this 30-credit program is approximately $24,000.

Full-Time Path

Full-time students can usually earn a master's in PR online within one to two years, depending on their program's credit requirements. Full-time enrollment often saves students money because many schools increase their tuition rates on an annual basis, resulting in higher costs for those who prolong their education.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Southern New Hampshire University
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: This MA in communications with a public relations specialization consists of two courses per 10-week term. Due to the program's asynchronous format, students can earn their degree within 15 months to two years. The total tuition cost for this degree in 2018 is roughly $22,500, though this is subject to change on a yearly basis.

Accelerated Path

Students can usually complete accelerated PR master's degrees in one year or less. Most accelerated pathways feature condensed courses that cover the same key concepts as courses in standard-length programs. An accelerated program can help students save money due to annual increases in tuition costs.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: California Baptist University
Total Credits Required: 33
Summary: The MA in public relations at California Baptist University consists of three 16-week semesters, each divided into two eight-week segments. Students typically take two courses per eight-week term, allowing them to finish the program in one calendar year. Total tuition costs for this degree come to roughly $19,140.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

In addition to general scholarships open to all graduate students, those seeking a master's in public relations online can apply for the following awards that cater specifically toward public relations or related fields of study and skills.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Public Relations Program

According to U.S. News & World Report, most master's in public relations programs consist of 30 to 36 credits and can be completed in two years or less. The curriculum builds on undergraduate coursework with an emphasis on advanced subjects like academic research, PR ethics, and strategic marketing communications. Other course topics such as digital publishing and social media incorporate online platforms into assignments and group work. Many online PR master's programs culminate in a capstone project during which students use research and PR strategy to analyze a problem or issue in the current field.

Timelines & Milestones

Despite slight differences in course titles and other specific requirements, most online master's in PR programs follow the same general timeline. Important milestones for students in these programs are listed below.

  1. Prerequisite Coursework - Early enrollment

    Some master's in PR online programs require students to complete provisional courses before they begin their core coursework. Prerequisites may include foundational PR and media communication courses the student did not take as an undergraduate or introductory graduate studies courses required of all master's students.

  2. Specialization - First year

    Although requirements vary by school, most programs allow students to choose a specialization within the first academic year. Common specializations for PR master's programs include social media marketing and international public relations. Additionally, public relations may be offered as specialization for master's degrees in subjects such as journalism or healthcare administration.

  3. Internship - Second year

    Most master's in PR online programs do not require internships but many offer them as elective courses. An internship can benefit students with a limited professional background in PR, including those who did not complete one as an undergraduate.

  4. Capstone Project - Second year

    In most PR master's online programs, students develop and submit their capstone project during the final two semesters. Capstone requirements vary, but most projects require students to develop strategic PR plans or launch mock advertising campaigns.

  5. Intent to Graduate - Second year

    Most colleges and universities require graduate students to submit their intent to graduate with a master's degree during their second-to-last term, and students must meet with their academic adviser to do so. Failure to meet their school's deadlines may result in delayed graduation.

  6. Certification - Post-graduation

    In addition to a master's in PR, professional certification can strengthen job prospects for public relations professionals. Certifications in this field include the communication management professional (CMP) and strategic communication management professional (SCMP) credentials from the Global Communication Certification Council and the accreditation in public relations (APR) credential from the Public Relations Society of America.

Coursework

Each online master's degree in PR offers a unique curriculum, but some courses are common to most programs. A sampling of courses commonly found in graduate-level PR programs is listed below.

Reputation Management

PR specialists and managers are responsible for cultivating and maintaining a positive image for their clients. This course discusses strategies for managing a client's reputation through public engagement and on-brand messaging.

Social Media Metrics

Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites record metrics related to search trends, page views, and other user data. This course explains how these metrics can be used to evaluate audience interest, inspire promotional campaigns, and drive traffic.

Strategic Marketing Communications

Strategic marketing communications is an umbrella term that includes branding, advertising, direct marketing, and other methods of consumer engagement. This course looks at strategic approaches for nonprofit and for-profit ventures.

Public Relations Writing

The ability to engage and persuade readers is integral to the PR profession. This course demonstrates tactics for writing clearly, concisely, and effectively. Students practice their skills by creating press releases, newsletters, emails, and other PR materials.

PR Ethics

Representing certain clients can lead to ethical dilemmas. This course reviews best-practice standards for guiding relationships between PR professionals, those they represent, and the media and general public.

Certifications

Optional certification opportunities for PR professionals are available. Eligibility criteria for these credentials vary by provider, but most admit candidates based on their academic and professional experience in the PR field. These certifications usually include a mandatory exam as well. Professional certification can help job seekers with a master's in PR stand out to potential employers, negotiate for higher salaries, and advance in their field. Four optional certifications for PR professionals are outlined below.

    • Accreditation in Public Relations: Administered by the Universal Accreditation Board, the APR is a lifetime certification open to PR practitioners and educators. At least five years of professional experience is recommended. Candidates must sit for a certifying exam consisting of 132 scored questions, and the exam fee is $385. APR recipients may maintain their accreditation through continuing education, teaching, and event participation.
    • Accreditation in Public Relations and Military Communications: The APR+M is a hybrid credential emphasizing PR strategy in military public affairs. It is open to active or reserve military personnel as well as civilian employees and military contractors working for the Department of Defense. Candidates sit for the same exam as APR seekers. Those who already have an APR can add military communications to their title for an additional fee of $75.
    • Communication Management Professional: The Global Communication Certification Council (GCCC) administers the CMP which is a certification geared toward mid-level managers in PR and other communication fields. Candidates must have at least six years of experience, two years of education, and 40 training hours. The three-hour qualifying exam consists of multiple-choice questions, and CMP recipients must accrue continuing education credits each year to maintain their certification.
    • Strategic Communication Management Professional: The SCMP, also administered by the GCCC, is designed for senior-level communication professionals. Candidates must have at least 11 years of professional experience and 20 hours of training to qualify. A three-hour, multiple-choice exam is also required. SCMP holders maintain their certification by earning continuing education credits in different professional development categories every year.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Professional organizations offer certifications, online courses, and other continuing education opportunities for certified professionals. Other benefits include access to trade publications and research data, career services and job boards, and in-person networking events. Current students and young professionals can often become members at discounted rates. Prominent organizations and resources serving PR professionals are listed below.

  • Public Relations Society of America: The PRSA represents more than 30,000 PR and communications professionals nationwide. The organization hosts conferences and in-person workshops in different cities throughout the calendar year and offers free webinars to current members.
  • International Association of Business Communicators: The IABC is home to the Global Communication Certification Council (GCCC) certification program that administers the communication management professional (CMP) and strategic communication management professional (SCMP) credentials. Members can also access online training and continuing education opportunities through the online IABC Academy.
  • National School Public Relations Association: The NSPRA provides training and services for communication professionals working at American and Canadian schools. Professional development options for members include in-person seminars, online courses, and web and telephone conferences.
  • National Council for Marketing and Public Relations: The NCMPR is open to marketing, PR, and communications professionals who work for community and technical colleges in the U.S. Members gain free access to on-demand webinars, research materials, and a comprehensive conference library.
  • International Public Relations Association: Established in 1955, this London-based organization offers professional development programs through partner training companies. The IPRA also hosts conferences in different global cities throughout the calendar year.
  • PR Daily: PR Daily publishes a high volume of newsletters and other reading materials related to marketing, social media, media relations, and other areas of PR. Visitors can also access webcasts and interactive training courses.
  • PRWeek: Launched by Haymarket Media in 1998, PRWeek offers a comprehensive listing of news articles, analyses, and editorials. The site features a resource archive containing podcasts, videos, case studies, business reports, and survey results.
  • PR News: In addition to timely news coverage, PR News provides employee training through webinars, workshops, and printed resources. The site also features a job board listing openings for PR professionals across the country.
  • Press Release Templates: This site includes dozens of preformatted templates that PR professionals can use to draft and print press releases. Handy how-to guides are included as well.
  • Beginner's Guide to Social Media: This 12-part tutorial from Moz discusses best practices for platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Other topics addressed include navigating social channels and evaluating different metrics.