Public Relations Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Course Info

About this article
What kind of job can you get with a degree in public relations? Find out about associate's and bachelor's degree program requirements, online options and info on courses and employment opportunities.
View available schools

Studying Public Relations: Degrees at a Glance

The Internet has created a fast-paced environment for public relations (PR) professionals. News spreads quickly and public opinion can change rapidly; PR specialists must be able to react accordingly to maintain a positive image of their companies and clients. Since news can break at almost any hour, many PR professionals find themselves working irregular hours and more than 40 hours a week. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment of public relations (PR) specialists to grow 23% from 2010 to 2020, and employment of PR managers to grow 16% for the same time period (www.bls.gov).

A bachelor's degree is required for most entry-level PR positions. However, if you are able to obtain work experience, you may be able to find employment after earning an associate's degree. With an associate's degree, though, advancement opportunities may be limited.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want an introduction to PR or who might want to transfer to a 4-year degree program Individuals who want to prepare for entry-level PR positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - PR specialist ($53,200)*
- Communications representative ($47,500)**
- Media planner - requires 2-4 years of experience ($48,700)**
- PR manager - could require at least 7 years of experience ($85,900)**
- Social media analyst - requires 2-4 years of experience ($49,700)**
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent - High school diploma or equivalent
- College entrance exam
Online Availability Rare, but similar degree programs are available Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (May 2012 figures)

Associate's Degree in PR

The curriculum of an associate's degree PR or communications program consists of two years of general education courses as well as entry-level classes in various PR subjects. In one of these programs, you learn how to communicate with media outlets, craft messaging and advertising copy, write press releases, and be an effective public speaker.

Some associate's programs prepare students to enter the workforce. These programs generally have more technical classes and coursework pertaining directly to PR. However, because a bachelor's degree is often required for an entry-level PR job, many associate's degree programs prepare students to transfer to a 4-year bachelor's degree program. These programs aim to fulfill most of the general education requirements necessary for a bachelor's degree, while also including entry-level prerequisites for completing advanced PR coursework.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • If you are transferring to a 4-year degree program, you will have many prerequisites completed and will be prepared to begin advanced coursework
  • Leads to a career in a growing field with a variety of employment opportunities.
  • Tuition is often lower for associate's degree programs than for bachelor's degree programs, meaning that an associate's degree program can be a cost-effective way of completing prerequisites and general education courses before transferring to a 4-year degree program

Cons

  • You will likely be competing for employment with individuals with bachelor's degrees
  • Opportunities for career advancement may be limited
  • May not provide internship opportunities unless you seek it out yourself outside the program's curriculum

Courses and Requirements

Coursework in these programs varies depending on whether it is designed to prepare you to transfer to a 4-year program or to directly enter the workforce. Some course topics that are common to both types of programs include:

  • Public speaking
  • Mass media/mass communication
  • News writing
  • PR techniques
  • Intro to advertising and promotions
  • Cross-cultural communication

Most programs also require courses in math, economics, humanities and social sciences. Some require a field experience or internship, but this is not a common requirement.

Online Degree Options

Online associate's degree PR programs are rare. If you would like to attend an online program, you may consider one in a related field, such as marketing or advertising. These programs include coursework in topics similar to those included in PR program, such as consumer behavior, communications and promotions. You would also complete general education requirements and prerequisites that could help you transfer to a 4-year bachelor's degree program.

Stand Out With This Degree

An internship is not usually required by an associate's degree program. However, completing an internship gives you hands-on experience working in the field. Many PR skills are learned on the job, so having hands-on experience may make you a more valuable employment candidate.

To stand out with the degree, however, consider completing courses that cover PR techniques as they pertain to digital media. The Internet and television have changed the way PR professionals perform their job tasks. Being knowledgeable about how to handle PR on digital media modes may make you more attractive to employers.

Bachelor's Degree in PR

Many PR bachelor's degree program curriculum include courses that are didactic rather than hands-on in nature. Many programs emphasize working with print and broadcast media, while others may offer one or two courses on using online media modes.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Graduate with a degree that required for many entry-level PR positions
  • Degree leads to a career in a fast-growing field
  • Programs expose you to all areas of PR and may even offer you the option to specialize in a specific topic, thereby giving you a strong foundation in all aspects of PR and possibly a way to stand out against your competition through a specialization

Cons

  • Many programs do not include hands-on learning experiences, so you may have to seek these out yourself
  • Requires greater time and financial commitments than associate's degree programs
  • May need a master's degree to advance in a PR career

Courses and Requirements

Courses completed during the first two years of study of a bachelor's degree program are usually the same as or very similar to those completed in an associate's degree program. Some programs may require that you complete an internship or capstone experience during your final year of study. However, courses in the last two years of study delve into more advanced PR topics.

Common courses in a bachelor's degree program include:

  • Media management
  • Advanced PR techniques
  • Media law
  • Media ethics
  • Media research

Online Degree Options

Online PR bachelor's degree programs are widely available. The coursework in these programs can be completed entirely online, and course requirements are similar to those of on-campus programs. Note, however, that you may need to supplement your online studies with in-person work experience to help you better prepare for the job market.

Get Ahead With This Degree

The BLS predicts that some of the growth expected in the PR field will come from the increased importance of social media and Internet-based news outlets. Understanding how these new media tools affect PR will be essential to succeeding as a PR specialist. Therefore, you may want to seek out coursework or an internship that focuses on Internet-based media.

After gaining some experience in the field, you may want to consider applying for professional accreditation through the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). The examination to qualify for accreditation tests key competency areas necessary for success in PR, and passing the exam demonstrates your professional development. The PRSA also offers resources, such as conferences, training and online seminars, that help you continue to develop your skills.

Popular Schools

  • Campus and Online Programs
    1. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S. - Media Communications
      • B.S. - Music Business
      • B.S. - Sports Marketing and Media
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Marketing
      • BS - Communication
  • Campus and Online Programs
    3. Centenary University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Business Administration - Social Media Marketing
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS Human Communications
      • B.S. General Studies - Communication
      • B.S. General Studies - Marketing
      • B.S. Communications
      • B.S. Marketing - Social Media
      • B.S. Marketing - Analytics
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Excelsior College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BA in Humanities (Communication Studies)
      • BS in Business (Marketing)
      • BS in National Security (Diplomacy/International Relations)
      • BS in Social Sciences (International Relations)
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Marketing
      • BA in Communication
      • BS in Business Studies - Marketing
      • BS in Marketing - Social Media Marketing
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Marketing
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Business Administration - Marketing
      • BS - Business Administration - Digital Marketing

Featured Schools

Full Sail University

  • B.S. - Media Communications
  • B.S. - Music Business
  • B.S. - Sports Marketing and Media

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • BS - Marketing
  • BS - Communication

What is your highest level of education?

Centenary University

  • BS in Business Administration - Social Media Marketing

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • BS Human Communications
  • B.S. General Studies - Communication
  • B.S. General Studies - Marketing

What is your highest level of education?

Excelsior College

  • BA in Humanities (Communication Studies)
  • BS in Business (Marketing)
  • BS in National Security (Diplomacy/International Relations)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • BS in Marketing
  • BA in Communication
  • BS in Business Studies - Marketing

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • BS in Marketing

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • BS - Business Administration - Marketing
  • BS - Business Administration - Digital Marketing

Are you a US citizen?