Study Public Relations: Masters, Training & Online Degree Info

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Discover details about public relations master's degree programs, the pros and cons of a master's degree and learn about training courses and online degree options.
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Public Relations Master's, Training and Online Degrees at a Glance

Public relations specialists design and maintain the public-facing image of a brand, company or organization on behalf of their employers and/or clients. Typical responsibilities of a public relations specialist include writing press releases and coordinating and responding to media inquiries. Additional duties may include preparing speeches, evaluating and launching branding campaigns and forming grant/fundraising strategies. Senior public relations specialists may observe various trends that affect the public image of an organization and recommend strategies for responding and managing them. Most careers in this field require a bachelor's degree. Senior positions at the director or president level may require an advanced degree.

The BLS expects employment of public relations specialists to grow 23%, which is faster than average, from 2010 to 2020; this is due to increasing needs of organizations maintaining their reputation in a fast-paced, new media age.

Master's
Who is This Degree For? - Individuals with several years of public relations work experience looking for professional development and advancement
- Students with a background in journalism, communications and public relations
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual median salary) - Public relations specialists ($60,400)*
- Public relations managers ($105,700)*
Time to Completion 4-5 semesters of full-time study or 7-10 semesters of part-time study
Common Graduation Requirements - Complete 40-50 credits of academic courses
- Participate in a practicum/internship
- Complete capstone project in final year of study
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree in journalism, communications or marketing
- Work experience is desired
- Application, including personal statement, letter(s) of recommendation, GMAT or GRE scores and application fee
- Admissions interview
Online Availability Yes. Some programs incorporate online classes, while other programs are available entirely online.

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degrees in Public Relations

A master's degree will give students a chance to develop their oral and written communications skills, as they are likely to deal with clients, the public and media on a regular basis. Students will also learn how to stay calm under pressure and solve problems in an efficient, creative manner. While a bachelor's degree is required for most public relations positions, some employers may prefer applicants with a master's degree, particularly for management positions. According to the BLS, in 2010, one-fourth of public relations managers held a master's degree.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Because most public relations careers require a bachelor's degree, you may stand out from the crowd with an advanced degree.
  • If your master's program offers internship courses, you can gain valuable networking experience and even a job offer upon graduation.
  • Employment prospects are promising, as increased new and social media use by organizations is expected to spur the need for public relations specialists.

Cons

  • Experience is an important qualification in public relations. If you attend a master's degree program immediately after undergraduate studies, you may be delaying valuable on-the-job experiences.
  • Master's degrees are not required for many positions. You may be overqualified for entry-level work, particularly if you have less than several years of work experience.
  • Despite a rosy employment outlook, public relations positions are highly competitive.

Common Courses and Requirements

Students can expect a variety of communications and media courses in a public relations master's program. Typical courses may involve crisis communications, project management, communications ethics/law, social/digital media strategies, research methodology and media relations. In addition to academic coursework, students in public relations master's degree programs will need to complete an internship and submit a final capstone project.

Internships are typically secured through an academic institution's approved partner organization. Students work on-site, applying their academic knowledge to solve a public relations problem that an organization is facing. Capstone projects are self-directed research projects, usually completed in the final semesters of study. Students are generally free to select a relevant topic, such as a corporate branding issue affecting a prominent business/industry, and then research, evaluate and propose recommendations in a written report.

Online Degree Options

There are online degree options for students pursuing a master's degree in public relations. Some academic institutions offer a handful of online courses to supplement their traditional on-campus courses, while other programs are entirely online. Typically, an individual course will run for 14 weeks, though some accelerated courses are available. When selecting an online program, ensure that it is part of an accredited academic institution.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Students can stand out from their peers by enrolling in supplemental training and certificate programs. For example, the Public Relations Society of America and the International Association of Business Communicators offer certificate programs that can add noteworthy credentials to a resume. Students can also pursue additional coursework in graphic design, fashion, health/pharmaceutical services or professional services to supplement their skills in a niche market.

Post-Baccalaureate Courses and Training Programs

Most courses and training programs are designed either for students with an undergraduate degree in public relations or those with several years of work experience in public relations. Another group that may be interested in these programs includes PR practitioners who own their own businesses. Post-baccalaureate courses and training programs, often available in a certificate format, follow a similar coursework plan to a master's degree program, though they are often shorter and less-intensive.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • If you are unsure about attending graduate school, certificate courses are a good way to dip your toes in the pool of graduate coursework; you may be able to transfer credits to a graduate program.
  • Courses and training programs are more flexible than a master's degree program, as they are usually shorter and readily available online or in evening classes.
  • The continuing education and specialization that post-baccalaureate courses offer may result in increased career satisfaction, income and opportunity for promotion.

Cons

  • Just as courses and training programs are not as rigorous as a master's degree program, they are also not as prestigious.
  • Continuing education programs, including certificates, may not be as relevant as work experience in the eyes of a hiring manager.
  • If you plan on attending graduate school, you may not want to spend time and money pursuing this type of supplemental training programs.

Common Courses and Requirements

Programs are typically 20-40 credits and may require a baseline grade point average for graduation. Programs generally require 1-1/2 years of part-time study. Typical courses include public relations principles, media relations, social media, press release writing, business ethics, crisis communications and planning and budgeting.

Online Certification Options

Many programs are available in an online format. Students will need to have a computer, along with an updated Web browser. Courses are generally completed through a course management system, where students will communicate with professors and peers.

Stand Out with Continuing Education

The Public Relations Society of America offers an Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential, which is the industry's sole national post-graduate certification program. All APRs must pass an examination and meet certain continuing education requirements, including volunteer work and professional development activities. Upon acceptance into the program, APRs may register for trainings and webinars on the PRSA website.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA: Marketing
      • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
  • Campus and Online Programs
    2. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. - Public Relations
      • M.S. - Entertainment Business
      • Master of Fine Arts - Media Design
      • M.S. - New Media Journalism
  • Online Programs Available
    3. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MA in Communication: Public Relations
      • International MBA in Social Media Marketing
      • MBA in Social Media Marketing
      • MA in Communication
      • MBA in Music Business
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Benedictine University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Accelerated MBA Marketing Management
      • MBA Marketing Management
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Winthrop University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration - Marketing
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Purdue University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Communication
  • Campus and Online Programs
    8. Centenary University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA in Marketing
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Queens University of Charlotte

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication - General
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Integrated Digital Strategy Concentration
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Undecided
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • MBA: Marketing
  • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education

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Full Sail University

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American University

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