Customer Relations Degrees: MBA, PhD & Online Training Info

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What kind of job can you get with a graduate degree in customer relations? Find out degree requirements, online options and info on courses and customer relations programs.
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Studying Customer Relations: Degrees at a Glance

Customer relations, also referred to as customer service, is the means by which a business interacts with consumers and maintains a customer base. While degrees in this discipline are generally not available at the graduate level, students interested in learning about this topic can attend Master of Business Administration (MBA) and PhD programs in marketing, which typically include instruction in customer relations through coursework or relevant internship opportunities.

These degree programs can qualify you for upper-level careers in a range of fields related to customer relations. You might, for example, become a marketing manager or public relations manager, which are both positions that have steady job prospects in the coming years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected average growth of 14%-16% for these workers from 2010-2020, compared to all occupations; however, entry into these professions is expected to be competitive.

Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in management and other advanced positions related to marketing People who want management positions in marketing or want to work in academia as professors or researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) -Marketing manager ($126,000)*
-Public relations manager ($106,000)*
-Market research analyst ($67,000)*
-Sales manager ($117,000)*
-Survey researcher ($48,000)*
-Career paths for the PhD are similar to those of the MBA, though PhD-holders may have greater advancement opportunities
-Marketing professor ($87,000)*
Time to Completion Two years full-time after the bachelor's 3-5 years after the master's
Common Graduation Requirements -About 11 graduate-level courses
-Culminating project, like a capstone or integrative experience
-Around 5-7 graduate-level courses
-Comprehensive or qualifying exam
-Research paper
-Dissertation proposal
-Dissertation completion and defense
-Teaching component
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Bachelor's or master's degree
Online Availability Yes Available, but uncommon

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

MBA in Marketing

An MBA program in marketing is generally very flexible and allows you to customize your studies around the specific areas of the discipline that interest you. The focus of the curriculum is to teach you to help companies grow their brands, advertise to the right consumer groups and accumulate a solid base of customers. You can expect to gain an understanding of consumer behavior and learn to use that knowledge to manage customer relations efforts for companies and businesses. Some programs allow students to choose dual concentrations; you might, for example, study both marketing and operations management.

Pros and Cons


  • Admission may be open to bachelor's degree-holders of various majors
  • Flexible curriculum allows you to tailor your degree to your interests
  • Broad focus of study can be applied to many areas of business


  • Specific prerequisites are often required to qualify for MBA courses
  • Prior work experience may be required for management positions related to customer relations
  • Some career options do not require a master's degree, so you may be in competition with bachelor's degree holders

Courses and Requirements

An MBA program in marketing often takes two years to complete, and some programs require you to complete prerequisites in topics like accounting and economics before moving on to business administration coursework. You'll generally take a set of core MBA courses in subjects such as research, accounting, finance and management, followed by marketing electives of your choosing. You might choose from topics like:

  • Marketing management
  • Business-to-business marketing
  • Consumer behavior
  • Customer relations
  • Sales strategies
  • Supply chain management
  • Global marketing

Along with providing in-class instruction, these MBA programs often allow for some practical experience. You might, for example, be required to complete an integrative experience or capstone project before graduating. An internship experience in consumer relations is also an option through some programs.

Online Degree Options

MBA degree programs in marketing are widely available online. These distance-learning opportunities can come in the form of hybrid or entirely-online programs, and their curricula have the same goal of teaching you branding and customer relations strategies. Some programs allow you to earn this degree in less than two years.

Stand Out with This Degree

Most marketing and public relations managers have relevant experience in the field before advancing to management positions. To gain such experience, you might take on an entry-level, part-time job as a sales representative, public relations specialist or similar position in the advertising/marketing field. Another viable option is to attend an internship during college; in fact, some MBA programs allow you to take an internship for elective credit. Additionally, during your studies, you may want to take coursework that prepares you for the technological aspects of the career. For example, you may benefit from learning to use graphics, photo imaging and customer-relationship management software.

PhD in Marketing

Like MBAs in marketing, PhD programs in marketing have very flexible curricula and allow you to choose much of your own coursework. In such a program, you can expect to focus on research and methodology pertinent to marketing. These programs are usually geared toward professionals with backgrounds in business or marketing and who intend to teach marketing or another related facet of business at a 4-year university or college; however, a PhD in marketing can also prepare you for advancement in marketing, promotions and advertising positions.

Pros and Cons


  • Small class sizes and close collaboration with instructors
  • Opportunities to get published in industry or academic journals
  • Can qualify you for advanced marketing or teaching positions


  • Admission to marketing PhD programs can be competitive and selective
  • Can take up to five years to complete
  • Often requires completion and defense of a dissertation project

Courses and Requirements

A PhD degree program in marketing generally takes at least three years to complete and has a strong focus on research. Topics of study generally include marketing management, research methodology and buyer behavior. Along with completing in-class coursework and seminars, you'll be required to complete a dissertation project, which involves proposing, presenting and defending your research and writing. You can also expect to complete a teaching component, which involves working as a teaching assistant under the direction of an experienced professor.

Online Degree Options

Select colleges and universities offer online doctoral programs in marketing. Such programs may have the same requirements for completion, including customizable coursework, a comprehensive exam and a dissertation project, and they are geared toward students pursuing careers in teaching or research. Additionally, some traditional, on-campus programs may allow you to complete some of your coursework online and earn your degree in a hybrid format.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you're planning on entering a career in teaching after earning your PhD, you might benefit from taking courses specific to technology commonly used by marketing teachers. For instance, while teaching at a college or university, you might use programs like Blackboard and WebCT to manage classroom activities and assignments. These professors also use spreadsheets and databases on a regular basis.

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