Advertising & Public Relations Degrees: Master, PhD & Online Info

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What will you learn in an advertising and public relations degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of master's and doctoral degrees in the fields and potential careers.
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Studying Advertising and Public Relations: At A Glance

All organizations use some sort of public relations (PR) tools and techniques. Advertising (both print and digital) is one of those tools. Other tools include media relations and coverage, event planning and participating in social media activities. The goal of using these tools is to get people talking positively about the company's product, service or organization, and to have those discussions influence consumers to purchase the item.

With a degree in advertising or public relations, you can pursue work as a copywriter, art director, information architect, graphic designer, account manager or media buyer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of public relations managers and specialists is expected to grow 21% from 2010 to 2020 (

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for?-Individuals seeking career advancement or management positions
-New graduates seeking to advance their studies
-Individuals preparing for Ph.D. studies
-Individuals seeking to teach
-Individuals seeking to work in market research
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary)- Advertising/public relations writers ($56,000)*
- Public relations specialist/account executive ($53,000)**
- Art director ($81,000)**
Information architect/Web designer ($78,000)*
Post-secondary educator ($75,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years (full time)4-6 years (full time)
Common Graduation Requirements
Master's thesis or exam
- Dissertation research
- Teaching or research assistantship
PrerequisitesBachelor's degreeBachelor's or master's degree
Online AvailabilityYesYes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 figures), **O*Net Online (2011 figures).

Master's in Advertising and Public Relations

During your studies in either an advertising or PR master's degree program, you learn techniques for developing a communications strategy, disseminating information using the media and managing communications in a crisis. You will also learn about the relationship between public relations, advertising and marketing, as well as how to integrate a strategy among all three areas.

However, both advertising and PR fall under the category of corporate communications. Because of this, there are degrees in communications that also focus on advertising and public relations. In one of these communications programs, you may be able to concentrate in either or both advertising or public relations.

Pros and Cons


  • Many schools let you combine communications studies with other disciplines to specialize your program. For example, a certificate in gender studies earned in conjunction with your public relations degree can help you specialize in selling to women.
  • Many programs have a thesis or non-thesis option. The thesis option is designed for students interested in pursuing studies after receiving their master's degree.
  • Because these professionals are needed across a variety of industries, a degree in public relations can lead to a career in multiple fields. Therefore, the degree provides you with flexibility in choosing the industry in which you want to work.


  • Advertising and public relations are high-stress fields where your job hinges on creative advertisement ideas. A degree program will not eliminate this stress.
  • A master's degree is not required to work as either an advertising or public relations professional. This means that you will compete against people with bachelor's degrees, and in some cases associate's degrees for the same job.
  • Marketing and statistics courses are often prerequisites to admission to either type of program.

Courses and Requirements

A degree program in public relations includes courses in advertising as well as other communication techniques. Coursework varies based on whether you choose a communications program with a concentration or an advertising or public relations degree program. Regardless of type of program, however, your coursework will include seminars, case studies and hands-on projects. Most program curriculum consist of core classes in:

  • Writing
  • Ethics
  • Critical Thinking
  • Laws and regulations

It is likely that you will also complete a course about research methodology. In a public relations program, you learn about public relations research. In an advertising program, you learn about advertising research.

If you attend a public relations degree program, your studies will focus on public relations and communications strategy as well as crisis management. You will most likely also have the chance to take courses in niche areas of public relations, such as non-profit PR or sports PR. If you pursue studies in advertising, you learn the details of advertising, including advertising strategy and media buying.

Online Degree Options

Online master's degree programs in advertising and public relations are available. In these programs, your coursework is similar to the courses in traditional programs. Typical classes in online programs include public relations management, ethics, writing and social media. Online programs are often designed for working professionals, and part-time programs are common.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Because public relations and advertising are such broad fields, you can stand out against your competitors by embracing the way technology is used to attract and engage customers. According to the BLS, writing jobs in general are expected to decline. However, online publications and services are growing. Therefore, copywriters may be able to find employment in web-based advertising and public relations. To get ahead with your master's degree in either advertising or public relations, consider familiarizing yourself with the differences between writing for the web and writing for print publications. Additionally, try to learn how social media can be incorporated into a corporate communications plan.

Additionally, to get ahead of your competition, you can gain experience by volunteering. Nonprofit organizations are often in need of creative ways to get the word out about their organizations, but have limited staff and small financial resources. By volunteering at a non-profit organization, you will gain hands-on experience in the field. This may not only lead to employment opportunities from the organization, but may also impress potential employers.

Degree Alternatives

If you are interested in what a PR or advertising professional does, but do not feel the degree is right for you, you may want to consider a Web development degree. In a web development career, you apply creative messaging strategies to a Website. In one of these programs you learn many of the same things that you would in an advertising or PR degree program, including writing for the Web and creating advertising campaigns. According to O*Net Online, in 2011 Web developers earned an average salary of about $77,000 a year.

You might also consider earning a degree in graphic design. Graphic designers manage the art for ads and other types of print design and sometimes also act as a Web designer. In future years, the BLS expects graphic designers to take on more marketing responsibilities. In 2010, according to the BLS, graphic designers earned an average annual salary of about $43,000 per year.

Ph.D. in Advertising or Public Relations

A Ph.D. in advertising or public relations is designed for people interested in pursuing a career in academia. Although courses in these programs are primarily focused on either public relations or advertising, it is common for coursework in to also include components of marketing and communications. Therefore, your studies will focus not only on the techniques for selling consumer goods, but can also on how audiences receive messages related to health care, legislation and public policy or education. In general, you will find few programs devoted to advertising or public relations, but Ph.D. programs in corporate or strategic communications are common and also cover similar topics.

Pros and Cons


  • Can enter a Ph.D. program with a bachelor's degree.
  • Programs are usually highly customizable, allowing you to formulate your own research topic as it pertains to advertising and public relations in areas such as public policy, cultural purchasing patterns or economics.
  • Broad range of career opportunities available for graduates. Because public relations, advertising and marketing are interrelated fields, you may be able to apply the knowledge and skills you gained in your degree to a career in any one of those industries.


  • Ph.D. not required for many careers, meaning that you would be competing with bachelor's and master's degree holders for corporate positions.
  • Tenure at universities and colleges is declining. Instead, institutions are hiring more adjunct professors. Obtaining tenure is highly competitive and can take up to seven years.
  • Extensive study time required to obtain degree.

Courses and Requirements

Core courses in these programs cover law, communications theory and research methods. After completing core courses, you can customize your program to focus on advertising or public relations, and integrate other fields, such as gender studies or non-profit policies. In addition, you write a dissertation. Coursework in these programs may include:

  • Global or international public relations
  • Organizational communications
  • Health communications

Online Degree Options

Online Ph.D. programs in advertising or public relations are rare. However, you may find online communications programs that deal with the same topics. These communications programs cover research methods and strategic communications theory.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

To stand out, consider developing your presentation skills. Presentation and other communication skills help you communicate effectively to your audience, which is important when working in an advisory or research capacity. Joining a public speaking organization like Toastmasters will give you an opportunity to practice your public speaking skills.

If you are interested in teaching, consider gaining some experience during your studies. According to the BLS, schools may prefer to hire professors with teaching experience. Even if your school does not require you to complete a teaching assistantship, completing one may make you more attractive to employers.

Other Degrees to Consider

If a Ph.D. in advertising or public relations doesn't seem right for you, you might consider earning a degree in market research. In one of these programs, you learn how to research consumer behavior. According to the BLS, the need for market researchers will increase 41% during the 2010-2020 decade. As of 2010, according to the BLS, market researchers earned an average annual salary of about $60,000.

If you are particularly interested in the part of an advertising or public relations degree program that focuses on why people behave the way they do, you might consider a degree in psychology. According to the BLS, employment of psychologists is expected to grow 22% during 2010-2020. The BLS also reports that, in 2010, psychologists earned an average salary of about $69,000 per year.

Popular Schools

  • Campus and Online Programs
    1. Full Sail University

    Program Options

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

    Program Options

      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Winthrop University

    Program Options

      • Master of Business Administration - Marketing
  • East Lansing, MI

    Michigan State University

  • Boston, MA

    Boston University

  • Towson, MD

    Towson University

Featured Schools

Full Sail University

  • M.S. - Public Relations
  • M.S. - Entertainment Business
  • Master of Fine Arts - Media Design

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American University

  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration

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Winthrop University

  • Master of Business Administration - Marketing

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