Now is a great time to pursue a master’s degree in communications and public relations. The need for organizations to build and maintain their public image will continue to drive growth, and increased use of social media and the need to create positive interactions with clients or customers will consistently add jobs to the market. According to a 2016 report from the BLS, employment of public relations specialists is expected to increase by 9% from 2016 to 2026, which is about average for all occupations. In 2016, the median annual wages for salaried public relations specialists were $58,020, whereas the lowest 10% earned less than $32,090, and the top 10% earned more than $110,560.
A master’s degree in communications or PR can greatly expand your career options in the field. With a limited number of public relations positions in the workforce, competition is fierce. An advanced degree can prove to be a highly valuable tool. More and more people are choosing to pursue degrees online because of the greater flexibility and affordability of online degrees. However, the quality and credibility of online schools and programs can vary widely, so it is important to do a thorough investigation before making a decision about which online master’s program is right for you.
To help you make a decision, we’ve put together a ranking of what we judge to be the best online and distance learning master’s programs in communications, journalism, and PR for 2018. Our online degree rankings are based on several factors: school and program reputation, peer and instructional quality, and overall affordability. Only fully accredited programs were considered for our rankings. If you are not ready for a master’s degree, we also publish rankings for bachelor’s degrees in communication and public relations.
What Are the Best Master’s in Public Relations Online Programs?
Walden UniversityMinneapolis, Minnesota
Featuring coursework grounded in the latest communication practices and theories, the MS in communication prepares you to craft compelling messages for local, national, and global audiences and translate that messaging into different media. Real-world scenarios and projects enable you to learn how to effectively develop, execute, and measure integrated communication strategies using both traditional and innovative channels. The curriculum requires 30 semester credits, three of which comprise the capstone course. Completion of the course will vary based on the student and their individual work-load. Students can expect to spend between $12,000 and $24,000, depending on transferred credits and financial aid. More information can be requested here.
Liberty UniversityLynchburg, Virginia
Liberty Online offers a PR concentration in their Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree program. In addition to the standard MBA core coursework, students in this online degree program must complete courses that include media technologies and communication strategies, communication and conflict, and strategic communication campaigns for the digital age. Tuition for this 45-credit-hour degree program is $495 per credit hour; students can transfer up to 50% of program credit hours from other academic institutions.
Full Sail UniversityWinter Park, Florida
Full Sail University has developed a 12-month master of arts in public relations program, designed to equip students with the knowledge and understanding of traditional PR methods, as well as digital media expertise. This is a project-based program where students work with real clients and are faced with real-world PR challenges. In addition, students are able to showcase their accomplishments on a personal site, allowing them to establish a presence in the PR industry that may help boost their careers.
Southern New Hampshire UniversityHooksett, New Hampshire
SNHU offers up a 12-course master’s in communication program designed for both current public relations professionals as well as those hoping to break into the field. The entire program can be completed in 15 months, with two courses per each 10-week term. Course work is focused on public relations, which includes seven core courses, four specialized courses, and a capstone course. Some courses cover topics including law and ethics, social media practices, leadership communication, and building a brand.
What Is a Degree in Communications?
Communications encompasses journalism, news broadcasting, public relations, and marketing. Most communications programs provide students with the writing and verbal skills they need to be successful in one of these growing fields. Students pursuing an online master’s in communications generally possess strong skills in writing, public speaking, and critical thinking, as well as a general interest in different forms of media.
Students in graduate programs in communications often choose to concentrate their studies within a specific area, such as public relations. Earning an online master’s in communication is a great way to emphasize a specific skill area and field, and ultimately pursue a specialized career.
What Is a Degree in Public Relations?
Professionals in public relations are tasked with maintaining positive relationships between a company, person, or corporation and the public they interact with or serve. This means having strong skills in areas like written and oral communication, as well as planning and organization. Public relations professionals are generally in charge of being the public face of an organization or company, dealing with the media and press releases, and maintaining the overall image of an organization.
Earning a master’s in public relations online will prepare students for leadership positions in the field. These programs synthesize skills from communications fields like journalism, news broadcasting, and public speaking in a curriculum designed to prepare you to be an effective professional in public relations.
Why Earn a Master’s in Public Relations Online?
When making the decision to earn a graduate degree, there are often many factors to take into consideration. If you are a working professional, or caring full time for a family, it may seem like the prospect of earning a graduate degree is too much to take on, or that it would lack the flexibility that you would need to maintain your current lifestyle. However, earning a master’s in public relations online is a great alternative to on-campus options, one that will allow for the flexibility, convenience, and affordability that you need.
…earning a master’s in public relations online is a great alternative to on-campus options, one that will allow for the flexibility, convenience, and affordability that you need.
Online programs are often designed differently than on-campus programs, with some even allowing you to earn credits for work and life experience. Many online programs are also offered asynchronously, which allows learners to complete coursework on their schedules. Students who earn their degree online save money by not having to commute to campus.
What Will I Learn in a Public Relations Master’s Degree Online Program?
Graduate courses are often more specialized and designed to provide you with specific skills that you need to succeed in the field. The courses you take will differ depending on the school you choose, but many online public relations programs will have commonalities. Sample courses for a public relations degree are listed below.
Law and Ethics
Public Relations Writing
Media and Society
Identity and Branding
When pursuing an online communications master’s degree, you will likely have a few different options for customizing your program. Some students choose to earn a master’s degree in communications with a specialization in public relations, but there is also the option to earn a master’s degree in public relations and concentrate in an even more specific area. Concentrations allow you to specialize your degree and focus on a specific subject area. Below are a few examples of potential specializations you may be able to choose from in your online master’s degree in public relations.
- Corporate Communications: A specialization in corporate communications emphasizes the leadership and marketing skills necessary to manage the public relations of a large corporation.
- Digital Communications: This concentration specializes in communications that take place digitally, including web-based media such as social media.
- Nonprofit Public Relations: Nonprofits operate differently than traditional companies and require a special skill set. This concentration prepares students to work in public relations with nonprofit organizations.
- Media Management: Public relations professionals often deal with the media in all of its forms, and this concentration emphasizes the skills necessary to manage these interactions and work with media platforms.
- Sports Communications: Professional sports teams and organizations need public relations specialists with the training and knowledge to manage and handle PR issues specific to sports and athletics.
Accredited Online Master’s in Public Relations Degrees
When researching online communication master’s programs, it’s important to check the school’s accreditation status. Accreditation means that an accrediting agency has determined that the school meets or exceeds certain academic standards. Accreditation is especially important when it comes to transferring credits between institutions and receiving federal aid, as students at non-accredited schools are ineligible to receive aid.
Schools may be regionally or nationally accredited, but regional accreditation is the more common of the two and considered more prestigious. It’s common for regionally accredited institutions to accept credits from schools with the same status, but they do not usually accept credits from nationally accredited schools. While you research online master’s in communication programs, you can use this database from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to check the accreditation status of the programs you are interested in.
Career and Salary Outlook for Master’s in Communications and PR Graduates
Earning an online master’s in communication will prepare you for many careers. The emphasis on skills in oral and written communication, planning and organization, and law and ethics form a solid foundation for careers in areas like public relations, news broadcast, event planning, sales, and advertising and promotion. Communications curricula teach problem solving, writing, and public speaking and engagement skills. These skills make them ideal candidates for careers that may require a good deal of interaction with the public.
Because of the inherent fast-paced nature of many careers in communications and public relations, people in these fields are generally able to handle a good amount of stress and can work under pressure. These careers are diverse and growing. Below, we’ve listed some of the careers for which communications graduates are prepared.
Job Options and Duties for PR Professionals
- Director of Media Relations
While many entry-level jobs in public relations require only a bachelor’s degree, having earned a master’s in public relations online will qualify you to work as a director or head of media relations at a public or private company or firm. These professionals generally oversee a team of other public relations specialists for a company.
- Marketing Manager
Professional marketing managers oversee marketing, promotions, and advertising within a company or corporation. They may lead teams of individuals in each area, and may also be tasked with coordinating projects. These managers must have a keen understanding of the company’s brand and identity to optimize marketing campaign effectiveness.
- Fundraising Manager
These managers are commonly found working for nonprofits. Fundraising managers must be able to work closely with potential donors and be able to effectively and professionally represent their organization and its goals. They may also coordinate and plan fundraising events.
- Corporate Communications Specialist
These communications specialists work within larger corporations, either as part of a team or potentially leading one. They are in charge of handling all types of communications in the firm, including social media, press releases, marketing, and advertising.
Editors work in a variety of capacities, including print publications such as newspapers and books, and digital platforms like websites and blogs. The strong written communication skills you will learn while earning your online communications master’s will prepare you to work as an editor in whichever specialized role suits your career goals.
|Social Media Director||$50,000||$78,000||$93,000||N/A|
|Director of Public Relations||$54,000||$80,000||$98,000||N/A|
|Marketing Communications Director||$52,000||$69,000||$91,000||$100,000|
|Corporate Communications Manager||$66,000||$82,000||$84,000||$87,000|
Professional Organizations for Public Relations Professionals
Professional organizations provide many career opportunities. These organizations offer great resources like networking opportunities, continuing education programs, annual conferences, and career services or job boards. The professional organizations below are great options for those in the public relations field, or those earning an online master’s in communication.
- Public Relations Society of America
The PRSA is the largest professional communications and PR organization. They offer scholarship and funding opportunities, continuing education programs, and access to annual conferences. The society also conducts and shares research.
- International Association of Business Communicators
Intended to serve PR professionals in business communications, the IABC offers a number of valuable resources to its members, including an online magazine, an annual conference, education opportunities, and an awards program.
- National School Public Relations Association
The NSPRA states that its mission is to “advance education through responsible communication.” This organization represents communications specialists based in educational settings, providing a three-day annual seminar, online webinars, a newsletter, and an annual conference.
Financing Your Online Master’s in Public Relations Program
There are plenty of options to fund your online public relations master’s, such as federal financial aid, grants, and scholarships. In order to be eligible to receive federal funding, it’s important to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year you’re in school. There are also a number of scholarships available specifically to students earning their master’s degree in public relations, as well as general funding opportunities that students in any major may apply for.
Scholarships for Public Relations and Communications Students
The scholarships listed below are available specifically to students going into communications and/or public relations programs, including those earning their public relations master’s degree online. The list below offers some more details on these available scholarships, including who is eligible to apply.
AQHA Journalism or Communications Scholarship
Ann Marie Brown Memorial Scholarship
Axia Public Relations Scholarship
Neumeier Family Leadership Award
Chester Burger Scholarship for Excellence in Public Relations
Gary Yoshimura Scholarship
To determine the best online Master’s in Communication and Public Relations programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school’s commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 4 best online Master’s in Communication and Public Relations programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school’s ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category’s ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.