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Best online master's in public relations 2022: Top picks

Communication is key. With a public relations master's degree, you're prepared to manage the information exchange between an organization and the public.
Written by Melissa Sartore, Contributor on

Good communications — and good public relations professionals — are indispensable for companies. Earning a public relations master's degree can prepare you to take on new responsibilities and increase your value to employers.

Public relations workers issue statements, manage social media accounts, and interact with print and visual media to craft a positive public image. Public relations professionals also network, mitigate potential problems, and partner with marketing and promotions colleagues. 

A master's degree in public relations like the ones ranked below prepares you for careers in business, politics, education, and nonprofit settings. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 11% growth in employment for public relations specialists by 2030. Public relations and fundraising managers are projected to see even higher growth at 13%

Top 3 online schools for PR master's degrees: Quick facts

College

Program stats

How much?

Florida International University

Miami, FL

  • MS in Mass Communication: Global Strategic Communications
  • Acceptance rate: 58%
  • Graduation rate: 64%
  • Optional grad certificate in conflict resolution and consensus-building

Avg. annual net price: $7,296

Application fee: $30

University of Florida

Gainesville, FL

  • MA in Mass Communication: Public Relations
  • Acceptance rate: 37%
  • Graduation rate: 87%
  • Includes a capstone project in PR and communications management

Avg. annual net price: $6,302

Application fee: $30

Montana State University

Billings, MT

  • MS in Public Relations
  • Acceptance rate: Not publicly available
  • Graduation rate: 33%
  • Designed for students with prior PR or communications experience

Avg. annual net price: $13,844

Application fee: $40

The best online public relations master's degrees

ZDNet's ranking methodology uses curated public data and expert insights to assess the curricular aspects of academic programs. ZDNet's proprietary formula weighs program outcomes alongside information about cost, convenience, and reputation.

Unless otherwise indicated, data is drawn from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and College Scorecard.

1. Florida International University

Miami, Florida

About the program: FIU's 30-credit online master's in mass communication in global strategic communications includes an optional graduate certificate in conflict resolution and consensus-building. 

  • Acceptance rate: 58%
  • Graduation rate: 64%
  • Avg. annual net price: $7,296
  • Years to completion: One
  • GRE/GMAT: Not required
  • Minimum GPA: 3.0
  • Enrollment periods per year: Two
  • Course delivery methods: Online, asynchronous

2. University of Florida

Gainesville, Florida

About the program: UF's 33-credit online master's degree in mass communication with a public relations specialization emphasizes strategic conversation. 

  • Acceptance rate: 37%
  • Graduation rate: 87%
  • Avg. annual net price: $6,302
  • Years to completion: One to two
  • GRE/GMAT: Not required
  • Minimum GPA: 3.0
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery methods: Online, recorded lectures; live office hours

3. Montana State University Billings

Billings, Montana

About the program: MSU Billings comprehensive online master's degree in public relations includes coursework in organizational communication, media criticism, campaign planning, and communication law and ethics. 

  • Acceptance rate: Not publicly available
  • Graduation rate: 33%
  • Avg. annual net price: $13,844
  • Years to completion: 1.5-2 
  • GRE/GMAT: GRE required
  • Minimum GPA: 3.0
  • Enrollment periods per year: Two
  • Course delivery methods: Online, asynchronous

4. Point Park University

Pittsburg, Pennsylvania

About the program: Point Park's online master's in communication technology includes specialization options in applied practices and social media. Thesis and professional tracks are available.

  • Acceptance rate: 73%
  • Graduation rate: 51%
  • Avg. annual net price: $21,470
  • Years to completion: Two
  • GRE/GMAT: GRE required for GPAs under 2.75
  • Minimum GPA: 2.75
  • Enrollment periods per year: Six
  • Course delivery methods: Online, asynchronous

5. Franklin University

Columbus, Ohio

About the program: Franklin's online master's degree in marketing and communication emphasizes research, creative concepts, and communication strategies through 36 credit hours of coursework.

  • Acceptance rate: Not publicly available
  • Graduation rate: 34%
  • Avg. annual net price: $12,895
  • Years to completion: One to two years
  • GRE/GMAT: Not required
  • Minimum GPA: 2.75
  • Enrollment periods per year: Two
  • Course delivery methods: Online, asynchronous

What to expect in an online public relations master's degree program

Most public relations master's degrees include two years of coursework and requirements, although an online option may offer an accelerated schedule. 

Classes emphasize communications, marketing, and strategic thinking. You'll take foundational courses in communication theory and research, storytelling in media relations, and applied critical thinking in communication to establish the foundations for advanced coursework. 

Advanced topics such as public relations writing, media channels and technology, and ethics in public relations precede a portfolio, research-based project, or practical requirement. 

Some public relations master's programs let you customize your degree with an optional concentration. Options include corporate communication, advertising and marketing, diplomacy, and fundraising.

As a degree that emphasizes verbal and written communication, a master's in public relations brings you into conversation with classmates and faculty alike. Active participation helps you prepare for a leadership role in PR. 

Public relations master's courses

In most public relations master's programs, courses in public relations principles, communication theory, public relations tools and technologies, and research set the foundations for advanced classes.

Curricula typically include marketing, advertising, fundraising, and crisis management courses. Many public relations master's degrees culminate in a thesis or capstone project.

Principles of public relations

This course introduces students to the value of public relations alongside the field's core concepts and practices. Topics include audience analysis and persuasion, written and spoken communication guidelines, global public relations, and crisis management.

Communication theory

Communication theory coursework explores interpersonal, group and organizational, and public and mass communication theories. Students apply these theories while developing critical thinking, analytical, and writing skills. 

Public relations tools and technologies

This class emphasizes effective, flexible, and appropriate use of PR tools. Coursework covers PR technology history, current tools and techniques, and new directions in the field.

Communication research

Communication research coursework introduces students to qualitative and quantitative research practices and their ethical considerations. Topics include survey research, the logic of sampling, ethnographic design, and qualitative data analysis and application.

Public relations degree levels

Different public relations degrees accommodate students at various stages of their education and careers. Undergraduate certificates and degrees provide foundational information needed for entry-level positions in public relations. Graduate programs help PR professionals advance.

Certificate in public relations

Length: One to two years

Cost: $500-$2,000

Post-grad careers: Public relations assistant, communication specialist, media liaison

An undergraduate certificate in public relations introduces you to communication, marketing, and information technology, while a graduate certificate supplements previous training and builds expertise in public relations. 

Coursework includes strategic social media communication, public relations writing, and public relations principles. Through one to two years of coursework, you gain essential skills to develop marketing campaigns, optimize social media presence, and manage communication crises and challenges. 

Associate in public relations

Length: Two years

Cost: $3,000-$22,000

Post-grad careers: Public relations associate, social media marketer, fundraising assistant 

An associate degree in public relations includes roughly two years of coursework. Classes in written and verbal communication accompany courses in media relations, marketing and social networking, news writing, and advertising principles. Additional coursework in diversity and media, public speaking, and media and society may accompany a practicum or internship requirement. 

Many public relations associate programs include electives geared toward a specific industry. Options include human relations in business, healthcare and public relations, and marketing and advertising.

Bachelor's in public relations

Length: Four years

Cost: $14,000-$120,000

Post-grad careers: Public relations specialist, public information officer, marketing coordinator 

This public relations degree typically includes four years of general education coursework, major classes, and internship or practicum requirements. The comprehensive curriculum emphasizes strategic communication while training you to write, research, and speak as a public relations professional. 

Courses in public relations theory, social media, and media law and ethics accompany public relations campaign development and marketing classes. Students may build a portfolio to show potential employers as a capstone. 

Master's in public relations

Length: Two years

Cost: $16,000-$60,000

Post-grad careers: Media relations director, public relations manager, corporate spokesperson

A master's in public relations may be a master of arts, a master of science, or an MBA with a concentration in public relations. All three programs include foundational coursework in strategic communication, communication research, and public relations principles, although the latter emphasizes business.

Public relations master's degrees blend research classes with courses like social media, web design, and crisis management. Many master's degrees include opportunities to complete an internship, culminating project, or research-based thesis. 

Doctorate in public relations

Length: Three to five years

Cost: $15,000-$90,000

Post-grad careers: Chief information officer, public relations director, university instructor

Emphasizing theory and strategy, a doctorate in public relations integrates research coursework with classes in communication. Courses in communication technology and society, interpersonal communication, rhetoric, and leadership in communication precede comprehensive exams and a dissertation proposal. 

Students then complete and defend a thoroughly researched doctoral dissertation on their chosen public relations topic.

In conclusion

A degree in public relations blends communication, business, and information technology coursework to train you for an exciting career in the ever-changing world of information exchange. 

Finding the right public relations program for you takes time and research. If one of these programs interests you, reach out to the school to learn more.

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