Are you the kind of person who can simultaneously envision the big picture while juggling the day-to-day? Are you a people person who thrives on challenge? Finally, are you driven by creativity and innovation as much as you are by analysis and data? Then a career as a Public Relations specialist may be an ideal fit for you!
PR managers are in high demand, as they are needed in most fields and industries to help craft company vision, implement branding tactics, and analyze customer response. In the next few years it is estimated that PR jobs will jump up by 6 percent, with at least 15k new jobs opening up. And while those with just a bachelor’s degree can find work in public relations, those with master’s degrees are much more likely to land managing roles, making on average 51k a year.
Not only are public relations jobs stable, in demand, and high-paying, but they’re versatile. So, even if you begin your career in the corporate office, navigating customer and company demands, you will find you can translate that experience to a range of other industries, such as nonprofit work, health care administration, and education. The possibilities for PR managers is illimitable.
What are the Best Online Master’s in Public Relations Degrees?
Below are the most elite communications and public relations programs in the country. They are housed in large, research universities and small, interdisciplinary liberal arts college alike. And while some of these programs emphasize international communications and others media relations, they each share one thing in common: they are the best at training leaders in public relations, management, and strategic communication.
We looked at the academic reputation of every school offering an online MA or MS in Public Relations degree then refined those schools to include credit hour cost, retention rate (a marker of student satisfaction), and early annual salary of graduates. What we arrived at is a list that reflects the most academically rigorous programs in the country that are also, simultaneously, some of the most affordable, and those that ensure vocationally success after graduation. Our figures and information come from the university and colleges’ websites, PayScale, and nationally recognized U.S. News & World Report and The National Center for Education Statistics.
Johns Hopkins University
College Choice Score: 100
Credit Hour Cost: $4,007
Though not really needing an introduction, as Johns Hopkins University (JHU) is renowned in many ways and has been for decades, it’s worth reiterating JHU’s major contributions to research, especially in the areas of business, medicine, and engineering, and with a campus comprised of dozens of renowned research facilities and centers. JHU is home to around 5k undergraduates and 15k graduate students.
Though not technically a degree in public relations, the online MA in Communications program at Johns Hopkins offers a concentration in public relations that gives students all the same skills and knowledge they’ll need to find careers in advertising, business, promotions, or sales. Regarding the cost, don’t let that scare you: this number represents the cost per unit (as opposed to credit). While most master’s programs require around thirty credits, JHU requires ten units. So the price for this rewarding, renowned degree isn’t much different than other schools, on our list and elsewhere. Some of those ten units include courses on:
- Research and Writing Methodology
- Introduction to the Digital Ages
- Theory of Mass Communications
- Qualitative Research
- Public Relations Writing
- Media Relations
- International Public Relations
- And more
Forbes ranks Johns Hopkins University in 66th place among all national universities and colleges, while U.S. News & World Report includes JHU among the top ten best schools in the nation. Likewise, ARWU, Washington Monthly, and Times Higher Education, among many others, place JHU among the top twenty schools in the entire world.
College Choice Score: 96
Credit Hour Cost: $1,263
An elite research university located in the nation’s capital, Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic affiliated institution of higher education in the U.S. (though, of course, it has operated independently of the church for many years). Georgetown has earned a reputation for its unique student-centered research initiatives, which have made huge contributions in a number of fields, from theology to the development of the HPV vaccine.
The online public relations program at Georgetown is four-fold in its approach: it equally emphasizes strategy and critical thinking as well as compelling writing and storytelling, and its curriculum is both practical, with applied learning, and informed by the industry. So, at Georgetown you can expect a master’s degree that equips you to understand emerging trends as much as it helps you develop your sense of creativity. Core courses include:
- Conversations in Ethics
- Elements of Communication Planning
- Communications Research
- Public Relations Writing
- And a capstone project
Georgetown University is globally and nationally ranked by ARWU, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Washington Monthly, Times Higher Education, and The Princeton Review, among others.
University of Southern California
College Choice Score: 95.25
Credit Hour Cost: $1,666
The University of Southern California (USC) is located in Los Angeles and has a large student population of over 40k, over half of whom are graduate students. It is a research university (the oldest in the state) and is known for producing some of the country’s best, most successful engineers, entrepreneurs, and academics.
The online Master of Communication Management degree at the University of Southern California helps students investigate both the societal and psychological influences of marketing, public relations, and global business practice. This is an ideal program for those who want a degree in PR that will prepare them to be successful managers and leaders. Offered fully online, this degree is thirty-two credit hours of classes covering:
- Managing Communications
- Strategic Corporate Communication
- Online Marketing
- Global Marketing Communication
- Audience Analysis
- Communication, Attitudes, Values, and Behaviors
Across ranking agencies—from The Princeton Review to Forbes, U.S. News, and Reuters—USC is considered among the top twenty-five best universities in the country. The school is comprised of dozens of Nobel Laureates, Rhodes Scholars, MacArthur Fellows, National Medal of Arts winners, Fulbright Scholars, and more.
College Choice Score: 94.5
Credit Hour Cost: $800
If you’re looking for a smaller school with a liberal arts education platform, Marist College may be for you. Located in the Hudson River Valley, in the town of Poughkeepsie, Marist has approximately 7k combined undergraduates and graduate students enrolled in one of their seventy-five academic degree programs.
Through Marist’s Integrated Marketing Communication master’s degree students learn how to analyze business and organizational objectives and turn them into public relations strategies. They also learn how to articulate the role of public relations in relation to a company’s vision, how to build a successful public relations campaign, and how to implement that strategy through intentional goal setting. This program is 100 percent online and allows students to continue working full time while earning the degree. A sampling of classes includes:
- Advertising Management
- Public Relations Management
- Social Media Strategies and Tactics
- Mobile Marketing
- Brand Management
- Global Consumer Insights
- And more
Marist is consistently recognized by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best College.” Forbes and Kiplinger’s have also praised Marist, for its community focus and affordability, respectively.
College Choice Score: 93
Credit Hour Cost: $910
Quinnipiac University is a smaller school (with around 9k students) that offers a diversity of degrees in education, communication, business, engineering, health science, law, medicine, and nursing. Quinnipiac is a private university located in North Haven, Connecticut with two other locations in Mount Carmel and Hamden.
Offered through the School of Communications, the online MS in Public Relations degree at Quinnipiac gives students access to the evolving fields of public relations, digital marketing, and social media. This is a thirty-six credit hour degree covering public relations management, global strategy, reputation management, strategic public relations writing, crisis communications, and more. Graduates are fully prepared to sit for the Accreditation in Public Relations exam from the Public Relations Society of America, and they also have the opportunity to further specialize through elective offerings, among them:
- Social Media Concepts and Practices
- Community Management
- Strategic Planning
- Project Planning
- Investor Relations
- Health and Strategic Communications
In addition to its many academic accolades, Quinnipiac is perhaps best known for its polling institute. The Quinnipiac Polling Institute has earned national recognition for independent, public opinion polls on politics and public policy, and it is considered among the most credible polling resources in the country.
College Choice Score: 92.5
Credit Hour Cost: $846
Ithaca College is primarily an undergraduate school, with around 7k students, but it also offers a number of master’s degrees—both on campus and online—to around 500 graduate students. Ithaca is a private, liberal arts school with satellite campuses in LA, DC, and New York City. It was originally founded as a music conservatory, but now proffers degrees in over a hundred areas.
Through Ithaca College’s renowned communications school you can earn a MS in Communications Innovation that helps you master the elements of information and story design. Much like a degree in PR, this degree emphasizes innovative communications, navigating media, and global leadership. One thing to note about the Ithaca program is that it does require some visits to the New York campus. But classes, such as those below, and course work can be fully completed online:
- Innovation and Collaboration
- Emerging Media
- Ethics of the Media
- Government Regulation of Communications
- Audience Research Tools and Sources
- Consumer Behavior: Theory and Application
As a whole, Ithaca College is regionally ranked sixth by U.S. News & World Report, with similar praise given by Forbes, The Princeton Review, and Washington Monthly. Of the all the departments and discrete schools that comprise Ithaca College, the Roy H. Park School of Communications is an internationally recognized communications school. Graduates have gone one to work for major media companies, such as NPR, ESPN, The New York Times, CNN, and NBC.
University of Florida
College Choice Score: 91.75
Credit Hour Cost: $552
The University of Florida (UF) is primarily located in Gainesville and is known for its research contributions, including its efforts to promote sustainability. UF is home to one of the nation’s oldest and most renowned natural history museums and is a member of the State University System of Florida and the Association of American Universities.
UF offers an online Master of Arts in Mass Communication degree with specialization in Public Relations. This two-year degree is broken into twelve-week semesters, with three semesters each year, all of which can be completed online, through recorded lectures and coursework. This is a thirty-hour degree that requires a capstone project on public relations. UF boasts an employment rate of 97 percent for its graduates, who have found jobs as:
- Event Coordinators
- Global Communications Managers
- Media Relations Managers
- Public Relations Directors
- Crisis Management Agents
- Market Research Analysts
The University of Florida is nationally and globally ranked by Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, and Times Higher Education, among others, for its academic standing as well as its affordability. Similarly, many of UF’s programs and departments ranked among the best in the country, including its aerosciences, ecology, engineering, medicine, agricultural science programs.
College Choice Score: 87.5
Credit Hour Cost: $731
Part of the Big Ten Conference, Purdue University is an elite, public research university located in West Lafayette, Indiana. With nearly three hundred academic programs across all degree levels, and 40k enrolled students, Purdue is one of the largest universities in Indiana and the Midwest.
Like several other programs on our ranking, Purdue offers an online MS in Communications degree that can be paired with a specialization in public relations. This program emphasizes branding and vision across international, national, and local outlets while teaching students how to apply ethical principles to decision making, how to consider audience interest, and how to refine public relations writing. This program can be completed fully online and in as few as twenty months. Courses include:
- Strategic Communication and Professional Writing
- Financial and Investor Relations
- Strategic Public Relations
- Crisis Communication
- Global Communications
- And more
With LEED-certified buildings, a sustainability council, and several research labs and facilities, Purdue’s commitment to sustainability and innovation is clear. Purdue is ranked 60th (by U.S. News & World Report) in the nation among all colleges and universities, and it was recently ranked 63rd best university in the world by the Academic Ranking of World Universities.
College Choice Score: 85.75
Credit Hour Cost: $780
Located in Webster Groves, Missouri, Webster University is a private university with over 20k undergraduate and graduate students. It specializes in business, technology, communications, and education degrees, though it offers an array of programs across the sciences and arts. Students from all over the country, and even the world (representing over 140 countries) attend Webster.
Webster University offers a full MA in Public Relations degree that can be earned online. This thirty-six hour program combines practical applications with industry theory to give students insights into the global perspectives, ethical frameworks, and emerging trends of public relations work. In addition to the core courses covering media communications, PR writing, international communications, and media research, Webster students have the opportunity to take some unique elective courses, among them:
- Written Storytelling
- Multinational Public Relations
- Crisis Management Communications
- Communication Strategies for Nonprofit Organizations
- PR for Public Affairs and Government Relations
- PR for Investors and Financial Stakeholders
- And more
While perhaps most universities and colleges are quick to boast about their athletic programs, divisions, and rankings, Webster University has the unique privilege of claiming the top ranking in Division 1 College Chess.
George Washington University
College Choice Score: 85
Credit Hour Cost: $1,655
Located in the nation’s capital, George Washington University (GWU) is a private, research university comprised of over a dozen colleges and schools, among them the renowned School of Media and Public Affairs. Around 28k students attend GWU, over half of whom are postgraduates. GWU is an elite research school ranked among the top in the nation for its research funding, expenditure, and facilities.
For those looking for a PR degree that is on the frontier of new media strategy, the Master of Professional Studies in Strategic Public Relations degree at George Washington University may be an ideal fit. While this online program is steeped in the foundations of communication strategy, it emphasizes the importance of understanding new trends. Thus, students practice critical strategy as much as they do adaptability. So whether you want to bring your PR expertise to corporate, non-profit, political, or entertainment industries, this degree from GWU can help you get there through a curriculum covering:
- Media Relations in the New Media World
- Ethical Standards in PR and Public Affairs
- Sustainability Communication Strategies
- Political Socialization and Public Opinion
- Finance and Management for PR Professionals
- Applied Public Relations and Public Affairs Research
- And more
In addition to being well-ranked by U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Washington Monthly, and ARWU, The Princeton Review regularly counts George Washington University among the top ten universities in several unique categories: most politically active, best college town, best in the Northeast, best study abroad programming, and more.
College Choice Score: 84.5
Credit Hour Cost: $567
Located just west of Jackson in Clinton, Mississippi College (MC) is a Christian university of 5k students. It is affiliated with the Baptist church and is both the oldest college and largest private school in the state. Among its academic programming, MC emphasizes and encourages public service in its students and faculty, who, on average, complete over 45k hours of service each year.
This unique, online PR degree from Mississippi College is unlike any other. For those who want to work solely in the medical industry, this Master’s of Professional Communication in Health Services Administration degree will be an ideal fit. Offered through MC’s Department of Communication, this is a public relations program that will equip you to create and articulate policies, direct and communicate hospital services, and generally serve a spokesperson for any and all healthcare organizations. In addition to taking half your credits on courses covering public relations, communication research, the process and effects of communication, and persuasion, you will also take the following to complete your degree:
- Contemporary Issues in Healthcare
- Organizational Behavior in Healthcare Administration
- Legal Aspects of Healthcare Administration
- Health Services Administration
Many of Mississippi College’s schools and departments are widely praised. For example, its School of Business has earned the prestigious AACSB accreditation, and its law and medical schools operate in Jackson, providing students with top-notch graduate and doctoral degrees.
College Choice Score: 78.5
Credit Hour Cost: $1,642
Another DC-based school, American University is a private, research school university of half a dozen schools and colleges, in international services, arts and sciences, business, communication, professional studies, public affairs, and law.
American offers an online Master’s in Strategic Communications degree that has been ranked by PRWeek as among the top five best PR programs in the nation. Not only this, but American also offers merit scholarships in the amount of $3,000, $5,000, and even $10,000, making this not only one of the best graduate PR programs in the country, but one of the more affordable too. This program teaches students how to create impressive communication campaigns based on research and analysis, how to write strategically, how to understand the many print and digital media channels, and how to cultivate the creativity and innovation needed for success. Courses include, but are not limited to:
- International Strategic Communication
- Crisis Communication
- Theory and Analysis
- Social Media Strategies and Tactics
- And more
U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks American University among the top 100 best schools in the nation, as do Forbes, Washington Monthly, and others. The Princeton Review named it one of the most politically active schools in the country, while the Fiske Guide to Colleges ranked it as an affordable option relative to the standard of education.
University of Wisconsin–Stout
College Choice Score: 78
Credit Hour Cost: $525
A member of the renowned University of Wisconsin System, the Stout branch is a mid-sized university located in Menomonie. It is considered a polytechnic school that provides professional training in technology, applied art, communications education, engineering, hospitality, management, and the health sciences. Just under 10k students attend UW Stout.
At an affordable rate and through a flexible, online format, you can earn a MS in Technical and Professional Communications degree that specifically trains individuals who want to implement successful PR strategies, campaigns, and tactics in a technological industry. This distinctive program allows students to specialize even further by combining the program with certification, in either communicating with emerging media or improving user experience. This is a two-year program comprised of classes on:
- User-Centered Design
- Visual Rhetoric
- Project Management
- Communicating in Multilingual Environments
- Speech Communications
- And more
The Stout campus is pocked with a number of research facilities, an impressive display considering the school’s relative size. Among them is the Center for Applied Ethics, the Assistive Technology and Assessment Center, the Center for Learning Technologies, the Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute, and more.
University of Denver
College Choice Score: 77.5
Credit Hour Cost: $660
The University of Denver (UD) has around 10k combined undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in one of its many colleges and schools, and it is also home to numerous research institutes and centers, interdisciplinary programs, performing arts theaters, athletic programs, lecture series, and more.
Through the University of Denver’s Master’s in Public Relations online degree you will learn how to utilize mass media outlets, leverage social media platforms, create unique and quality content, and connect with diverse constituents. This program cultivates in its students a sturdy foundation in communications principles, but then allows students to explore the areas and interests they’re most passionate about, whether that’s digital media or intercultural communications or marketing analysis. Graduates have gone on to become:
- PR Managers
- PR Specialists
- Brand Managers
- Communication Directors
- And Consultants
The University of Denver is known for its innovative Emergent Digital Practices program, which brings together students, faculty, and pedagogy in a collaborative space that promotes the integration of art, design, media, culture, and technology. UD is also well-ranked nationally and globally in many of its departments and programs.
College Choice Score: 75.5
Credit Hour Cost: $1,228
Drexel University, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a private, research university that provides over seventy “traditional,” on-campus degrees as well as over 100 online degrees. Though many of these programs fall under the arts, sciences, medicines, etc., Drexel University has a long history of providing superior education in the areas of tech, economics, and engineering.
At Drexel University you can expect to to graduate with a representative portfolio, a six month internship under your belt, hands-on experience, and specialization that will set you apart in the work force. This MA in Communications degree is fully online and comes with a public communications concentration that trains you on the fundamentals of deft public relations strategy while introducing you to the newest trends in the industry. Students in this specialization take a number of core courses then a number of electives in the following:
- Event Planning
- Investigative Journalism
- Grant Writing
- Strategic Social Media Communication
- Public Relations Planning
- Among many others
Drexel is well ranked by an array of publications, such as Businessweek, U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and Times Higher Education. It has also earned praise for its cooperative education program, the oldest and largest in the country, and for being one of the first universities to provide online and distance degree programs, back in 1996.
Washington State University
College Choice Score: 72.25
Credit Hour Cost: $587
Washington State University (known as Wazzu) is located in Pullman and is a land-grant university known for its agriculture, food science, veterinary medicine, plant science, engineering, and communications programs. Wazzu also has campuses in Spokane, the Tri-Cities, and Vancouver, plus a large Global Campus. In total, around 30k students attend WSU.
Online students of WSU’s Master’s in Strategic Communication degree need no official PR training, as this program takes students through the full spectrum of public relations, corporate communications, and management theory and applications. Students learn how to engage traditional media, how to analyze trends and audiences, and how to craft messaging that is marked by strategy, creativity, and responsibility. WSU stands apart from other schools in its emphasis on community; so as a Wazzu online student you will still be a part of a cohort of students, developing relations and collaborating together on projects. This MA in Strategic Communication degree is comprised of classes on:
- Ethics for Professionals
- Crisis Communications in Global Contexts
- Creative Media Strategies and Techniques
- Consumer Behavior and Brand Development
- Professional Marketing Communication Management
- Among others
Wazzu is nationally and globally ranked by Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Washington Monthly, ARWU, and others. It has equally earned a reputation for its research in agriculture and food science through the research initiatives set forth by its forestry, botany, horticulture, and veterinary science departments.
Ball State University
College Choice Score: 70.5
Credit Hour Cost: $590
Ball State University, located Muncie, Indiana, offers over 200 academic programs to its 20k students. A public institution, it is classified as a high research university made up of half a dozen academic colleges, including the College of Communication, Information, and Media, one of the ten largest communication schools in the country.
Certified by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the MA in Public Relations degree at Ball State can be earned either fully online or in a hybrid format, which would require some on-campus coursework. Regardless of how you design your degree, you will take classes on journalism writing, advertising theory, marketing tactics, and public relation applications of trend analysis. This thirty-three credit hour degree can be completed in as few as five semesters and offers concentrations in:
- Communication Studies
- Public Affairs
- Sport Communications
Well ranked by Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, and Washington Monthly, Ball State University is known for its Immersive Learning program, which sponsors various internships, projects, and programs for students who seek interdisciplinary education. This program has been consistently lauded for its innovation, student-centric approach to education, and for giving students access to research opportunities and hands-on experience.
College Choice Score: 68
Credit Hour Cost: $475
Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota is a member of the ten-member Concordia University System, which is affiliated with and operated by the Lutheran Church. Concordia in the Twin Cities is a small, liberal arts college of around 4k students and dozens of degrees in areas spanning the sciences, humanities, arts, and professional studies.
This fully online Master’s in Communication degree through Concordia University is primarily for those students who want to study public relations while developing their leadership and management skills, as this degree spotlights the role of managers, directors, and leaders across business and communication fields. This is a thirty-six credit-hour program that can be completed entirely online. Currently, 92 percent of graduates from MA in Communication program find work after graduation, as PR managers, advertising analysts, nonprofit communication managers, and much more. Concordia’s degree includes classes on:
- Strategic Communication Management
- Interactive Media Management
- Leadership Communication
- Intercultural Communication
- Corporate Responsibility and Ethical Communication
In addition to Concordia’s well-regarded traditional academic programs, the online campus offers hundreds of programs that award degrees, certifications, licensure, and more. Some of these programs are unique (e.g., colloquy programs) and others are well-ranked graduate degrees in a number of fields.
Southern New Hampshire University
College Choice Score: 68
Credit Hour Cost: $627
Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is located near Manchester and Hooksett, New Hampshire and is a private, nonprofit university. Over 60k undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled in one of the five schools and colleges, including the College of Online and Continuing Education, which is a cornerstone of the university’s academic community.
Southern New Hampshire University’s online MA in Communications degree gives students the opportunity to specialize in public relations. These students learn how to target and develop persuasive messaging, implement effective campaigns, navigate crises through communication strategies, utilize new and emerging technologies and social media, and much more. Students can finish this degree in as few as fifteen months in a flexible format and at an affordable rate. Among the core courses on communication, management, and development, SNHU has a number of distinctive PR classes you’ll have a hard time finding elsewhere:
- Second Self: Identity and Personal Brands
- More than Words: Communication by Design
- Integrated Public Relations Campaigns and Measurement
- The Vantage Point: Knowledge and New Media
- Law and Ethics
- Reputation Management: Building a Brand
SNHU is consistently praised for its student-centric approach to education and its commitment to alternative pedagogy. In fact, Southern New Hampshire University recently received a number of awards from the New Hampshire Business Review, specifically for its science and business graduate programs (both traditional and online).
West Virginia University
College Choice Score: 68
Credit Hour Cost: $855
A land- and space-grant public school located in Morgantown, West Virginia University (WVU) is designated as a high-research university. Over 32k students, both undergraduates and graduates, attend WVU on one of its three campuses. WVU offers nearly 200 academic programs at all levels, from bachelor’s to doctoral degrees, through one of its fifteen colleges.
Through the Reed College of Media, WVU offers an exclusively online MS in Integrated Marketing Communications degree. This program gives students a great deal of flexibility, allowing them to move through the degree at their own pace, and specialize in an area of interest. WVU’s elective list is long and eclectic, offering students the opportunity to study multicultural, political, healthcare, B2B, or Sports marketing and public relations. These classes are paired with the WVU core:
- Audience Insight
- Marketing Research and Analysis
- Brand Equity Management
- Emerging Media and the Market
- PR Concepts and Strategy
- Creative Strategy and Execution
- Direct Marketing
WVU has graduated dozens of Rhodes, Goldwater, and Truman Scholars and it is nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and Washington Monthly. Well-regarded for its research in many fields, WVU is specifically a leader in the areas of medical research, biometric technology, and agriculture.