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Question: Are There Online Public Relations Degree Programs?

Answer: Yes, there are several types of online public relations degree programs, including online master’s in public relations programs and online master’s in communication programs with a public relations specialization. In addition, some online Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs offer a public relations concentration, which typically consists of several courses that cover topics such as media technologies, communication strategies, and other public relations subject areas. Finally, some schools offer online bachelor’s programs with a designated major in public relations.

What Is an Online Public Relations Degree Program?

An online public relations degree program is an academic program offered by a college or university that leads to the conferral of a bachelor’s or a master’s degree and that provides training and instruction in areas relevant to the practice of public relations. These areas of training and instruction may include but are not limited to: theories of interpersonal and organization communication; public relations tactics and strategies; persuasive writing and public speaking; integrated strategic marketing; media and press relations; digital and social media; public opinion poling and analytics; brand and reputation management; and political communication.

Students in an online public relations degree program receive all or most of their instruction through distance learning platforms, which are commonly referred to as learning management systems (LMSs). Lectures and other class activities are streamed through a school’s LMS, and students typically complete assignments, participate in online discussion forums, and interact with instructors through the LMS. Some online public relations programs may require that students attend a limited number of on-campus sessions, which may incorporate orientation activities, instructional seminars and workshops, and/or networking opportunities. However, there are also programs that do not require campus visits and that are 100% online.

Types of Online Public Relations Degree Programs

The four most common types of public relations degree programs that are offered online include the following:

  • Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science (BA/BS) in Public Relations
  • Master of Arts/Master of Science (MA/MS) in Public Relations
  • Master of Arts/Master of Science (MA/MS) in Communication with a Public Relations specialization
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a Public Relations specialization

An online bachelor’s (BA or BS) in public relations is an undergraduate program that includes general education coursework as well as a designated major in public relations. Schools typically require students to earn half or more the credits needed for a bachelor’s degree through general education coursework, which typically includes classes in English composition, the humanities, the sciences, and mathematics. Undergraduate majors in public relations are generally offered through a department of communication or communication studies, and they typically require students to complete foundation coursework in general theories and principles of communication and mass media, followed by more specialized courses in various topics related to public relations.

The most common type of online bachelor’s in communication program is an online bachelor’s completion program with a public relations concentration. Bachelor’s completion programs are designed for students who have already completed one or two years of college-level coursework, and some completion program require applicants to hold an associate degree.

At the master’s level there are online MA/MS in Public Relations programs and online MA/MS in Communication and Communication Management programs that offer a specialization in public relations. These types of public relations degree programs are similar and largely equivalent, although there are variations in course offerings and curricular requirements among all types of master’s in public relations degree programs. Students in an online master’s program do not have to complete general education requirements; the coursework at the master’s level focuses primarily on developing advanced skills in areas of communication and public relations.

A designated master’s in public relations program may include fewer general communication theory courses than a master’s in communication program with a specialization in public relations. However, studying public relations at the graduate level typically requires some grounding in foundational theories of communication.

An online MBA with a public relations specialization or concentration is essentially an online Master of Business Administration program that provides students with the option of completing a designated cluster of courses in public relations. Students in these programs complete a general business administration curriculum that covers subjects like accounting, finance, logistics, marketing, organizational leadership, and project and personnel management. They then take several courses (typically three or four) that delve into the practice of public relations, the role of public relations professionals in business operations, and strategies for effective public relations campaigns.

Online Public Relations Degree Courses

There is no standardized public relations curriculum. Rather, there are general areas of knowledge and proficiencies that are associated with training in the field of public relations. Students in a public relations degree program typically work on cultivating strong professional writing and oral presentation skills while learning about media technologies, strategic and organizational communication, image and brand management, strategies for influencing public opinion and interacting with media members, and methods for designing, implementing, and assessing public relations campaigns. Most programs provide students with grounding in theories of mass media and communication, although this and other aspects of a degree in public relations may vary by degree level and by type program.

The table below is meant to provide an overview of typical online college courses in public relations, some of which are commonly incorporated into bachelor’s and master’s program curricula in public relations.

Course TitleCourse Description
Strategic Public Relations: Principles and PracticeOn overview of the history of public relations, theories of public relations, and the trends in the practice of public relations, including digital media strategies and the role of public relations in the contemporary business world.
Research Methods for PR and Public Affairs ManagersMethods for measuring the effectiveness of public relations campaigns, including statistical analyses, social media metrics, and consumer surveys and polling.
Media Relations in a Digital WorldTheories of mass media applied to the contemporary media world with an emphasis on key factors that influence reportorial and editorial coverage by different types of online and traditional media outlets.
Strategic Marketing Communications for PR ProfessionalsThe concepts of integrated marketing communications (IMC) as applied to the PR function of an enterprise, with a focus on coordinating public relations with advertising, direct marketing, customer service, branding, social media, and other facets of an organization’s public communications strategy.
Public Relations Writing & TacticsThe components of successful public relations writing, the tactics used by PR professionals to craft compelling narratives, and the various tools used to disseminate messages, including press releases, fact sheets, brochures, news letters, and social media posts.
Politics & Public OpinionAn examination of theories of political socialization and public opinion formation, how people engage with public debates, and the role of PR professionals in influencing political engagement and public opinion.
Crisis CommunicationThe use of issues management strategies for PR professionals in situations that require fast reaction to developing crises.
Social Media PracticesAn investigation of various social media platforms and the best practices for integrating social media platforms, networks, and mediums into public relations and brand development campaigns.

While there is currently no programmatic accreditation body for public relations degree programs, the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), which is an affiliate of the larger Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), does offer voluntary Certification in Education in Public Relations (CEPR) to academic programs at the bachelor’s and master’s degree level. Information about CEPR certification and a list of certified programs is available on the PRSSA website.

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