Explaining Public Relations Degrees

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Students in a public relations degree program learn what it takes to create and manage a strategic communication campaign for different types of companies and government agencies. They study the different methods that can be used to garner positive media attention and learn what it takes to shape public perception.

Many people confuse public relations with marketing or advertising, but they are different things. Public relations is considered "earned" media, whereas marketing or advertising is something that you need to pay for. Students in a public relations program focus on persuasive communication. They learn how to write press releases and letters and master the art of public speaking so that they can host press conferences and speak at public meetings. 

Types of Public Relations Degrees

There are three basic types of public relations degrees that can be earned from a college, university, or business school:

  • Bachelor Degree in Public Relations: Takes approximately four years to complete.
  • Master's Degree in Public Relations: Takes approximately two years to complete.
  • Doctorate Degree in Public Relations: Usually takes three to five years to complete, though program length can vary.

An associate degree may be enough for individuals who are looking for entry-level employment in the public relations field. However, a bachelor's degree is usually the minimum requirement for anyone who wants to work as a public relations specialist or public relations manager. A master's degree or MBA with a specialization in public relations could increase an individual's chances of getting more advanced positions. Public relations specialists who are interested in teaching at the college or university level should consider a doctorate degree in ​public relations.

Where Can I Earn a Public Relations Degree?

There are a number of campus-based programs that award public relations degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level. You can also find online programs that are similar in quality. If you are intent on attending a campus-based program but cannot find one in your area that focuses on public relations, you should look for a good advertising or marketing degree program. These programs will allow you to study many of the same things you would in a public relations degree program, including advertising campaigns, marketing strategies, promotions, public speaking, communication, and public affairs. Other degree program options for aspiring public relations professionals include degree programs in communication, journalism, English, or general business.

What Can I Do With a Public Relations Degree?

Many people who earn a public relations degree go on to work for advertising, marketing, or public relations firms. Some also choose to work as independent consultants or open their own public relations firms. Common job titles for public relations professionals include:

  • Promotions Assistant: Sometimes known as an advertising assistant, a promotions assistant may work in the public relations, advertising, marketing, or sales department of a company. These entry-level public relations professionals typically focus on promotional campaigns and may handle clerical duties, telephone operations, client communication, and other office-related responsibilities.
  • Public Relations Specialist: Also known as communication specialists or media specialists, public relations specialists work directly with the media. They may be responsible for helping clients communicate with the public. They may answer media questions or contact media outlets to market information or share news. Writing press releases is also a typical job duty. U.S. News recently ranked "public relations specialist" as one of the best jobs of the year.
  • Public Relations Manager: Public relations managers or directors are similar to public relations specialists. However, they often have more responsibilities. In a large company, they may supervise one or more public relations specialists. Public relations managers may also be responsible for writing speeches, designing campaigns, or creating, maintaining, and managing a company's image.

Learning More About Public Relations

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is the world’s largest organization of public relations professionals. Members include everyone from aspiring PR professionals and recent college graduates to seasoned communications professionals. The organization is a great resource for anyone who is considering a public relations degree.

When you join the Public Relations Society of America, you get access to education, networking, certification, and career resources. Networking with other people in the organization will give you a chance to learn more about the field so that you can determine whether or not a public relations degree is right for you.