Is a Public Relations Degree Right for Me?

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Before you pursue a career in public relations, you should hone a diverse set of skills and have a well-developed professional network — two requirements that are much easier to meet if you also possess a public relations degree.

By majoring in PR or completing a graduate-level public relations program, you can build expertise as a writer, thinker and strategic communicator, gain experience in specific domains like social media and public opinion, and work with instructors who are experts in the field.

A PR student studies for an exam.

The Master’s in Strategic Public Relations (SPR) program at the George Washington University (GW) includes a comprehensive curriculum in modern PR practice, designed to prepare students for careers as PR professionals. Let’s look at why earning a degree like the GW SPR master’s is worth it.

Why Should I Earn a Public Relations Degree?

The main reason for earning a public relations degree is to enhance your prospects for a PR career. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), common professions in the field like public relations specialist and public relations and fundraising manager typically require at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field for entry.

Multiple disciplines can qualify as a relevant field, including journalism, English, marketing and communications, but public relations itself will provide the most germane instruction. Current and aspiring PR professionals benefit from learning directly about how to run a public relations campaign, how public opinion is formed and how to utilize specific communications channels like social media platforms.

Before committing to any PR program, though, consider whether PR is the right fit in the first place. As a PR pro, you are likely to regularly engage in tasks such as:

  • Writing press releases, emails, social media posts, speeches and other communications on behalf of an organization
  • Coordinating media relations with journalists, including handling interview requests and the placement of campaign-related content
  • Assessing advertising and marketing programs that could complement PR campaigns
  • Monitoring social media and using it to gauge public opinion on topics and events of interest
  • Responding to and managing PR crises as they emerge
  • Promoting an organization or client as a responsible corporate citizen, to shape its reputation across multiple communication channels

Essentially, you will need to be a skilled communicator and comfortable with the prospect of engaging directly with the public and members of the media. Enrolling in a PR program will help you enhance these abilities. You could gain valuable experience through internships and work on actual campaigns and other projects that give you an up-close look at PR practitioners in action.

Today’s PR programs usually cover at a minimum the core areas of:

  • PR theory and practice
  • Strategic communications
  • PR writing and research

Graduate programs like the GW SPR master’s degree explore additional topics such as political opinion formation and PR ethics, while also including a capstone project in which PR students explore a subject of interest in greater depth.

To ensure students have a well-rounded body of knowledge and practical experience, the GW SPR curriculum includes, but isn’t limited to, coursework in:

  • Crisis communications
  • Digital media relations
  • Business and finance in PR
  • PR ethical standards
  • Sustainable communications

What Can I Do with a Public Relations Degree?

Public relations is a vast field. It covers many different functions within an organization, from social media management to the coordination of promotional campaigns. Accordingly, the career possibilities are similarly varied.

The responsibilities of the PR specialist role itself can range from a focus on financial communications to crisis management. PR professionals may also serve as spokespersons, speechwriters and social media managers. As students progress through public relations degree programs and hone their skills as communicators, they may opt to specialize in particular areas of PR such as reputation management or community relations.

Jobs in PR are available in both the public and private sectors. The BLS lists firms in advertising, public relations and related services as the top employers of PR specialists, followed by state, local and private education services and then government agencies.

Is a Public Relations Degree Worth Earning?

Completing a PR degree can be a gateway to a rewarding career in an in-demand field. The BLS estimated that 270,000 people were employed as public relations specialists in 2018, and that the expected growth for this profession was 6% from 2018 to 2028, or about as fast as the average for all occupations.

By BLS projections, the more senior role of public relations and fundraising manager will see even stronger growth over that same time period. More than 6,000 jobs in this category may be added between 2018 and 2028, translating to an 8% overall increase in employment, which is faster than average.

In terms of how much PR degree holders can expect to earn, average salaries vary significantly by job title. The median annual pay for PR specialists was $61,150 in the fourth quarter of 2019, which was higher than the median salary for all professions of $48,672, per BLS data. PR and fundraising managers can expect to make much more. Their 2019 median annual pay was $116,180, nearly double that of PR specialists.

Beyond these PR-centric roles, graduates may also pursue careers in domains such as journalism, marketing and advertising. For example, the role of advertising, promotions and marketing manager is another viable possibility for students with undergraduate and/or graduate public relations degrees. The BLS foresees 8% cumulative growth in this profession through 2028. The median pay for these managers was more than $135,000 in 2019, higher than both PR specialists and PR and fundraising managers.

In all of the above roles, a bachelor’s degree is generally the minimum requirement for pursuing a position. Classes covering consumer behavior, research methodologies and digital media provide a broad educational background that can be applied to a variety of roles in PR as well as in PR-adjacent fields like marketing.

A PR specialist reviewing a campaign.

What Kind of Public Relations Degree Should I Get?

Not all public relations degree programs are the same. To start, consider the learning formats available. Online PR degree programs provide extra flexibility for students who need to balance other commitments in their personal and professional lives.

Curricula will differ from program to program, too, even if the core focus areas of theory, writing and strategic communication will be broadly comparable. The GW SPR program includes a diverse selection of classes intended to prepare students for success in PR, public affairs, marketing, advertising and new and emerging industries. Its integrated design aligns with the trend of PR becoming more intertwined with other related disciplines.

Moreover, the GW SPR course sequence takes into account the changing role of PR within modern organizations. PR is central to corporate responsibility programs and to connecting a company’s customer service and public reputation with its bottom-line performance. Accordingly, PR professionals are now playing larger, more strategic roles in boardrooms.

A strategic public relations program is built from the ground up to address these realities. Getting started with the GW SPR is easy: Simply visit the program overview page, where you can complete a short questionnaire to receive more details about the degree program. We look forward to hearing from you.

Recommended Readings:
What are the differences between an online and on-campus degree?
Strategic PR vs. regular PR degree

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics | Advertising, Promotions and Marketing Managers
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics | Public Relations Specialists
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics | Public Relations and Fundraising Managers
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics | Usual Weekly Earnings of Wage and Salary Workers