2023 Best Online PhD in Public Relations Programs [Doctorate Guide]

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You might consider earning a PhD in Public Relations if you are a natural storyteller with a passion for communication and marketing.

Best Online PhD in Public Relations Programs

A doctoral program in public relations gives you the opportunity to conduct your own research, strengthen your understanding of social media strategy, and boost your writing abilities.

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Public relations professionals often go on to make a difference in the relationships between the public and major organizations or famous figures.

Online PhD in Public Relations Programs

Online PhD in Public Relations Programs

Public relations is a field dedicated to communication between the public and an organization or individual. Ideally, companies want to use these PR interactions to create strong relationships with their intended audience, building brand loyalty and trust.

A public relations PhD program focuses heavily on conducting research into a variety of topics related to the industry. It also provides the opportunity to study the theories that most impact the current and future state of public relations.

While enrolled in a doctoral public relations program, you’ll likely study the following course topics:

  • Rhetorical theory
  • Media and politics
  • Quantitative research methods in communication
  • Public relations research methods
  • Business science

Typically, PhD programs require you to complete a dissertation and present it before graduation. Public relations work can involve creating and managing press releases, press conferences, and social media posts.

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PR professionals may also promote services or work directly with public figures to manicure and protect their public image. Many professionals who earn their doctorate in public relations choose to become:

  • Postsecondary professors
  • Public relations specialists
  • Researchers
  • Public relations managers
  • Fundraising managers
  • Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers

Most of these potential careers allow graduates of both on-campus and online public relations degree programs to use their communication and marketing skills to strongly impact the way a business interacts and builds relationships with a target audience.

PR Careers & Salaries

PR Careers & Salaries

A doctoral degree in public relations can open up professional opportunities in the field of public relations itself as well as positions in marketing, research, and education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are some common roles among PR professionals.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Chief Executives $179,520
Marketing Managers $135,030
Advertising and Promotions Managers $127,150
Public Relations Managers $125,780
Fundraising Managers $100,810
General and Operations Managers $97,970
Postsecondary Teachers $79,640
Writers and Authors $69,510
Market Research Analysts $63,920
Public Relations Specialists $62,800

While there is a wide median salary range for jobs related to public relations, the amount you earn can also be impacted by factors such as place of residence and past experience in the industry.

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If you are eager to begin or further your career in any of these positions, obtaining a doctorate in communication or public relations can help you develop your expertise and qualifications. Earning your degree will not guarantee a specific position or salary, though.

Public Relations Ph.D. Curriculum & Courses

Public Relations Ph.D.

Typically, a public relations doctoral program will involve taking a combination of courses from different fields, including statistics, business, and psychology. Here are examples of courses you may come across:

  • Rhetorical Theory: You’ll examine the history of rhetorical theory as well as explore rhetorical analyses and how they relate to current issues in communication.
  • Media and Politics: In this course, you’ll explore the role that media plays in shaping and impacting current political systems and beliefs.
  • Quantitative Research Methods in Communication: After this course, you should be able to understand and apply statistical methods in communication research as well as explain your process and present your findings.
  • Public Relations Research Methods: You’ll delve into the role of research in public relations, learning the necessary tools and methods to successfully gather data.
  • Business Science: In this course, you’ll learn the basics of financial and managerial accounting.
  • Human Behavior: A human behavior class will explore the events that result in human response, covering topics like rational decision-making and social behavior.
  • Media Law and Ethics: An exploration of how morality plays a part in interpreting media law, this course delves into topics such as defamation, freedom of speech, and copyright.
  • Statistical Research: This course provides the fundamental tools necessary to conduct statistical research, including the collection and analysis of data.
  • Communication Science: You’ll learn to look at communication as a science, exploring models from areas like mass communication.
  • Dissertation Research: In this course, you’ll begin your research into a selected area of study in the field of public relations, to be presented at the end of your program.

At the core of public relations is the ability to successfully understand and predict human behavior. This skill is applicable to many industries that center around interpersonal interaction, like sales and counseling.

Admissions Requirements

Public Relations Doctoral Programs requirements

Your application materials work in tandem to paint a detailed picture of you as a doctoral applicant. Here are some common admission requirements:

  • GRE or GMAT scores (only when required)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts
  • Personal statement
  • Resume or CV

In addition to these materials, some doctoral programs also ask that you submit a research proposal or pass an entrance exam. While the minimum GPA requirement does vary between schools, many PhD programs require a GPA of 3.5 or higher to be considered.

Public Relations Doctoral Programs Accreditation

Public Relations Doctoral Programs Accreditation

Accreditation is a self and peer review process for colleges and universities. The accreditation process intends to hold an institution accountable for the educational opportunities it provides its students. In addition, being regionally accredited acts as a stamp of approval for any school, signaling to applicants that the degree they earn will be recognized.

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Attending a regionally accredited doctoral program can ensure that the PhD you obtain will be respected by employers and professional organizations. It can also be an eligibility factor for financial aid and can allow you to rest assured that you’ll receive a high-quality education.    

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Public Relations Doctoral Programs financial aid

The costs associated with attending college can be a stressful part of the application process for many individuals. If you find yourself worrying about your budget, you may want to explore the variety of financial aid opportunities.

You can:

  • Apply for federal financial aid
  • Apply for state aid
  • Research scholarship opportunities through your school
  • Look for scholarship programs through companies or foundations
  • See if your employer offers tuition reimbursement benefits

One way to get started is by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can determine how much federal aid you are qualified to receive. Other need-based financial aid programs may request a copy of your FAFSA as well.

What Is a PhD in Public Relations?

Public Relations Doctoral Programs

A PhD in Public Relations is a terminal educational program that centers around studying and conducting research into the communication between a target audience and an organization or public personality.

During the course of your studies, you may examine real-world public relations issues and case studies. You can also develop your skills in communication and areas like public speaking and writing. You can learn how to create and organize public relations campaigns as well.

Is Public Relations a Good Career?

Yes, public relations is a good career for many professionals. There is a variety of professional opportunities within the field of public relations. Common roles in the industry include public relations specialist, advertising or marketing manager, PR manager, and fundraising manager.

Many of the available jobs in public relations offer full-coverage employer benefits with higher than average salaries. For instance, the median salary for public relations managers is $125,780 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). PR professionals with a doctorate may also pursue research or teaching positions in postsecondary institutions.

What Can You Do with a Public Relations Doctoral Degree?

Public Relations careers

A doctoral degree in public relations provides a strong foundation in areas such as communication, marketing, and data analysis. These skills can prove useful in a variety of industries, including public relations.

Professional with a PR doctorate tend to work as a public relations managers, postsecondary teachers, or researchers. Many public relations graduates go on to pursue careers as fundraising, advertising, promotions, or marketing managers as well.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in Public Relations Online?

A PhD generally takes 3 to 5 years to complete, depending on the number of credit hours required and how long it takes you to complete your dissertation. If no dissertation is required, a doctoral program can generally be completed in 3 years with full-time study.

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There are several factors that may impact the length of your doctoral program. For example, if you choose to attend school part-time, it will often take you longer to complete your doctorate degree.

What’s the Difference Between Public Affairs vs. Public Relations PhD Programs?

Doctorate programs in both public affairs and public relations are heavily focused on communication, though they can differ in career paths and intended audience.

Public Affairs Public Relations
  • Focuses on political communication
  • Involves advising, consulting, lobbying, and researching
  • Common field of study for campaign managers and policy writers
  • Focuses on commercial communication
  • Involves marketing campaigns, branding, social media, and research
  • Common field of study for public relations and fundraising managers

To help you decide between these two degree paths, you might consider how you are most interested in using your communication and marketing skills.

What’s the Difference Between a Doctorate in Public Relations vs. Advertising?

While a doctorate in public relations and a doctorate in advertising will both cover communication and market research skills, they often have different focuses.

Public Relations Advertising
  • Aims to build reputation and brand awareness of companies and individuals
  • More focused on building relationships with the public
  • Involves topics like marketing campaigns, branding, social media, and research
  • Aims to generate sales
  • More focused on promoting and selling products
  • Involves topics like consumer culture, digital media strategies, and advertising research

The field of study that is best for you will likely depend on your personal interests and professional goals.

Is a PhD in Public Relations Degree Worth It?

PhD in Public Relations Degree

Yes, a PhD in Public Relations is worth it for many students. Professionals with their PhD in Public Relations often work in academia, marketing, and communications, such as professors, fundraising managers, or marketing managers.

Many of these roles are experiencing high employment growth rates, on pace with or faster than the national average. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 13% job growth for PR and fundraising managers and 12% job growth for postsecondary teachers over the next ten years.

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In addition to working in a stable sector, many individuals employed in the field of public relations enjoy a fast-paced and challenging work life. This could be motivating and help keep work fresh.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Public Relations Degree Program

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Colorado State University

Colorado State University campus

Colorado State University offers a PhD in Communication. The program requires 81 credits and usually takes 4 years to complete, including 1 to 1.5 years to finish a dissertation. Students can receive faculty mentorship and are part of a supportive community. The program can help prepare for careers inside or outside academia.

Colorado State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus

Indiana University of Pennsylvania offers a PhD in Media and Communication Studies. The program is designed to provide flexibility for working professionals. Coursework is delivered in a hybrid format, with both online and face-to-face components. Students can enroll part-time, taking two courses at once, or full-time, taking three classes at a time.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Regent University

Regent University campus

Regent University’s PhD in Communication program is available almost entirely online, though a 1 week summer residency on campus is required. Regent provides an interdisciplinary curriculum taught from a Christian worldview.

Coursework includes Communication Research: Applied Methods, History of Communication, Theology and Communication, and more. The program requires the completion of 56 to 64 credit hours.

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Salve Regina University

Salve Regina University campus

Salve Regina University offers an online program for a PhD in International Relations. Students usually take 4 years to finish, but the program can be flexible. Students take coursework on research methods and are required to complete a dissertation. The program also includes coursework on different countries’ foreign policies and their roles in world affairs.

Salve Regina University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

University of Alabama

University of Alabama campus

The University of Alabama offers a Doctorate in Communication and Information Sciences. The multidisciplinary curriculum is designed to develop both research and teaching skills. Multiple concentration options are available for on-campus students. The degree may be earned online or on campus. Students at the University of Alabama can enjoy small class sizes and close mentorship from faculty members.

The University of Alabama is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Getting Your PhD in Public Relations Online

PhD in Public Relations Online

A doctorate in public relations can help you advance your professional qualifications and really explore the areas of the industry that you find most intriguing.

Not only can you build up your communication and data analysis skills, but you will also have the opportunity to share your original research with the academic community. You might consider earning a PhD in Public Relations if you are interested in a research or teaching position within academia.

If you’re ready to pursue your terminal degree in this growing field, you can begin exploring online public relations doctoral programs from accredited universities today.

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Molly holds a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of San Francisco and a B.A in Literature from the University of California - Santa Cruz. A Seattle-based educator, she focuses on student-centered instruction and creating culturally responsive curriculum.