Graduate Certificate Programs in Public Relations – Campus and Online Programs
Updated: October 15, 2022
Graduate certificate programs in public relations (PR) provide students with targeted and advanced skills in public relations strategy, campaign development, and risk and crisis management. These programs enable professionals who already hold a bachelor’s degree and/or a master’s degree to gain knowledge and skills in the field of corporate communication while earning an academic credential they can add to their resume. In general, graduate certificate programs in public relations are comprised of four to six courses that cover foundational concepts in public relations, crisis communication, campaign management for corporations and other organizations/agencies, and media technologies and their role in external-facing communication strategy, among other topics.
Graduate certificate programs in public relations are generally designed for individuals who are working professionals, and therefore they tend to be structured to maximize flexibility, with online classes, hybrid classes, or classes held in the evening (or a combination of these three delivery methods). In addition, these programs generally allow students to enroll part-time and take one course at a time as they complete their graduate certificate. Finally, the graduate credits earned during the program may transfer towards a master’s degree in public relations or corporate communications should students decide to pursue a full master’s degree in the future.
Public Relations Explained
Public relations is defined as strategic communication that builds, maintains, and negotiates positive relationships between organizations and their stakeholders. Essential responsibilities of PR professionals include creating and honing corporate messaging, designing and managing an organization’s brand, and fostering strong connections with partners, consumers, and other stakeholders through strategic communication principles. PR is an essential part of any organization’s communication strategy, and it also involves the use of multimedia, social media, and media data analysis to enhance and inform an organization’s communication response.
For all organizations, whether they are corporations, startups, non-profits, or government agencies, strategic internal and external communications are a core part of their success. Public relations involves developing both internal and external communication strategies and integrating these strategies to create a unified communication plan. PR therefore encompasses the following communication functions:
- Reputation Management
- Crisis and Risk Communication
- Media Relations
- Social Media
- Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC)
- Event Planning
- Executive Leadership Communications
As the above list illustrates, public relations intersects with other areas of corporate and organizational communication, such as marketing and messaging between executive leadership and employees. As a result, the most skilled PR professionals understand the integrated nature of their field and consider all channels of communication when developing strategies and campaigns. Accordingly, many graduate certificate programs in PR take a more integrated approach to training students, providing coursework not only in external-facing communications but also internal communication.
Identifying and Classifying Public Relations Graduate Certificate Programs
Graduate certificate programs in public relations are generally offered through schools and departments of communication, media, business, or a related field at accredited institutions of higher education, with courses that overlap with these schools’ and departments’ master’s programs in strategic communication, public relations, strategic marketing, or business administration. As a result, the credits that students earn through graduate certificate programs are typically transferable to a formal master’s degree should students decide to pursue one in the future. Due to the fact that public relations intersects with strategic communication for organizations, as well as branding, students may find graduate certificate programs in public relations with titles that include terms such as strategic branding, integrated marketing communication (IMC), and organizational communication.
Prospective students should note that graduate certificate programs in public relations are offered through accredited colleges and universities, and are distinct from the professional certification programs offered through organizations such as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Professional certificate programs are another option for individuals seeking targeted training in PR; however, they are distinct from academic graduate certificate programs in that they do not confer academic credit that is transferable to a graduate degree program. Furthermore, while graduate certificate programs in public relations require students to enroll as a full-time or part-time student, and to complete courses according to a college or university’s academic calendar, professional certificate programs tend to be much shorter, sometimes only a weekend or two weeks in duration.
Public Relations Graduate Certificate Coursework
The curriculum structure for graduate certificate programs in public relations varies depending on the school and department, but in general, these programs consist of four to six graduate-level courses that also typically overlap with master’s degrees in PR and/or strategic communication offered at the same institution. While some graduate certificates in PR may offer a set sequence of courses with no electives, others may require only one or two core courses before allowing students to choose electives according to their professional interests. Some PR graduate certificates may even enable students to tailor their entire course of study by selecting from a menu of courses as they desire.
Examples of courses commonly offered as part of a graduate certificate in public relations include but are not limited to:
- Foundations of Public Relations
- Strategic Communication
- Crisis Communication
- Brand Management
- Media Relations
- PR Campaigns
- Emerging Technologies and PR
Online Public Relations Graduate Certificate Programs
Due to the increasing demand for programs that efficiently provide working professionals with potential career-advancing skill sets, more accredited universities and colleges have begun offering online graduate certificate programs that are well-suited for students who plan to continuing working full-time while earning an academic credential. In addition, they enable students who do not live near a university campus to attend a program without having to relocate or commute in order to attend classes.
Online graduate certificates in PR use learning management systems (LMSs), which are online platforms through which students access lectures, course modules, assignments, forums, and virtual group discussions. Online graduate certificates employ one or both of the two most common types of online instruction: asynchronous and synchronous. Asynchronous instruction is all course material that students can access 24/7, and which they can complete on their own time, as long as they abide by assignment deadlines. Examples of asynchronous instruction include pre-recorded lectures, online discussion threads that students can contribute to on their own time, and self-paced homework and exams. Asynchronous instruction maximizes scheduling flexibility, but it does require students to be highly self-disciplined and organized in order to keep up with course lectures and not fall behind.
In contrast, synchronous online instruction is defined as course materials, lectures, assignments, and discussions that students must attend or complete in real-time. Examples of synchronous instruction include live video lectures, examinations that students must log in and complete at the same time, and group video discussions and projects. Synchronous instruction offers the benefit of real-time interactions with faculty and fellow students, which can be ideal for online students who want an experience that more closely approximates in-person face-to-face instruction.
Most online graduate certificates in public relations can be completed 100% remotely, with no visits to campus. However, some online programs may require students to attend one or more campus visits, such as an orientation or intensive. GraduateCertificates.com defines graduate certificate programs as online programs if they require a maximum of three campus visits per year. Programs that use primarily online instruction but which have more than three campus visits per year are classified as hybrid programs, which tend to be good options for students who want the flexibility of online education but who also live close to (i.e. within reasonable commuting range of) the campus offering the program.
Examples of Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Public Relations
The online graduate certificate programs in PR described below are offered through accredited universities and colleges. They are not representative of all PR graduate certificate programs available in an online format, but are intended to provide a few examples of the options available to students.
Drexel University offers an online Graduate Certificate in Public Relations that provides students with foundational knowledge of cross-industry media communications, as well as instruction on the latest social media tactics and trends, emerging media technologies, and how to integrate research into developing effective communication plans for a variety of organizations. Comprised of 12 credits, this program features a set curriculum of four courses in the foundations of public relations, public relations planning and writing, social media strategy, crisis management, and media relations management. Students can complete this program 100% online with no campus visits. For more information about this program, visit Drexel University at online.drexel.edu.
Northeastern University offers a Graduate Certificate in Public and Media Relations through its College of Professional Studies, which prepares students to manage media relations and navigate stakeholder communications and expectations on behalf of an organization or company. This program can be completed fully online and has both full-time and part-time tracks, with students able to earn their graduate certificate in as few as 6 months of full-time study and up to 12 months of part-time study. Comprised of 16 quarter hours, this program requires three core courses that introduce students to public relations strategy, planning, research, and external audiences, followed by 7 quarter hours of electives in areas such as digital marketing analytics, digital media skills and technologies, search engine optimization (SEO), social media and brand strategy, and community relations and corporate social responsibility. For more information about this program, visit Northeastern University at www.northeastern.edu.
West Virginia University offers an online Graduate Certificate in Public Relations Leadership through its Reed College of Media. This program consists of 12 course credits, or four courses, and can be completed entirely through online, asynchronous instruction. The curriculum prepares students to oversee internal and external communications, branding strategy, and reputation management for a wide variety of organizations. Students take courses in applied public relations (including speech-writing, PR agency management, event planning, speech writing, press releases, and public service announcements for different organizations), crisis communication strategy and management, executive and leadership communications, and internal brand communication. For more information about this program, visit West Virginia University at online.wvu.edu.
More Graduate Certificates in Public Relations
|Online; Worcester, MA
|Graduate Certificate in Public Relations
|Graduate Certificate in Public Relations (PR)
|Online; Boston, MA
|Public Relations Graduate Certificate
|Graduate Certificate in Public and Media Relations
|The George Washington University
|Graduate Certificate in Global Public Relations
|University of Denver University College
|Online; Denver, CO
|Graduate Certificate in Public Relations
|University of Nebraska-Lincoln
|Public Relations and Social Media Graduate Certificate
|University of North Texas
|Denton, TX; Dallas, TX
|Graduate Certificate in Public Relations
|University of West Florida
|Online; Pensacola, FL
|Graduate Certificate in Social Media for Public Relations & Advertising