Which College offers the best degree in PR?
If you think you have real acumen for communicating with the public and want to be great at it, then learning more about it at a place specializing in Public Relations is the next step. While many colleges and universities offer public relations degrees, few really teach the skills and techniques needed for landing a job at a top PR firm and excelling once you get there.
Public Relations is a growing industry. In fact, the various specialty areas are almost all growing at rates making it a good consideration for future employment if your personality fits the bill. Colleges are adding it to their course majors, but whenever possible, go for schools with established track records in PR and advertising.
Colleges who have had PR programs going for at least a decade or more offer greater possibilities to the students. They have alumni who’ve had time to build careers and often successful firms needing interns. The teachers have worked out the kinks in their classes and usually bring life experience to share with students. Local chapters of organizations like the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) are in place with some history in the area, and for larger universities, there may be PR departments where students gain additional day-to-day experience in a working PR setting.
Students seeking degrees in public relations (PR) have to learn marketable skills for getting the word out by using multimedia, print, and visual communications. Courses also teach how to interact with both the general public and media outlets. One of the most important skills or mindsets to learn is always representing customers or employers in the best way.
These universities help students gain experience in the working world through outside PR internships and campus PR programs. Make no mistake, the education is invaluable. You need a school that can bring you the knowledge and understanding necessary to build a booming career in PR. But having access to the best firms for internship opportunities could make or break your career, as can the speed at which you can rise to the top.
Like many professions, you gain the theoretical understanding about the work in school, then you learn how to make that knowledge work for you through application — and the best place to do that is at a thriving PR firm. Take a look at eight of the top PR colleges currently helping students get into the field. In no particular order, here are Everything PR’s Top University PR Programs:
In no particular order, here are Everything PR top University PR Programs:
USC (University of Southern California in Los Angeles)
What better way to learn how to get the job done than the program at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California? This school has been stressing hands-on experience since it started in 1971. The on-campus PR firm, TriSight Communications, gives students much-needed hands-on experience.
You can obtain both a Bachelor and Master of Arts in PR – although for the Master’s degree, it’s officially in “Strategic Public Relations,” usually centering on a particular area of PR. Students can also become a member of the USC chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, the nationwide industry trade association that has over 22,000 public relations and communications professionals across the United States.
The school’s Strategic Communications and Public Relations Center is focused largely on research and has gained recognition for new ideas, identifying best practices, and standards in PR-related work. During the 2016-2017 curriculum, the school has planned a graduate honors seminar featuring the CEO of Golin, Fred Cook; a “Netnography” course taught by Dr. Rob Kozinets. He developed the process of ethnographic research tied to online archival communications; a “Food, Fashion, and Fun!” course by prof. Jennifer Floto and guest instructions about lifestyle PR; “The Business of Entertainment;” a Transmedia course; and more. They also offer opportunities for students to work with organizations and firms such as Weber Shandwick, Golin, Edelman, Fleishman-Hillard, PMK*BNC, Shift Communications, Carusa Marketing and Entertainment, and Chevron.
Beyond its PR program, USC is almost always rated among the top universities in the country with excellent programs in many fields including filmmaking and medicine. Keeping that in mind, to get into the school, even at the undergraduate level, is not easy. You’ll need to be a top-notch student with connections to outside interests meant to impress the admissions board.
University of Texas (UT at Austin)
UT at Austin was one of the first to offer a public relations program. Don’t think that you are just going to glide into this top-rated school on your good looks. If you want to get into UT, whatever your major, make sure your qualifications are top notch.
It is generally ranked in the top 20 Universities of its size and also prides itself on a very low student-to-teacher ratio – usually at about 18:1. So you can count on the kind of personalized attention from professors that can make the difference on an impressionable young mind. UT is one of the few schools that has its own Department of Advertising and Public Relations, one that is not included in some other field such as Communications, all at the Moody College of Communication.
Part of its PR department’s history includes becoming one of the nine chapters to initiate the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). This chapter helps build relationships between real working PR professionals and students, which is invaluable from both a mentoring perspective and a networking perspective. That also translates to an easier road to getting an internship at a prosperous PR firm when the time is right.
PR students at UT receive the opportunity to work in the student-run campus PR agency, Texas Tower, named after the iconic tower found on the campus quad. There they gain working experience and at the same time support nonprofit organizations. The degree requires at least six courses with emphasis on writing (three of them are set courses required by all PR majors), one each in quantitative reasoning, cultural diversity in the U.S., ethics and leadership, global cultures, and independent inquiry. There are additional requirements of courses about communications issues with people who are not the dominant or majority representation, plus all other Bachelor of Arts degree requirements including proficiency in a foreign language.
Syracuse University (in Syracuse, NY)
PR degrees from Syracuse (both bachelors and masters) are “of Science” rather than “of Arts.” These degrees are offered at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications where students acquire communication skills to work with consumers, as well as corporate, government, economic, and media organizations.
Their Master’s Degree program takes about 13 months to complete and requires 36 credits. There are two possible tracks — one to become a PR practitioner and the other moves the student towards a Ph.D.
The Newhouse Alumni Career Advisory Network provides students with advice and contacts to intern and job opportunities, often working with one of the school’s 4,000 alumni will be the source of that learning. Experience is almost a requirement before you can receive your degree here. Some alumni from the Newhouse School include W2O Group founder and CEO Jim Weiss; Cheryll Forsatz, currently serving as McDonald’s NY Metro Region Director of Communications; and Global Corp Communications Director for Anheuser-Busch InBev Shanique Bonelli.
University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC)
This is the second “USC” on the list, and just like the University of So. Cal, it is a large school. There are nearly 22K undergrads, and they accept about 61% of applicants for new admissions to the University. Though they are a larger university, they have a “University 101” program in place to help new freshmen transition to college life, and those transferring from technical schools have a “bridge” program to ease their adjustment to a more academic program.
The undergrad degree is “Public Relations, Advertising, and Applied Communications,” one of the five most popular majors at the school. Seniors spend one semester building a PR campaign for a real client. If you participate with the Bateman Team, you’ll work on a competition sponsored by the PRSSA to create the best campaign for a national organization. The Bateman Team is a frequent contender in the annual contest.
U of South Carolina has some great opportunities to do internships or find employment with alumni in all specialty areas of PR and advertising. So if students have a particular interest in public affairs, crisis management or another niche, finding the necessary connections for job experience may be started in many cases during a quick trip to the college resource center.
Some alumni from the PR program and the University of SC include Meghan Hickman, a recent alumni who serves as a partner and COO of Sagacious Partners (PR firm in SC); ABC News and Good Morning America (NYC) Producer Sarah Messer; ABC News correspondent Eva Pilgrim; and Chris Davis, VP of Investigative Reporting at USA Today Network.
DePaul University (Chicago)
DePaul is a private Catholic-sponsored college and no matter what your major, they focus a great deal on providing service in the community and to others They also have a high instructor to student ratio, allowing more individual attention, but of course, along with that is a higher price tag. They have almost 14K undergrads. Now, we’ve covered the basics – so let’s talk about their PR program.
PRWeek recognized DePaul as one of the top five PR schools in the U.S. three years in a row. They offer a Master’s program for Public Relations and Advertising. They prepare graduates for successful careers in marketing communication fields, public relations, and advertising. Focusing on teaching traditional media strategy and techniques, digital, social marketing, and media skills, the program prepares students for immediate job placements. In 2014, 88% of their graduates were employed within six months of graduation.
Since DePaul is located in Chicago, there is easy access to many of the nation’s top advertising and PR firms, so students usually find easy opportunities for internships. The school also sponsors a “Study Away” program for students to do internships in New York City PR firms.
Some recent alumni of DePaul include Account Supervisor at Edelman Robert Arredondo; Ellen Bro, who started as an intern and continues to work at ZenithOptimedia; Carolyn Deming serves as PR Director for Hilton Worldwide at their Cleveland location; and Elizabeth Gartman, Sr., Account Exec at Weber Shandwick.
Auburn University – Auburn, Alabama
Auburn University has a rich history and heritage. It first opened as the East Alabama Male College in 1856 and two decades later it became the first Southern land grant college as the city was officially founded under the auspices of the Morrill Act. It went through a few name changes until in 1960 it became Auburn University. The campus has 427 buildings, 206 of which are for academic purposes. Over 28,000 students attend — approximately 22,600 are undergrads. There are 15 colleges and 140 majors for students to choose.
Public Relations courses are taught through the School of Communication and Journalism. They have a PRSSA branch at the school as well as a PR Advisory Council. Undergrads must complete an internship as part of their curriculum and requirements for getting a Bachelor’s degree, and usually internships are done during the senior year of courses. Students work on client PR projects through the student-run Auburn University Public Relations Council of Alabama (AUPRCA).
30 PR majors won Medallion Awards during 2013 and 2014 from the PR Council of Alabama, and in 2012 one of the graduates was runner-up for as Outstanding PR Student in the Daniel J. Edelman/PRSSA Awards. Internships have been filled by students at Coca-Cola, Michael Kors USA, Verge Pipe Media, Marie Claire, and Universal Music Group. Graduates of the PR program at Auburn have worked or work currently at NASCAR, Weber Shandwick, Aflac, Edelman, Intermark Group, and more.
Boston University – Boston Massachusetts
There are approximately 33,000 students attending Boston University’s 17 schools and colleges and learning in their 250 offered fields of study. Graduates and faculty include Nobel Laureates and civil rights leaders. The school currently receives research funding of approximately $370 million. When it comes to PR, faculty members, even ones who aren’t in the communications field, provide expert commentary, analysis, and opinions. But the experts in PR often deal with any media requests.
Boston University boasts an in-house PRLab that’s operated by the students who function under the College of Communication. The PR school at Boston has history — it was the first university or college in the U.S. to offer a degree in PR, beginning in 1947. The PRLab was also a first and has been run by students since the beginning in 1974. This year the PRLab and students are working on specialty campaigns for ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s.
Some of their notable alumni from the PR program include Ray Kotcher (graduated in 1979), CEO of Ketchum; CEO of Tandem PR Sandra Frazier; and Panera Bread’s PR director, Jonathan Yohannan. Just to name a few organizations where you’ll find alumni from Boston’s PR program — Shewerksit, Liberty Mutual, Boston College, and Hubspot.
University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa, Alabama
UA has 13 divisions of learning available to its students and offers Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctoral degree programs including the only state-supported Law School in Alabama. The school was a center of activity for both the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and the Civil War – showing just how far back the school has history. It is often listed among the top 50 schools in the nation.
UA’s PR program is through the College of Communications and Information Services and in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations (APR), and they offer both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in PR. Students in the Master’s program can choose between a two-year research degree or a one-year professional option. APR students enjoy classes through the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations.
The PR courses for undergrads teach students how to conduct research, develop measurable objectives, strategic thinking, cutting-edge tactics, and tool usage. All with the goal of honing and improving their critical skills and creating thinking. In 2012 UA was one of the five finalists for PRWeek’s PR Education Program of the Year.
The Capstone Agency is the student-run PR firm on campus, and they have worked with 22 organizations. Some of the clients for Capstone include Juice Bar, SunTrust, Alabama Power, Alabama Reads, Midtown Village, and Alabama Association of Non-Profits.
So there you have it: eight of the best PR programs offered in the U.S. But because they are the best, you’ll need to plan well in advance to meet the criteria and qualifications necessary just to be accepted. If you’ve got that handled, then charge ahead toward victory.
Some other colleges with good PR programs, we’ll say they receive honorable mention, include Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan; the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia; and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Please contact us below – this is an ever growing list, and we’d love to highlight your program! Contact us through the banner below today for an evaluation!
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