What do companies, organizations, and high-profile people have in common? They need to be able to communicate well. Or, at the very least, hire people who can.
Navigating the convoluted world of social media, media relations, advertisements, and campaigns is no small task. And the more public it is, the higher the stakes.
That’s why an education in public relations is not only essential but extremely valuable. Gone are the days when PR was equivalent to advertising or propaganda. Today, a PR expert is expected to persuade others while maintaining relationships based on trust.
PR professionals wear many hats: writer, marketer, salesperson, designer, data analyst, leader. The best PR programs train students in all these areas to prepare for the dynamic, global nature of the public relations industry.
Below we highlight 10 of the best PR schools in America. Each one offers a unique combination of academic research, hands-on experience, and career insight from world-class faculty. Graduates of these programs have gone on to high-profile opportunities with leading individuals and corporations.
So if you’re looking for a top-ranked PR program, look no further than these colleges.
Duquesne University (Pittsburgh, PA)
Duquesne University is a top-ranked Catholic college and the only Spiritan institution for higher learning in the U.S.
However, students don’t go to Duquesne just to be in a community of Catholic students (over half of students are non-Catholic.) They come for the university’s excellent strategic public relations and advertising programs.
Students can major in PR, advertising, or both. They learn to apply theories to modern life, including how cultural variation can influence how a piece of media is received.
Duquesne prepares students for a wide range of PR careers, from account management to media to creative services to public affairs. Classes are offered in all these fields and more.
Due to the strength of the media department, Duquesne has produced alumni in successful media professions. Journalist John Clayton wrote and reported for ESPN for over 25 years. Faculty member and journalist Mike Dillon profiled author Norman Mailer, music icon Tony Bennett, and football star Johnny Unitas.
Biola University (La Mirada, CA)
Biola is a private Christian university where students are especially fortunate to study PR. The school’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter was named a “Star Chapter” in 2013, a prestigious distinction given to less than 10% of PRSSA chapters.
Furthermore, Biola students run 6th Street PR. The full-service PR agency plans both on and off-campus PR campaigns and is one of the “most accomplished and successful student-run firms.”
Biola’s studio facilities also make it possible to gain hands-on experience. The conference room is a collaborative workspace for students and clients, and over 1,000 pieces of equipment are available for rent, including cameras and microphones.
The Torrey Honors Program allows students to take their PR education to the next level. Discussion-based courses and leadership opportunities poise students to serve some of the most influential people and organizations upon graduation.
University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)
PR students at UF’s College of Journalism and Communications learn all aspects of effective communication, including writing, reporting, ethics, research, and media.
They receive a well-rounded education balancing concepts and hard skills, preparing them for careers in business, PR firms, government, and nonprofits.
UF students can also pursue combined degrees: a B.S. in Public Relations and M.A. in Mass Communication. Students can apply up to 12 graduate credits to their undergraduate program, reducing the time it takes to earn both degrees.
UF is consistently top-ranked for its education in public relations. Alumni of the journalism school include Al Burt, a longtime Miami Herald journalist, and Sharyl Attkisson, Emmy Award-winning TV correspondent.
Emerson College (Boston, MA)
Emerson College was founded in 1880 as a “school of oratory.” It has stayed true to these roots by growing into a leading liberal arts institution for communication and the arts.
This includes an excellent program for public relations. Emerson teaches students the art (and science) of persuasion through combining data analytics and storytelling.
Students can choose from a B.S. or the 4+1 B.S. and M.A. track, which awards students with a master’s in public relations after only one additional year of study.
Emerson is a small private school, with a student to faculty ratio of 13:1.
Notable alumni include photographer and TV producer Patricia Alvarado Nunez, online media personality Veronica Belmont, and The Simpsons writer John Frink.
California Baptist University (Riverside, CA)
According to Niche.com, CBU ranks top 5 in the country for the best college campus and best food.
CBU is also home to a stellar PR program, which trains students in all aspects of communication. They learn the written, verbal, and visual components of persuasion through real work with nonprofit organizations, corporations, government, and media organizations.
Students who major in PR choose a concentration in Integrated Marketing Communication, International Public Relations, Media Relations and Writing, New Media, or Strategic Communication and Planning. Alternatively, the Public Relations minor offers a condensed course of study in the field.
Like many religious colleges, CBU emphasizes service-oriented learning in every field of study, including PR.
Prominent alumni include California State assemblyman Nathan Fletcher and Switchfoot guitarist Drew Shirley.
University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)
The USC Annenberg School of Communications prepares PR students to meet the ever-changing demands of the industry.
Both undergraduate and graduate programs for public relations are top-ranked nationally and internationally. This is in large part thanks to its world-class faculty, which is made up of professionals with firsthand PR experience.
Fred Cook chairs the PR firm Golin, where he worked with high-profile people like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs. Cook also managed Nintendo, Toyota, and Disney. Today, he also serves as the director of the USC Center for Public Relations.
Jennifer Floto practiced PR with big-name clients like Acura, Mattel, and Xerox. She continues to consult along with her teaching duties, which won her the 2006 “Professor of the Year” award and 2012 Mellon Mentoring Award.
Penn State University (State College, PA)
At Penn State in University Park, students learn the theories and practices underpinning the dynamic field of public relations.
Combining persuasive storytelling with principles from business, behavioral sciences, and applied statistics, students graduate being able to hit the ground running. They are prepared for the competitive, technological, and multicultural environment of a PR role.
Minors are available in related fields such as Media Studies and Digital Media Trends & Analytics. Those who major in PR often minor in English, foreign language, business, psychology, or sociology in order to supplement their understanding of human relationships.
Notable alumni include Jayne Jamison, senior vice president and publisher of O, the Oprah Magazine. Alumni and faculty Bjorn Trowery works as the Consumer Communications Manager at Facebook.
American University (Washington, DC)
Like many schools located in Washington, D.C., American University excels at public and global affairs education. AU’s Christian roots have also fueled its public service and social justice values.
In addition to learning hard and soft skills related to PR, students also take history and economics courses for a broader view of the PR industry.
Like Emerson and UF, PR students at AU can pursue combined degrees, whereby they earn both B.A and M.A. in less time.
AU faculty have a combination of scholarly and practical experience in PR. Khaldoun AbouAssi’s research has appeared in journals such as Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Quarterly and the International Journal of Public Administration. He also worked over 12 years in public and nonprofit organizations in the Middle East.
Famous alumni include Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser, Sierra Leone president Julius Maada Bio, and TV personality Judge Judy.
Drake University (Des Moines, IA)
Drake University’s undergraduate public relations program is one of only 40 other programs around the world that have received the elite Certification in Education for Public Relations (CEPR).
The rigor of a Drake education reflects that distinction. In their senior year, PR students collaborate with peers to create a multimedia campaign for local nonprofits. This capstone project will serve as a portfolio asset and prepare graduates for PR positions across both private and public sectors.
Drake faculty have diverse PR experiences around the world. Eric Kwame Adae worked a variety of PR roles in Ghana and currently conducts research on the intersections between conservationism, social justice, and corporate activism. Kelly Bruhn conducted award-winning campaigns for Verizon as well as many nonprofit organizations.
Drake has produced many prominent politicians, including four Iowa governors and 10 U.S. Representatives of Iowa.
Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY)
Syracuse joins Drake on the exclusive list of PR programs that have won recognition from the CEPR. It ranks #1 on U.S. News’s list of best graduate programs for public affairs.
As one of the earliest PR programs in the nation, Syracuse teaches students the fundamentals of writing, speaking, and presenting that define consummate PR professionals. With the help of Syracuse partner PAN Communications — a national integrated marketing and PR agency — students will have a full online portfolio to present to prospective employers by graduation.
At Syracuse, students will learn directly from today’s best PR professionals. Christopher Cathcart has over 30 years of experience at major media companies like CNN/Turner Broadcasting, Motown Records, and Warner Bros. Television. Gary Grates’s 25+ years of experience has led him to consult with over 100 CEOs and organizations, including PepsiCo, Shell, Kraft, eBay, and Pfizer.
Notable alumni of Syracuse include President Joe Biden, pioneer astronaut Eileen Collins, and Emmy Award-winning sportscaster Bob Costas.