Is a PR degree worth the money?

I’m not knocking public relations degrees exclusively here, but news of the cost of a university education makes it a reasonable question to ask.  Even excluding the level of debt caused by covering the cost of living away from home (which is undoubtedly a key part of the experience), apparently annual course fees are some £3,000, payable in advance.

So is a degree worth £9,000 (£12,000 for those courses with a year’s placement)?  

I believe there is a lot of merit in studying at a higher level, but with a larger proportion of people now going to University, the degree isn’t the differentiator or salary bonus factor it once was.   If it has become the baseline expectation for entering careers such as public relations, then do young people have any choice but to accept the cost?  What does this do to their motivation?  I don’t feel it has led to a greater respect of University education and there is a culture clash between academic beliefs about studying for its own sake and students’ belief that they deserve excellent “customer service” for the fee they are paying.

The professional  qualifications offer a viable alternative.  The Advanced Certificate (just uprated by the to level 5), can be studied with two years’ experience in PR, whilst the Diploma requires four years’ experience or the Adv Cert, if you don’t have a degree.  Is it possible or advisable to go the experience route first?  The costs for the one year courses are around £2,000 – which is still a considerable investment, of course.

I teach on a PR degree course and the CIPR qualifications – and have just begun research for a project to produce A PR Career Handbook, so this is an interesting area for me.  If you have any thoughts on the benefit of qualifications – degree or otherwise – I’d love to hear them.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

9 thoughts on “Is a PR degree worth the money?”

  1. I thought this article particularly insightful, and not knowing exactly what a PR degree would involve, don’t feel I can comment directly on the content – I would hope though for £9,000 there would be some transferable skills involved – we would be happy if our graduates could even write a letter to a client, without both the grammar and the spelling having to be corrected – not to mention the contents !!

    Best wishes

  2. Thank you – I agree that a clear outcome of any education regarding PR should be excellent transferable skills, particularly relating to communications. It is something I come across a lot in terms of the lack of good English skills (which are as important in academic study as vocational practice).

    What is most shocking is when someone has no concept of the importance or how to improve their own skills. In teaching communications, I always start from the basis of the audience and purpose of any written communications. This leads into a focus on coherent and well-structured content, correct selection of words (reflecting the corporate identity), pace and sense when read, and, of course, grammar, spelling, punctuation and presentation.

    I’m also surprised that so few young PR practitioners have a love or enthusiasm for words and communications. It is such a powerful thing to be able to use language to inform, persuade or entertain others. I believe the best way to improve is to read, read, read and then read some more.

    I’m often reminded of a secretary when I worked at Oxford University who had been successful in her typing test, but showed appalling skills in her job. She told me that she only bothered to get the job!! Today, I think some PRs are just “not bovvered”…

  3. Well, in my case doing a qualification will prove my commmunications skills are more than just the journalistic ones that some employers have assumed are the epicentre of my existence. For me, I wasn’t a journalist long enough to aquire bad habits such as being super-sensitive about my copy. I have an HND in practical journalsim, but I don’t assume this is enough to warrant someone giving me employment in public relations. So here I am doing the advanced certificate to ensure that any potential employer wont just assume I’m a ex-journo who couldn’t get work.

    Studying with the CIPR is the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever done and I cant wait to apply my theory – that will stand nicely alongside my writing skills – in the workplace

    But why not do a degree? The CIPR is a quicker option for me. My kids are growing up, and I don’t have four years to hang out at university.

    I read public relations text books for pleasure, I’ve spent an absolute fortune on them and love every minute of every page. I wonder if it’s possible to turn into a PR anorack… I could think of worse labels.

  4. Thanks Jill – as you say, professional qualifications are highly suitable for those new to PR or adding some theory to practical experience – whilst they are working. Sometimes I think it is a shame not to have mature students on the University degree courses (I’ve not come across any on undergrad programmes) as they could add a valuable context. I’m also sensing that for many studying at PR, they don’t see this as their short or long-term career, but simply an opportunity to get some transferrable skills with an interesting degree topic.

    I too love PR text books – although I also extend that interest into almost everything I read. For example, I’m reading a great book on the Victorians at present and so much of what we do is influenced by the politics and society of Britain in the 19th century.

  5. What do you find some of these students end up doing? I wrote a feature for the Scotsman Publications about people who began careers in a totally different field than they’d envisaged when they started studying. One guy I spoke to had been in sales then used his skills to talk himself into a career in the pharmacutical industry. He put this down, in part, to his persuasiveness he’d honed in his previous job.

  6. We have traditionally seen a lot of other professions coming into PR – obviously journalism but from operational areas too. Not necessarily a problem, especially if they then learn more about what is involved and maybe study for a professional qualification.

    I think at present, most graduates of PR do start to work in the profession – I’ve seen surveys before where there is a good track record. As you indicate, getting transferrable skills can come in useful whichever direction your career progresses. I certainly don’t think the graduates should feel restricted to a lifetime in PR, it would be nice to see more progress to general top management. Especially as the majority are female.

  7. What is it about PR that it’s a female orientated profession but hardly any are in top level management? Is it because the companies that fail to recognise PR as a strategic management function also see men as better communicators?

  8. That’s an entire dissertation topic which one of my other 4th year students is working on. There is a lot of interesting PR literature (and management texts too) on women and management. There is a debate about whether as a profession becomes female dominated that rather than reaching higher levels in organisations, the discipline gets downgraded. Elizabeth Toth and Larissa Grunig are among the authors to check out.

    I saw a reference to pharmacy in this regard once – it used to be a male, highly recognised profession. Now it is seen largely as female and “just” handing out drugs.

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