If you're planning for a career as a public relations specialist, you're not alone. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects employment of public relations professionals to grow 24 percent through 2018, but it also predicts the number of qualified applicants will outpace the available positions.

The Bureau suggests a combination of a degree in public relations, journalism, or another communications-related field with relevant internships and work experience will help applicants stand out from the crowd.

Many colleges offer such programs, typically in their journalism or communications departments. Choosing the one that's right for you depends on many factors. Here are a few programs ranked tops by experts.

If you're planning for a career as a public relations specialist, you're not alone. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects employment of public relations professionals to grow 24 percent through 2018, but it also predicts the number of qualified applicants will outpace the available positions.

The Bureau suggests a combination of a degree in public relations, journalism, or another communications-related field with relevant internships and work experience will help applicants stand out from the crowd.

Many colleges offer such programs, typically in their journalism or communications departments. Choosing the one that's right for you depends on many factors. Here are a few programs ranked tops by experts.

University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School for Communication

In 2009, the editors at College Crunch, a popular college resource site, declared the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School for Communications the best of the best for students seeking a communications degree to launch their career. The program received top marks for quality instruction as well as abundant internship opportunities. Students in this program also have the option of independent study or study abroad.

Syracuse University S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications

Syracuse University's highly competitive S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications snagged second place on College Crunch's list. According to the school's website, the typical student is in the top 5 to 10 percent of his high school class. Newhouse receives approximately 4,000 applications for a first-year class of 350.

Ball State University

Located in Muncie, Indiana, Ball State University's College of Communication, Information, and Media is one of the few universities to offer a degree specifically in public relations. According to the school's website, the program is one of only 18 certified for public relations education by the Public Relations Society of America. Ball State students can gain real-life professional experience at Cardinal Communications, a student-run public relations and advertising agency.

New York University

PR Week, a leading industry publication, named New York University's master's of science degree in public relations and corporate communications as winner of its 2009 PR Education Program of the Year award. Editors commended the program's tough courses, opportunities for practical experience, and the involvement of top public relations professionals.

James Madison University

PR Week also gave an honorable mention to James Madison University's School of Communications. Public relations majors get a global perspective on the field by participating in the Global PR Project. In addition, students can take advantage of seminars from international public relations experts through the James Madison Middle East-Europe Study Abroad program.