Public Policy Degree

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What is Public Policy?

Public policy is the area of study and practice that deals with the implementation of social science theory into practice through the formation of laws. Individuals in this field will utilize research and information to identify issues and find ways to counter or curb problems within a given system. Objectives may be met through changes in funding, various courses of action, public measures, and legislative changes on policy.

Top Public Policy Degrees

If you are thinking about earning a degree in public policy, it is important to know there are several options to consider.  In fact, the degree programs coupled with certificate programs are effectively doubled when adding online learning options.  The popularity of distance learning has made this segment the fastest growing in higher education across the country.  For more information about online learning, simply visit our blog or request information from accredited colleges and universities found on this resource page today.

Public Policy Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor degree in public policy is conferred as a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA).  The program is a 4-year degree for full-time students while part-time students will take longer to complete the degree as a function of pace and course load.

The BA and BS degrees equip students with skills to help establish policy for the benefit of the general populace.  Four-year programs mix general education course with core curriculum to help provide a set of holistic and integrative thinking skills.

Core classes will help provide requisite skills to help students think deeply about a variety of issues including: ethical, legal, healthcare, environmental, disease, global health, public finances, social change, project management, disease prevention, and public communication.

Public Policy Graduate Certificates

Graduate certificates in public policy are hyper-focused sets of classes offered by accredited colleges and universities.  Whether you learn in-class or online, a graduate certificate will help qualifying students and working professionals upskill, remain competitive in a current position, prepare for a pending job change, or bolster your resume for an upcoming promotion.   Graduate certificates can last a few weeks to a year depending on the breadth of the program.

Public Policy Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in public policy is conferred as a Master of Public Administration (MPA), Master of Science (MS), Master of Public Policy (MPP).  In either case, students will gain the skills required to assess public policy issues and create substantial solutions for the positive benefit of society.

The core courses will be a function of the area of specialty chosen by the student.  Areas of concentration can include criminal justice, health policy, law & public policy, public management & leadership, homeland security, emergency management, local government management, terrorism mediation, global leadership, nonprofit management, and international nongovernmental organizations.

MPP, MPA, and MS degrees will take approximately 2-3 years to complete for most full-time students.  Classes found in the general public policy program will generally include public policy foundations, ethics, leadership, social change, organizational change, policy and politics, finance, applied research, and strategic planning.  At the completion of the program students will have the opportunity to take a capstone course and complete a thesis project.

Master degree-holders will be uniquely equipped to launch a career in a variety of directions.  The top jobs held by graduates from a public policy program include: policy reporter, politics editor, news editor, policy consultant, communications director, sustainability manager, health program analyst, clinical research manager, legislative analyst, federal intelligence analyst, development manager, government affairs director, and government official.

Doctorate Degree in Public Policy

Doctoral degrees in public policy are known as terminal degrees as no additional degrees exist after the doctorate degree.  Doctorate degrees can be conferred as a PhD in Public Policy Administration or Doctor of Public Administration (DPA).

Degree options will be a function of the school’s curricular design and program emphasis.  Graduate students will work closely with faculty advisors to establish a course schedule dependent upon a student’s area of interest.  In addition to core classes, doctoral students will spend a large portion of the degree program working on a dissertation.

Dissertations will take several years of planning and writing prior to defending the dissertation in front of a committee.  The purpose of a dissertation is to extend the knowledge in public policy through theory and practical application.

Public Policy Major Requirements

People who study public policy typically pursue at least a master's degree. Some undergraduate programs do exist, but a majority of individuals will have earned a degree in a social science or liberal arts when beginning their graduate public policy curriculum.

Individuals studying this field will have exposure to multiple social sciences, as well as the various data collection and analyses methods used by such fields in order to better understand and assist the public good.  A curriculum in public policy may include:

  • Microeconomics & Macroeconomics
  • Ethics & Public Policy
  • Political Science
  • Law
  • Sociology
  • Public Management
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Public Planning

Employment in Public Policy

Individuals with an education in public policy typically seek out employment within the government, either as staff for a political candidate, a researcher, or any number of other fields that rely on the education and experience of public policy specialist. Individuals with enough education and experience may in turn pursue teaching opportunities. A number of individuals may choose to seek office, relying on education and experience to affect change.

Jobs in this area are highly competitive, and as such some individuals may turn to other fields through additional education, such as becoming lawyers, in order to maintain a career.  Popular careers in public policy include the following job types:

Economic Advisor Local Government Analyst
Counterterrorism Analyst Urban Planner
Public Policy Professor Health Services Manager
Policy Analyst Statistician
Program Coordinator Legislative Aide
NGO Finance Manager Research Associate
City Manager Legislator
Community Service Manager Political Scientist
Educational Research Scientist Social Policy Researcher

Public Policy Salary and Career Outlook

The average salary for individuals with working within the field of public policy can vary widely.  Salary research performed by Public Service Careers reveals the lowest sector tends to be non-profit organizations.  The next highest paying employer in public policy is the public sector corporations followed by government agencies.

The top government policy analysts earn between $94,000 and $145,000 on average.  However, lower level analysts average just over $33,000 a year.  The salary range is dictated by other factors such as work experience, education level, type of employment arrangement, position, and physical location.

Job growth is expected remain limited in this field due to the high education requirement and limited number of positions available.  As a result the field is highly competitive, be it for practical, political or research positions. Individuals attempting to gain employment in this field should work early to establish important connections in order to be able to track down or secure employment.

Resources in Public Policy

Individuals interested in public policy may also be interested in urban planning, political science or sociology.  Students may consider becoming members of the IPPA or the APPAM to help broaden their professional network.  Such organizations provide unique benefits to their members while connecting like-minded professionals around the globe.

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Career Summary: Public policy Major




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