At any level, a public policy degree opens the door to a variety of career options that allow you to shape the legislative agendas of national or international governments or the missions and goals of NGOs and similar institutions.
Graduates of public policy programs often work as policy analysts for governments and think tanks, which are organizations that provide research and consultancy. Policy analysts spend much of their time researching a specific topic, collecting and analyzing data, evaluating the outcomes of existing policies, assessing the ethics of policies, and sharing their research with policymakers through books, newsletters, and fact sheets.
Profile of a Typical Public Policy Student
Students who study public policy are committed to the public good and to shaping public policy and legislation in their future careers. They are civically minded, often have experience in community programs, social work, or NGOs, and want to work in the public sector for most of their careers, whether in the U.S. or abroad. They also tend to excel in research, writing, and statistics. Finally, they typically have very strong leadership skills and a desire to pursue leadership positions.
If these characteristics describe you, a degree in public policy is a good choice for you. On the other hand, if you tend to be introverted and are uncomfortable being in charge of others, this is not the right path for you.
Check the Guide to Accreditation in Higher Education to learn more about accreditation and how to determine if the program you select meets the necessary standards.
Courses that you may while earning a degree:
- Governance and Policy Processes
- Statistical Methods
- Theory and Practice
- Organization and Management
- Social Policy
- Professional Development
Bachelor’s Degree in Public Policy
Public policy at the undergraduate level prepares students for entry-level work in both nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies that work with policy matters and urban planning.
- Credit hours/length of study: 4 years
- Employment prospects: entry-level policy matters and urban planning
Master’s Degree in Public Policy
You can apply for a master’s program directly after receiving an undergraduate degree, most programs prefer applicants with professional experience in government, NGOs, or similar institutions.
- Credit hours/length of study: 2-3 years
- Employment prospects: public service, lower management positions for NGOs, or research positions in a think tank
Doctoral Degree in Public Policy
Many people choose to pursue their doctorate while working as professionals in the field of public policy. With a PhD in public policy you can pursue a career in higher public offices, on the board or as top management of an NGO, or as a full researcher in a think tank or university.
- Credit hours/length of study: 3-4 years
- Employment prospects: higher public offices, on the board or as top management of an NGO, or as a full researcher in a think tank or university
The most popular area for public policy graduates to work is Washington, D.C., which is not only the center of the U.S. government but also the location of the headquarters of thousands of national and international NGOs, think tanks, and other nonprofit organizations.
Salaries for public policy graduates can vary widely; according to PublicServiceCareers.org the lowest salaries tend to be in the nonprofit sector, followed by the public sector, with the highest average salaries in the private sector. The highest level of government policy analysts earn between $93,000 and $145,000, while lower level analysts who assist other experienced analysts earn just under $32,000. Salaries at think tanks also vary considerably, depending on the organization’s size and source of funding.
- Economic Advisor
- Finance Manager at a Non-Governmental Organization
- Political Scientist
- Public Policy Professor
- Policy Analyst
- Legislative Aide
- Research Associate
- Educational Research Scientist
- Local Government Analyst
- Social and Community Service Manager
- Urban Planner
- City Manager
- Health Services Manager
- Social Policy Researcher
- Counterterrorism Analyst
- Program Coordinator
Public policy scholarships are mostly available to broader categories of students, with few scholarships specific to public policy. Students looking for public policy scholarships will often have to compete with other students in political disciplines, such as political science, public affairs, and government service. As a result, scholarships for public policy students are competitive and only students with strong academic performance and solid applications are likely to receive funding.