Opportunities in public policy provide a path for those that are interested in the development of policies and regulations, solving issues that may prop up, influencing policymakers on key issues within certain communities, and supporting government agencies.

There are a number of specific areas of emphasis that students can pick from when pursuing a higher education in the field. More analyst roles, or jobs in the federal government, require a more advanced degree, such as a Master or PhD in public policy. Key attributes that are needed to succeed in any position is solid communication and negotiating tactics, writing and interpreting policy, and presentation skills.

Best Degrees for Public Policy Careers

Direct Public Policy degrees are available in all higher education levels and will satisfy the majority of job requirements. The majority of colleges will offer areas of emphasis for students to choose a focus within the public service sector. These options can include healthcare, environmental policy, cybersecurity, public management, nonprofit management, and law and ethics. Public policy programs are often found through schools of arts and sciences, and other degrees that can apply within public policy are in the fields of business, economics, environmental studies, political science, and public administration.

It is important to look at Master's degrees from programs that are accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration, or NASPAA. Their high standards require these colleges to reach a benchmark that is reviewed on an annual basis, and all programs must apply frequently to keep their accreditation. NASPAA accredits specific programs, not the schools or universities that are represented. They only review programs that offer a Master's degree, not Bachelor's degree or a doctoral degree.

Consider a Featured Online MPA Program

School and Online Program InformationGRE Requirements & Course InfoAdmissions
American University
Master of Public Administration and Policy (Online)
NASPAA Accredited
Online
Online Master of Public Administration and Policy (MPAP)
Master's in Public Policy (MPP) Graduate with your MPAP in 24 months
Drake University
Master of Public Administration
Online
Online
Complete in just 2 years. Choose from 3 unique program tracks: Leadership, Healthcare Management, Individualized.
University of North Carolina
Master of Public Administration Online
MPA @ UNC
Online
GRE Waivers available Complete in as few as 18 months, includes a Practical Work Experience practicum at a public service organization.
University of Southern California
Online MPA
Ranked #3 for public affairs
Online
Ask representative.
Bachelor’s required. Learn to design and run new public systems and programs; evaluate, develop and implement new policy; and track, allocate and raise public funds. Graduate in as few as 24 months.

Typical Public Policy Educational Requirements

Job availability is based on the level of higher education obtained through public administration or public policy. The majority of opportunities generally require a Bachelor's degree or Master's degree with some entry level work experience. With a Bachelor's degree, the door opens for developing policy and legislation within local government. Master's degree programs or higher will focus more on managerial and research roles within public policy.

For those pursuing a Master of Public Policy, admission requirements include holding an undergraduate degree with a 3.0 cumulative GPA and prerequisite courses. Usually, holding a Bachelor's degree within the field of public policy will satisfy these requirements. Most programs will consider students conditionally that are under a 3.0 cumulative GPA. Other common application requirements that need to be submitted are official or unofficial transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal statement detailing education history and goals, updated resume, and an application form with fee.

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Programs Currently Accepting Applicants

Earn a master’s degree from a top-ranked school for public affairs. American University brings DC to you with the online Master of Public Administration and Policy (MPAP), combining our nationally recognized and NASPAA-accredited Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) and Master’s in Public Policy (MPP) degree programs into one foundational, highly marketable credential. Click here for more program information.

Drake University’s online Master of Public Administration degree program is designed to prepare working professionals with policy expertise, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving strategies – valuable skills needed to efficiently lead and serve in the public administration field. Choose from three different MPA tracks.
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Earn a top-ranked Master of Public Administration online from UNC-Chapel Hill without relocating. MPA @ UNC can be completed in as few as 18 months and no public service experience is required to apply. Advanced degree GRE waivers are available to those who qualify.
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Earn your MPA online from USC Price and learn to design and run new public systems and programs; evaluate, develop and implement new policy; and track, allocate and raise public funds. Graduate in as few as 24 months. Bachelor’s required.
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Recommended Public Policy Coursework

When pursuing a Bachelor’s degree within public policy, students will be focusing on more foundational coursework. As an example, the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California has a core curriculum with the following topics: an overview of public policy and management, public ethics, developing policies through an urban lens, and social justice issues. They also have concentrations within health policy, philanthropy, and further policy analysis.

Higher levels, such as Master and PhD degrees, will provide more education within management and theory. The curriculum for the Master of Public Administration at the University of Montana includes the following core courses: Organization Theory, Human Resource Management, Policy Analysis, Budgeting and Finance, and Applied Research Methods.

Nearly all programs regardless of level have the same curriculum, with core courses and electives to customize the degree. Internships can be taken to fulfill work experience requirements, and there is a capstone project that culminates the program. Examples of projects include presentations that involve solving real-world situations and researching a thesis paper, all with the ultimate goal of showcasing what a student has learned throughout their time in the program.

Skills That Are Helpful to Work in Public Policy

One of the most important skills needed in any public policy career is having substantial knowledge in the legislative process and the separation of powers. In order to develop or analyze public policy, it is necessary to understand the foundation of how bills become laws. The legislative branch of the government creates laws within congress, the executive branch moves these laws forward, and the interpretation of these laws are made through the judicial branch – at the supreme court and other federal courts.

There will be a number of reports and extensive writing projects that are done within a public policy program, which is another important skill needed. It is necessary to clearly identify and explain why a bill needs to be passed through. On a related note, policymakers or those influencing them must have strong negotiation and communication skills. Especially in the legislative process, there will be debates on whether the bill needs to be passed through.

In more managerial roles, communication is also important, along with creating a strong network and to encourage collaboration within groups that may view certain policies in a different light. The ability to lead and compromise, and ultimately find solutions, is important to continue adapting government rules and regulations to the constantly changing world.

Public Policy Career Opportunities

Policy Analyst

Influence and make policy decisions for the government or an organization, researching and compiling various data sets and presenting recommendations. Other duties can include budgeting, what effects implementing certain policies can have on a community, and working directly with vendors. Typical skills needed are being comfortable with working with mathematics and analytical models, so a specialization in that department toward a Master’s degree is recommended.

Public Relations Specialist

Maintains a positive look for the organization while identifying and solving any issues that may arise. Duties typically involve the creation of press releases when more information or clarification is needed, such as when news breaks or the organization is introducing something new or updated. They will formulate long-term plans and gather consumer reaction from the goods or services that the organization is responsible for. In general, it is always important to keep the image of the organization in peak form. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is expected to be six percent growth between 2018-28.

Survey Researcher

Uses a quantitative or qualitative method in collecting data in a variety of categories in the government, healthcare, educational sector, and more. These researchers will determine what is the method of interaction, be it interviewing specific candidates, holding a focus group, or sending a broad survey across a segment of people. In some instances, they will observe interviews in order to gather data or determine that surveys are properly and accurately representing information.

Marketing Manager

A higher-level public policy position that requires leadership and managerial skills for the organization they work for. These managers will analyze trends and look at predictive modeling to determine the best strategies for marketing their goods or services. Similar to PR occupations, they must oversee consumer reaction, and in addition, observe what advertising works in various locations. This will aid in the optimization of their distribution potential. According to Salary.com, the average marketing manager can make around $102,700 per year.

Salaries

All public policy job opportunities have a salary that can range from around $40,000 to well into the six-figure mark. This is all based on the level of agency chosen within public service and the industry that is selected, with health care having higher-paying opportunities than local government opportunities. Obtaining a Master’s degree within the public policy field can significantly improve salary by nearly $20,000 per year, and more analyst and administration roles, such as human resources managers, policy analyst, and political scientist positions, open up.

Dealing with policy directly without many managerial responsibilities will net a lower pay. As a comparison, policy and budget analysts typically make within the range of $60,000 to $70,000 annually. Political scientists analyze the entire structure of government than how policies affect the community, giving them a significant boost with $117,570 earned per year. Human and information resource managers, who are responsible for maintaining various administrative roles and handling all staffing and recruiting issues, often see between $110,000 to $130,000 per year.