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PhD in Public Policy and Administration: Program Information

Many schools offer Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in public policy and administration. These programs combine studies in fields including economics, political science and ethics.

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Essential Information

Students generally are allowed flexibility to tailor their programs of study to meet their career goals. Particular areas of focus may include urban development, public health policy or cultural studies. Research is emphasized, and students learn to analyze data and incorporate it into public policy plans. Many programs offer opportunities to conduct research or teach classes. Students must typically have a master's degree in public policy or a related field, complete transcripts and recommendation letters to gain acceptance into this doctoral program.


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Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration

Ph.D. programs in public policy and administration are interdisciplinary, interweaving topics in economics, political science, mathematics and ethics. More specific focus areas may include public health policy, international relations, criminal justice policy, cultural studies and urban development. Some programs also feature concentration options that group courses in these respective areas. Ideally, students in these programs should learn about the dynamics that influence public policy decisions. Students in these programs are trained as researchers who can apply quantitative and qualitative methods to the theoretical development and practical application of policy plans in public contexts. After devising and completing an approved program of study, Ph.D. students must pass department qualifying exams and then compose and defend a dissertation.

Some programs recommend that incoming students have a general background in economics and mathematics, especially statistics. Ph.D. programs typically feature introductory coursework in politics, statistics and analysis, economics and research methods. Advanced coursework may focus on field research or chosen concentration areas such as environmental policy. Common topics include:

  • National public policy systems
  • Economics of healthcare
  • Growth management
  • Public budgets
  • Rural and urban development
  • Social stratification and policy

Popular Career Options

After graduating from a Ph.D. program in public policy and administration, individuals usually pursue careers in public policy research or teaching. Possible employers include governments, the private sector and nonprofit organizations. Possible titles include:

  • College professor
  • Academic administrator
  • Senior-level public executive
  • Legislative aide
  • Government affairs officer
  • Senior-level nonprofit manager
  • Policy analyst
  • Research director
  • Private consultant

Public policy and administration is a fairly broad field with a large number of applications and potential careers. Students looking into public policy and administration Ph.D. programs should consider their specific research preferences and career goals, so as to ensure they make the right choice when they apply.

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