Public Policy Degree Program Overviews

Oct 22, 2019

An undergraduate public policy degree program teaches the basics of the discipline and emphasizes topics such as healthcare law and economic development. Advanced public policy courses are explored in master's and doctoral degree programs.

Essential Information

A Bachelor of Science in Public Policy and Administration or Public Policy and Management qualifies students for entry-level positions in policy development. Those wishing to further their studies after earning a bachelor's degree may apply to graduate programs in the field. These graduate programs are designed to prepare enrollees for advanced positions in policy formulation and implementation. Bachelor's and master's degrees in a related discipline are required to apply for the master's and Ph.D. programs, respectively. Some graduate programs require GRE scores and professional work experience in government or organizational development.

Completing the master's degree usually takes 2 years, with the doctorate degree program takes 4 years or more. Both require a thesis, practicum or dissertation research for completion.

Bachelor of Science in Public Policy and Administration

Public policy professionals make decisions and influence ordinances that affect organizations, communities and regulations at the local, state, national and international levels. In a bachelor's program in public policy and administration, students gain fundamental knowledge of policy development and implementation, either through direct government action or via public and private interaction. Most programs feature courses on topics including social change, economic growth and civil liberties.

Classes address theoretical and practical methodologies along with critical thinking, logic and communication. They also implement problem-solving skills for managing the challenges that occur in the creation of policies that have direct effect on the community. Possible subjects in the public policy curriculum are:

  • Organizational communications
  • Economic growth and development
  • Health law
  • Social problems and policy
  • Public administration

Master's Degree in Public Policy

Master's degree candidates develop advanced skills for addressing public concerns such as environmental, educational and governmental issues. These programs focus on various analytical tools in economics, political science and sociology and provide students with the strategic and leadership qualities that shape public policy leaders. They gain exposure to best practices in governance and policy analysis.

Courses emphasize problem-solving and research methods based on economic concepts and their cultural and ethical applications. Students typically select an area of concentration, such as business and government policy, social and urban policy or political and economic development. A thesis or field practicum is generally required to satisfy the degree requirements. Common subject areas may include:

  • Strategic management of public organizations
  • Empirical methods
  • Financial policy processes and procedures
  • Land use policy and planning
  • Health reform implementation

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Public Policy and Management

Doctoral degree programs prepare participants for teaching positions at the university level, as well as senior and executive leadership positions in policy planning in the public, private or non-profit sector. These programs combine core classes and concentrations in topics such as risk assessment, economic policy and decision science.

The curriculum combines classes and independent research on a specific policy topic of interest. A doctoral dissertation and its oral defense is usually required to graduate. Topics covered may include:

  • Planning, public policy and social theory
  • Public policy analysis
  • Production leadership
  • Advanced microeconomics
  • Perspectives on institutional management

Popular Career Options

Graduates are equipped to seek managerial and senior-level positions in public policy in government or private and non-profit organizations. Career options include:

  • City manager
  • Urban planner
  • Lobbyist

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment opportunities for political scientists were expected to increase by 5% from 2018-2028. According to the BLS, the mean annual salary for political scientists was $115,300 in May 2018.

Graduates of Ph.D. in Public Policy programs are qualified to seek senior- or executive-level positions in universities, research centers, governments, non-profit organizations and within the private sector. According to, the average annual salary of vice presidents of public policy was $112,324 as of May 2019.

Degrees in public policy, focusing on administration or management, can be pursued at the bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels. These prepare students for roles in policy development and analysis, from entry-level to executive-level positions depending on the level of education completed.

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