Distance Learning Degree Programs in Public Policy

Essential Information

Many schools offer online public policy degrees, but most are at the graduate level. Available from traditional four-year institutions, most online options in this field of study lead to a master's degree or graduate certificate. Students learn about applied policy analysis, administrative issues in the governmental or non-profit sectors and the role of politics and economics in policy development.

Online programs in this field are offered in both fully online and blended formats. The latter typically includes on-campus visit requirements. Admission to public policy degree programs typically requires completion of the GRE and GMAT exams. Prior experience and personal statements may be required as well.

Admission Requirements

Prospective graduate students must have a bachelor's degree to be eligible for admission to a graduate program. Since there are few public policy bachelor's programs, a student's undergraduate major typically has little or no bearing on his or her acceptance to an online graduate degree program in public policy. Other admission factors may include GRE or GMAT scores, personal statements and prior experience.

Learning Formats

Many public policy programs are offered completely via the Internet. Others are hybrids, combining online education with visits to campus for interactive classes and exams. Both distance learning options are designed to benefit working adults who need flexibility in their college studies. Online students interact with peers and professors through tools like discussion boards, chat rooms and Web conferencing. Virtual classrooms, accessed through schools' Web sites, contain lectures and assignments that distance learners can obtain generally any time.

Graduate Certificate Programs

Online graduate certificate programs consist of four or five courses, which can be completed in under 12 months. Graduate certificate programs are geared toward those who want to learn the essentials of public policy quickly; however, acquired credits can also be applied toward a master's degree in public policy. Topics covered might include the following:

  • Public administration
  • Public agency organizational behavior
  • Administration of public personnel
  • Governmental agency budgeting
  • Personnel law

Master's Degree Programs

Graduate-level distance learning programs usually award a Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration, Master of Public Policy or Master of Public Administration. In addition to online courses, distance education programs often include seminars, capstone projects and internships that can be completed in a student's home area. Some schools also allow public policy master's students to choose a specialization, such as nonprofit administration or health care policy. Advanced topics include:

  • Public administration research
  • Public service data analysis
  • Nonprofit management
  • Fundamentals of leadership
  • Public service ethics

Career Information for Graduates

Public policy graduates have multiple career paths available to them. This might include working as a staff member for a senator or representative or as a policy expert for a specific industry or conservation group. Public administration professionals sometimes work in large cities, but most are employed in the Washington, D.C., area, where they lobby federal government employees for support of their causes. Some graduates may opt to get into politics themselves or work as a research analyst in the field. Possible employers include the following:

  • Local, state or federal government agencies
  • Business and trade organizations
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Advocacy groups
  • Labor associations

Programs in public policy prepare students for a variety of career paths, including positions in government agencies, business organizations and advocacy groups. Graduate level programs can be found online, as master's degrees and graduate certificates.

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