Graduate Programs in Public Policy: Degree Program Overviews

Master's and doctoral degree programs in public policy offers interdisciplinary instruction regarding the formation of public policy. Find out what kind of courses and careers are common to these programs.

Essential Information

Public policy analysis involves the study of how public policy is formed, the decision processes that help create it and the impact of particular policies on society. The analysis of public policy is most often an interdisciplinary field, particularly at the graduate level. Students of related master's- and doctoral-level programs learn about public policy history and analysis as well as statistics and economic models. Master's programs usually culminate in a thesis or capstone project, while doctoral programs usually have dissertation requirements. Graduates of these programs might go on to become analysts, managers, researchers, professors, or consultants.


Master's Degree in Public Policy Analysis

A master's degree in public policy helps students to develop the analytical and methodological tools needed to dissect and analyze public policy. Candidates study the political processes through which public policy is created as well as the social and economic contexts in which societal issues are analyzed and addressed. Nearly all master's degree programs in public policy are interdisciplinary programs. Similar to any other graduate level degree program, a master's degree in public policy requires that interested students have already completed their undergraduate studies, preferably in a public policy-related field. Students will complete core public policy classes such as those listed below:

  • Economics components of policy analysis
  • Revenue, budgeting and expenditure analysis
  • Non-profit program structures
  • History of public policy
  • Theories of policy analysis

Ph.D. Degree in Public Policy Analysis

A Ph.D. degree program in public policy analysis will prepare students for a research-focused career in public policy. Similar to a public policy master's degree program, students explore the basic methodological and analytical skills needed for policy analysis. Building on these basic skills, doctoral degree candidates will also learn how to conduct policy-relevant research while focusing on the institutional and substantive aspects of public policy. Doctoral students will learn to analyze public policy through the study of fields such as information systems and technology, economics, psychology, statistics, sociology, operations research, and organizational behavior.

Prerequisites for doctoral programs differ widely from institution to institution. Some doctoral programs will offer both the master's degree and the doctoral degree coursework concurrently. These programs often accept students with only a bachelor's degree provided the student can demonstrate proficiency in fields of study relevant to public policy analysis. Other doctoral programs will require all students to have already completed their master's degrees in public policy or related fields before being admitted. Listed below are some sample course titles that students will encounter in a doctoral public policy program. Students will also need to complete research dissertations.

  • Organizational theory
  • Public policy statistics
  • Economic models of public services for the developing world
  • Policy decisions and politics
  • Concepts behind not-for-profit organization
  • The politics of institutionalized settings

Popular Careers

Master's degree and doctoral candidates will be eligible for jobs in fields ranging from the federal government to the non-profit sector.

  • Public policy analyst
  • Non-profit manager
  • Public policy program evaluator
  • Consultant

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Earning a master's degree in public policy can also lead to work as a political scientist. Job growth in this field was expected to be faster than average - 2% between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The median salary for political scientists was $99,730 in 2015, according to the BLS.

In a public policy graduate degree program, students develop the theoretical and practical tools necessary for becoming experts in the field, understanding how different decisions and laws affect society. Earning either a master's or doctoral degree opens up numerous employment opportunities for students.


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