A Snapshot of Public Policy Careers

Public Policy Careers

Professionals in the field of public policy work on a local, national, or global level to research, create, administer, and amend public policy, legislation, and programs affecting the general public and/or specific groups within a citizenry. Public policy professionals work in a variety of settings, most commonly in government buildings, research institutes and think tanks, non-governmental agencies, and non-profits, and in a variety of roles and specializations. Some specializations include:

  • Economic policy
  • Global policy
  • Local policy
  • Urban policy
  • Law and public policy
  • NGO and nonprofit policy

Accordingly, they typically work in the following sectors:

  • Governmental sector
  • Independent sector
  • Research sector
  • Private business sector
  • Consulting sector
  • Public/private ventures sectors
  • Public Policy Salary

Education Requirements for Public Policy Careers

Professionals in the field of public policy work in a large variety of settings and capacities and therefore come from an assortment of educational backgrounds. Public policy professionals might begin their journeys by earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology, political science, history, business, psychology, or international affairs and then, depending on their chosen career, a master’s degree in the same subject, a complimentary subject, or a more specialized subject such as public policy (MPP) or public administration (MPA). Depending on their career paths, some students may earn a master’s degree in social work (MSW), public health (MPH), or law (JD). In certain sectors, public policy professionals also earn their PhDs.

Students should consider their potential career opportunities and choose an appropriate academic path accordingly. To enter some sectors, it is appropriate for students to diversify their education by earning a bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD in different but complimentary subjects. In other cases, it is wise for students to pursue degrees in one subject or directly connected subjects.

It is important to know that different fields require different levels of education. Some entry level positions might require only a bachelor’s degree in a related subject, while others require a master’s degree or even a PhD.

People who want to work in the field of public policy should seek internships while they’re in school. The field can be quite competitive, and employers will likely hire people who have some experience over people who have none. While you’re earning your bachelor’s degree, intern and work in a variety of capacities and then, while you’re earning your master’s or PhD, gain experience in a more specific sector, field, or subject. In the field of public policy, it is important to have both general and specific knowledge and experience.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a political scientist is $102, 000; the median annual salary for a social worker is $44,200; the median annual salary for lawyers is $113,530; the median annual salary for postsecondary teachers is $68,970; the median annual salary for health educators is $41,830; the median annual salary for urban and regional planners is $65,320; the median annual salary for executives (city managers, etc.) is $101,650.

Top Public Policy Schools

U.S. News ranks the following programs as the best public policy programs in the country in 2012:

Syracuse University: the Department of Public Administration & International Affairs is housed here.
Indiana University, Bloomington: the School of Public & Environmental Affairs is housed here.
Harvard University: the JFK school of government is located at Harvard University.
The University of Georgia: the Department of Public Administration and Policy is housed here.
Princeton University: the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs is located at Princeton University.
These top public policy programs and a list of other public policy school rankings can be found here.

Public policy programs throughout the U.S. have different requirements for admission. In general, schools require students to have a 2.5 GPA or higher (though many schools require a 3.0 GPA); relatively high scores on the GRE; some experience in a field related to their major; and letters of recommendation from professors and/or supervisors. Many colleges also require applicants to furnish a lengthy academic writing sample alongside other application materials.

public policy degree programs