What is Public Policy

Defining the practice of public policy is often a difficult task because the field is so vast. Ultimately, however, public policy is a field in which professionals address local, state, federal, and international public issues through the creation, administration, or amendment of programs, legislation, and government-based policies. Public policy professionals might work as lawyers, social workers, health educators, executives, teachers, researchers, supervisors, planners, business professionals, and in numerous other capacities. They work in sectors such as:

  • The governmental sector
  • The independent sector
  • The research sector
  • The private business sector
  • The consulting sector
  • The public/private ventures sector
  • The public, non-profit, or non-governmental organization sector

Public Policy Education

The amount of education you need to enter the field of public policy depends upon your chosen career path. Most public policy professionals have, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in political science, psychology, business, international affairs, or a subject connected to the capacity in which they work. Other professionals in the field of public policy may choose to earn a master’s degree, usually in public policy (MPP), public administration (MPA), political science (MA or MS), social work (MSW), public health (MPH), business (MBA), or law (JD). In certain sectors, such as researching, teaching, and consulting, public policy professionals also have PhDs.

To begin your education in the field of public policy, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field. After that, depending on the sector and capacity in which you want to work, you might choose to further refine your skill set by earning a Master’s and/or PhD in a subject appropriate to your chosen field. Most commonly, people who want to work in the field of public affairs who choose to pursue a masters degree earn an MPP, MPA, or MA in political science (many political science masters programs allow students to emphasize public policies or affairs). While you’re going to school, you’ll want to secure as many internships and job opportunities in the field as possible. Most employers in the field prefer to hire professionals with at least some general experience. Plus, your interning and working experience will enhance your experience within your academic program.

Masters’ in Public Policy, Public Administration, and Political Science

Many public policy professionals earn master’s degrees in public policy, public administration, or political science with an emphasis on public policy or public affairs. Because of the interdependence of public policy and administration, the MPP and MPA are increasingly similar in curricula. Students can typically expect to study the following:

Core Subjects:

  • macroeconomics
  • sociology
  • anthropology
  • politics
  • regional planning
  • public finance
  • microeconomics
  • ethics
  • statistics
  • research methods

Core Curriculum:

  • economics
  • quantitative analysis
  • politics
  • advocacy
  • policy analysis
  • strategic management
  • ethics
  • leadership
  • negotiations

Common Concentrations:

  • business and government policy
  • democracy, politics, and institutions
  • international and global affairs
  • international trade, business, and finance
  • political and economic development
  • social and urban policy
  • health education and policy

Students typically earn an MPP, MPA, or MA in political science with an emphasis in public affairs within two years of study. Approximately half of the total credits required to complete a program derive from core curriculum; about 30 percent derive from the emphasis; and the remaining derive from a final project such as an oral and written examination or thesis.

Choosing a Career Path

When choosing a career path in public policy, it’s important to consider the diverse range of options. As mentioned above, people in the field of public policy work in a variety of disciplines, capacities, and sectors, many of which are quite distinct.

To begin, consider whether you want to work in the area of social policy and affairs, political policy and affairs, or economic policy and affairs.

Then, consider whether you want to work in a more business, legal, social, administrative, executive, educational, supportive, or research capacity.

Finally, conduct research to determine which jobs within the field best match your desired area of expertise and fit the capacity in which you want to work.

You might also want to take the following into account:

  • Where in the country you want to work
  • Whether you want to work at the local, state, federal, or international level
  • Whether you want to work in an urban or rural setting
  • Whether you want to work with the public or in an office
  • Whether you want to work for a public or private organization
  • How much money you want and need to make
  • How many degrees you want to pursue

Once you’ve considered your preferences and options, contact organizations and people working in the field to ask questions, determine what actions you need to take, and assess whether or not the career path is the right one for you. You might also consider taking an introduction to public policy course at a college or university, even before you pick a specific program or major. Doing so will help you better understand the field prior to committing to it.

Popular Research Facilities throughout the U.S.

If you want to know more about public policy research and what professionals in the field do, browse through the websites of public policy research institutions throughout the country. Doing so can help you identify issues and sectors you find most interesting and also give you an idea of the types of subjects and policies professionals in the field address and manage. Following is a list of institutes to get you started:

  • The Public Policy Research Institute
  • The Institute for Public Policy and Social Research
  • The Institute for Public Policy Research
  • The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
  • The Pioneer Institute

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