Masters in Public Policy programs, also known as MPP Degree programs, are graduate professional degrees focused on using data analysis techniques to understand the impact of governance and legislation on communities. MPP programs also discuss how to evaluate public programs, and use that evaluation to make recommendations to improve effectiveness. Overall, masters of public policy programs combine hard quantitative skills with expertise surrounding social and community development, public leadership, and political and legal issues.
Masters in Public Policy programs have a lot in common with a related degree, the Master of Public Administration or MPA. In fact, not only might some of the coursework overlap, but some programs might even combine the two, offering instead a “master of public policy and administration.” With all that uniting them, how does one tell them apart?
In essence, a Master of Public Policy program focuses on using quantitative research to understand a community and the impact leadership decisions might have on that community. Meanwhile, an MPA program focuses more on taking those findings and turning them into actionable plans to accomplish policy goals. MPA programs also incorporate more elements of administration and leadership, like one might find in business programs, such as managing teams of people effectively on a day to day basis.
Masters in public policy programs are complex and interdisciplanary, bringing together a variety of unique subjects to better understand how communities and governments function. After all, community and government are complex topics! A world of potential research areas fall within the broader umbrella of public policy. This includes sociology, urban planning, economics, international relations, education, the environment, and more. And MPP programs don’t just touch on these in a general sense. They also hone analysis skills, and apply them to each of those topics, with the aim of attaining an objective understanding. Some programs may even offer options for concentrations, enabling students to specialize in a certain type of research, or policy issue.
Different students have different needs when it comes to earning their MPP. From how you learn to your obligations outside class, programs might accomodate your needs in different ways. For example, do you prefer to dedicate all your time and energy to your education? In that case, you’re probably looking for something full time. Have a more hectic schedule? Then you probably want to look for part time or flexible options. Luckily, technology enables programs to reach more students in innovative—not to mention convenient—ways. Generally, program formats fall into three categories.
Most MPP programs require students to complete some kind of final project in order to graduate. Generally, this is in the form of a thesis or capstone project. In public policy, these two have a lot in common. Because the field is so research-oriented, both types of final projects are likely to have a heavy research element. So what’s the difference?
In some cases, programs might also offer these or similar projects in the form of a seminar. Seminars are classes focused on discussing a specific topic at length. Sometimes, these types of classes might be used to guide final research projects, or to supplement field experience. If your school chooses to do this, the stated seminar topic might indicate the options available to you when it comes to writing your thesis or capstone.
Each MPP program may be a little different. The material covered in your curriculum could be impacted by your selected specialty or concentration (if you have the option), or what your program focuses on. That could be anything from urban planning, to economic development, or even international relations, just to name a few examples. Other influences include the general objective of your program, who’s teaching your courses, and the needs of the community the program is rooted in. For this reason, you may want to read individual program curriculum when assessing your options.
Here are some examples of the types of courses you might encounter in your Master of Public Policy program.
While many choose to earn their MPP and then focus on building their career, it doesn’t have to be the end of your education. Want to be an expert in your field? Consider going on to earn a doctorate in public policy. Public policy doctoral programs may build advanced research skills, and generally apply that knowledge toward researching a single, specialized topic. Or if you want to learn more about a particular topic, you could consider bolstering your credentials with a graduate certificate in public policy. Those programs tend to be short, and focused, and may be available at the masters and post-masters level.
Many public and political research roles require (or prefer) at least a relevant master’s degree. Public policy analysis is a broad category, including a variety of more specialized research areas and position titles. Many of these are defined by specialty—whether that’s through concentrated education or professional experience. Examples include:
The specific requirements for working in these and similar roles may vary widely. Some may ask for specific educational backgrounds, such as urban planning training or statistics education. Others may have entry-level roles open to those with a bachelor’s degree.
Take the first step toward your public policy degree, and start your search for master of public policy programs here on GradSchools.com. If you already know what program format you’d prefer, use the menu to select the appropriate option and narrow down your options. Then you can read more about what that program is like, or start reviewing the sponsored program listings that match your criteria. When you identify a masters in public policy program you think you’d like to attend, click on its name to read more or get in touch. Once you do, you can request information, sets up an interview or campus visit, or even start your application!
Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies
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