District of Columbia Public Policy Graduate Degree Schools & Programs

Public Policy Graduate School Programs help students build fluency in constitutional law, judicial precedent, and state and local laws and regulations. This could then be applied in public programs, nonprofit organizations, and corporate settings to help guide strategic decision-making, or to inform potential legislative efforts.

Unlike law, which focuses on creating and maintaining rules and procedures through legislation, policy concerns itself with the goals and ideals that legislation hopes to achieve. As such, programs often have a more social focus than legal programs typically do. They may touch on topics like organizational psychology, group dynamics, and social justice, among other things.

Graduate schools of public policy may confer masters degrees, doctorates, or graduate certificates to successful students. Often, these schools are anchored in the local community, meaning the curriculum and experience offered may be influenced by by the needs of that community.

What Are Public Policy Graduate Schools?

Earning your graduate degree in public policy on a school campus could have unique advantages for you, if you choose to pursue them. For example, studying in your own community means you could learn about your own community. If your program includes a field experience component, you could work with organizations in your area, dealing with the issues relevant to you.

Of course, that’s not the only reason to study on campus. If you’ve already started your career, studying locally could be convenient. Many public policy graduate programs offer flexible scheduling—such as through evening classes or partial online study—making it possible to balance your career and school obligations.

Your specific experience may depend on the type of public policy grad school you choose to attend. For example, if you opt for a more research-focused program, and study full time—possibly even a residential program—your experiences are unlikely to align with a part-time student focused more on practical application in the community. As such, when choosing your public policy graduate program, make sure the focus and experience it offers line up with your goals in earning that degree.

Public Policy Graduate Degree Types

Public policy graduate school programs may confer degrees ranging from masters to doctorate, as well as certificates, once you complete the requirements. Within each of those categories, you might be able to earn several specific degree types. Often—though not always—these degree types align with certain types of skills or potential career paths.

On Campus Public Policy Masters Programs

Public policy masters programs might award one of four different types of degrees. However, other options may be available at some schools. These could align in two different ways: academic degrees focused on research and scholarship, and professional degrees focused on application.

  • Master of Arts/Master of Science in Public Policy: Two of the more familiar degree types, MA and MS programs are often academic in nature. That means they might emphasize legal expertise and policy research skills. Some of these programs might be designed to help students prepare for continued study at the doctorate level.
  • Master of Public Policy (MPP): MPP programs are professional degrees that generally focus on policy analysis and program evaluation. Courses may emphasize research and analytical skills, to evaluate the impact of programs and policies on communities, or to evaluate the potential impact of future efforts to help guide strategies.
  • Master of Public Administration & Policy (MPA): At some schools, MPA programs might be distinct from public policy programs. However, other schools may combine the two and offer MPAs focused on public policy. In that case, these programs would likely focus on skills like leading a program or team and using policy research to make decisions accomplish goals.

These and other programs may not look the same at every school. For more information about a particular program and its degree options, reach out to the school in question.

Public Policy Doctorate Schools

The majority of public policy schools with doctoral programs confer PhDs upon completion, and the majority of these are research-oriented. The difference generally has to do with the area of focus. For example, one program might focus on studying social policy, whereas another might emphasize economic issues, and another might focus more on issues relating to legislation, lobbying, or government.

However, another potential option would be to earn a Doctor of Public Administration focused on public policy. DPA programs have a similar relationship to MPAs as DBAs do to MBAs. DBAs are also professional degrees, emphasizing leadership and organizational skills in public and nonprofit organizations, guided by policy research.

Grad School Public Policy Certificate Programs

Graduate certificate policy programs are a non-degree alternative for graduate study. Both masters certificate and post-masters certificates might be available.

The main difference between those two would be the prerequisites (e.g. a masters level certificate would be open to applicants holding a bachelor’s degree, whereas you’d need to have earned a masters to apply to a post-masters graduate certificate).

Graduate certificate programs in public policy often focus on a specific topic or skill set. Some may focus on the needs of a specific population (such as LGBT issues in public policy, the elderly, or those of a certain socioeconomic bracket). Others might focus on program analysis, or a specific type of research practice.

Public Policy Graduate School Curriculum

Different public policy programs may design their curriculums a little differently, according to degree level, type, and area of focus. Potential course topics are fairly diverse, ranging from law, to psychology and sociology, to economics, to project and program management and analysis.

12 Typical Classes

Below is a sample of the types of courses you might attend as a student at a public policy graduate school.

  1. Microeconomics and Macroeconomics
  2. Statistics for Policy Analysis
  3. Regression Analysis
  4. Ethics in Public Policy
  5. Social Justice Issues & Social Policy
  6. Domestic and International Economic Policy
  7. Socioeconomic Development
  8. Environmental Policy
  9. Education Policy & Law
  10. Public Health
  11. Homeland Security
  12. Public Administration & Management

Additional Requirements

Most graduate programs have additional elements beyond classwork necessary for graduation. Often this takes the form of a final project. The specifics may vary depending on the type of degree being earned and what level.

4 Elements of Public Policy Grad School Curriculum

Some of the common elements are outlined below.

  1. Thesis: This is typically a requirement of masters programs. However, the term “thesis” may also sometimes be used to describe a doctoral dissertation. In essence, a thesis is a lengthy research paper, written at the culmination of a master’s program. It demonstrates your fluency with the current and influential policy research, and your ability to draw conclusions from it.
  2. Dissertation: A common requirement of doctoral programs—particularly academic doctorates—a dissertation is an original research project. Unlike a thesis, which typically relies on research that has already been performed and published, a dissertation generally aims to contribute new knowledge and data to the field of public policy. Doctoral candidates often have to present and defend their findings before a jury of faculty and/or peers.
  3. Capstone Project: Present in both masters and doctoral programs, capstone projects are often an element of professional degree programs. As such, the nature of each project could vary considerably depending on the program in question. Often, a capstone mirrors the type of work one might do in the field—e.g. a program analysis, case study, or a strategy proposal to solve a real problem. In some cases, capstone projects might be completed on teams. They might also work in conjunction with field experience requirements.
  4. Field Experience/Internship Requirements: Not every masters or doctoral program may require field experience, but many do, especially ones issuing professional degrees. These are typically guided experiences, but that could vary to an extent. Students may have a faculty advisor or seminar class to help them navigate the experience.

These and other elements may vary, depending on your school and selected program. For more information about potential graduation requirements, contact your selected school.

Find Public Policy Graduate School Programs

Start searching for public policy graduate schools on GradSchools.com. Use the menu to select your preferred degree level and/or location. Then review the sponsored program listings that match your search.

You can click on the names of any programs you’re interested in to read more or request additional information. Then get in touch, schedule your campus visit, and if it’s a promising match, start applying!

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