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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Below is a sample of the types of courses you might attend as a student at a public policy graduate school.
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.
Some of the common elements are outlined below.
These and other elements may vary, depending on your school and selected program. For more information about potential graduation requirements, contact your selected school.
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!