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2021 Public Policy Degree Guide

A major in Public Policy allows you go behind the political scene to learn exactly how and why public policy decisions are made. You will learn how to analyze and form public policy decisions - giving you front row access to shape today's most important economic and social issues. The curriculum focuses on theory and history as well as a wide study of current social issues.

Between a broad array of analytical techniques and practical experience, a graduate with a Public Policy degree will be prepared to influence and change policy decisions. Be ready for a heavy course load in mathematics, as this major has a strong background in economics and statistics. Concentrations include: Education Policy Analysis, Health Policy Analysis, and International Policy Analysis.

A Recent Jump in Public Policy Degrees

#116 Most Popular Major
6k Degrees Awarded
7.8% Increase in Graduates

Public Policy was the 116th most popular major in the 2018-2019 school year. Colleges in the United States reported awarding 6,021 degrees in this year alone. This represents a 7.8% increase in public policy degrees awarded over the prior year's total of 5,550.

Approximately 79 colleges in the U.S. offer a public policy degree of some kind. Our 2020 Best Colleges for Public Policy ranking analyzes 29 of these schools to determine the best overall colleges for public policy students. Continue reading to check out one of our many unbiased rankings of public policy programs later in this article.

What Are The Requirements For a Degree in Public Policy

This is a major for those that are intellectual and curious and never take anything at face-value. A public policy analyst is interested in getting to the root of how all things work, questioning the given information, and analyzing the data. Being able to accurately interpret data is essential to this field, and strong mathematical skills are needed.

Students should also be interested in politics and have good quality people skills. You will be required to work in teams, give presentations, resolve conflicts, write for multiple audiences and engage in political networking.

Getting Accepted Into a Public Policy Program

public policy degree applicants generally need have finished high school or their GED. Many schools may also have GPA and SAT/ACT score minimums that must be met. In addition to these basic public policy program qualifications, to serve in some public policy careers, special certification may be required outside of your degree.

Types of Public Policy Degrees

Public Policy degree levels vary. You can get anything from a associate's degree in public policy to the highest public policy degree, a research/scholarship based doctorate. Depending on the public policy degree you choose, obtaining your diploma can take anwhere from 1 to 4+ years.

Degree Credit Requirements Typical Program Length
Associate Degree 60-70 credits 2 years
Bachelor’s Degree 120 credits 4 years
Master’s Degree 50-70 credits 1-3 years
Doctorate Program required coursework including thesis or dissertation At least 4 years

A doctor's degree (research / scholarship) is the most common level of education achieved by those in careers related to public policy, with approximately 47.4% of workers getting one. See the the most common levels of education for public policy workers below.

Level of Education Percentage of Workers
Doctoral Degree 51.1%
Bachelor’s Degree 25.5%
Master’s Degree 15.1%
Associate’s Degree (or other 2-year degree) 3.8%
Post-Doctoral Training 3.1%

About 51.2% of workers in careers related to public policy obtain at least doctor's degree (research / scholarship). View the chart below to get an idea of what degree level most of those in public policy careers have.


This of course varies depending on which public policy career you choose.

Career Opportunities for A Degree In Public Policy Graduate

Average Number of Jobs
$52.1k Average Starting Salary
19% Growth Job Outlook 2016-26

A career in public policy analysis can go in two different directions. Graduates can work producing policy analysis for formal research projects, collecting, analyzing, and summarizing their findings from primary data. A second group of jobs involves those who use analysis and research to apply the information into their policy process.

Within these two categories is an array of job titles: political scientists, economists, sociologists, lawyers, urban planners, or natural scientists, among other things. Graduates find work in many large public and private bodies, government agencies, national governance organizations, corporations, think tanks, and consultancy firms. No matter the job title, these people shape society through analyzing research.

High Growth Projected for Public Policy Careers

Want a job when you graduate with your public policy degree? Public Policy careers are expected to grow 19.0% between 2016 and 2026.

The following options are some of the most in-demand careers related to public policy.

Occupation Name Projected Jobs Expected Growth
Medical and Health Services Managers 424,300 20.5%
Health Specialties Professors 294,000 25.9%
Education Professors 82,200 10.3%
Legislators 59,400 7.0%
Social Scientists 44,900 6.7%

How Much Money Do Public Policy Grads Make?

Public Policy graduates between 2015-2017 reported earning an average of $52,077 in the 2017-2018 timeframe. Earnings can range from as low as $27,100 to as high as $76,000. As you might expect, salaries for public policy graduates vary depending on the level of education that was acquired.


High Paying Careers for Public Policy Majors

Salaries for public policy graduates can vary widely by the occupation you choose as well. The following table shows the top 5 highest paying careers public policy grads often go into.

Occupation Name Median Average Salary
Health Specialties Professors $122,320
Political Scientists $115,300
Medical and Health Services Managers $113,730
Political Science Professors $99,480
Social Scientists $85,750

Getting Your Public Policy Degree

With over 366 different public policy degree programs to choose from, finding the best fit for you can be a challenge. Fortunately you have come to the right place. We have analyzed all of these schools to come up with hundreds of unbiased public policy school rankings to help you with this.

Public Policy is one of 5 different types of Public Administration & Social Service programs to choose from.

Related Major Annual Graduates
Social Work 57,499
Public Administration 17,444
Human Services 13,768
Community Organization & Advocacy 2,832
Other Public Administration 971

View All Public Policy Related Majors >


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