July 23, 2024
Public Policy Degree Career Paths to Consider

Public Policy Degree Career Paths to Consider

Public Policy Degree Career Paths to Consider

A public policy degree will prepare students to analyze community issues and influence law-making at local, state, and federal levels. Public policy majors can find career options in private, public, and non-profit sectors including government agencies or advocacy groups, for example. A master’s or doctorate degree is not uncommon for public policy professionals, and continuing education can help to advance your career if you decide on this role.

A career in public policy allows graduates to develop and enact policies that promote the well-being of the public. You can find specialized public policy programs that offer a combination of sociology, political science, and data analytics. Public policy careers will depend largely on empirical research and data. Because of this, public policy degree programs allow students to build a range of important skills including decision making, data analysis, and critical thinking. The work carried out as a part of these degree programs prepares students to work in a role where they can address community concerns and issues, before evaluating how policies made at the local, state, or federal level can help the situation.

Public Policy Vs. Political Science

Political science is a field of study in the social sciences that focuses on government systems and analyzing political behaviors and activities. On the other hand, public policy refers to a branch of political science that addresses public problems and concerns. Public policy majors will typically work in roles where they can influence law-making and policymaking at local, state, and federal levels with the main aim of addressing those issues.

How Much Do Public Policy Majors Earn?

Many graduates find public policy careers working for elected officials and government agencies. They may also work for non-profit organizations, which will often hire public policy graduates for legislative advocacy and lobbying. The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that political science professionals earn an average annual salary of over $120k per year. A job growth rate of six percent is projected for the political science field between 2019 and 2029. To work as a political scientist, you will usually be required to hold an advanced qualification such as a masters in public policy from Pepperdine University.

Where Could a Public Policy Degree Take Your Career?

Getting a degree in public policy can open many career path opportunities in both private and public sectors. Graduates may use the knowledge and expertise that they develop while getting this degree to help low-income clients at a public defender’s office or legal aid clinic or work for law firms, large corporations, corrections, and law enforcement. Careers in public policy will typically require professionals to have an in-depth understanding of a certain specialist topic such as energy or healthcare. To help students prepare for these specialist roles, many public policy degree programs offer elective modules or minor degree options.

Public Policy Career Industries

Public policy majors may find work in the following industries:

Social Advocacy Organizations

Public policy analysts are often hired to work for non-profit organizations, where they will work on creative effective campaigns for community awareness. They will also spend their time lobbying government agencies and lawmakers to enact policy changes.

Federal Executive Branch

Public policy professionals are employed by the federal government to work in a range of political, military, and civil service roles. Most public policy professionals with a government career will have a specialist role in a public policy area such as economic development, housing, agriculture, or foreign affairs.


Public policy professionals can also work in the education sector as professors at universities and colleges. Some work within the education sector in administrative positions, where they use their analytical knowledge and skills to improve student retention and university operations.

Research and Development

Some public policy graduates go on to work in careers as researchers, working for private businesses, government agencies, and non-profits. They carry out studies that are designed to get the opinion of the public on certain issues and use what they find to facilitate new policies and implement programs.

Local Government

Public policy professionals that work in this industry tend to work for publicly funded departments, committees, and agencies that oversee a range of political and logistical functions. Some career options in this field include urban planning, community liaison, transportation coordinator, and chief administrative officer.

Starting Your Public Policy Career

A degree in public policy is designed to prepare graduates to work in a wide range of career options in the private, public, and non-profit sectors. The degree gives students the chance to study and understand core business skills, which also provides them with a solid foundation for careers in fields such as financial management, marketing, and human resources management.

A bachelor’s degree program in public policy or public administration is usually the first step towards starting your career in public policy. These programs typically take four years to complete and require students to earn 120 credits or more. The programs are designed to teach foundational skills such as research methods, development and implementation of policies, and administrative leadership.

Once complete, public policy graduates may move on to a master’s degree in public policy to boost their career and get more opportunities. A master’s program in public policy will usually take around two years to complete and typically require students to earn 30-40 credits. The curriculum for the master’s degree will usually include classes on ethics and law, public budgeting, program evaluation, and advanced policy analysis. This program will also provide students with the opportunity to further develop their leadership skills and prepare them for management and directory roles.

After getting a master’s degree in public policy, students can go even further with a doctoral degree. This qualification will allow them to apply for executive positions within government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private companies. Doctoral graduates may also pursue education careers at universities and colleges. A doctoral program will typically take 5-7 years to complete and requires students to complete 50-70 credits.

Career Ideas for Public Policy Graduates

Whether you have a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree in public policy will determine which jobs that you are able to apply for. Some popular career ideas for public policy and public science graduates include:

Political Scientist

Political scientists study a range of political topics on both a national and international level. In this role, these professionals are responsible for developing and testing political theories using a variety of methods such as public opinion surveys. It is not uncommon for them to work as academics, teaching at colleges and universities and publishing their research findings. Political science roles may also involve monitoring current events, advising, and forecasting political developments for both the private and public sectors.

Survey Researcher

The role of a survey researcher involves designing sampling tools and collecting data for government agencies, private companies, polling organizations, and non-profits. Survey researchers will typically specialize in a range of fields including political science, social sciences, and consumer research. Their duties also include coordinating with data collectors and interviews. They will usually work as a part of a team to evaluate findings and account for any sampling issue problems.

Public Relations Specialist

A public relations specialist role is often needed in many industries and fields. These professionals help companies develop and maintain a positive image with the public. The role may include developing social media for the company along with other more traditional marketing campaigns to raise more awareness of the goals and projects that the business wants the public to know about. They may also be responsible for drafting speeches and reviewing any official correspondence to help organizational leaders better communicate with the media.

Market Research Analyst

Market research analysts work for corporations and manufacturers. Their role involves examining economic conditions to determine sales potential and value for products and services. Responsibilities include devising new methods of collecting data and analyzing their findings using statistical software. They translate complex data into actionable information that can be put to use by company leaders and stakeholders.


A sociologist is responsible for studying communities, people, social institutions, and interactions. They can often be found working in a dedicated research role within a college or university, where they will mainly work on developing projects that are designed to test social issue theories. Some sociologists also work as practitioners where they will use their skills to assist government officials and business leaders in making more strategic decisions. Most sociologist positions will require a doctorate degree.

University Education

Some public policy graduates with a doctorate degree will work in university education as a postsecondary teacher, where they are responsible for providing classroom instruction, helping students complete research projects, work with students to help them complete internships, and support students in planning their future careers or graduate school attendance. In this role, professors will also work on collecting their own research for presentation and publication. The role may also include filling administrative roles within the department including assisting with student enrolment and curriculum development.

Various Ways to Advance a Public Policy Career Further

Along with master’s and other advanced degree options, there are various ways that you can take your public policy career to the next level as a graduate. These include:

Public Policy Fellowships

A public policy fellowship can be used to enhance your resume and gain unique work experience in this field. Typically, these programs will include a stipend, and they are usually targeted at public policy graduate students or professionals in the early stages of their careers. There are various options including the National Urban Fellows Master of Public Administration Fellowship, the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute’s Global Leaders Internship, and the Fulbright-Anne Wexler Master’s Award in Public Policy.

Public Policy Certifications and Licensure

Some public policy organizations will offer certifications and professional development programs that are designed to improve knowledge in specific areas and help graduates build their leadership skills. Some states also offer credentials through their county or municipal advisory services, for example, in Tennessee, the County Technical Assistance Service provides professional certifications for administration and finance officer roles. Public policy graduates who go on to find work as federal employees may be able to take part in specific training programs that are designed to help them advance more easily through the grades for general scheduled employment. Employees who work within the Department of Agriculture, for example, can take advantage of the Aspiring Leader Program, which is designed to provide coaching, professional mentoring, and career development. The National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics also provides public policy certification for graduates looking to work as a lobbyist.

Professional Organizations for Public Policy Majors

There is a range of professional organizations that public policy majors can join to take advantage of networking, training, and more. These include:

  • Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management: APPAM sponsors a peer-reviewed journal, offers networking opportunities, and promotes research. They allow students to join, and students can access networking opportunities through a members-only database and sponsored events.
  • American Society for Public Administration: The largest professional public administration organization worldwide, ASPA offers subscriptions to monthly publications such as the PA Times, training seminars and webinars, networking opportunities, and an online members-only job board.
  • Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration: Members of NASPAA can find fellowship and internship opportunities along with an exclusive online job board. Along with this, they have an extensive online database where members can find a range of educational opportunities including public policy, service, and administration graduate degrees, certificates, and courses.

Is a Degree in Public Policy Worth Getting?

Many graduates will find that a degree in public policy is an ideal choice that allows them to develop and implement changes to policies to help people live better lives. This degree can lead to a wide range of different career options including roles within government agencies, research careers, education careers, and lobbyist positions.

Public policy roles tend to center around changing and implementing policies to improve public life. If you are interested in politics and law-making but want to combine this with a career where you can do good in the world, this may be an ideal option for you to consider.

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