Is a Public Policy Degree Worth It? [2020 Guide]

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Is a public policy degree worth it? If you want to make a difference in the world, earning a public policy degree can be an important first step toward your goals.

Is a Public Policy Degree Worth It

Plus, you’ll be eligible for job opportunities in growing sectors, and you’ll have the ability to earn a dependable salary in exchange for your efforts.

Is a Public Policy Degree Worth It?

Market Research Analyst working on her laptop in her office

Yes, a public policy degree is worth it for many students. With an average salary of $67,150 and 17% job growth (Bureau of Labor Statistics), a degree in public policy can help you launch a career in this field.

Common public policy careers include social and community service manager, market research analyst, public relations specialist, urban and regional planner, and emergency management director. Public policy specialists get things done in the world.

Your studies will teach you to analyze problems and develop effective solutions that can be carried out by government agencies or private groups. The policies that you create may contribute to improvements in many people’s daily lives.

Studying public policy can lead to government jobs at the federal, state, or local levels. Your training might qualify you to develop growth plans for your city, strategize disaster responses, or administer support programs for families in need. Public service is closely linked to politics.

Studies in public policy may equip you to participate in campaigns, analyze proposed laws, lobby for new legislation, or even run for office yourself. Not all public policy career paths lead to government jobs. The nonprofit sector would benefit from your insight as well. So, too, would private businesses.

In some cases, you might serve as a liaison between these organizations and government regulators. In others, you might be responsible for evaluating the impact of your programs or suggesting ways to increase your level of social responsibility.

After getting a master’s degree in public policy, you would be an excellent candidate for doctoral programs in this field. With an advanced degree in public policy, you would be able to work as a sociologist or a political scientist, and you might be better qualified for various management roles as well.

How to Decide Whether a Public Policy Degree is Right for You

Politicians attending a conference

Public policy is a smart way to earn a good living while also making a positive contribution to your community. Here’s how to figure out if you might click with a career in public policy.

1. You consider yourself a change-maker.

One reason to go into public policy is that you want the world to be better than it currently is. Through studies in public policy, you’ll learn to identify areas of weakness and come up with solutions that can make a difference.

You might be especially passionate about a particular hot-button issue. Whether it’s the environment, poverty, social justice, national security, education, or healthcare, you’ll be able to use your public policy know-how to effect change in that area.

2. You’re good with numbers and statistics.

Public policy professional analyzing data in his office

Public policy professionals spend a lot of time working with data. Identifying needs, considering proposed solutions, and evaluating the effectiveness of policies requires gathering data and performing statistical analyses of it.

To prepare you to do these tasks in the workforce, you’ll take college courses about research, data analysis, and computer modeling. Good number sense will help you do well in those classes.

3. You know how to balance conviction and compromise.

It’s good to know what you believe in and be willing to work for it. Passion often leads to determination, and determined people can change the world.

Even still, collaboration with others is essential for success in public policy, so you’ll sometimes need to make compromises. The willingness to be a flexible team player can take you far in this line of work.

4. Government work is of interest to you.

Politician speaking during a conference

Many public policy graduates go on to work in government jobs or get involved with politics. If you have your sights sets on a career in government service, then this is a degree that can take you there.

Even if you’re not aiming for government employment, it’s still a good idea to have some interest in government affairs. Public policy graduates who work in the nonprofit and private sectors often need to communicate frequently with public agencies and stay in-the-know about legislative changes.

Top 5 Things You Can Do with a Public Policy Degree

The field of public policy is connected to the government, nonprofit, and business sectors, and each one offers a wide variety of interesting job opportunities.

After graduation, you’ll have the choice of many different directions to go with your career, including the options listed below.

1. Emergency Management Director

Emergency Management Director meeting with his staff

When a disaster strikes, having clear policies to follow can mean the difference between calm and chaos. As an emergency management director, you’ll make plans for governments or organizations to use during natural disasters, medical emergencies, chemical spills, or terrorist attacks.

If you have your sights set on being a director, be prepared to work your way up from entry-level roles. Training and experience are considered essential in this field.

2. Market Research Analyst

Market Research Analyst working on her computer

Your statistical skills could make you a great candidate for a career as a market research analyst.

For this job, you’ll gather data about various demographics. Your data analyses could be useful for developing ideas for new programs or planning marketing campaigns. This is a smart line of work to consider if you have strong math and analytical skills. Jobs for market research analysts are available in many different industries.

3. Public Relations Specialist

Public Relations Specialist talking to a client

In a public relations role, you’ll represent your organization and relay information. As a public policy graduate, you may find public relations opportunities with private organizations or the government. You could even work on the PR team of a political figure.

With experience, you might be able to move into a public relations management role. In the nonprofit sector, your PR skills might make you good at fundraising.

4. Social and Community Service Manager

Community Service Manager having a meeting with his team

Public policy plays an integral role in nonprofit organizations and social service agencies. After graduation, you’ll know how to analyze the needs of a community and come up with ideas for meeting those needs. You’ll also understand how to obtain funding, operate according to government regulations and evaluate effectiveness.

There are many different managerial roles to consider. For example, you might oversee grant writing, legal compliance, program operations or community advocacy.

5. Urban and Regional Planner

City Planners meeting for a project

City planners are responsible for the layout and development of urban areas. Factors like transportation, sustainability, and historic preservation may factor into the decisions you make as a regional planner.

You’ll probably be employed by the federal government or a local municipality, or you could work as a consultant. You can enter the field as an assistant, but a master’s degree is often required for promotion to senior positions.

Public Policy Degree Alternatives

Public Policy Degree student studying on her laptop

In addition to exploring public policy degrees from a variety of different universities, you may also want to consider a few other majors that could lead to similar career paths.

  1. Master’s in Business Administration. If you are planning to use your public policy degree in a private company, you may want to think this degree instead. You’ll take classes on public relations, human resources, and business law.
  2. Master’s in Political Science. You can satisfy your desire to know more about law and government with a degree in political science. This program can lead to careers in urban planning, broadcasting, or public administration.
  3. Master’s in Public Administration. Although similar to a public policy program, public administration degrees are specifically focused on preparation for government service. Though the lessons frequently apply to nonprofit settings as well.

Any of these degrees could lead to interesting careers or pave the way for graduate studies.

Public Policy Careers & Salaries

Public Policy Careers & Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social and community service managers make around $67,150 each year, and jobs are increasing at a 17% rate.

That’s just one of the many exciting career paths you could pursue with this degree.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers $116,180
Administrative Services Managers $96,940
Emergency Management Directors $74,590
Urban and Regional Planners $74,350
Social and Community Service Managers $67,150
Market Research Analysts $63,790
Public Relations Specialists $61,150
Survey Researchers $59,170
Paralegals and Legal Assistants $51,740
Reporters, Correspondents and Broadcast News Analysts $46,270

Continuing your education with a master’s degree may allow you to begin working as a political scientist, which, on average, leads to a six-figure salary.

What Can You Do With a Masters in Public Policy?

market research analyst working in his office

You may be considering a public policy degree because you want to effect change in your community or your country. If so, then you’ll appreciate the many influential opportunities that may be available to you after graduation.

One popular approach is to work in government. You could be involved with city planning, disaster mitigation, local governance, or community relations. If you’re interested in politics, you could get involved with campaigning, lobbying, or running for elected office.

Jobs are available in nonprofit organizations and businesses as well. Your department might be responsible for public relations, program management, or market research.

Getting Your Public Policy Degree Online

Public Policy Degree student studying in a cafe

With a public policy degree, you’ll be ready to take on challenges and brainstorm solutions to the problems you see. You may be tasked with implementing current policies or creating new ones.

Training in this field will give you opportunities to work in business, government, or nonprofit settings. Taking classes in public administration, leadership, statistical analysis and government structures is about more than gearing up for a high-paying job.

With each course, you can be confident that your efforts are preparing you to make a real difference in the world. To get started in this rewarding field, check out public policy programs from accredited schools.

James Chen
WRITTEN BY
James Chen