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What Are the Benefits of a Public Policy Degree?

By Indhika, IvyWise Graduate Admissions Counselor and Academic Advisor

In recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, and rapidly changing domestic and international political landscapes, have underscored the need for a new generation of leaders who are motivated and well-prepared to address complex societal challenges. Across sectors, it is important to elevate the importance of measuring program impact, identifying policy recommendations, and contributing to the public sphere.

Public policy experts can be found in roles as diverse as business analysts, artists, engineers, educators, lawyers, and healthcare professionals. Whether you aspire to work in the public sector itself or are passionate about social impact within your industry, a graduate degree in public policy will enable you to advance your career and respond to today’s pressing global concerns.

Why Is a Degree in Public Policy Important?

A degree in public policy equips students with the skills to assess societal issues and shape legislative decisions across various levels of government — local, state, and federal. Graduates in public policy find employment opportunities in diverse sectors including government agencies, private enterprises, and nonprofit organizations, contributing to effective governance and advocacy efforts.

How Is a Degree in Public Policy Relevant Across Sectors?

As mentioned above, a graduate degree in public policy is versatile and relevant across sectors. Employers in various industries are looking for professionals who can think critically about policy and program impact. If you are interested in working in the public sector, a public policy degree is an effective and well-regarded pathway to both political and non-political careers. Political careers include running for state and local office, working with elected officials, managing campaign operations, and assuming roles in legislative and political analysis, as well as events and communications. Nonpolitical options encompass program analysts and administrators; public relations experts; and roles in local, state, national, and international government agencies.

The nonprofit sector has always been a reliable employer of public policy graduates. In fact, in some graduate programs, the nonprofit sector accounts for most alumni job placements. In the nonprofit sector, public policy careers include roles in advocacy, policy analysis, government relations, and research.

The intersection of policy development and business decisions is evidenced in a range of private sector careers. Public policy graduates working in the private sector can be found in government relations and policy roles as well as roles traditionally held by MBA graduates, including marketing, consulting, and communications. Further, if you are interested in social impact, corporate social responsibility, and advocacy within business, public policy is a strong pathway to apply for jobs in these areas.

What Skills Will I Develop in a Public Policy Degree Program?

Public policy degrees facilitate excellent training in valuable and transferable technical skills that are attractive to employers across sectors. These degrees are evidence-driven and, following, emphasize quantitative, analytic, research, and financial skills. When researching the core curriculums of public policy programs, look for coursework in economics, quantitative methods, budgeting and finance, research methods and design, and management.

Graduates can apply these highly technical skills in defining and resolving complex problems, conducting in-depth research, analyzing issues and recommending solutions, assessing the cost/benefit implications of projects, and measuring program impact.

Due to the nature of policy making, it is critical to contextualize technical skills within a framework of interaction, negotiation, and decision making. As such, public policy students will also develop key professional skills such as leadership, collaboration, persuasive communication, and effective oral and written presentation. Typical courses include ethical leadership, organizational behavior and management, and political communication.

In addition to skills-focused coursework, public policy graduate programs often include required internship components and other hands-on co-curricular opportunities. As a result, graduates both learn and apply technical and professional skills throughout their programs.

How Multidisciplinary Is a Public Policy Degree Program?

As policy challenges become increasingly complex, public policy professionals and leaders need to examine issues from multiple perspectives in order to propose innovative and impactful solutions.

Graduate degrees in public policy mainly draw on coursework from economics and political science, and integrate an understanding of quantitative methods, data collection, philosophy, law, and management. As a result, students can undertake coursework from various departments and pursue multiple academic interests, enabling a wider selection of elective courses and opportunities to meet peers in different fields. In addition, multidisciplinary classroom environments foster problem solving, collaboration, and communication skills as students work across contexts and backgrounds to address policy challenges.

What Background Do I Need to Study Public Policy? 

Due to public policy’s cross-sectoral relevance, students in this field come from various academic backgrounds. As such, there are no required undergraduate majors for pursuing graduate studies in public policy. While some undergraduate coursework is important for graduate studies in this field, namely introductory economics and statistics, graduate programs in public policy can provide a professional direction and context for diverse academic and personal interests.

Public policy graduate programs also encompass varied professional paths prior to enrollment. The range of interests and experiences in cohorts enable students to learn from their classmates’ varied disciplinary training and professional experience, and, further, facilitates expansive professional network building.

Finally, public policy programs prioritize diverse personal backgrounds and international perspectives. Students benefit from an academic environment that emphasizes cross-cultural dialogue, encourages engaged connections to coursework, and integrates global approaches. In addition, co-curricular opportunities and student activities draw on the vibrant, global aspects of these programs.

If you are interested in careers that change the world, want to gain cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary skills, and thrive in diverse program cultures, a public policy degree is a great fit. When researching graduate programs, take time to explore listed coursework, faculty expertise, and career placement to make sure your specific interests and professional goals are supported.

At IvyWise, we work with students through every facet of their educational journey, including applying to graduate degree programs specializing in public policy. Our expert counselors can help you identify the programs and schools that are the best fit for your career aspirations and goals, and work with you to craft outstanding applications that will set you apart during the admissions process. For more information on our academic advising and graduate counseling services, contact us today.

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