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Online Master’s Degree in Public Policy

Graduates of an online masters degree program in public policy are equipped with the analytical and decision-making skills necessary to navigate the development and implementation of government action and policy. This could include anything from regulations to funding decisions. As a field of study, public policy draws upon social science, economics, political science, sociology, and management. Most graduates will pursue careers in local, state, or federal government, though some positions may be available with private companies and nonprofit organizations as well.

Most students are able to complete an online masters degree in public policy in one to three years. It is important to note, time to completion can differ based on the number of required courses, transfer credits applied, and how many hours a student takes each term. Some online colleges may also offer working adults the option to apply professional experience towards their degree requirements. However, one should verify the specific institutional policy on credit for life experience with the school before relying on this type of credit, since not all schools offer this.

Classes for an Online Masters Degree in Public Policy

Students enrolled in accredited online masters programs in public policy will typically complete a variety of survey, seminar, and research-based courses. Foundational topics include leadership, political science, finance, and budgeting. Depending on the school’s specific offerings, graduate students may also have to option to specialize in areas like health policy, criminal justice, or emergency management. Some specific examples of courses required for a public policy masters degree include:

  • Ethics and Social Justice
  • Governance and Public Policy
  • Advanced Public Policy Methods and Analysis
  • Microeconomics for Public Policy
  • Statistical Analysis

Most accredited online masters programs will also incorporate an advanced research project or thesis into the final term of study. This capstone course in primarily completed through independent work with the aid of a faculty advisor, but may include periodic virtual seminars with a peer group. This project is designed to demonstrate the student’s ability to apply concepts they have learned in the program to real-world issues.

A Career as a Graduate with an Online Masters Degree in Public Policy

Graduates who have earned their public policy masters degree online may be eligible for careers as political scientists, policy analysts, management analysts, or other positions in government and development affairs. The majority of these jobs will be found in the public sector. However, nonprofit organizations and private companies may also have positions for public policy majors. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the demand for political scientists is expected to increase by 8% from 2010 to 2020, indicating strong competition for jobs. The median annual salary in 2010 was $107,420, with most political scientists employed by the federal government, research companies, and colleges and universities. Public policy graduates may also find jobs as management analysts within a variety of government agencies. The demand for management analysts is expected to increase by 22% over the projection period. This is faster than the average of 14% growth predicted for all occupations. The reported mean wage for management analysts was $87,980 in 2011. Those who worked for the federal government earned an average of $83,860 per year. Note that these statistics may not reflect actual starting salaries and job openings. This can be influenced by location, level of experience, education, and the specific employer.

Because of the heavy competition for jobs in government, a masters degree in public policy is highly desirable. This type of program could also serve as an opportunity for adults to switch career paths from an unrelated field. Those interested in going on to teach in areas such as political science, public administration, or policy at the university level will need to continue on to a doctoral program after successfully completing their masters degree.

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