Master’s in Public Policy Career Guide

What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s Public Policy Program?

Master’s in public policy degrees are flexible, multidisciplinary
degrees that prepare graduates for a variety of professional positions
that often merge analysis and administration tasks. You’ll learn key
skills that are in high demand in careers across the public, private,
nonprofit and governmental sectors. Online programs still meet the
rigorous demands of traditional, on-campus coursework but offer distinct
benefits. One of the biggest benefits of obtaining your master’s in
public policy online is the ability to tailor your coursework around
your professional and family obligations. Since programs vary between
schools, compare program descriptions and curriculum to ensure you find
the right program that aligns with your career goals.

Degrees Offered for an Online Master’s in Public Policy

CONCENTRATION DESCRIPTION CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR
Nonprofit Sector A master’s in public policy that concentrates on the nonprofit sector focuses on the role of nonprofits in society, especially the role of managers. Manager of a nonprofit, lobbyist for a nonprofit
Public Administration Public policy master’s programs with a concentration in public administration focus on the American governmental system from an administrative perspective instead of a political one. Administrative services manager, public administration consultant, city manager, mayor, foreign service officer
International Affairs An online master’s in public policy with a concentration in international affairs prepares graduates for careers as an expert in international public policy with an emphasis on foreign policy. Foreign affairs specialist, foreign service officer, international business manager, career military officer
Campaigns and Elections Online public policy master’s programs with a concentration in campaigns and elections examine the techniques and trends in modern political campaigns and elections, including the most effective communication, marketing and writing techniques. Political campaign manager, political consultant, career politician

Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Public Policy

While online master’s in public policy curriculums vary by
educational institution, each program typically blends the analytical
and administrative aspects of public policy to provide graduates with an
overall perspective of the field. Program requirements are usually
divided into core and elective courses, with elective courses allowing
you to customize your degree. Compare programs carefully, because some
require you to complete a relevant internship before your degree is
awarded and others may require a thesis or capstone project. Also, some
programs are completed completely online, while others are hybrid
programs that incorporate both online and on-campus courses. Whichever
type of program you choose, common courses you may encounter include:

COURSES DESCRIPTION
Policy Analysis Explores the policy-making process, including how policies are formed, and the assessment and evaluation of these policies.
Legal Issues in Public Administration Insights into the legal issues in government and cover topics like the delegation of legislative power, administrative appeals and judicial review.
Budgeting and Financial Management Examines budgeting in the public sector and budgetary processes, including issues like cost estimation, capital financing, cost-benefit analysis, debt management, performance budgeting and financial statements.
Public Policy for Managers Strategic planning, implementation and evaluation of public policy and the functions of policy analysis in political and administrative decision-making.
Government Regulations and Administrative Law Probes the impact of regulations and laws on federal and state governments and the American people.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s in Public Policy?

The amount of time it takes to complete your master’s degree online
largely depends on the type of program you choose. Self-paced programs
allow you to work at your own pace, while cohort-based programs require
you to log in at specific times for live classes with your fellow
classmates. Depending on your motivation, individually paced programs
can often be completed much sooner than normal, but cohort classes stick
to a set schedule. On average, an online master’s degree in public
policy includes 36 credit hours that you can complete in two years when
attending full-time.

Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Public Policy Prepares For

CONCENTRATION CERTIFICATION
Certified in Public Policy After earning a master’s in public policy and obtaining three years of professional experience in political, public policy or governmental service, you can apply for board certification in public policy from the Academy of Certified Political Analysts.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Public Policy Degrees

Before signing up for a master’s in public policy program, ensure the
college or university has accreditation status. While many online
master’s programs don’t receive programmatic accreditation, the Network
of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration’s Commission on
Peer Review and Accreditation is the authoritative accreditor of
master’s degree programs in public administration, public policy and
public affairs, as recognized by the Council for Higher Education (CHEA).
This doesn’t mean every master’s in public policy program has received
accreditation. However, the college or university itself should always
be accredited through an agency recognized by the Department of Education or CHEA to ensure eligibility for financial aid.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Public Policy Graduates

Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s

While some organizations require only a bachelor’s degree for
entry-level positions in the public policy field, others require a
master’s degree. No matter their educational requirements, most
organizations give preference to applicants with advanced degrees.
Earning your online master’s degree not only makes you more appealing as
a job candidate for popular, often lucrative, careers in this field;
you may also qualify for higher-level positions and/or salaries from the
outset based on your advanced expertise.

Expected Salary

Completing an online master’s in public policy makes you well-suited
for city, state and federal government positions where policy is a major
factor. Your degree also opens up career opportunities within the
private and nonprofit sector, especially where analysis of previous
policy or crafting of future policy is an important aspect of the job.
The sector you work in can impact your expected salary as demonstrated
by the following table.

Job Title Salary Range
City Mayor $29,880-$110,221
City Manager $50,289-$160,856
Public Policy Analyst $39,376-$83,859
Public Policy Director $49,960-$127,659
Nonprofit Program Manager $35,845-$74,068

Besides earning an advanced degree, such as an online master’s in public policy, your time on the job greatly influences how much you can expect to earn. For example, a director in public policy earns more than twice as much late in their career compared to those with little experience, as the following table demonstrates.

Career Opportunities

Whether you opt for a general public policy education or focus on a
specialized area, there are numerous fields and sectors open to you.
Graduates often pursue careers domestically within local, state or
federal government offices or branch out to governmental positions
abroad. You may also strive to obtain a leading role in a
nongovernmental position or with a nonprofit organization. No matter
which career path you follow, an online master’s degree in public policy
sets you up for a rewarding career in public service that can provide a
better-than-average salary compared to the median household income of
$61,372 reported by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2017.

JOB TITLE JOB DESCRIPTION MEDIAN SALARY PROJECTED GROWTH RATE
Social and Community Service Managers Social and Community Service Managers coordinate and supervise social service programs and community organizations, including managing staff members. $64,100 per year 18%
Chief Executive in the Public Sector Chief Executive Officers work in nearly every industry in the public sector, but some nonprofits also employ chief executives. Primary duties of chief executives are to devise strategies and policies to ensure the business meets its overall goals. $107,700 per year 8%
Political Scientist Political Scientists study the origin, development and operation of political systems. They also help in the planning and development of new policies by analyzing previous policies, political trends and other related issues. $115,110 per year 3%

Professional Organizations

Establishing professional connections is a crucial part of getting
the most out of your master’s in public policy degree. Connecting with
other professionals within the field allows you to build valuable
networks that offer beneficial resources, including invaluable advice
and support from those with more experience. One way to achieve these
goals is through professional organizations that cater to public policy
professionals.

Many of these organizations regularly host networking and/or career
development events, online job boards, continuing education
opportunities, professional awards and other members-only services.
While these organizations are beneficial at any stage of your career,
they’re particularly valuable as you enter the workforce after
completing your online master’s in public policy degree. Some notable
organizations for professionals with master’s public policy degrees
include:

Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM):
Promotes excellence in public policy and management, with memberships
available to institutions, professionals and students. It hosts
multidisciplinary annual conferences, including spring, fall,
international and regional student conferences. It also publishes a
peer-reviewed multidisciplinary journal four times a year and offers a
mentor matching program for student members in search of guidance and
support in their career development endeavors.

American Society for Public Administration (ASPA):
A leading interdisciplinary public service organization with
memberships available to students, new and long-term professionals, and
retirees. It hosts networking events, as well as annual conferences and
free professional development webinars. It also publishes scholarly
journals both in print and electronically, presents professional awards
and posts job listings. Besides the national chapter, it also has local
chapters that allow you to meet and network within your own geographic
area.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Organizational Leadership Degree

Although online master’s degree programs often cost less than
traditional on-campus programs, many students still need financial aid
to cover tuition and associated fees. The most important step to finding
financial assistance is by filling out the Free Application for Student
Aid (FAFSA), which is required to apply for loans, grants and other
financial aid opportunities offered by the federal government. Some
state governments also use the FAFSA, but others may require you to fill
out a separate form to apply for state aid. Many educational
institutions also utilize the FAFSA to determine whether you qualify for
institutional aid, but some have a separate application for
scholarships, work-study programs and other assistance. Scholarships and
grants from private sources are also frequently available through
corporations, nonprofits and other sources that require specific
application steps. For more information about obtaining financial
assistance, investigate the following resources.

Resources

Scholarships

Scholarships

Details

Corey L. Richards Memorial Scholarship

Award: $15,000

Deadline: February

Eligibility: Graduate students pursuing a master’s in public policy or public health committed to advancing public policy related to sexual and reproductive rights.

Michael Lindberg Scholarship at Portland State University

Award: $2,000

Deadline: May

Eligibility: Graduate students enrolled in the public administration program in the College of Urban and Public Affairs at Portland State University.

Clarence E. Ridley Scholarship

Award: $3,500

Deadline: January

Eligibility: Graduate students attending any accredited Texas university, pursuing a master’s in public policy or administration and taking at least six credit hours/semester.