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What is a Public Policy Degree?

public policy degree

What exactly does a public policy degree entail, and where can it take you? A public policy degree is designed to foster analytical skills, strategic planning, and ethical leadership skills as a foundation for careers that directly contribute to human flourishing. 

A public policy degree integrates disciplines like political science, economics, and data analytics to equip graduates with research, analysis, and critical thinking skills for diverse career paths in various sectors. Public policy professionals contribute to governance by guiding resource allocation, establishing regulations, and providing services to address societal challenges with opportunities in education policy and social change.

Advanced education in public policy, including master’s and doctoral programs, offers specializations and focuses on real-world applications, preparing graduates for roles in a government agency, nonprofit organization, or the private sector.

The Scope of a Public Policy Degree

A degree in public policy consists of a well-rounded curriculum, including political science, economics, mathematics, and data analysis. An interdisciplinary approach to public service prepares a public policy major for various professional opportunities within numerous areas, such as government entities, advocacy organizations, and private and nonprofit positions.

Core Competencies

Earning a degree in public policy goes beyond just grasping theoretical concepts. It is about honing essential skills that are pivotal to the field. These competencies include:

  • proficiency in collecting and interpreting data relevant to policy making
  • using research methods and factual evidence to fortify policy propositions
  • assessing the effectiveness of existing policies
  • crafting strategies and overseeing policy enactment, including orchestrating stakeholder interactions and strategizing for successful policy launches.

Courses central to this program nurture ethical leadership by focusing on past and current leaders through a Judeo-Christian perspective. This prepares students to navigate decision-making within the realm of public policy confidently while handling complex dilemmas with competence.

A deep-seated comprehension of the nuances involved in public policy—augmented by expertise in niche areas like cybersecurity or economics—prepares graduates for positions within the scope of policy analysis.

Versatility Across Sectors

Students who complete public policy programs are poised to pursue careers at different levels of government, taking on roles like policy/budget analysts, program managers, and administrative officers within departments focused on transportation and housing services. They also provide critical support within the political sphere as campaign managers, legislative analysts, and communications directors assist elected officials.

A master's in public policy is, arguably, a broad and narrow degree, simultaneously. It teaches skills that are in high demand across a multitude of sectors while also allowing you to hone a specific topic or issue portfolio. These professionals are sought after for their expertise in areas including government relations and legislative bodies. 

Nonprofit entities similarly depend upon these analytical skills and expert knowledge to develop initiatives to raise awareness and engage effectively in advocacy efforts geared toward influencing policies. 

Public policy is more than rules and guidelines; it is the ideals that shape good governance which is intimately connected to our daily lives. It is about how we choose to allocate resources, establish regulations, and provide essential services, all aimed at addressing the challenges we face together—whether they are social, economic, or environmental.

Specializations in Public Policy Degree Programs

public policy degree

Pepperdine University offers an array of specializations within its public policy degree programs, each designed to prepare students for specific sectors and roles in the field of public governance. Students studying at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy are allowed to select up to two of the following specializations to focus on in their second year. 

American Policy and Politics

This specialization covers the dynamic nature of American society, analyzing political, economic, and social implications of policies at both federal and local levels. It emphasizes developing consensus-building skills among diverse constituents affected by policy initiatives. Career paths for graduates may include:

  • Capitol Hill Staff
  • Corporate Communications/Government Relations (Private Sector)
  • Federal Agency Staff
  • National Nonprofits & Foundations

Courses and topics may cover America’s democratic systems, environmental regulation, business and society, and political communications and strategy.

Applied Economic Policy

Focusing on economic policy, this specialization addresses urban and global issues, law and public policy evaluation, regional and metropolitan growth, and the role of government in a market economy. Graduates often pursue careers as:

  • Think Tank Research Analysts
  • State Policy Researchers
  • Government Consultants (Private Sector)
  • Preparation for PhD programs

Specialized coursework includes global economics, applied econometrics, public finance, and public choice.

International Relations and National Security

Students exploring this specialization will study the evolving role of US leadership on the global stage, including statesmanship, global alliances, and relations with various world regions. Career opportunities include:

  • International NGOs
  • Federal Intelligence Agencies
  • State Department & Foreign Service

Subject areas span across national security and freedom, military strategy, Western democracy, and politics, as well as regional studies such as Eastern Europe, Asia Pacific in world affairs, and Latin America.

State and Local Policy

The state and local policy specialization is tailored for students interested in the intricacies of regional development and governance. It focuses on how governors, mayors, and other local leaders are at the forefront of pioneering policy initiatives. This specialization prepares students to understand and contribute to the effective management and growth of localities.

Career paths for graduates of this specialization are diverse and impactful, including:

  • State Capital Staff/Elected Office
  • Municipal Government Leadership
  • State Policy Thinktanks
  • Government Technology Firms (Private Sector)

Topics included in this specialization include policy relationships between state and local government, leadership through public engagement, and education reform and leadership

Public Policy and Dispute Resolution

A specialization in public policy and dispute resolution allows students to expand their problem-solving skills in the context of public challenges. This requires collaborative leadership and refined communication skills to work across differences in an era of polarization.

Career paths for graduates of this specialization include:

  • International NGO Negotiation Positions
  • State/Local Government Advisory Positions
  • Government Relations Positions (Private Sector)
  • Conflict Resolution Specialist

Subject matters addressed in this specialization consist of global justice, contract negotiation, and diplomacy. 

Building Your Public Policy Career

Building a career in public policy requires persistent skill development, keeping up with the latest developments in policy debates, and capitalizing on opportunities to network.

Students and alumni can take advantage of services provided by their educational facilities—engaging with an academic advisor is one crucial way to immerse themselves into the professional community and begin forging pivotal career connections.

Crafting a Winning Resume

A standout resume is key to landing a coveted position in the field of public policy. Ensure your resume accentuates policy analysis, quantitative and qualitative research techniques, and data visualization expertise. It’s also essential to draw attention to any internships, volunteer work, or projects demonstrating proficiency in policy analysis, project management capabilities, and engaging effectively with stakeholders.

Navigating the Job Market

The range of employment prospects for individuals with a background in public policy is broad and varied. Those holding degrees in this field can pursue an array of positions within numerous sectors, including but not limited to:

  • the governmental sector
  • political organizations
  • nonprofit entities
  • private industry

These areas offer an abundance of roles that are centered around policymaking in areas such as:

  • economic development
  • climate change
  • education reform
  • global economics
  • national security

Lifelong Learning and Certifications

Ongoing education is essential for a successful career in the realm of public policy. This educational journey doesn't end with a graduation ceremony; it persists as professionals continuously learn and adapt to new challenges and policy developments.

Lifelong learning in this field can take many forms, from attending workshops and seminars to pursuing further certifications or even higher degrees. This commitment to education ensures that public policy professionals remain at the forefront of their field, equipped with the latest knowledge and best practices to make informed decisions and drive impactful change.

Frequently Asked Questions About a Public Policy Degree

What does the study of public policy entail?

The study of public policy includes analyzing government policies, evaluating their formation and execution, and scrutinizing their effects on society. This field emphasizes resource distribution, how decisions are made within this sphere, and understanding the outcomes that result from implementing these policies.

Is there a public policy undergraduate major?

Yes, many universities offer an undergraduate major in public policy. This program is designed to provide students with a foundational understanding of policy analysis, public administration, and the factors influencing policy-making. There are also other public policy-adjacent degrees that prepare a student well for earning your MPP. These can include but are not limited to politics, economics, history, global studies, and government. 

Is a public policy degree worth it?

Earning a degree in public policy is highly respected and opens the door to a variety of career paths not only within the public sector but also within other areas, empowering those who graduate to effect meaningful change in society.

What core competencies do public policy graduates acquire?

Public policy majors have honed their ability to analyze data, formulate strategies, and execute policies and ethical leadership. These skills prepare them for a multitude of positions within the public sector.

What should I look for in a Public Policy Program? 

Students should identify programs that offer a robust curriculum tailored to their career goals as well as faculty with expertise and practical field experience in relevant policy areas. When evaluating, look for programs that offer unique opportunities for hands-on learning through internships or ways to study abroad, supportive and ideologically diverse communities of peers and mentors, connections to professional networks, and resources for career development.

Earn Your Public Policy Degree at Pepperdine University

A policy degree unlocks an array of prospects for enacting substantial improvements within government agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector. Equipped with the necessary expertise and capabilities, graduates in public policy can directly confront societal challenges across various domains, including government institutions, political arenas, nonprofit organizations, or within the private sector framework.

Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy is one of the few leading public policy institutions rooted in a Judeo-Christian understanding of servant leadership that offers students a unique blend of comprehensive academic theory and hands-on practical experience. By pursuing a public policy degree at Pepperdine, you will join a community of passionate individuals committed to understanding and resolving the complex issues that affect societies around the globe.