Why Earn a Public Policy Degree?

Public policy degree students analyzing reports

Are you the kind of person who eagerly devours the day’s headlines and enjoys dreaming up solutions to major societal problems? A public policy degree could equip you for a satisfying vocation.

A public policy career is an ideal path if you want to make the world a better place or feel called to serve your local, regional, national or global community. Public policy experts apply critical thinking skills to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. By earning a public policy degree, you will become well prepared to take on the many challenges of the 21st century.

Why Study Public Policy?

There is not a single person who is not affected in some way by public policies. Governmental policies around the world shape everything from environmental protections to unemployment assistance to immigration to healthcare — and just about everything else you can imagine. By and large, public policies are intended to improve quality of life, yet they aren’t always effective — and sometimes they have unintended consequences.

People who choose to study public policy often do so in the hope of helping make the world a better place for others. Public policy majors are usually individuals who feel called to serve others and who have a knack for seeing how small details fit into the larger picture.

Other compelling reasons to study public policy are as follows:

  • To learn how to influence public policy for the betterment of society
  • To develop innovative solutions to complex challenges
  • To learn to see issues from a variety of perspectives
  • To acquire a broad set of transferable skills

Where Do Public Policy Degree Graduates Work?

You will find public policy careers in all sectors of the economy. Consider the following possibilities:

  • Political careers: Graduates with public policy degrees might work for an elected official in a wide range of areas, from campaign operations to legislative analysis and policy development to communications and public relations.
  • Non-political governmental careers: Graduates may work as program managers or administrators.
  • Nonprofit careers: Public policy professionals can do advocacy work on various policy issues, perform policy research, serve as a governmental relations liaison or even start their own nongovernmental organization (NGO).

You can also find public policy graduates working in the private sector, as this course of study confers a wide range of transferable skills sought out by private employers. For instance, you can find public policy majors working in program management, administration, marketing, consulting, communications and public relations.

Public Policy Careers: Exploring Your Options

Many graduates who hold a public policy degree pursue a career as a public policy analyst. Public policy analysts may hold a variety of titles, such as research fellow, scholar or research associate. They typically work for either governmental agencies or independent institutions, commonly referred to as “think tanks,” which tend to specialize in certain areas such as human rights or environmental protections.

The responsibility of a public policy analyst is ultimately to influence social and political decisions, policies and programs. Public policy is a very broad field with numerous options for specialization. Some analysts, for instance, focus on environmental policies, while others focus on issues like homelessness, substance abuse or access to healthcare.

There are four general areas of responsibility:

  • Gathering accurate information
  • Assessing existing policies and their impacts
  • Evaluating proposed policies and considering all potential outcomes and unintended consequences
  • Disseminating findings to government entities and the public at large

Public policy analysts who primarily focus on gathering accurate information are adept at working with large quantities of statistical raw data. Such data can reveal whether a policy is effective or not and whether it has any unintended consequences. For example, a policy analyst might collect data about how many people apply for solar tax credits and what their income levels are in order to reveal whether these credits are effective at broadening access to renewable energy sources in low-income households.

Analysts who primarily evaluate existing policies start by identifying the specific goals of the policy. They then analyze raw data to determine whether the policy achieved its goals. If not, they consider what adjustments might be needed.

Public policy analysts who focus primarily on analyzing the potential effects of proposed policies can use a variety of tools, including cost-benefit analyses. They consider whether a policy might have unintended consequences, and they make recommendations accordingly. For example, a proposed policy to tax sugar-sweetened beverages for the purpose of fighting obesity might have the unintended consequence of increasing alcohol consumption.

Lastly, public policy analysts share their findings, ideas and proposed recommendations with the public and governmental entities. They may write white papers, briefs, issue guides and fact sheets for dissemination to policymakers, or they might write editorials for publication in newspapers. Some analysts are also called upon to speak to Congress, counsel government officials, speak at conferences or appear on television broadcasts.

After working as a public policy analyst for a period of time, a professional may advance to the role of public policy director at a think tank or agency. There are also related careers in public policy for graduates with a degree in the field, including the following:

  • Legislative aide
  • Market research analyst
  • Public administrator
  • Campaign worker
  • Regulatory affairs specialist

Earning a Public Policy Degree

Public policy is an interdisciplinary field that combines elements of political science, economics and sociology. If you decide to earn a public policy degree, you will develop strong critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills. You’ll be challenged to devise innovative, workable solutions to societal problems at all levels and as diverse as the national debt, food safety and healthcare costs.

Your coursework may introduce you to a variety of problems and encourage you to develop solutions. For instance, you may be assigned questions like the following:

  • How can public policy encourage farmers to use sustainable crop rotation practices?
  • Are tiny home communities a viable solution to veteran homelessness?
  • Child hunger increases during school vacations when school breakfasts and lunches are not available. What are some possible solutions?

As you can see, the work of a public policy analyst requires both analytical and creative thinking. Of course, the details of a public policy curriculum will vary from one school to the next. In general, however, you may expect to study the following topics:

  • Comparative government, including both Western and non-Western countries — with a look at how political and diplomatic processes affect international relations
  • Classical and contemporary political theories and critiques 
  • Qualitative and quantitative research methods as applied to political processes
  • Public policymaking and its effects on public opinion, media and interest groups
  • Implementation of legislation and the practice of governmental administration at varying levels

When you graduate with your degree, you will be prepared to pursue a career in which you can effect positive change in your community.

Important Skills and Characteristics of Public Policy Professionals

Public policy is an ideal career path for people who enjoy writing- and reading-intensive work. If you become a public policy analyst or a professional in a related position, you will spend much of your time performing in-depth research and data analysis as well as writing about your findings. Additional skills and qualities important for a public policy professional to have are as follows:

  • Strong organizational abilities
  • Clear communication skills
  • Creative thinking
  • Analytical reasoning
  • A collaborative mindset
  • Ethical servant leadership

You can prepare for an exciting career dedicated to community improvement when you earn a public policy degree at Grand Canyon University. The curriculum leading to a Bachelor of Arts in Government with an Emphasis in State and Local Public Policy prepares students to be critical thinkers, ethical decision-makers and inspirational servant leaders. You can click on Request Info at the top of your screen to explore your future at GCU — a Christian learning community.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.