High school students who think that they might want to earn a communications degree in college will understandably be curious about what types of jobs they might qualify for after graduation. A communications degree is a highly versatile qualification that could enable you to pursue a career in many sectors or industries. One option is to apply for public policy jobs.
What Is Public Policy?
Local, state and federal legislators along with governmental agencies engage in public policymaking to solve problems or address issues that affect the public. This is by necessity a rather broad definition of public policy; after all, public policy can influence everything from food safety inspections to overseas adoptions. A public policy may be enacted by passing a new law, by signing a presidential executive order or simply by establishing policies at a governmental agency that affect the public in some way.
There are different types of public policies and many people who have public policy careers specialize in a particular type. For example, domestic public policy involves the policies that affect people within the borders of the United States. Within the domestic public policy sphere, there are many different subspecialties, such as healthcare, taxes, law enforcement and social welfare.
Another type is regulatory public policy, which involves all of the laws and regulations passed by legislators. For example, lawmakers can pass wage and hour laws to protect the rights of workers. People who work in public policy, such as lobbyists, can try to influence the voting decisions of lawmakers to influence whether a bill becomes a law.
Yet another type is constituent public policy, which is concerned with the structure of government itself. For instance, in 2002, the U.S. established the Department of Homeland Security to protect the country. Another example is the New Deal during the Great Depression, which established the Works Progress Administration, among other things.
Lastly, distributive public policy involves any public policies that affect the distribution of government resources. For instance, COVID-19 vaccines are free to the public because the federal government decided to purchase them with federal funds to make them accessible to all.
Types of Public Policy Jobs
There are many public policy jobs you might consider pursuing, such as the roles of public policy analyst or lobbyist. Do note that, when you first graduate from college, you will likely be expected to work in an entry-level job. This will allow you to gain experience in the field before you pursue a higher-level job, such as a policy analyst position. For instance, you might first work on a political campaign by organizing volunteers, conducting polls or writing speeches for a local candidate.
Public Policy Analyst
One of the most common public policy jobs is that of a public policy analyst. A policy analyst may also be called a researcher, fellow or scholar.
These professionals may work for governmental agencies at all levels of government (local, state or federal). Alternatively, they may work for nongovernmental groups, such as think tanks. A think tank is an institute dedicated to researching, analyzing and developing guidance on specific issues, such as healthcare regulations or environmental protection.
The primary responsibility of a public policy analyst is to explore the effects of existing and proposed legislation on individuals and society in general. Some public policy analysts work on a broad range of issues. Others specialize in a particular area of expertise, such as education, crime prevention, environmental protection or economic growth.
The work that these professionals do is of high importance; they often discover that proposed legislation could have significant unintended consequences. By distributing their written reports to politicians and other key figures, analysts can help shape and influence public policy.
Another public policy career to consider is being a lobbyist. A lobbyist is a professional advocate who works to influence the decisions of politicians, such as their votes in favor of or against a particular proposed law. Lobbyists are subject to strict regulations, such as a prohibition against paying for votes.
Lobbyists seek to persuade elected officials by presenting written reports, graphs, polls and other forms of information intended to present a particular argument. In some cases, these professional advocates may even help elected officials draft new legislation. However, they do not generally give public testimony before legislative bodies.
Where exactly will you find these public policy jobs? Many lobbyists work for lobbying firms, where they may represent the interests of a range of corporations and other entities. Others work directly for corporations that have a vested interest in encouraging politicians to vote in a certain way.
A corporation in any industry may potentially be affected by new legislation and may hire a lobbyist as a result. However, pharmaceutical, insurance, oil and gas, electricity and technology companies most frequently employ lobbyists to represent their interests.
Will a Communications Degree Prepare Students for Public Policy Jobs?
There is no universal degree requirement for students who are interested in pursuing public policy jobs. Many aspiring public policy analysts and lobbyists choose to major in government studies, political science or communications. All of these degree options instill valuable competencies for future public policy professionals.
However, an even better option is to choose a hybrid degree that combines communications with a specialization in public policy or political campaigns. A Bachelor of Arts in Communications with an Emphasis in Political Campaigns would thoroughly prepare students to excel in this field through a curriculum that instills in-depth knowledge of political theory and persuasive communication. In this type of degree program, you could expect to study topics such as:
- The principles of argumentation and advocacy, including the influential nature of varying worldviews and the use of argumentation in everyday communication
- The distribution and application of political power and the influencing of political figures via political communication strategies
- The development and analysis of political addresses, including crisis management and informed debate
- Fundamentals of political theories, including classical and contemporary models of political thought
In addition to acquiring these competencies, you can use your time in college to acquire valuable experience. For instance, you might consider volunteering to work on the political campaign of a local candidate. You could also look for internship opportunities in the offices of local elected officials. You should take advantage of any available opportunities to practice your communication skills as well, such as working for the college newspaper or signing up for a debate club.
Essential Characteristics and Skills of Professionals in Public Policy Careers
Throughout your college studies, you can cultivate the important characteristics and skills that are necessary for effective public policy professionals. Of course, the most important skill is communication — both written and verbal — but the following are also helpful:
- Research-oriented: Public policy careers often require proficiency in research. After all, thorough research guides a public policy analyst’s informed guidance.
- Strategic decision-making: After doing the research, a public policy professional must make strategic decisions in their work to advise legislative officials.
- Problem-solving: Identifying problems with a particular law or proposed bill is only half of the equation. Public policy professionals should also be able to brainstorm solutions, which may require some creative thought.
- Servant leadership: With political power comes responsibility and the need for accountability. A servant leader is someone who is in a position of authority and works in service to others, rather than expecting others to serve them.
Wherever your path in life takes you, you can build a solid academic foundation for success in public policy by earning your communications degree at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Arts in Communications with an Emphasis in Political Campaigns is designed for students who crave a career at the intersection of communications and public policy. You will emerge with strong competencies in political theory, political campaign management, intercultural communication and professional ethics. Learn more about Grand Canyon University’s justice studies program or the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
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.