Public Policy Masters Programs & Schools

Masters in Public Policy programs, also known as MPP Degree programs, are graduate professional degrees focused on using data analysis techniques to understand the impact of governance and legislation on communities. MPP programs also discuss how to evaluate public programs, and use that evaluation to make recommendations to improve effectiveness. Overall, masters of public policy programs combine hard quantitative skills with expertise surrounding social and community development, public leadership, and political and legal issues.

How to earn a masters in public policy

What’s The Difference Between a MPP and a MPA?

Masters in Public Policy programs have a lot in common with a related degree, the Master of Public Administration or MPA. In fact, not only might some of the coursework overlap, but some programs might even combine the two, offering instead a “master of public policy and administration.” With all that uniting them, how does one tell them apart?

In essence, a Master of Public Policy program focuses on using quantitative research to understand a community and the impact leadership decisions might have on that community. Meanwhile, an MPA program focuses more on taking those findings and turning them into actionable plans to accomplish policy goals. MPA programs also incorporate more elements of administration and leadership, like one might find in business programs, such as managing teams of people effectively on a day to day basis.

What To Expect In A MPP Program

Masters in public policy programs are complex and interdisciplanary, bringing together a variety of unique subjects to better understand how communities and governments function. After all, community and government are complex topics! A world of potential research areas fall within the broader umbrella of public policy. This includes sociology, urban planning, economics, international relations, education, the

environment, and more. And MPP programs don’t just touch on these in a general sense. They also hone analysis skills, and apply them to each of those topics, with the aim of attaining an objective understanding. Some programs may even offer options for concentrations, enabling students to specialize in a certain type of research, or policy issue.

Masters in Public Policy Program Formats

Different students have different needs when it comes to earning their MPP. From how you learn to your obligations outside class, programs might accomodate your needs in different ways. For example, do you prefer to dedicate all your time and energy to your education? In that case, you’re probably looking for something full time. Have a more hectic schedule? Then you probably want to look for part time or flexible options. Luckily, technology enables programs to reach more students in innovative—not to mention convenient—ways. Generally, program formats fall into three categories.

  • Online Master of Public Policy: Studying online may be an attractive option for students who need a little more flexibility, balancing school, work, and home. Online MPP programs deliver courses to your laptop or tablet (as long as it’s compatible and has a stable internet connection) so you can bring your studies with you. Choosing to earn your MPP online has the potential benefit of enabling you to apply to programs a little further away. That could allow you to choose programs narrowly tailored to what type of public policy you want to study, the skills you need to hone, etc. Plus, by earning your masters alongside students from communities across the country, you’ll have the advantage of diverse perspectives.
  • Masters of Public Policy Schools: MPP schools are anchored on a physical campus, in the community. Whether that means you choose one in your own backyard or in a new city, you could have the chance to learn not only about policy research, but also about the particular needs and interests of that community. And you could explore how those needs tie to the potential responsibilities of a policy analyst. Plus, on campus, you may have access to important resources for conducting your research, career guidance—and the connections formed in your classroom with peers and faculty.
  • Hybrid Public Policy Masters Programs: Otherwise known as blended or partially-online, hybrid MPP programs aim to combine some of the qualities of online and campus study. This way, you could take advantage of some of the perks of learning at a graduate school, without losing out on the flexibility you need from studying online! These programs might be organized in a variety of ways. Some may have fully online and fully on campus classes. Others may simply have residency or short periods of on campus study. So for more details, reach out to the ones you’re considering.

Masters of Public Policy Thesis vs. Capstone

Most MPP programs require students to complete some kind of final project in order to graduate. Generally, this is in the form of a thesis or capstone project. In public policy, these two have a lot in common. Because the field is so research-oriented, both types of final projects are likely to have a heavy research element. So what’s the difference?

  • A thesis is a long research project, generally completed solo, which demonstrates the writer’s fluency with existing policy scholarship. It’s usually a paper written for an academic audience. Sometimes it also incorporates a presentation element, which may need to be delivered in person on campus, even in programs that otherwise take place online.
  • A capstone, in general, is a project or portfolio designed to demonstrate the student’s ability to apply their knowledge in a professional sense. As such, it is written or compiled with a professional audience in mind. It often (but not always) emulates the type of work one might do in the field. In public policy, this usually means completing a research project that addresses a relevant question, problem, or issue. These might be completed solo or in groups, depending on the individual program’s requirements.

In some cases, programs might also offer these or similar projects in the form of a seminar. Seminars are classes focused on discussing a specific topic at length. Sometimes, these types of classes might be used to guide final research projects, or to supplement field experience. If your school chooses to do this, the stated seminar topic might indicate the options available to you when it comes to writing your thesis or capstone.

What Might I Learn in Public Policy Masters Programs?

Each MPP program may be a little different. The material covered in your curriculum could be impacted by your selected specialty or concentration (if you have the option), or what your program focuses on. That could be anything from urban planning, to economic development, or even international relations, just to name a few examples. Other influences include the general objective of your program, who’s teaching your courses, and the needs of the community the program is rooted in. For this reason, you may want to read individual program curriculum when assessing your options.

Here are some examples of the types of courses you might encounter in your Master of Public Policy program.

  • Law and Policy: One of the primary goals of policy analysis—and policy in general—is to guide how laws are written and applied. As such, not only will many MPP programs cover the essentials of lawmaking in itself, but also how that process is influenced by policy research and how legislators and policy analysts might work together.
  • Economics: A category rather than a course title, most MPP programs will cover some aspects of macro and microeconomics, as well as econometrics. Courses might discuss how to perform economics research, how to take economic factors into account in researching other issues, and how the economy influences policy directly and indirectly.
  • Decision Analysis & Modeling: These types of courses center on decision theory, which is the quantitative study of how and why people make decisions. Decision analysis and modeling is used to examine potential decisions and project their potential impacts.
  • Quantitative Analysis: This broad topic may cover a variety of methods for analyzing data. Examples include cost-benefit analysis, statistics, econometrics, and more.
  • Public Leadership, Agency Management & Policy: While most public policy programs focus on policy research, many programs also examine the role that policy research plays within leadership. That means discussing public leadership, agency management, and governance, and building familiarity with what those roles might entail.
  • Research Methods & Tools: These types of courses may cover a variety of topics, particularly centering on statistics, survey methodology, and the tools and technology one might use to collect data and analyze results.
  • Sociology & Psychology: Policy isn’t just about politics. It’s also about the community, and how laws and governance impact the people who live there. Many MPP programs therefore include some elements related to the study of individuals and groups, and how they’re affected by socioeconomic, cultural, social, and personal issues.
  • Issue-Specific Courses: Whether you’ve chosen to pursue a concentration and study a specific type of policy research, or attend a broader program, most likely some courses will be dedicated to unique topics within policy research. These could be related to healthcare in different communities, environmental policies, poverty, or the needs of specific populations. Depending on the design of your program (and whether you’re specializing) these could be required or elective courses.

Continuing Your Education After Earning a Master of Public Policy

While many choose to earn their MPP and then focus on building their career, it doesn’t have to be the end of your education. Want to be an expert in your field? Consider going on to earn a doctorate in public policy. Public policy doctoral programs may build advanced research skills, and generally apply that knowledge toward researching a single, specialized topic. Or if you want to learn more about a particular topic, you could consider bolstering your credentials with a graduate certificate in public policy. Those programs tend to be short, and focused, and may be available at the masters and post-masters level.

What Could You Do With A Masters in Public Policy Degree?

Many public and political research roles require (or prefer) at least a relevant master’s degree. Public policy analysis is a broad category, including a variety of more specialized research areas and position titles. Many of these are defined by specialty—whether that’s through concentrated education or professional experience. Examples include:

  • Political Scientists – 2016 Median Pay: $114,290i
  • Economists – 2016 Median Pay: $101,050ii
  • Survey Researchers – 2016 Median Pay: $54,470iii
  • Urban Planners – 2016 Median Pay: $70,020iv

The specific requirements for working in these and similar roles may vary widely. Some may ask for specific educational backgrounds, such as urban planning training or statistics education. Others may have entry-level roles open to those with a bachelor’s degree.

Search for Masters in Public Policy Programs

Take the first step toward your public policy degree, and start your search for master of public policy programs here on If you already know what program format you’d prefer, use the menu to select the appropriate option and narrow down your options. Then you can read more about what that program is like, or start reviewing the sponsored program listings that match your criteria. When you identify a masters in public policy program you think you’d like to attend, click on its name to read more or get in touch. Once you do, you can request information, sets up an interview or campus visit, or even start your application!





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