Why This Matters

  • PREPARE FOR OVER 25 POSSIBLE CAREER PATHS

    Individuals with a master’s in public policy can pursue a number of potential job opportunities in government, non-profits, or the private sector, including city planner, legislative assistant, policy analyst and more.

  • MANAGEMENT POSITIONS INCREASING 6% BY 2028

    A master’s degree in public policy can help you become a leader in government, from the local level as a city manager, budget director, or county administrator, to higher level offices in state and federal government.

  • YOU COULD BE LEAVING $7,000 ON THE TABLE

    The average annual salary for someone with a master’s degree in public policy is $70,000 per year, although some top administrators earn more. The average annual salary for someone with a bachelor’s is $63,000.

Our Research

Our research concentrated on master’s degrees in public policy. Common graduate degrees in this field include a Master of Arts (MA) and a Master of Public Administration (MPA).

As a measure of quality assurance, we only reviewed programs that are offered by regionally accredited institutions. Credits and degrees from regionally accredited schools are more widely transferable to other institutions, and more highly regarded by employers.

We also specifically looked for programs that are delivered completely or primarily online, to guarantee access for a greater number of students. Some programs are offered on-campus as well. In these programs, students may have the option to complete their degree through a combination of online and on-campus classes.

We evaluated each program on the basis of reputation, outcomes, flexibility, cost and faculty. Using this information, we calculated an Intelligent Score for each program on a scale of 0 to 100. Our top picks for the best online master’s in public policy are customizable, affordable, and highly regarded. (For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.)

  • 77 hours to write this article
  • 190 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 345 education programs we compared

The Top 20 Online Master’s in Public Policy Programs

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What You Should Know About This Degree

A master’s in public policy is a versatile degree that prepares students for a range of jobs. Many graduates go on to work in local, state, or federal government, while others find employment in non-profits and NGOs serving public interests throughout the world. There are also opportunities in the private sector, as a government liaison for private businesses.

Due to the flexibility of this degree, it’s important to consider what your ultimate goals are when choosing a program. Knowing what type of job you are seeking will help you select a program that focuses on your area of interest.

Master’s in public policy programs have a lot in common with master’s in public administration programs, but there are some key differences. Public policy focuses on the research and analysis needed to develop policies that affect various communities, while public administration is concerned with the actual implementation of the policies. Depending on your interests, you may want to explore public administration graduate programs as well.

Hands-on experience in public policy is highly valued. Therefore, some programs have optional or required experiential learning components, such as internships or residencies, even if the coursework is delivered online. Review the program’s requirements before enrolling to ensure you can accommodate these components in your schedule.

What’s Next?

Here are some questions to ask when researching Master’s in Public Policy programs:

  • How are online courses delivered? Some distance learning programs are more flexible than others, depending on how courses are delivered. In a synchronous program, students attend classes remotely, but at set weekly times. In asynchronous courses, the lessons and assignments are accessible at all times, allowing students to complete them on their schedule. Consider what type of program works best for your schedule and find a program that meets those needs.
  • Are there any in-person requirements? A number of programs have minimal in-person requirements, either on-campus for immersive residencies, or off-site at internships. It’s important to find out what, if any, in-person requirements a program has as early as possible, so you can confirm that they will fit into your schedule and budget.

This is also a good time to start gathering your application materials. Be mindful of application deadlines, so you can submit your materials on time.

You should also be thinking about how you will finance your graduate degree. Talk to financial aid counselors about scholarships, assistantships, and loans. If you are currently employed, find out if your employer offers tuition assistance benefits.