What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s Public Policy Program?

Master’s in public policy degrees are flexible, multidisciplinary degrees that prepare graduates for a variety of professional positions that often merge analysis and administration tasks. You’ll learn key skills that are in high demand in careers across the public, private, nonprofit and governmental sectors. Online programs still meet the rigorous demands of traditional, on-campus coursework but offer distinct benefits. One of the biggest benefits of obtaining your master’s in public policy online is the ability to tailor your coursework around your professional and family obligations. Since programs vary between schools, compare program descriptions and curriculum to ensure you find the right program that aligns with your career goals.

Degrees Offered for an Online Master’s in Public Policy

Nonprofit Sector A master’s in public policy that concentrates on the nonprofit sector focuses on the role of nonprofits in society, especially the role of managers. Manager of a nonprofit, lobbyist for a nonprofit
Public Administration Public policy master’s programs with a concentration in public administration focus on the American governmental system from an administrative perspective instead of a political one. Administrative services manager, public administration consultant, city manager, mayor, foreign service officer
International Affairs An online master’s in public policy with a concentration in international affairs prepares graduates for careers as an expert in international public policy with an emphasis on foreign policy. Foreign affairs specialist, foreign service officer, international business manager, career military officer
Campaigns and Elections Online public policy master’s programs with a concentration in campaigns and elections examine the techniques and trends in modern political campaigns and elections, including the most effective communication, marketing and writing techniques. Political campaign manager, political consultant, career politician

Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Public Policy

While online master’s in public policy curriculums vary by educational institution, each program typically blends the analytical and administrative aspects of public policy to provide graduates with an overall perspective of the field. Program requirements are usually divided into core and elective courses, with elective courses allowing you to customize your degree. Compare programs carefully, because some require you to complete a relevant internship before your degree is awarded and others may require a thesis or capstone project. Also, some programs are completed completely online, while others are hybrid programs that incorporate both online and on-campus courses. Whichever type of program you choose, common courses you may encounter include:

Policy Analysis Explores the policy-making process, including how policies are formed, and the assessment and evaluation of these policies.
Legal Issues in Public Administration Insights into the legal issues in government and cover topics like the delegation of legislative power, administrative appeals and judicial review.
Budgeting and Financial Management Examines budgeting in the public sector and budgetary processes, including issues like cost estimation, capital financing, cost-benefit analysis, debt management, performance budgeting and financial statements.
Public Policy for Managers Strategic planning, implementation and evaluation of public policy and the functions of policy analysis in political and administrative decision-making.
Government Regulations and Administrative Law Probes the impact of regulations and laws on federal and state governments and the American people.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s in Public Policy?

The amount of time it takes to complete your master’s degree online largely depends on the type of program you choose. Self-paced programs allow you to work at your own pace, while cohort-based programs require you to log in at specific times for live classes with your fellow classmates. Depending on your motivation, individually paced programs can often be completed much sooner than normal, but cohort classes stick to a set schedule. On average, an online master’s degree in public policy includes 36 credit hours that you can complete in two years when attending full-time.

Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Public Policy Prepares For

Certified in Public Policy After earning a master’s in public policy and obtaining three years of professional experience in political, public policy or governmental service, you can apply for board certification in public policy from the Academy of Certified Political Analysts.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Public Policy Degrees

Before signing up for a master’s in public policy program, ensure the college or university has accreditation status. While many online master’s programs don’t receive programmatic accreditation, the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration’s Commission on Peer Review and Accreditation is the authoritative accreditor of master’s degree programs in public administration, public policy and public affairs, as recognized by the Council for Higher Education (CHEA). This doesn’t mean every master’s in public policy program has received accreditation. However, the college or university itself should always be accredited through an agency recognized by the Department of Education or CHEA to ensure eligibility for financial aid.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Public Policy Graduates

Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s

While some organizations require only a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions in the public policy field, others require a master’s degree. No matter their educational requirements, most organizations give preference to applicants with advanced degrees. Earning your online master’s degree not only makes you more appealing as a job candidate for popular, often lucrative, careers in this field; you may also qualify for higher-level positions and/or salaries from the outset based on your advanced expertise.

Expected Salary

Completing an online master’s in public policy makes you well-suited for city, state and federal government positions where policy is a major factor. Your degree also opens up career opportunities within the private and nonprofit sector, especially where analysis of previous policy or crafting of future policy is an important aspect of the job. The sector you work in can impact your expected salary as demonstrated by the following table.

City Mayor $29,880-$110,221
City Manager $50,289-$160,856
Public Policy Analyst $39,376-$83,859
Public Policy Director $49,960-$127,659
Nonprofit Program Manager $35,845-$74,068

Besides earning an advanced degree, such as an online master’s in public policy, your time on the job greatly influences how much you can expect to earn. For example, a director in public policy earns more than twice as much late in their career compared to those with little experience, as the following table demonstrates.

Career Opportunities

Whether you opt for a general public policy education or focus on a specialized area, there are numerous fields and sectors open to you. Graduates often pursue careers domestically within local, state or federal government offices or branch out to governmental positions abroad. You may also strive to obtain a leading role in a nongovernmental position or with a nonprofit organization. No matter which career path you follow, an online master’s degree in public policy sets you up for a rewarding career in public service that can provide a better-than-average salary compared to the median household income of $61,372 reported by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2017.

Social and Community Service Managers Social and Community Service Managers coordinate and supervise social service programs and community organizations, including managing staff members. $64,100 per year 18%
Chief Executive in the Public Sector Chief Executive Officers work in nearly every industry in the public sector, but some nonprofits also employ chief executives. Primary duties of chief executives are to devise strategies and policies to ensure the business meets its overall goals. $107,700 per year 8%
Political Scientist Political Scientists study the origin, development and operation of political systems. They also help in the planning and development of new policies by analyzing previous policies, political trends and other related issues. $115,110 per year 3%

Professional Organizations

Establishing professional connections is a crucial part of getting the most out of your master’s in public policy degree. Connecting with other professionals within the field allows you to build valuable networks that offer beneficial resources, including invaluable advice and support from those with more experience. One way to achieve these goals is through professional organizations that cater to public policy professionals.

Many of these organizations regularly host networking and/or career development events, online job boards, continuing education opportunities, professional awards and other members-only services. While these organizations are beneficial at any stage of your career, they’re particularly valuable as you enter the workforce after completing your online master’s in public policy degree. Some notable organizations for professionals with master’s public policy degrees include:

Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM): Promotes excellence in public policy and management, with memberships available to institutions, professionals and students. It hosts multidisciplinary annual conferences, including spring, fall, international and regional student conferences. It also publishes a peer-reviewed multidisciplinary journal four times a year and offers a mentor matching program for student members in search of guidance and support in their career development endeavors.

American Society for Public Administration (ASPA): A leading interdisciplinary public service organization with memberships available to students, new and long-term professionals, and retirees. It hosts networking events, as well as annual conferences and free professional development webinars. It also publishes scholarly journals both in print and electronically, presents professional awards and posts job listings. Besides the national chapter, it also has local chapters that allow you to meet and network within your own geographic area.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Organizational Leadership Degree

Although online master’s degree programs often cost less than traditional on-campus programs, many students still need financial aid to cover tuition and associated fees. The most important step to finding financial assistance is by filling out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), which is required to apply for loans, grants and other financial aid opportunities offered by the federal government. Some state governments also use the FAFSA, but others may require you to fill out a separate form to apply for state aid. Many educational institutions also utilize the FAFSA to determine whether you qualify for institutional aid, but some have a separate application for scholarships, work-study programs and other assistance. Scholarships and grants from private sources are also frequently available through corporations, nonprofits and other sources that require specific application steps. For more information about obtaining financial assistance, investigate the following resources.



Scholarships Details
Corey L. Richards Memorial Scholarship Award: $15,000

Deadline: February

Eligibility: Graduate students pursuing a master’s in public policy or public health committed to advancing public policy related to sexual and reproductive rights.

Michael Lindberg Scholarship at Portland State University Award: $2,000

Deadline: May

Eligibility: Graduate students enrolled in the public administration program in the College of Urban and Public Affairs at Portland State University.

Clarence E. Ridley Scholarship Award: $3,500

Deadline: January

Eligibility: Graduate students attending any accredited Texas university, pursuing a master’s in public policy or administration and taking at least six credit hours/semester.