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Best Public Policy Master’s Programs: Tips For Choosing The Right Degree

In today’s complex and interconnected world, public policy shapes everything from education to healthcare — which means that working in public policy and the broader public sector provides a powerful opportunity to impact individuals and communities.

While rewarding, this field can be technical and complex. A relevant master’s degree can help you navigate and succeed in the profession and qualify for positions that require advanced knowledge. But with many options to choose from, picking the right degree can be a challenge. Here’s what you should consider. 

What Master’s Degree Should You Earn to Work in Public Policy?

It’s possible to enter the field of public policy with a variety of backgrounds, but having a right master’s degree aligned with your professional goals can make things a lot easier. There are three primary master’s degree pathways to choose from in this field, each of which has advantages and disadvantages.

Master of Public Policy (MPP)

The Master of Public Policy degree is aimed at professionals who analyze needs, assess existing policies and create new policies to address specific problems. Analytically-minded professionals who enjoy detail-oriented tactical work . MPP graduates often work closely with government leaders and politicians but are less likely to take on public-facing positions.

Coursework in master’s in public policy programs focuses on qualitative and quantitative analysis, statistics, economics and policy design. Most MPP programs take two years of full-time study to complete.

“An MPP degree is the best fit for those who are interested exclusively in public policy analysis and development,” explains Dr. Wendy Eaton, chair of Franklin’s Master of Public Administration program. 

What matters most when choosing a master’s program? Compare features, benefits and cost to find the right school for you.


Master of Public Administration (MPA)

The Master of Public Administration degree is aimed at professionals who are working in or wish to work in leadership positions within the public sector, nonprofits or in private sector roles with close ties to government. This degree focuses more on policy implementation and management than policy creation and analysis, though there is often overlap between the two functions. MPA graduates frequently work in public-facing positions and collaborate across organizations or government agencies. 

Coursework in MPA programs focuses on organizational management and leadership, budgets and finance, and personnel management within the public sector context. These degrees also emphasize ethical leadership and decision-making. Some programs include coursework in specific areas such as health policy, criminal justice and labor relations in addition to the core curriculum. 

“An MPA degree offers a broader focus for individuals who want to prepare themselves for a variety of governmental positions or to advance their careers in the public sector,” says Eaton. “An MPA degree opens the door to a wider range of career options in government, nonprofit organizations and the private sector.”

Most MPA programs take two years to complete, though accelerated options, like Franklin University’s Master of Public Administration, may allow students to complete their degrees more quickly. 

Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a Focus in Public Policy

Some schools offer MBA programs with an optional focus in public policy and administration or combined programs that pair an MBA and MPP or MPA. These degrees include a heavier emphasis on private sector considerations. Typically, the bulk of the coursework centers on standard MBA topics such as management and marketing, with additional courses related to policy and public sector considerations. This degree may be a good fit for professionals who wish to work primarily in business, with some overlap in the public sector, or who prefer to keep their options open.

“An MBA with a public policy concentration has a more business-oriented focus,”  explains Dr. Eaton. “The curriculum and focus of a master of public administration program, on the other hand, are specifically tailored to the unique challenges and opportunities of working in the public sector, and students who are committed to public service may find an MPA degree more rewarding.”

MBA programs typically take at least two years, though some combined degree programs can take three or more years. 

Which Master’s Degree Option is Right for You?

Choosing the right master’s degree is a complex decision, but ultimately it comes down to your career goals, interests and preferences. When choosing between an MPP, MPA and MBA, the primary considerations include whether you want to create or implement policy, whether you wish to work in the public or private sector and whether you are interested in working in public-facing leadership positions. 

Before you apply, take time to map out your ideal career path and explore the skills and knowledge you’ll need to succeed. Use that information to assess the specific curricula of each program you’re interested in to ensure that it will help you move toward your goals. Programs differ significantly in their focus areas and approaches, and finding the right fit for you will help you make the most of your graduate school experience. 

Can You Earn a Public Policy Master’s Online?

Many schools offer MPA, MPP and MBA degrees fully online. Earning your degree remotely is a great way to augment your skills while advancing your career and maintaining your salary and lifestyle. Online degree options can also be more affordable than in-person options and allow you to access high-quality programs without relocating. Franklin’s Master of Public Administration degree program is 100% online with a flexible schedule for working professionals. 

Build Your Public Policy Career

At Franklin University, you can become a public sector leader on your schedule. Franklin’s flexible, online MPA program is designed and taught by leading practitioners in government and nonprofits. You’ll learn from instructors who are passionate about the field and committed to helping you work toward your goals. 

This practical graduate degree utilizes real-world scenario-based assignments and prioritizes engaging discussions that broaden your perspective. In addition to core public sector management concepts, you’ll learn essential skills rarely covered in other MPA programs, including methodological reasoning, strategic organizational communication and applied analytical techniques for decision-making and problem-solving. And since you can complete your degree in as few as 17 months, you’ll be ready to move your career forward faster. 

Learn more about how Franklin’s Master of Public Administration program can help you help others. 

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