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Students interested in learning how government policies influence corporations, communities, and individuals may be interested in earning a master's degree in public policy.

This degree trains graduates to examine systemic issues and patterns within communities. Graduates may go on to work for government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or private companies. A master's degree is often required for influential positions like political scientist, survey researcher, and urban and regional planner. Many accredited institutions allow students to pursue their master's in public policy online, providing more flexibility and accessibility.

What Are the Best Online Master's in Public Policy Programs of 2020? Here Are Our Top 10:

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Rank School Location
1 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
2 Northwestern University Evanston, IL
3 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
4 American University Washington, DC
5 Indiana University Bloomington Bloomington, IN
6 University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA
7 University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA
8 University of Missouri Columbia, MO
9 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
10 Oregon State University Corvallis, OR
How We Rank Schools

At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you will make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering school rankings that are transparent, inclusive, and relevant for online students. Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our Ranking Methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

2020 Best Accredited Online Master's in Public Policy Programs

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Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle
1

Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, MD Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 93%

Johns Hopkins University offers an online master of arts in public management that prepares graduates for leadership roles within nonprofit and government organizations.

This degree requires 12 courses and takes 16-24 months to complete. Core courses include public policy evaluation and the policy process, economics for public decision-making, financial management and analysis in the public sector, and fundamentals of nonprofits and nonprofit management. In their final semester, students must complete a capstone project.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and have earned a minimum 3.0 GPA. However, meeting the minimum GPA criteria alone does not guarantee admission; candidates will be evaluated based on their resume, statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and writing sample. Johns Hopkins is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

2

Northwestern University

Evanston, IL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 95%

Northwestern University offers an online master's in public policy and administration with specializations in public administration, public policy, global policy, global health, and data analytics for public policy. This program prepares learners to serve in managerial roles in government or nonprofit agencies, helping them hone their analytical skills to inform policy solutions.

This master's in public policy includes 13 courses and takes 1-2 years to complete. Coursework covers topics like public finance and budgeting, microeconomics for public policy, statistics for research, and program evaluation and policy analysis. Students complete a capstone project or a thesis.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Candidates are evaluated in a holistic manner. Northwestern is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

3

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 92%

The University of Southern California offers an online master of public administration that prepares students to deal with pressing issues in public administration roles, including healthcare accessibility, urban development and infrastructure, immigration, and social policy. This program offers certificate options in public policy and city and county management.

This 40-credit online master's degree in public policy can be completed in 24 months. Courses are delivered online; however, students must attend two multi-day residencies at the USC University Park campus in Los Angeles.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's from an accredited institution and have earned a minimum 3.0 GPA. GRE or GMAT scores are also required from prospective students with less than five years of work experience. USC is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

4

American University

Washington, DC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 80%

American University offers an online master of public administration and policy for students aspiring to careers in public affairs and leadership roles within government or other public sector entities.

This 36-credit master's in public policy can be completed in 1-2 years. The curriculum culminates in a public policy practicum in which students complete a policy analysis project for a client during their final semester. Students must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA to remain in good standing and graduate from the program.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Candidates are also required to submit GRE or GMAT scores. However, applicants who earned their bachelor's more than five years before applying can substitute GRE scores with a statement describing their work experience. AU is regionally accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Universities.

5

Indiana University Bloomington

Bloomington, IN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 78%

Indiana University Bloomington offers an online master of public affairs that combines the curricula of its master's in public administration and master's in public policy degrees. Graduates are prepared for careers in public service.

This 48-credit online master's degree consists of core courses, advanced electives, and an experiential component. Students take classes like public management economics, law and public affairs, and public finance and budgeting. The experiential component can be satisfied by an approved internship, prior professional experience or volunteer work, or an independent or group project.

Out-of-state tuition rates are higher than in-state rates. Students can earn up to 12 credits based on prior professional experience, which can reduce the cost and completion time. IU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

6

University of Northern Iowa

Cedar Falls, IA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 65%

The University of Northern Iowa offers an online master of public policy for students interested in making a policy impact at the community, state, national, or global level. This program is available online with synchronous and asynchronous components.

This master's in public policy requires 39 credits and takes two years to complete. The curriculum covers politics and public policy, policy analysis, policy budgeting, and education policy. Students are also required to complete an internship; however, individuals who have sufficient prior work experience in public policy may have this requirement waived.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and meet graduate student admission requirements. The GRE is not required. UNI is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

7

University of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 83%

The University of Pittsburgh offers an online master of public policy and management program designed for mid-career public service professionals who want to obtain their master's degree on a part-time basis while working. This program helps students advance their careers in areas like public administration, public policy, nonprofit management, and security and intelligence.

This online master's degree in public policy requires 30 credits and can be completed in 20 months. Students explore topics in microeconomics, program evaluation, public policy analysis, quantitative methods, and financial management. Tuition costs the same for all online students, regardless of residency.

Applicants must demonstrate leadership and competence in various areas, including program management, budgeting and finance, human resource management, and policy formulation or implementation. Candidates must hold a bachelor's degree. GRE scores are not required. Pitt is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

8

University of Missouri

Columbia, MO Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 69%

The University of Missouri offers an online master of public affairs for students who want to build careers in public service. This program is available entirely online, and courses are delivered in nine-week sessions.

This master's degree requires 30 credits and includes five core courses and five elective courses. Elective options include collaborative governance, organizational dynamics and leadership, and regional and economic development policy.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and have at least three years of experience in public affairs. Prospective students must have earned a minimum 3.0 GPA over the last 60 credits of their undergraduate education. Mizzou is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

9

Liberty University

Lynchburg, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 50%

Liberty University offers an online master of arts in public policy with specializations in campaigns and elections, international affairs, leadership, Middle East affairs, policy studies, and public administration. Graduates prepare for roles that include public relations specialists, politicians, and public interest advocates.

This 36-credit degree takes 1.5 years to complete. The curriculum focuses on political philosophy, geopolitics and international diplomacy, economics and public policy, and foundations of American governance. Courses are delivered entirely online. Military students qualify for discounted tuition rates.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and have earned a minimum 3.0 GPA. Up to 50% of this program's credit requirements can be transferred in from a previous institution. Liberty is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

10

Oregon State University

Corvallis, OR Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 67%

The online master of public policy program at Oregon State University prepares early- and mid-career public service professionals to advance in their careers. Additionally, it can help individuals in the private sector transition into the public sector. Students can choose from four concentrations: energy policy, environmental policy, rural policy, and social policy. Students may also complete a certificate in lieu of a concentration.

This master's in public policy requires 46 quarter credits. Courses cover topics such as public policy analysis, public organizations and leadership, and econometrics. Students must also complete an applied public policy capstone and an oral examination.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Candidates must also have at least five years of work experience or satisfactory GRE scores. Oregon State is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Public Policy Program?

Online master's in public policy programs typically require 30-40 credits, and they can usually be completed in two years.

Students interested in earning a master's degree in public policy should hold strong research, communication, data analysis, and critical thinking skills. These online programs typically require 30-40 credits, and can usually be completed in two years.

There are some variations between the exact length, credit requirements, and capstone requirements in different programs. For example, some programs require participants to complete a thesis, writing a detailed paper under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Alternatively, other programs may feature a capstone project where participants work alone or in a group to overcome a practical problem in the field.

Some students pursuing a master's in public policy can choose a concentration within their program that matches their intended career path. Some popular options include:

  • Local government management
  • Nonprofit management
  • Healthcare policy
  • Economic policy
  • Environmental policy

Admission Requirements for Online Master's in Public Policy Programs

Online master's in public policy programs require prospective students to have a bachelor's degree. Although competitiveness varies among programs, many schools require applicants to earn an undergraduate GPA above 2.5. In addition to undergraduate transcripts, programs may also ask applicants to submit letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and writing samples.

Read our comprehensive Graduate Admissions Guide for more information on what to expect during this process.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Degree Programs.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Public Policy Program?

While pursuing a master's in public policy online, students can expect much of their coursework to center around modern policy theory and practical applications they can use to address real-world problems. Students examine current research, analyze data, and apply interdisciplinary models to evaluate community needs. Although course frameworks vary between schools, students might encounter the following common classes while completing their core curriculum:

Law and Public Policy

In this course, students study the relationship between legislation, court systems, and public policy. Learners become more familiar with conducting legal research and assessing how legal parameters impact policy-making.

Economics of Public Policy

Students in this class examine the fiscal impacts of policy through a microeconomics-centered lense. The course outlines patterns of interaction between industries, consumers, and government organizations. Students also learn how legislation guides communities' access to money and resources and how wealth is distributed. They also assess the real-world efficacy of various policy initiatives.

Decision Analysis, Modeling, and Quantitative Methods

To supplement more theory-based learning, this course requires students to examine the impact of policy in empirical terms. Learners collect and analyze data to guide discourse and determine appropriate policies. This quantitative background equips students with the statistical literacy needed to come up with real-world solutions based on empirical evidence.

Public Management and Policy Implementation

This course is especially valuable to learners interested in managing nonprofits and NGOs. Students learn management techniques and how to maximize an organization's services within target populations. Students might use case studies and empirical evidence to study the efficacy of different service efforts.

Politics of Public Policy

Using case studies, theory, and empirical evidence, this course focuses on policy development through a political lense. Learners study the process of formulating policy, mapping out how policy will function alongside current legislature and navigating potential obstacles once it is implemented.

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What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Public Policy Degree?

Many professionals with a master's in public policy help government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private companies navigate their relationships with existing legislation. This degree offers graduates versatile, in-demand career prospects.

For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that urban and regional planning jobs will grow by 11% between 2019 and 2029 — a growth rate more than twice the national average. Additionally, political scientists earn a median income of $122,220, and this field is projected to grow by 6% from 2019-2029.

Learn more about public policy careers and see where an online master's in public policy can take you.

Political Scientist

Political scientists rely on a comprehensive understanding of political systems and actors to generate theories and policy development. These professionals also conduct research to inform policy development. Many political scientists work in academic spheres and publish their findings. Others might take on consulting roles for private or government organizations.

Median Salary: $122,220

Survey Researcher

Survey researchers are responsible for designing research methods, analyzing findings, and assessing potential sampling errors in various data collection projects. These professionals may work for private companies, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies. In this versatile role, researchers find data to help inform policy, budgeting, marketing strategies, and more.

Median Salary: $59,170

Public Policy Director

Many nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies consult with public policy directors to navigate how their decisions might interact with current legislation. These professionals must have a comprehensive understanding of the policies and legislative parameters that impact various organizations.

Median Salary: $82,000

Urban Planner

Urban planners interact with property development, land use, and community needs. They correspond with public officials and navigate the legal parameters of various urban development projects. These professionals should have an intersectional background. Urban planners must take social, legal, economic, environmental, transportation, and architectural factors into account to maximize community benefits.

Median Salary: $58,000

Public Relations Specialist

Within the private sector, public relations specialists are responsible for managing the images of companies and organizations. They also formulate marketing campaigns, social media posts, and official correspondence . A public policy background can be relevant to this role, as many of these professionals assess political attitudes and public policy when representing organizations.

Median Salary: $61,150

Public Policy Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Public Policy Programs

Is a master's in public policy worth it?

Many professionals pursuing careers in policy development and analysis find that earning a master's equips them with essential skills and greater credibility. Additionally, many specialized careers require a graduate degree — a master's in public policy is a prerequisite for some higher-level jobs.

What can I do with a master's in public policy?

This versatile degree can be applied to policy-related fields like urban planning, city management, policy analysis, research, and political science. Some graduates choose to pursue more business-centered roles in consulting, public relations, and market research.

How many public policy majors get jobs?

Many of the jobs that graduates with a master's in public policy can pursue are projected to grow faster than average in the coming years, according to the BLS. This includes positions such as urban planners and political scientists.

How much money can I make with a master's in public policy?

According to 2018 data from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration, three years after graduation, 87% of respondents with a master's degree in public policy earned over $45,000 a year, 52% earned over $65,000 a year, and 26% earned over $85,000 a year.

What are the highest-paying jobs I can get with a master's in public policy?

Public policy directors earn a median salary of about $82,000, while political scientists earn $122,220. These specialized roles frequently require graduate degrees, so earning a master's in public policy can be a lucrative investment.