Are you an analytical individual looking to jumpstart your career? Do you hold an undergraduate degree? Are passionate about public policy and have an eye for nuance and detail? If so, a master of public policy (MPP) or master of public administration (MPA) might just be the perfect degree for you.

MPP and MPA programs prepare students for an array of administrative, detail-oriented positions. These programs are ideal preparation for city manager, policy director, policy public analyst, and even law enforcement positions. As U.S. News reports, it's not uncommon for students to switch from a law degree to an MPP or MPA after learning about the field.

What are the best public policy programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

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

MPP degrees are prestigious, flexible, multidisciplinary, and prepare graduates for a variety of professional positions

These degrees are prestigious, flexible, multidisciplinary, and prepare graduates for a variety of professional positions. Policy analysts, for example, draw from the social sciences to better understand which factors lead to the formulation of public policy and how future policy can be both effective and ethical. The degree can also be lucrative: according to Payscale.com, an environmental health director with 10 years of experience and a master's degree earns a median yearly salary of $111,000.

MPP and MPA course curriculums vary by institution. However, each program stresses interdisciplinary application while challenging students to examine policy from all angles. Many programs also require that students complete a relevant internship before graduation.

Every community in the United States requires policy consideration, both in the public and private spheres. As established communities grow and new communities develop, the need for MPP or MPA-holding professionals will only increase over time. By earning your MPP or MPA online, you can work toward earning your degree while maintaining a full-time job.

Learn more about what policy analysts do, why they're so important, and how an MPP or MPA can enrich you both personally and professionally with this useful guide.

Choosing a Program

Will an online MPP or MPA provide me with the skills I need to advance my career?

One of the major advantages of MPP and MPA programs is that students with any type of undergraduate degree can pursue them and shift their career toward a new, policy-related direction.

While exactly how they're defined varies from institution to institution, at their core, MPP and MPA degrees hone an analytic approach to policy. In turn, they're well-suited for city, state, and federal government positions where policy is a major factor. They're also broadly applicable within the private sphere, particularly wherever interpretation, analysis, or the crafting of internal or external policy plays a significant role.

Will an online MPP or MPA work with my schedule?

Online degrees allow students to tailor their coursework around busy schedules while meeting the rigorous demands of traditional, on-site coursework. Recent advances in technology, such as the widespread availability of handheld devices capable of live streaming, have led to major advances in online classroom capabilities.

Some schools offer hybrid programs where course curriculum is partially on-site and partially online, whereas others offer programs that are entirely web-based. Online courses are excellent options for students with professional or personal commitments that may otherwise interfere with traditional classroom schedules.

It always helps to be prepared. If you haven't taken the GRE yet, you should read our guide to the test. Be sure to pay close attention to the program's online MPP and MPA program requirements before applying to avoid any unexpected complications. For example, while a course may be conducted online, it may still require the completion of an internship before the degree is awarded.

What jobs can I get with my MPP or MPA degree?

MPP and MPA degrees are ideal for a broad swathe of positions. These positions often fuse analysis and administration: MPP and MPA-appropriate positions may either focus on analysis of current or past policy, or positions may involve the development of future policy—and its potential benefits and ramifications.

MPP and MPA holders play an integral role in day to day operations in both the public and private spheres, from all levels of government to administrative positions in the private sector. Examples positions include policy director, city manager, policy public analyst, law enforcement, and public relations consultant.

What are the best online MPP and MPA programs?

What qualifies an online MPP or MPA program as the best ultimately depends on personal preference. Only you can decide which MPP or MPA programs are best for your goals and needs. Consider the list below as a starting point for that very personal decision.

The first step in identifying the best program for you should involve a comparison of available programs and how they differ from one another. The list below is an excellent place to begin that search.

Our rankings are based on a variety of factors. These factors include career support services, available specializations, student outcomes, and course availability.

Before deciding on a program, we strongly recommend contacting college admissions specialists to discuss program specifics, including MPP or MPA programs requirements.

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 else can I expect from an MPP or MPA program?

Timeline 2 years; Full-Time
Credit Hours 36
Concentrations Some programs offer public or private sector specialization options.
Accreditation Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA)
Additional Considerations Programs may require completion of a relevant internship before graduation.

Employment outlook for MPP and MPA Graduates

Job placement: MPP and MPA graduates

Because MPP and MPA degree programs don't require a specific undergraduate area of study, candidates considering the employment benefits of MPP or MPA degrees are wise to consider the benefit of graduate degrees in general. Individuals with graduate degrees generally earn more and have lower unemployment rates. Additionally, more and more jobs are only available to individuals with master's degrees: According to U.S. News, "in many career sectors, such as higher ed administration, public affairs, and social services, a master's degree is replacing a bachelor's as the minimum requirement for employment."

Degree Level Median Weekly Earnings Unemployment Rate (2016)
Master's Degree $1,341 2.4%
Bachelor's Degree $1,137 2.8%
Associate's Degree $798 3.8%
Some College, No Degree $738 5.0%
High School Diploma $678 5.4%
No Diploma/GED $493 8.0%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015)

MPP and MPA Salary

MPP and MPA graduates see widely varying salary rates. According to U.S. News, an MPP or MPA-holding individual's decision to go into the private or public sphere has a major influence on salary levels. For example, while a court administrator with ten years of experience and a graduate degree in MPP or MPA makes an annual salary of $61,000, an environmental policy director stands to make nearly double that figure.

Position Median Annual Salary
Environmental Health Director $111,000
Compliance/Policy Director $101,000
Consultant, Public Relations $80,000
Public Policy Analyst $75,000
Court Administrator $61,000

Source: Payscale.com (2017)

Professional Organizations

There's no reason to go it alone. Professional connections are crucial aspects of getting the absolute most out of your MPP or MPA degree. By connecting with others within the field, you stand to gain invaluable advice, make important contacts, and benefit from crucial resources.

Below are three of the most notable organizations for professionals with MPP or MPA degrees. All three regularly host events and provide a variety of useful services for members. Some provide online job boards, continuing education, and a variety of other services. These resources are particularly valuable once your MPP or MPA degree has been completed and you prepare to enter the job market.

  • Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (APPAM): APPAM focuses on not only connecting professionals with MPP or MPA degrees but also providing resources and opportunities.
  • The American Society for Public Administration (ASPA): The ASPA is the largest organization for public and nonprofit administration in the United States. The ASPA connects professionals in the field, including MPP and MPA degree holders.
  • Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA): Focused specifically on individuals holding MPP or MPA degrees, NASPAA seeks to connect professionals while promoting ethical public service.

Financing Your Online MPP or MPA Program

While online programs are generally more affordable than their on-site counterparts, the majority of students still require financial assistance. To learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered to students by the United States government, complete a Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).

Additionally, scholarships and grants from private, non-government sources are frequently available by way of companies, nonprofits, and others. Browse our handy collection of resources below to start your search.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.

FINANCIAL AID FOR ONLINE STUDENTS

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.