Best Online Master’s in Public Policy and Public Affairs Programs of 2021

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March 29, 2021

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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 and Public Affairs Programs of 2021? Here Are Our Top 10:

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#1 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
#2 Northwestern University Evanston, IL
#3 Pennsylvania State University-World Campus University Park, PA
#4 American University Washington, DC
#5 George Washington University Washington, DC
#6 Indiana University-Bloomington Bloomington, IN
#7 University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia, MO
#8 University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA
#9 Oregon State University Corvallis, OR
#10 The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Edinburg, TX

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2021 Best Accredited Online Master's in Public Policy and Public Affairs Programs

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Johns Hopkins University View School Profile Baltimore, MD

Located in Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins offers an online master of arts in public management. Students may choose from one of three focus areas: public administration and leadership, public policy evaluation, or public financial management and budgeting.

Students take five core courses, including public policy and evaluation, before moving on to six elective classes. Learners may further customize their degree by earning a certificate in government analytics, intelligence, or nonprofit management. Students complete a 30-35-page paper during a final capstone experience.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and submit a policy-related essay. Johns Hopkins is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Arts in Public Management
School Status: Private
Tuition: $1,454 per credit
Credit Requirements: 36 credits
Program Length: 16-24 months
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum required
Standardized Tests: Not specified

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Request more information about this program.

Northwestern University View School Profile Evanston, IL

Based in Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern offers an online master of public policy and administration for part-time learners. Students work with Northwestern's network of clients, with past clients including the American Red Cross and the Urban Institute.

Students choose one of five specialization areas: public administration, public policy, global policy, global health, or data analytics. Participants complete nine core courses, such as research methods, statistics for research, and ethics and leadership. Additionally, each specialization area features three courses, and students finish with a capstone project or thesis.

Part-time students can complete all of their coursework online, choosing from one of four start dates annually. Public policy applicants must submit a policy-related writing sample. Northwestern is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Public Policy and Administration
School Status: Private
Tuition: $1,197 per credit
Credit Requirements: 37 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous and synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: No minimum specified
Standardized Tests: Not specified

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Pennsylvania State University-World Campus View School Profile University Park, PA

Based in University Park, Penn State World Campus offers an online master of professional studies in criminal justice policy and administration.

Students take 18 credits of required courses, including criminal justice institutions, criminal procedure, and advanced statistics in criminal justice. They then complete nine elective credits, choosing from options like law and society, global policing, and the American legal process. Learners participate in a capstone experience during their final semester, working on a self-selected project in partnership with a faculty mentor.

Students may apply for one of two yearly start dates and must provide a writing sample. Penn State World Campus is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Professional Studies in Criminal Justice Policy and Administration
School Status: Public
Tuition: $924 per credit
Credit Requirements: 30 credits
Program Length: 1-2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous and synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: No minimum specified
Standardized Tests: Not required

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

American University View School Profile Washington, DC

Located in Washington, D.C., AU offers an online master of public administration and policy. The program caters to working adults in need of a flexible education.

Students take a total of 36 credits through eight-week terms, focusing on two courses per term. The curriculum includes classes such as an introduction to public administration and the policy process, legal issues in public administration, and organizational analysis. Participants take a policy practicum at the end of the program, performing a full public policy analysis for a client.

AU is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Its public administration and policy program is accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Public Administration and Policy
School Status: Private
Tuition: $1,583 per credit (summer term); $1,812 per credit (fall and spring terms)
Credit Requirements: 36 credits
Program Length: 24 months
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: No minimum specified
Standardized Tests: GRE or LSAT required

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

George Washington University View School Profile Washington, DC

Located in Washington, D.C., GW offers an online master of international policy and practice. Students can enroll on a full-time or part-time basis.

The 27-credit program features nine core courses, including strategy and leadership, economic tools for global policy, and a leadership capstone. Students choose 18 credits of electives, picking from options like an introduction to conflict resolution, security and development, and international development policy.

Applicants need seven or more years of professional experience or an advanced degree to qualify for the professional program. GW is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of International Policy and Practice
School Status: Private
Tuition: $1,890 per credit
Credit Requirements: 27 credits
Program Length: 1-2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: No minimum requirement
Standardized Tests: Not required

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Indiana University-Bloomington View School Profile Bloomington, IN

Based in Bloomington, IU offers an online master of public affairs through the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

The 48-credit curriculum includes three components: core courses, advanced electives, and an experiential component. Core courses include public management, public management economics, and public finance and budgeting. Students then choose electives to focus their studies on areas like nonprofit management, policy analysis, or public budgeting. All students must also complete an internship, an independent research project, or receive credit for prior volunteer work or professional experience.

Students may apply for one of three start dates and can receive up to six hours of prior learning credit for work or military experience. IU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Public Affairs
School Status: Public
Tuition: $649 per credit (in-state and qualifying military and veteran students); $1,299 per credit (out-of-state)
Credit Requirements: 48 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: No minimum specified
Standardized Tests: GRE or GMAT optional

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

University of Missouri-Columbia View School Profile Columbia, MO

Based in Columbia, Mizzou offers an online master of public affairs through the Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs. Students learn entirely online in eight-week sessions, focusing on just one class at a time.

The 30 credits of coursework includes core classes like public service and democracy, public processes and strategies, and an introduction to public and nonprofit management. Students choose electives in one of three focus areas: public management, nonprofit management, or public policy. Learners without at least three years of work experience must also complete a capstone or internship experience.

Mizzou is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Its public affairs program is accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Public Affairs
School Status: Public
Tuition: $454 per credit
Credit Requirements: 30 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum on the last 60 undergraduate credits
Standardized Tests: Not required

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Request more information about this program.

University of Northern Iowa View School Profile Cedar Falls, IA

Based in Cedar Falls, UNI at a Distance offers a master of public policy for online learners. The program teaches students the skills needed to pursue careers in public or nonprofit community organizations.

Students take courses such as policy analysis methods and approaches, public finance, ethics in public policy, and program evaluation in public policy. Participants complete a capstone project at the end of the program, as well as an internship to receive hands-on training in preparation for future careers. Students can waive the internship requirement if they already have public policy work experience.

UNI is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Public Policy
School Status: Public
Tuition: $509 per credit
Credit Requirements: 37 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous and synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: No minimum specified
Standardized Tests: Not required

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Oregon State University View School Profile Corvallis, OR

Based in Corvallis, OSU offers an online master of public policy. The program helps early- and midcareer professionals complete their degrees by providing flexible online courses.

Students take 62 quarter credits, including required core courses such as microeconomic theory, introduction to econometrics, public policy analysis, and understanding social research. Students can also choose one of four concentrations: energy policy, environmental policy, rural policy, or social policy. By completing additional credits, students can add one of 15 graduate certificates to their concentration area, such as data analytics or water conflict management.

OSU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Its public policy program is accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Public Policy and Executive Master of Public Policy
School Status: Public
Tuition: $560 per quarter credit
Credit Requirements: 62 quarter credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum required
Standardized Tests: GRE optional

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley View School Profile Edinburg, TX

Located in Brownsville, UTRGV offers an accelerated,interdisciplinary master of public affairs. Students take courses online through seven-week terms, allowing learners to concentrate on one or two courses per term.

The 36-credit curriculum includes core courses such as public budgeting and finance, public personnel administration, and scope and methods. Students choose 15 credits of electives from courses such as public service ethics, formulation of public policy, and grant writing and public development. Students also take a capstone experience designed to explore an aspect of public policy.

UTRGV is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Public Affairs
School Status: Public
Tuition: $444 per credit
Credit Requirements: 36 credits
Program Length: 12 months
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum required
Standardized Tests: Not specified

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Request more information about this program.

CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice View School Profile New York, NY

Located in New York City and part of the CUNY system, John Jay offers an online master of public administration in public policy and administration. Students can choose from four concentrations: criminal justice policy and administration, emergency management, human resources management, and management and operations.

The 42-credit program includes core courses, such as public administration, economic principles for public administration, public sector financial management, and policy analysis. Students focus electives in their concentration area and take two research methods courses. A capstone seminar provides students with a final chance to demonstrate skills mastery and apply knowledge to a real-world problem.

John Jay is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Public Administration in Public Policy and Administration
School Status: Public
Tuition: $545 per credit
Credit Requirements: 42 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum required
Standardized Tests: Not specified

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Liberty University View School Profile Lynchburg, VA

Based in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty is an evangelical Christian institution that offers an online master of arts in public policy. Students can transfer in up to 50% of their course credits, and faculty deliver online classes through eight-week terms.

The 36-credit program includes core courses like economics and public policy, political philosophy, and foundations of American governance. Students choose from a general track or one of six concentrations, including international affairs, leadership, or policy studies.

Military veterans and service members receive tuition discounts, and students can enroll on one of eight start dates each year. Liberty is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Arts in Public Policy
School Status: Private
Tuition: $575 per credit (full-time); $615 per credit (part-time); $275 per credit (military rate)
Credit Requirements: 36 credits
Program Length: 1.5 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum required
Standardized Tests: Not specified

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

University of Pittsburgh View School Profile Pittsburgh, PA

Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Pitt offers an online master of public policy and management through its Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Students who complete two courses per semester and can finish in five semesters.

The 30-credit program includes four core courses: microeconomics, administration of public affairs, program evaluation, and a policy seminar. Students also take elective courses, such as public policy analysis, financial management, and strategic management. Participants complete all courses online.

Students need at least five years of work experience to apply to this program. Pitt is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Public Policy and Management
School Status: Public
Tuition: $947 per credit
Credit Requirements: 30 credits
Program Length: 19 months
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: No minimum specified
Standardized Tests: Not required

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Regent University View School Profile Virginia Beach, VA

Based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Regent offers an online master of arts in government - law and public policy. Students explore public policy through the lens of the Christian faith, learning about best practices in the field.

The 33-credit curriculum includes core courses such as Christian foundations of government, public policy initiatives, and American political thought. Students also choose electives such as constitutional law and policy, cybersecurity policy and affairs, and healthcare policy and ethics. Students with no work experience can engage in an internship or take an additional elective course to satisfy curriculum requirements.

Regent is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Arts in Government - Law and Public Policy
School Status: Private
Tuition: $675 per credit
Credit Requirements: 33 credits
Program Length: 1-2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum required
Standardized Tests: GRE or LSAT optional

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Kent State University View School Profile Kent, OH

Based in Kent, Ohio, KSU offers an online master of public administration. Students can complete the program in two years by taking two courses each term.

Enrollees first complete a graduate introduction to public administration course before moving on to other major courses, such as methods in public administration, public sector information technology management, and personal accountability in the public service. Students also participate in a capstone seminar and an internship in a public administration setting.

Students do not need previous work experience to apply for the program. KSU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Its public administration program is accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration.

Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Public Administration
School Status: Public
Tuition: $675 per credit
Credit Requirements: 36 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum required
Standardized Tests: LSAT, MCAT, or GMAT scores required

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

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:

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.

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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.

true 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

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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.

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