Best Online Master’s in Public Policy and Public Affairs Programs of 2022

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Online Public Policy Masters

Public affairs, a far-reaching academic discipline, encompasses many aspects of government, corporations, and nonprofit relations and policies. The field attracts students interested in bettering society and their community through public service.

It involves shaping public opinion and influencing government decisions on essential topics, such as the environment, education, healthcare, international development, and social justice.

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A few of the branches in this field include public administration, political science, international affairs, urban planning, and public policy.

A master's in public policy and public affairs program can help prepare graduates to take on leadership policy-focused roles. Students learn about policy and program analysis and development in nonprofit, public, and private sectors through statistics, economics, politics, and research.

Because of the field's broad nature, graduates can pursue numerous roles. They work as policy analysts, lobbyists, researchers, consultants, and managers of nonprofit organizations. According to PayScale, individuals with a master's in public policy reported earning an average annual salary of $72,000, as of October 2021.

Most online master's in public policy and public affairs programs take about two years to complete. However, some accelerated online programs can reduce completion times.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Public Policy and Public Affairs Programs

Is a master's in public policy and public affairs worth it?

Yes. For students interested in affecting public policy, a master's in public policy and public affairs is worth it. It is also good for students who want to pursue roles in government and management-level positions in the private and nonprofit sectors. A master's degree enables students to hone their area of interest, increasing skills specific to their career goals.

Graduates may increase potential earnings and career advancement since some employers only accept candidates with a master's degree. For example, political scientists typically must have a master's or doctorate for jobs, and most policy analysts hold a graduate degree.

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

An online master's in public policy and public affairs can lead to numerous career paths in the nonprofit, public, and private sectors. Graduates work for government agencies, community social service organizations, and corporations.

Many graduates pursue roles as policy analysts. These professionals may work for the federal government or at think tanks for large corporations.

Others go on to careers as community and social service managers, political scientists, and government affairs directors. Some master's in public policy degree-holders work as political lobbyists or campaign operators for a specific party.

Are public policy and public affairs majors in demand?

Master's in public policy and public affairs degree-holders can find in-demand and varied positions. A NASPAA survey found that the government employs 45% of those alumni, and nonprofits employ about 26%. Additionally, almost every industry turns to these professionals, including private companies, international organizations, healthcare, education, and security and intelligence.

Some positions offer greater demand. For example, the BLS projects a 9% job growth for political scientists between 2020 and 2030. Washington, California, Texas, Virginia, and Illinois are among the states with the highest reported wages and employment rates for these professionals. Comparatively, a 13% job growth is projected for public relations and fundraising managers during this same time frame.

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

Salaries vary dramatically based on position, location, experience level, and employer. PayScale reports that those with a master's in public policy typically earn an annual salary ranging from $40,000-$138,000. Policy analysts, a common career path for these graduates, report earning annual salaries ranging from $44,000-$84,000.

Other examples of career opportunities and associated salaries include economic development directors, research directors, and lobbyists. As of October 2021, PayScale reports that these professionals earn average annual salaries of $70,100, $102,720, and $76,760, respectively. More experience and contacts in the field may lead to an increase in earnings.

What are the highest-paying jobs with a master's in public policy and public affairs?

Graduates with a master's in public policy and public affairs can aspire to several high-paying jobs. Two top-paying positions include political scientist and government affairs director. The BLS reports that political scientists earn a median annual salary of $125,350, as of April 2020. The top 10% make more than $170,800.

According to PayScale, government affairs directors report earning an average yearly wage of $99,080 with the top 10% making $161,000, as of October 2021. Some of these degree-holders also pursue roles as public relations managers.

The BLS reports that public relations and fundraising managers earn an average median salary of $118,430, with the top 10% making more than $208,000.

Programs in Public Policy

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

A career in public policy requires strong critical analysis, negotiation, and communication skills. Because research plays a significant role, students also should excel at data analytics and statistics or prepare to learn these sometimes-complex fields.

Most online master's in public policy and public affairs programs require 30-36 credits and take about two years of full-time study to complete. Some accelerated programs can lead to a degree in one year.

Most online master's in public policy and public affairs programs require 30-36 credits and take about two years of full-time study to complete

These graduate programs combine political science, statistics, and economics courses. They often offer concentrations that can help students choose an academic direction that aligns with their career goals. A few of these specializations include:

  • International Policy
  • Politics and Public Management
  • Nonprofit Sector and Social Change
  • Healthcare Management and Policies
  • Sustainability and Climate Change Policies
  • Rural Policy

Many programs culminate with a hands-on capstone project. Students apply the skills they learned to evaluate an organization's problems and make recommendations based on their policy analysis.

Other programs require a master's thesis or an internship. Some schools may waive the internship requirement for students who have substantial experience relevant to this field.

The tuition cost for an online master's in public policy and public affairs typically range from about $440-$1,960 per credit, based on the type of school and a student's location.

2022 Best Accredited Online Master's in Public Policy and Public Affairs Programs

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#1 Best Online Master’s in Public Policy and Public Affairs Programs of 2022

Liberty University

  • Lynchburg, VA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Self-Paced

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $565
Out of State | $565

Credits to Graduate
36

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Liberty’s master of arts (MA) in public policy places a special emphasis on preparing students for important issues that impact today’s modern society. They do this by offering several degree programs for students listed below:

  • General
  • Campaigns and elections
  • International affairs
  • Leadership
  • Middle East affairs
  • Policy studies
  • Public administration

This online degree program can be completed in as little as 1.5 years, and the courses are only eight weeks long with eight different start dates and no set login times. Graduates can pursue a career as a lobbyist, political leader, public relations specialist — just to name a few.

Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally or nationally accredited institution with a 3.0 GPA or above for consideration into the program.

Average Tuition
In-state
$15,417
Out-of-state
$15,417
Retention Rate
81%
Admission Rate
51%
Students Enrolled
85,586
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#2 Best Online Master’s in Public Policy and Public Affairs Programs of 2022

Oregon State University

  • Corvallis, OR
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Hybrid | Self-Paced

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $560
Out of State | $560

Credits to Graduate
46

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

OSU’s online master of public policy (MPP) is developed for students who are currently working in the nonprofit and/or public sectors and are looking to move up in their positions, or those who are looking to transition out of the private sector to a career in public service.

The online MPP has the exact same requirements as the on-campus program. Students will have the opportunity to choose between four possible concentrations:

  • Energy policy
  • Environmental policy
  • Rural policy
  • Social policy

Across-the-board application materials include three letters of recommendation and a recent resume. Additional materials with the application vary. Applicants can visit OSU’s admission requirements page to see what application materials are needed. 

Average Tuition
In-state
$9,846
Out-of-state
$29,445
Retention Rate
85%
Admission Rate
82%
Students Enrolled
31,719
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
47% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

#3 Best Online Master’s in Public Policy and Public Affairs Programs of 2022

American University

  • Washington, DC
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,812
Out of State | $1,812

Credits to Graduate
36

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Middle States Commission on Higher Education

AU’S online master of public administration and policy (MPAP) provides a blend of public administration and policy analysis. This program can be completed in as little as 24 months.

The program consists of 12 three-credit courses and each is eight weeks long. As a part of graduation requirements, students will complete a capstone course that culminates into a policy analysis or administrative project for a real-world client.

The GRE requirement is waived until spring 2023. Applicants will need a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university for consideration into the program. If the applicant has a GPA of 3.0 or lower, they are encouraged to take the GRE.

Average Tuition
In-state
$49,070
Out-of-state
$49,070
Retention Rate
87%
Admission Rate
36%
Students Enrolled
14,318
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
20% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#4 Best Online Master’s in Public Policy and Public Affairs Programs of 2022

Johns Hopkins University

  • Baltimore, MD
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Hybrid | Self-Paced

Avg. Cost per Course
In State | $4,405
Out of State | $4,405

Courses to Graduate
12 courses

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Johns Hopkins helps students advance in their government or public service career through their flexible master of arts (MA) in public management program. The time to complete this program is 16-24 months.

The three areas of focus are:

  • Public administration and leadership
  • Public policy evaluation
  • Public financial management and budgeting

Though careers in public administration and policy are on the rise, other careers that graduates should consider include, but are not limited to, strategic communications, congressional affairs, and public policy think tanks.

Average Tuition
In-state
$55,350
Out-of-state
$55,350
Retention Rate
97%
Admission Rate
11%
Students Enrolled
27,079
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#5 Best Online Master’s in Public Policy and Public Affairs Programs of 2022

Regent University

  • Virginia Beach, VA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Hybrid | Self-Paced

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $695
Out of State | $695

Credits to Graduate
33

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Regent’s master of arts (MA) in government - law and public policy program combines policy, competitive politics, and law so that graduates are prepared to lead the issues that affect our modern society. 

Applicants are not limited to only the law and public policy concentration. Other concentration opportunities are in American government and international relations.

Applicants will need a 3.0 GPA from their undergraduate and/or graduate institution for consideration. Submitting postgraduate test scores, such as the GRE or LSAT, are optional.

Average Tuition
In-state
$17,220
Out-of-state
$17,220
Retention Rate
78%
Admission Rate
86%
Students Enrolled
10,365
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

#6 Best Online Master’s in Public Policy and Public Affairs Programs of 2022

University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth

  • North Dartmouth, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Self-Paced

Avg. Cost per Course
In State | $1,659
Out of State | $1,659

Credits to Graduate
34 or 36 

Program Information
Program Accreditation | New England Commission on Higher Education

UMass Dartmouth's online master of public policy (MPP) program focuses on policy analysis, applied research, and public management skills. Applicants will need to choose one of the following concentrations:

  • Educational policy
  • Environmental policy
  • Public management

Students can look forward to careers that include, but are not limited to, nonprofit organizations, local, state, and federal agencies, and labor associations.

For consideration into the program, applicants will need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year institution, two letters of recommendations, a statement of purpose and current resume, and official GRE, GMAT, or LSAT scores.

Average Tuition
In-state
$13,833
Out-of-state
$29,578
Retention Rate
70%
Admission Rate
75%
Students Enrolled
8,154
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
20% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education

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

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

Techniques of Policy Analysis

This course focuses on the political aspects of public policymaking and the processes involved in program design. Students learn about formulating and implementing policy and the potential impact.

Strategizing Public Policy

Students learn effective strategies, including litigation and legislative tools, used to advance changes in government public policy. This class focuses on how the different government branches make policy jointly and independently.

Statistics for Research

In this class, students study statistical procedures relevant to public policy research and business decision-making. Topics include regression analysis, forecasting, and data analysis.

Public Organization and Management

This course covers the unique processes in managing public organizations. Students learn leadership theories and concepts and the importance of collaborative systems.

Economic Analysis for Policy and Planning

This class introduces students to the fundamentals of microeconomics, macroeconomics, and economic analysis. Topics include the role the Federal Reserve and other financial institutions play in a market's economy.

What are Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Public Policy and Public Affairs Program?

Most on-campus and online master's in public policy and public affairs programs have similar admission requirements. The more competitive programs expect candidates to demonstrate experience and a commitment to public service. This can be through employment, volunteer experiences, or internships.

Students who lack a certain level of experience or fail to meet academic requirements may need to take prerequisite coursework before being admitted to the program. Graduate admission guidelines require that applicants hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited university.

Application

Online college application systems are geared primarily to undergraduate students. So prospective graduate students need to apply directly to schools. This can be done by submitting an application through a school's online portal.

Test Scores

Programs vary in their standardized test score requirements. While some require GRE test scores, many do not. If test scores are optional, prospective students should consider their cumulative GPA and work experience. Then they can decide if including their test scores can strengthen their application. International students may need to provide evidence of English proficiency through their TOEFL or IELTS test results.

Letters of Recommendation

Applicants typically need to submit 2-3 letters of recommendation. These letters can come from past professors, supervisors, or other professionals in the field of public affairs. They should be from people who can attest to the applicant's strengths and academic and/or professional achievements. Make sure to request letters of recommendation early so they are completed and submitted before the application deadline.

Resume and Work Experience

Most programs require a current resume that details a student's relevant work experience. In some cases, applicants may gain this experience through other avenues, such as volunteer positions, public service, and university activities. While this background may strengthen a student's application, many programs do not specify the amount of experience required.

Essays

A statement of purpose or essay allows students to display their writing abilities, state their academic and professional goals, and describe how the school's program fits into their aspirations. Some programs also require a writing sample, such as an academic paper or an essay on an important public policy issue.

Official Transcripts

Schools require official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended. Some programs require a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, while others do not specify a minimum score. Some schools also accept transfer credits from approved graduate-level courses. Transfer credits can reduce costs and program completion times for students.

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

Career Outlook

Because of its multidisciplinary nature, an online master's in public policy and public affairs can lead to careers in numerous fields, including nonprofit, public, and private sectors. For example, graduates may work for nonprofit organizations overseeing programs or corporations, acting as a liaison between the company and the government.

Many graduates pursue government roles, working as policy analysts and shaping future regulations and laws. Others work for specific political parties in campaign operations, public relations, or legislative analysis.

The demand for these diverse roles varies. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 9% employment growth for political scientists and a 15% job growth for social and community service managers between 2020 and 2030. These professionals earn median annual salaries of $125,350 and $69,600, respectively.

See where a master's in public policy and public affairs can take you. Learn more about public policy careers.

Career Paths

Policy Analyst

Policy analysts research complex problems in areas like healthcare, education, national defense, and the environment. They develop public policies that help shape these important issues. These analysts may work to raise public awareness to influence government action. They also may evaluate a program's effectiveness and recommend which organizations receive publicly funded grants.

Average Annual Salary (as of October 2021): $60,220

Government Affairs Director

Government affairs directors usually work in larger companies, researching and keeping track of new government regulations and laws that may affect the business. These professionals may make policy recommendations based on these changes. They may work with government agencies to create favorable legislation and regulation related to their company.

Average Annual Salary (as of October 2021): $99,100

Political Scientist

About half of all political scientists work for the government, while others work for labor and political organizations. These professionals specialize in political systems, analyzing political trends and government policies. They may use qualitative and quantitative research methods to evaluate a policy's effect on a region or specific population and institute policy changes.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $125,350

Social and Community Service Manager

Social and community service managers work for nonprofit organizations and government agencies. They analyze the effectiveness of programs on a community or specific population. These managers may implement program changes, meet with stakeholders, and oversee staff. Some may focus on particular demographics or work with people experiencing unique challenges.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $69,600

Featured Programs in Public Policy

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

Continuing Education

After earning a master's in public policy and public affairs, some students decide to continue their education. They may go on to pursue one of the following:

  • Ph.D. in Public Policy or Public Administration: These programs are designed for students interested in research or launching their careers in academia, such as teaching at a college or university.
  • Doctorate of Public Administration or Public Policy: These degrees may help graduates advance in nonprofit management, government policymaking, and regional planning. Programs may focus on upper-management-level administration, healthcare specialization, human resources, or urban planning.

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Feature Image: Thomas Barwick / DigitalVision / Getty Images

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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