Earning a Master’s in Public Policy Online

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

Should I Pursue an Online Public Policy Master's Degree?

Earning an online public policy master's degree can prepare students for careers in government and political science. The ideal candidates for jobs in public policy possess strong leadership, critical thinking, and decision-making abilities. Through the master's in public policy (MPP) curriculum, students can sharpen their skills in public policy, economics, and financial management. Additionally, graduates can choose to pursue certified public manager certification.

Many of the best schools offer online public policy master's degrees in addition to traditional on-campus learning options. With full- and part-time course loads, accelerated completion times, and reduced tuition costs, an online master's degree in public policy provides convenience and affordability to students juggling work or childcare responsibilities. The minimum education requirement for top public policy careers, a master's in public policy prepares graduates for positions like political scientist, survey researcher, and policy analyst.

Employment Outlook for Online Public Policy Master's Graduates

Master's in Public Policy Salary

For most occupations in public policy, a professional's salary and job growth vary according to their location and experience. As shown below, the highest paid political scientists reside in Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, New York, and Arizona, respectively. Additionally, policy analysts with at least 20 years of experience can earn nearly $30,000 more than their entry-level counterparts who start at an average annual salary of $52,000. However experienced a candidate, the annual average salary of policy analysts begins above the national average for all occupations, which sits at $50,620.

Top Paying States for Political Scientists

State Employment Annual Mean Wage
Maryland 80 $124,590
Virginia 930 $122,610
District of Columbia 3,670 $118,260
New York 110 $115,940
Arizona 100 $102,500
United States 6,320 $112,030

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Pay by Experience Level for Policy Analysts

  • Entry-Level (0-5 Years):
    $52,000
  • Mid-Career (5-10 Years):
    $61,000
  • Experienced (10-20 Years):
    $67,000
  • Late-Career (20+ Years):
    $79,000

Source: PayScale

Master's in Public Policy Careers

A great start for students interested in government and policy development, online public policy master's programs prepare graduates for jobs involving politics, legislation, and civic leadership. As most of the top jobs in the field require a master's degree, online MPP programs can lead to a variety of public policy positions, including political scientist, legislative/policy analyst, survey researcher, and postsecondary educator. Generally, online MPP programs enable students to build a comprehensive understanding of public affairs and policymaking in the United States.

Political Scientist

Annual Median Salary: $115,110

Projected Growth Rate: 3%

Political scientists explore the history, development, and functions of politics and political systems by analyzing past and present policies, trends, and government structures. Most political scientist positions require a master's degree in public policy or a related field, though some employers prefer candidates with a doctorate.

Legislative Analyst

Annual Median Salary: $56,539

Projected Growth Rate: N/A

These professionals develop an advanced understanding of current and pending laws and legislation to advise clients on how such legislation may impact their business. Some legislative analyst positions do not require a formal education in public policy; however, most employers prefer applicants with a master's in public policy or a related field, plus prior work experience.

Survey Researcher

Annual Median Salary: $54,270

Projected Growth Rate: 2%

Survey researchers collect data by developing and designing surveys for clients. They may research methods of collecting data for scientific, educational, marketing, or professional purposes, including for corporations, advertising agencies, and the U.S. census. Graduates with an online MPP degree may qualify for some entry-level positions, though some employers prefer a candidates with a doctorate.

Policy Analyst

Annual Median Salary: $56,241

Projected Growth Rate: N/A

Policy analysts lobby to change existing laws and public policies and implement new policies on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and corporations. Aspiring policy analysts should pursue an online master's in public policy and obtain work experience and networking skills to apply for entry-level positions.

Political Science Postsecondary Teacher

Annual Median Salary: $98,620

Projected Growth Rate: N/A

Political science teachers at the postsecondary level educate college students in international relations and political science. Postsecondary teachers generally need an advanced degree in their subject of instruction. The majority of political science teachers at colleges and universities need at least a master's in public policy or a related field.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statstics / PayScale

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

While each school offers its own curriculum, online MPP degrees emphasize advanced coursework in policy economics, analysis, and development, along with public general and financial management. The federal government employs many public policy workers, including political scientists. Related occupations, such as survey researchers and policy and legislative analysts, involve work in professional, scientific, and technical services. The following list represents several courses commonly included in an online public policy master's degree curriculum.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Public Policy

Advanced Policy Economics

A staple of any online public policy master's degree, a course in advanced policy economics teaches students to apply various techniques and theories of economics to the student's particular area of expertise. Students in any concentration of public policy should expect to demonstrate an advanced understanding of economics in their career.

Empirical Methods for Policy Analysis

This comprehensive course explores various quantitative tools and techniques used in policy analysis. An online MPP degree typically includes both an introduction to empirical methods and an advanced application course, with the latter enabling students to explore a particular method of their choice in depth.

Policy Development

With a focus on the U.S. government, this course explores how Americans develop and adopt public policy. Most coursework includes a brief history of federal policymaking in the U.S., emphasizing how various influences can affect public opinion.

Public Management

Public management coursework explores the importance of management and leadership skills in public policy. This course trains students to fulfill an administrative role in their public policy career, exploring duties that include policymaking, problem-solving, and performance evaluation.

Public Financial Management

A critical element of public policy management, public financial management remains a top requirement for aspiring workers in this field. This course trains students to analyze, coordinate, and manage the financial resources of a public organization or government agency involved in public affairs.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Public Policy Prepares For

  • Certified Public Manager: Awarded through the National Certified Public Manager Consortium (NCPMC), students can earn CPM certification by completing an NCPMC-accredited training program. Aspiring civil service workers can pursue the CPM credential instead of earning an online public policy master's degree, though the majority of employers prefer candidates with graduate-level education in public policy or public administration.

Professional Organizations & Resources

For students enrolled in an online public policy master's program, joining a professional organization can provide countless benefits. Organizations tailored to public policy professionals offer industry perks for both established and emerging political scientists, policy analysts, and survey researchers. Membership benefits include access to conferences and networking events, mentorships, and exclusive career services specific to the field.

  • Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management: With more than 2,500 individual members and over 100 institutions included in its membership, APPAM supports one of the largest professional networks of public service workers in the United States. The organization offers its members access to dozens of conferences and events, job listings, podcasts, and webinars.

  • American Association for Budget and Program Analysis: Founded in the mid-1970s, AABPA offers a variety of resources to managers, analysts, and educators in public service at all levels of government. In addition to the renowned AABPA Symposium, resources specific to students include a research competition for emerging professionals and a speakers series.

  • International City/County Management Association: The premier organization for public service managers in local government, ICMA supports international programs designed to foster career building, continuing education, and networking opportunities. The organization offers special membership rates for professors, students, and interns.

  • American Society for Public Administration: ASPA emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary learning in public service. In addition to serving city managers and elected officials, ASPA supports science, art, and teaching careers involving civil servants. Members enjoy access to exclusive publications in addition to networking and professional development opportunities.

  • American Political Science Association: Established in 1903, APSA serves more than 12,000 members in over 80 countries around the world. The organization emphasizes the scholarly development of existing and emerging political scientists, offering members access to conferences, caucuses, and teaching appointments.

  • National Certified Public Manager Consortium: This consortium oversees training programs and standards required of CPM credentialing programs in the United States. NCPMC aims to engage both emerging and experienced public management practitioners through training, continuing education, and an annual conference.

  • Pi Alpha Alpha: As the international honor society for public affairs and administration, PAA hosts undergraduate and graduate student members at more than 160 colleges worldwide. Members enjoy networking and job opportunities, service-learning events, and exclusive scholarships and awards.

  • Students of Color in Public Policy: Organized by Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, SCiPP thrives in its local surroundings, inspiring fellow public policy colleges to follow suit in providing diversity within their student resource groups. SCiPP members enjoy exclusive peer advising opportunities and an annual race and policy symposium.

  • Independent Sector: This resource favors nonprofit public service workers and charitable public service providers. Independent Sector supports initiatives that include tax incentives for volunteerism, fundraising, and marketing opportunities specific to nonprofit groups. The organization also advocates for issues affecting the public sector, such as lobbying, fiscal policy, and charitable giving.

  • U.S. Department of State: A federal entity, the U.S. Department of State offers its website as a comprehensive resource for supporters of "diplomacy in action." Here, citizens can find a list of public policy issues, initiatives, and organizational charts of all representatives involved in public affairs.