Earning a Ph.D. in Public Policy Online

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October 3, 2019

Should I Pursue a Ph.D. in Public Policy Online?

Students earning a Ph.D. in public policy learn advanced policy concepts and perform in-depth research on a specialization. Earning a doctorate in public policy online gives students the flexibility to balance their studies with work and family obligations. Students considering an online Ph.D. in public policy should expect to spend around five years earning the degree.

This guide offers useful information about what to expect from pursuing a public policy doctorate program online. It also offers advice about prospective career paths in addition to helpful resources and professional associations.

Employment Outlook for Ph.D. in Public Policy Graduates

Earning a doctorate in public policy online prepares students for diverse careers. For example, graduates may work as professors, government affairs directors, or political consultants. The chart below outlines five potential career options and salaries, although public policy graduates can find jobs not included on this list, as well.

Regardless of their career, public policy graduates need strong critical-thinking, analytical, and communication skills.

Postsecondary Teacher

Average Annual Salary: $78,470

Postsecondary teachers work as faculty members at universities. They typically need a doctoral degree. Professors teach courses, mentor students, assign grades, and conduct research. They may also publish in academic journals, write books, and present at conferences.

Political Scientist

Average Annual Salary: $117,570

While about half of political scientists work for the federal government, these professionals can find jobs in nonprofit groups or think tanks, as well. They develop political theories, research topics on the U.S. political system, and stay up to date on current events.


Average Annual Salary: $104,340

Many universities offer economics as a concentration for public policy students, preparing graduates to find jobs as economists. These professionals often work for the federal government or research and consulting firms. They collect and analyze data relating to goods and services distribution. Economists who work for the government might analyze how public policy affects market trends.

Government Affairs Director

Average Annual Salary: $98,418

Many big businesses and nonprofit organizations hire government affairs directors. These professionals watch changes in legislation and regulations that may affect the organization. They forecast how these policy changes may impact their organizations and suggest strategies to best manage those changes. Additionally, government affairs directors reach out to policymakers and advocate for policies that work favorably for their business.

Senior Policy Analyst

Average Annual Salary: $76,997

Senior policy analysts typically work at consulting firms or for public officials. They analyze trend data to learn how the public feels about certain proposals and legislation. They may also help create bills and policy proposals based on their analysis. Policy analysts at the senior level oversee large projects and direct staff who work for them.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics; PayScale

What Can I Expect From an Online Ph.D. in Public Policy Program?

Online public policy doctorate degree programs typically consist of 48-56 credits, although some universities require more. Many colleges allow incoming learners to transfer in credit. Students generally take four or five years to finish an online public policy doctorate. Required and elective courses for each program vary, but we outline a few common courses below.

Curriculum for an Online Doctorate Degree in Public Policy

Statistical Methods in Policy Analysis

Policy and government analysis involves social science data, which public policy professionals must analyze using statistical methods. This course teaches students how to use specific software, analyze data, and communicate their analysis to the public.

Advanced Economic Analysis for Policy Research

This course reviews elementary calculus skills and focuses on economic concepts such as consumer theory, cost-benefit analysis, and market structure. Learners may debate how much of a role the government should play in the economy.

Policy Networks and Intergovernmental Problems

Government organizations often contract with private companies and nonprofit groups to carry out certain services or run public institutions. Learners in this course study contract relationships and methods to manage these collaborative efforts. They also learn how to approach conflicts between private and public policies.

Politics of Healthcare

This course aims to explain the complicated U.S. healthcare system through a political lens. It reviews how state and federal agendas shaped current U.S. healthcare policies. Students examine topics such as insurance access, types of health services, and healthcare reform initiatives.

Labor Market Policy

Students in this course learn about labor-related policy debates, including minimum wage, social security, unemployment compensation, and welfare reform. Learners may also study employment law, including employee privacy, non-compete covenants, and occupational health and safety.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Public policy students and graduates benefit from professional organizations and resources. Several professional associations offer scholarships, fellowships, and other opportunities to help students finance their education. Many of these organizations also offer continuing education, professional development, and networking opportunities.

Professional Organizations

Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management

APPAM hosts an annual conference that presents public policy research from across the United States. The association also publishes a peer-reviewed journal and hosts podcasts and webinars.

International Public Policy Association

IPPA provides resources for public policy professionals and students interested in international relations. The association holds conferences worldwide.

American Political Science Association

Established in 1903, this organization boasts over 11,000 members dedicated to the study of political science. APSA promotes scholarly research through grants, publications, conferences, and professional development tools.

Association for Political Theory

This association focuses on political theory and political philosophy study and research. Members must hold a graduate degree or be currently enrolled in a graduate degree program.

American Society for Public Administration

ASPA connects public administration officials, researchers, and scholars. Members can join state chapters and participate in e-learning programs.


NASPAA Job Center

The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration accredits degree programs in policy. It also provides resources to students, such as information on job opportunities and industry data.

Journal of Public Affairs Education

Published by NASPAA, this journal includes research about public policy, administration, and management. Students can find source material for their research and submit their own papers.

APPAM Mentor Matching Program

Students may take advantage of career guidance through this program, which teams mentees up with experienced professionals. Mentors review mentees' resumes and cover letters, guide their research, and help them with fellowship applications.

IPPA Early Career Network

Specifically for Ph.D. candidates, IPPA's early career networkelevates research from public policy students and hosts professional networking events. Members can connect with each other, asking questions and sharing advice.

APSA Graduate Student Connection

Ph.D. students who join APSA can attend events for graduate students, access career materials, and participate in diversity and inclusion fellowship programs.

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