Graduate Programs in Public Affairs
Graduate degrees in public affairs are designed for individuals currently pursuing or interested in pursuing careers with non-profit organizations or government entities. Many individuals applying to public affairs programs have some work experience after college; but some also apply directly from undergraduate programs, and there are many excellent public affairs programs for mid-career professionals.
Public Affairs Degrees
The content of public affairs programs differs from program to program, and applicants are well-advised to research each individual program in which they may be interested. There are, however, two general types of public affairs degrees: policy-focused programs and administration- and management-focused programs.
Administration- and management-focused programs
study the operations of public-sector organizations and prepare students to be leaders and managers in this field. The most common degree of this type is a Masters in Public Administration (MPA)
study the design, implementation, and effect of public policies and programs. Policy-focused programs tend to be quantitative and require students to reach a certain level of proficiency in economics and statistics. The most common degree of this type is a Masters in Public Policy (MPP)
In essence an MPP program trains students to develop and analyze policy solutions, while an MPA program trains students to implement those solutions effectively. This distinction is far from clear cut, however. Nearly all programs combine elements of analysis and implementation, and many MPA programs have a concentration in policy analysis. Many programs also award similar degrees with different names including Masters in Public Affairs, Masters in Public Management, and Masters in Governmental Administration, among many others. The best way to determine whether a program is suitable for you is to visit its website and read about its focus, philosophy, and course requirements.
Most schools aim to produce generalists, graduates who are able to apply the skills they've learned to many different areas within the public sector. But many programs also offer students the chance to specialize further in a particular field, such as environmental policy, health policy, non-profit management, public finance, or social policy. Some schools are stronger in a given area than another, so students especially interested in, say, environmental policy, should take that into account.
The majority of master's degrees in public affairs are two-year programs, though some schools offer intensive and accelerated tracks. Students interested in further studies in these areas may also choose to apply to doctoral programs in public affairs
, such as Ph.D.s in policy analysis, policy studies, public administration, political economy and government, and social policy, among others.
The Application Process
In general, criteria for admission to public affairs programs include GRE score, undergraduate transcript, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Deadlines vary, but February is usually the last opportunity to apply for the following fall. Some programs also have an early decision option.
Undergraduate coursework in economics and statistics is looked on favorably in the application process but is not a prerequisite for admission, and students from all majors can make good public affairs students. Similarly, work experience is considered a plus for an applicant but does not make or break an application.
Financial aid for public affairs programs varies widely from institution to institution and can consist of grants, scholarships, and loans. Some schools also have merit-based fellowships that may require an application separate from the regular financial aid process.
- Comprehensive information about public affairs degrees and access to a searchable database of schoolshttps://www.appam.org/membership/institutional/search.asp
- Searchable database of schoolshttp://www.gradschools.com/Subject/Public-Administration-and-Policy/343.html
- Searchable database of schoolshttp://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-public-affairs-schools
- US News rankings of public affairs schools