How do I Choose the Best Public Policy Graduate School?

Darlene Goodman

To choose the best public policy graduate school, students should first consider their potential career goals, including where they wish to work and what type of policy issues they wish to work with. The two most common public policy graduate programs earn either a Master’s of Public Policy (MPP) or a PhD in public policy. Different graduate schools may emphasize different program tracks.

A PhD in public policy may be well-suited for some individuals.
A PhD in public policy may be well-suited for some individuals.

There are several organizations that can assist a student who is looking into a public policy graduate school. Examples of these institutions are the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). Beyond providing useful information on careers in public policy, these professional organizations’ websites usually provide databases of accredited public policy degree programs as well.

The MPP is a professional program that typically focuses on giving students a broad educational base in policy management and analysis. It is usually considered a professional, terminal degree, along the same lines as Master's of Business Administration (MBA) or Juris Doctor (JD) degrees. While the career options with an MPP degree can be wide and varied, most students who obtain one seek to work as policy directors or analysts in government, for nongovernmental organizations, or in the private sector.

A PhD in public policy may be well suited to students who wish to focus more on in-depth research and quantitative analysis than on policy management or analysis. This degree track typically requires more time to complete than an MPP. Most people who earn a public policy PhD work for universities, but many others work for public policy institutions, think tanks or for public or private sector organizations that require intense policy research.

Besides potential career goals, a student should consider what policy areas he or she is interested in when choosing a public policy graduate school. Different programs will often offer various focuses of study. For example, if a student is interested in environmental policy, he or she should look for graduate programs that offer a strong concentration on the environment.

Other considerations to make when choosing a public policy graduate school are those that can be applied to most graduate school choices. Cost, location, and financial aid options are usually important to think about when choosing any school. Also, students should consider their employment options when they are in school, and whether to attend on a full time or part time basis. Students should also compare a school’s admissions requirements for entering their public policy graduate school with their own test scores and experience.

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Discussion Comments


You can go online and find public policy graduate school rankings done by objective and respected observers. The rankings will only tell you so much but they can be a good starting point.


I got my masters of public administration from a big state school that I will decline to name. The experience was all right but I was really underwhelmed by the program. I expected to come out feeling like I had mastered a subject and instead I was usually reminded of how much I did not know or understand.

I think it is good advice to anyone entering any kind of program to try and get a sense of how rigorous the program will be. Expectations can vary widely.


Many of the most influential thinkers and writers in the area of public policy have university appointments. Think about the policy makers who have inspired you and look into the institutions where they teach. Clearly the programs are at least somewhat in line with the interests you have already.

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