The 5 Ws of Policy School

The 5 Ws of Policy School

Do you love solving problems? Are you fascinated by politics and the challenges facing your government? Does a career serving others appeal to you? If you answered yes to any of these questions, policy school might be a great choice for your graduate studies.


Policy schools attract a diverse range of graduate students—from recent undergraduates to seasoned professionals, from students committed to solving domestic issues to those interested in international affairs—and there is a right program for everyone. Typically, policy graduate students have studied political science, economics, history, or international relations in undergrad, but there are also students making a change in their career paths coming from other academic backgrounds. What policy graduate students have in common is an interest in solving local, national, or international problems through effective policy, research, and diplomacy.


The most common policy degrees are Master’s in Public Policy (MPP) and Master’s in Public Administration (MPA), but you will find policy schools and programs under different names. There are public policy schools, public administration schools, government schools, and public affairs schools. There are also policy degrees offered within other schools. For example, there are some international affairs and government degrees with a strong policy focus. This is why doing your research is important! While the curriculum at most schools will be similar, each program is unique, so it is important for prospective students to determine the right fit for their academic interests.


Most students in policy programs have at least two years of work experience—internships or full-time—under their belts before beginning graduate school. These degrees are professionally focused, so having some real-world experience can be a huge asset to students not only during the application, but also in the classroom. Each program will consider work experience differently, so be sure to find out how the school weighs it when you meet with faculty or admissions representatives. Policy degrees typically take two years to complete full-time, but some schools offer part-time or evening options for working students.


There are two things to consider when you are deciding where to go to policy school: the university and the location of the school. While school rankings can certainly contribute to your choice, it is important to also weigh the curriculum, school environment, student experience, and your career goals. In the US, there are excellent policy schools across the country. Consider where you’d like to work after graduation and how that school’s location and network may help you launch that career.


Study policy in graduate school because you want to make a difference. You may go on to work in local, state, or national government writing and implementing policy that will directly impact your community. You could decide to work at a nonprofit or non-governmental organization (NGO) supporting a cause that is important to you or performing research that will impact policy makers. You might even work in the private sector helping companies work with governments effectively through government affairs or lobbying. The possibilities are endless, but the academic foundation you gain from studying policy will help you succeed.

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Elizabeth McCarthy

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