How do I Earn a PhD in Public Policy?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 January 2019
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Government workers who specialize in public policy jobs plan and implement programs that benefit citizens. Professionals conduct research, analyze survey responses, write detailed plans and bills, and advise politicians on important public matters. In order to prepare for such an important job, an individual usually needs to receive a quality education from an accredited college or university. Anyone who wants to get a PhD in public policy is typically required to spend about eight years in school, participate in an internship, and create a detailed dissertation based on independent research.

A student can begin his or her educational path to a PhD in public policy by enrolling in a four-year bachelor's degree program. Few schools offer bachelor's degrees specifically in public policy, so most students decide to major in closely related fields. An undergraduate program in political science, economics, social work, or sociology can provide a student with a basic understanding of the issues faced by countries, communities, and specific populations of citizens. An undergraduate can also take courses in writing, public speaking, and communications to prepare for the interpersonal aspects of his or her eventual job in public policy.


Near the completion of a bachelor's degree program, a student can begin applying to accredited schools that offer a PhD in public policy. Most schools require applicants to take standardized admittance exams, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in the United States and certain other English-speaking countries. Competition for admission into a doctoral school can be very intense, and only the most outstanding students are selected. On the application form, a student should emphasize his or her undergraduate grades, pertinent paid or volunteer work, and career goals. Strong reference letters from university professors and community members can further improve an individual's chances of being accepted.

Once enrolled in a four-year doctoral program, the student can meet with department officials and advisers to design a custom degree plan. Many schools encourage careful degree planning to ensure that students receive the best possible education for their future careers. In addition to engaging in classroom studies, PhD students often enroll in practical internships at local government offices. Near the end of a program, an individual is usually required to compose a final dissertation based on original research or a hypothetical policy plan. Professors and public officials will review the dissertation and decide to award a PhD in public policy.

After earning a PhD in public policy, a new graduate can begin looking for permanent employment. Most new public policy workers begin their careers in local government. With experience and proven success, a person might have the chance to move into more esteemed positions at the state, provincial, or federal level. Top national public policy officials are very influential in securing the happiness and well-being of millions of citizens.



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