Students of public policy are interested in government affairs, specifically in analyzing and creating public policy. The ideal public policy student tends towards studying socially relevant causes and political issues, as well as possesses a desire to hone their analytical and problem-solving skills. Public policy doctorates typically integrate policy-related management and leadership skill development. Building on a foundation of basic public policy concepts, this terminal degree also incorporates intensive study in a specialty subject of the student’s choosing, such as environmental policy, homeland security, international affairs, or economic policy. During 4-5 years of comprehensive study, the online PhD in public policy provides the highest level of education possible in this field, and qualifies graduates for careers as professors or political scientists, among others.

Why a Ph.D.?

While many jobs in public policy and related fields require a minimum of a master’s degree, a Ph.D. in public policy can open the door to upper-level careers that require a terminal degree in this specialty field. A master’s degree is typically the minimum requirement for top jobs involving public policy, however students aspiring to teach this subject at the college level, for example, require a doctoral degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2010 the average annual salary of post-secondary teachers was $80,615. In addition to post-secondary teaching, scholarly pursuits made possible by doctoral studies could also involve publishing work in scholarly journals and/or embarking on other forms of academic research.

Getting Into a Ph.D. Degree Program

Doctoral degree programs typically have stringent admissions requirements. While policies vary according to school, general basic criteria are as follows:

  • Master’s degree from an accredited institution in public policy or related subject
  • minimum GPA (varies by school)
  • minimum GRE score (varies by school)
  • Application including statement of intent and/or application fees (as applicable, according to school)

Inside a Ph.D. Degree Program

Online Ph.D. programs in public policy are generally constructed around research and research-based curriculum. Students at this level may review basic public policy topics, however the majority of course work is intended to explore concentration areas of public policy more in-depth, as well as provide the student with a comprehensive understanding of fundamental concepts in this field. The doctoral degree in public policy may involve 4-5 years of course work including empirical analysis and political philosophy, with the option of academic residencies or professional experience, concluded with a dissertation in a specialty area.

Online doctorates in public policy are available through only a few select accredited programs. Public policy doctoral-level curriculum is sometimes taught online by the same teachers who conduct on-campus courses. Online students not only receive much of the same academic instruction as their conventional counterparts, but also enjoy the added benefits of Web-based reference materials and multimedia educational tools. Many schools also provide “fast-track” degree-completion options for students who are in the process of completing their master’s degree, and may also prioritize admissions consideration for these students. Special e-learning portals provide assignments and enable instant communication entirely via email and chat, and encourage ease of access from anywhere at any time for students more focused on independent study as part of their doctorate plan.

What’s Next for Public Policy Ph.D. Degree Holders?

Completing a doctorate in public policy shows exceptional mastery of a unique combination of skills. Graduates of this terminal public policy degree may find top career opportunities are available to them based on their advanced qualifications. Candidates with a Ph.D. in public policy may be eligible for high positions in public administration, local politics, and academia. And post-secondary professors, who are required to hold a doctorate in their specialty, may experience job growth of 17% over the next eight years, according to the BLS. Generally, doctorate-holders have a competitive edge in the job market, since completing a Ph.D. demonstrates the student has met the highest standards in academic achievement for their field.