Best Online Master’s in Public Policy (MPP) Programs for 2021

Find top-ranked online MPP programs where you’ll learn how to properly evaluate public policy issues that can have a significant impact on people’s lives.

Now is an exciting time for students and professionals to consider a career that positively influences people and society. Maybe you work for a nonprofit organization, government agency, or private company and are interested in transitioning to a new career field. Maybe you work in public policy already and want to gain advanced skills to obtain a managerial position. Either way, an online master’s in public policy (MPP) can help you achieve your goals. Continue reading to find out information about the curriculum, what schools are looking for when they admit students, financial aid options, and the careers you can pursue after completing your degree.

College Spotlights: Best Online MPP Programs in 2021

Public policy is a complex field, and employers need workers who have a deep understanding of the legal, social, and political factors that impact policy. For those who work in the private or public sector that want to pursue a public policy career, it’s crucial to find the right public policy master’s program. Our “Best in Class” program is designed to help people do just that by ranking the best online public policy master’s degrees based on several factors such as curriculum quality, student outcomes, affordability, and convenience. To get an idea of what programs are available, we have profiled some of the schools on this list below.

University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth

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When people apply to the online MPP program at the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth, they are expected to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school and earn a high score on the GRE. During the application process, they should also submit a statement of purpose explaining why they are interested in making a public policy master’s degree, a resume, and two recommendation letters. Once admitted, students begin working through the department’s core curriculum, including coursework in policy analysis, public policy research methods, administrative law, and public policy processes.

Students are also expected to complete classes in an area of concentration. The public management concentration includes courses on program development, public finance on the state and local level, and policy management. Students interested in gaining expertise in environmental policy can enroll in that concentration and take coursework on environmental law, ocean policy, and globalization’s effect on the environment. Students can also choose to specialize in education policy, including classes about education law, organizational behavior in the education field, and public finance in education. Additionally, students in the program who do not have at least two years of professional public policy work experience must complete an internship where they apply public policy and public management theory to real-world situations in private businesses, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies.

Oregon State University

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Oregon State University’s online master’s in public policy is a 62-credit hour program that takes approximately two years to complete. The program combines several disciplines such as political science, economics, statistics, and sociology to give students a comprehensive look at public policy in action. To provide this understanding, students take core classes in microeconomics, leadership and public organizations, qualitative and quantitative research methods, and public policy analysis. Also, students choose one of four concentrations: energy policy, rural policy, social policy, or environmental policy.

After completing their classes, students must participate in a capstone course where they work on a project designed to illustrate their understanding of public policy theory. This project involves writing an essay that includes solutions to theoretical public policy issues and arguments made in seminal research studies. To be admitted into the program, students must have a bachelor’s degree and a 3.0 grade point average.

University of California, Berkeley

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Offered through the Richard & Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy, the University of California, Berkeley’s online masters of public policy program is designed to give students a practical look at how policies are made and implemented. Through the program, students can build their understanding of political institutions, the research used to analyze and evaluate public policy programs, and how programs are developed and maintained in bureaucratic systems. To be admitted into the program, prospective students should submit their resume, GRE scores, policy statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and transcripts from their undergraduate degree program.

During the first year of the program, Berkeley requires that students complete core classes in public policy economics, law, and politics. Students take advanced courses that cover organizational aspects of public policy and public policy analysis during the second year. Also, students must complete an intensive research study where they address a significant public policy issue.

Advantages of Earning an Online Master’s in Public Policy

There are several reasons for professionals to enroll in an MPP program and choose a program that is offered online. The following are some of the advantages of selecting these programs.

  1. Convenience

    One thing that may hinder busy professionals when they want to earn a master’s degree is how challenging it can be to fit their education into their lifestyle. By enrolling in an online degree program, they can easily complete their coursework when it’s convenient for them. Students can watch lectures online during evenings or weekends, and in some cases, depending on the school, complete assignments at their own pace.

  2. Increase understanding of policy issues

    Those who want to advance in their careers, or begin a career in public policy, need to have a strong sense of the social, economic, legal, political, and technological aspects of public policy. By enrolling in an MPP program, students learn about the complex integration of systems that make up the policymaking process.

  3. Affordability

    A graduate school education can be pricey, especially if students choose to enroll in a private school. However, enrolling in an online program allows students to save money instead of paying a lump sum for tuition each semester. Students also save money on transportation, which further contributes to the affordability of these programs.

  4. Become an expert in a specific area of public policy

    Since the public policy field is made up of so many different systems, students have an excellent opportunity to enroll in a specialization that represents the area they want to focus on. MPP programs offer a number of concentrations, from healthcare policy to public management to environmental policy to arts leadership to emergency management. As a result, students can become experts in their chosen subsection of the field, which will increase your value to a current or potential employer.

What You’ll Learn in an Online Public Policy Master’s Degree Program

The curriculum of an online master’s in public policy program is designed to give students a strong understanding of public policy and administration concepts, governmental budget processes, human resource management in the public sector, and governmental project management. As well, students learn how to apply these principles to daily challenges in public policy workplace settings. To provide these skills and knowledge, master’s programs may offer the following coursework:

  • Organizational Analysis

    This course combines discussions about organizational behavior and organizational theory to give students an understanding of how organizations and the people who work in them, function on a daily basis. Students will explore public administration research and may be required to read case studies to see how these theories are applied in a real-world setting.

  • Policy Analysis

    Students learn about public policy processes in this course and how they are assessed and evaluated. To help students learn how to make these assessments, they are given a comprehensive look at public policy research and the main theories that guide this analysis.

  • Politics of Public Policy

    This course covers the political considerations that influence public policy. Topics may include policy development and implementation, the theories that guide policy creation, and how policies can be interpreted appropriately.

  • Project Management

    This class explores project management in the public sector and nonprofit organization settings. The curriculum may cover project management principles and their applications in workplace settings, contingency planning, and the tools used during the project management process.

  • Administrative Law

    This course teaches students administrative law principles and how these laws influence public policy. Topics covered may include governmental rulemaking, judicial review, and the limits of organizational policies.

Specialization Options for Your Online MPP Program

Public policy is a broad field that encompasses several areas related to activities both inside and outside of the government. As a result, students who enroll in MPP programs may have the opportunity to focus their studies on one of these discrete areas of the field to get expertise on the subjects that interest them most. The following are some examples of concentrations students may choose from:

  • Health Policy

    Students who are interested in the healthcare system and the nature of how healthcare policies are developed can enroll in this specialization where they learn about healthcare systems, economic and political concerns that influence healthcare, and public health insurance programs. This concentration may also cover the healthcare market, medical devices, and how healthcare is delivered in different countries.

  • Education Policy

    This concentration covers the challenges of education policy in the United States and other countries. Some of these issues include educational inequities, teacher accountability, access to quality education, school finance, and early childhood programs.

  • Social Policy

    Those who enroll in the social policy concentration learn about the social supports provided by government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector to increase the well-being of members of a community. Students learn how social policy addresses issues such as housing, education, poverty, and crime.

  • Criminal Justice Policy

    This specialization addresses the challenges that policymakers face when creating laws that pertain to the criminal justice system. Specific topics may include constitutional law and procedure and how administrative law affects criminal justice matters.

  • Science and Technology Policy

    Students who enroll in this concentration learn how policy affects science and technology and the role that scientists and technology experts play in influencing public policy. Topics studied may include environmental economics, intellectual property, technology assessments, climate change, and environmental law.

Accreditation for Public Policy Online Master’s Degree Programs

Whether people want to work in the public or private sector on public policy issues, online MPP programs provide the knowledge of political, social, economic, and legal matters related to public policy. Students have the opportunity to gain strong written and verbal communication skills, which are needed to make strong public policy arguments and the research and analytical skills required to collect and make sense of public policy data. With the valuable skills and knowledge that online MPPs offer, graduates can pursue numerous career options, some of which are described below.

What You Can Do with a Master’s in Public Policy

While many people with a master’s degree in political science work in the federal government, there are also many opportunities in other sectors such as with political organizations, lobbying firms, labor unions, and education. While the demand for jobs in political science is somewhat limited, there are other in-demand careers where political science is useful. Also, those with a master’s degree in political science will find more job opportunities than those with only an undergraduate degree. Below are some of the top career opportunities available.

Urban and Regional Planners

When it’s time for communities to be revitalized, urban and regional planners are tasked with developing the roadmap to help these areas improve. Whether they’re working with towns, counties, metropolitan areas, or cities, these professionals develop plans designed to address population growth, economic issues, environmental problems, and sheltering the homeless. Specific job duties include working closely with developers and public officials to create a plan, research to find out what a particular community needs and keep abreast of issues that impact these plans, such as legal, environmental, and building code challenges.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$45,850 $74,350 $116,280

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Political Scientists

These professionals use their knowledge of political systems to conduct research and analyze issues related to political trends, government operations, and public policy. This requires developing theories, collecting evidence to prove those theories, and understanding political science and law to conclude the information they analyze. They also use their research to make predictions about social, political, and economic trends.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$60,960

$122,220

$164,210

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Budget Analysts

Public and private organizations rely on budget analysts to help them plan and manage their finances. These professionals are responsible for establishing an organization’s budget, reviewing budget proposals to ensure they are accurate, complete, compliant with the law, making predictions about an organization’s future financial needs and making tentative plans to address them.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$50,230

$76,540

$116,510

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Purchasing Managers

Purchasing managers oversee the work of those who procure products and services that an organization uses. To do this, these workers will evaluate the price and quality of products and services offered by their suppliers, find out information on industry trends at trade shows and conferences, negotiate prices and draft contracts with suppliers, and monitor products that are bought by an organization to ensure they are cost-effective.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$71,450

$121,110

$193,400

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Survey Researchers

Survey researchers are employed by polling organizations, nonprofit organizations, research firms, and corporations to collect various topics. Their work includes drafting and testing surveys designed to find out specific information; polling people in a community about their preferences, opinions, and beliefs, analyzing the information they received using statistical software; and creating reports based on their findings.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$32,150

$59,170

$108,860

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s in Public Policy Degrees

Earning an advanced degree can be expensive, but it’s essential to understand the financial commitment that you’re making before you enroll in an online MPP program. It’s also good to understand the resources that you can take advantage of to pay for your education—including scholarships, fellowships, and grants. Log on to our financial aid page to find out what options are available to help you pay for your MPP degree, and review the table below to get the cost of a few online programs.

What Your Online MPP Program Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Est. Total Tuition Cost

Oregon State University

46

$560/Credit

$25,760

Northwestern University

13 Courses

$3,590/Course

$46,670

University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth

36

$683/Credit

$24,588

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Public Policy Master’s Degrees

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in public policy?

When evaluating schools, you need to understand what would be expected of you when you apply. MPP programs are rigorous and have high standards, so when prospective students apply, they are usually expected to:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university
  • Have at least a 3.0 grade point average
  • Earn a high score on the GRE or GMAT
  • Draft an essay describing their career goals and how they intend to use their education to reach them
  • Submit letters of recommendation

How long will it take to finish my online master’s in public policy?

If you are enrolled in an online MPP program on a full-time basis, you can expect to finish in about two years, depending on the school you attend. If you’re a part-time student, you may be able to finish your program in about three to four years.

Can I earn a master’s in public policy 100% online, or do I need to visit campus?

MPP programs may or may not require that students complete some coursework on campus, depending on their school enrollment. In some cases, you can complete your entire degree online because public policy departments don’t have lab requirements. However, some schools require a capstone course, which students may be expected to take on campus.