This 3-part blog offers a quick insight into what a postgraduate public policy degree entails, a peek into the application process and finally, career options post this master’s.

Postgraduate public policy degrees are gaining popularity in India, particularly amongst lawyers looking to work on broader national and international issues. Schools that offer Masters’ degrees in this field have been around for a few decades though – especially in the United States.

Today, there are several variants of this degree, the most common one being the Master of Public Policy (MPP) and the Master of Public Administration (MPA). Other courses include the Master of Arts in International Development Policy, Master in International Affairs, and other such similar titles.

So, what does studying public policy entail?

With no official definition of the term, public policy can be generally understood as the mass of laws, policies, regulatory measures, government action, programs, state administration and institutional customs and the associated decision-making processes that affect local, national and global issues. This is of course, a simplification of the vast and diverse landscape of public policy because often, policy can be shaped by civil society, corporations, mass movements or international organizations alongside government.

Whatever the nomenclature of the degree, there are several things in common. Most schools in the U.S. offer a 2-year program. European universities also offer a 1 year variant. The overall idea is to provide a grounding of the theoretical and analytical disciplines, frameworks and tools essential for analysing the world we live in, and real-world policy applications.

Typically, these courses teach the basics of macroeconomics and microeconomics, political science, international relations theory, international trade, the principles of policy making, public management/administration, and an introduction to international non-governmental organizations such as the UN or World Bank in the first year. Programs also have an element of quantitative analysis with courses on econometrics, statistics and tools for data analysis (Python, STATA, R, Excel etc.).

The second year offers more freedom of choice to students to pick multidisciplinary courses. Schools offer specializations in fields such as urban planning and development, energy, environment, gender, human rights, conflict resolution, advanced data analysis, and sometimes offer concentrations in a particular region such as ASEAN, MENA, LATAM and so on. Many times, universities allow cross-faculty registration for a few credits, which means you also have the option to study a course or two from the B-School, Law School or another department of your choice.

Students are encouraged to think along prescriptive lines with a call to action to have a positive impact and come up with concrete action on complex global challenges—ranging from climate change to poverty to peace building. There is a definite practical element essential to becoming a policy practitioner. To this end, universities require students (especially those with under five years of full-time work experience) to complete an internship in the summer.

Like every master’s course, students also need to write a thesis to graduate. Policy programs use what is known as a ‘capstone’ or a policy analysis exercise project, usually in the second year in place of a standard thesis. Students work in groups with a real-life client (either of their choosing or provided by the university) over the course of a few months (a semester) and are mentored by a faculty advisor. The project involves identifying a policy issue and spending time understanding the client’s needs, conducting research – both primary and secondary, and coming up with policy recommendations.

One example, Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs asks students to work in groups during their final semester for the Capstone. A project may entail weeks of desk research, preparation and guidance from a faculty advisor, followed by 1-2 weeks on ground conducting field research in the market/geography concerned. Students speak with stakeholders including government, academia, think tanks and industry representatives.

The end result is usually s a report documenting the key sectoral challenges, and actionable policy recommendations on how the country/client could mitigate this particular challenge. Topics range from poverty, corruption in resource-rich countries, humanitarian assistance, innovation in energy and so on.

This is an overview of what you’re getting into if you choose to study a master’s in public policy.

Watch this space for more!