Top Public Policy Careers

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Economic Policy Specialties

Read about the course requirements for economic policy specializations, such as statistics and public and private sector relations.

Law and Public Policy Specialties

Learn about the salary levels and degree requirements of legislators, policy analysts, and researchers.

Local and Urban Policy Specialties

Consider public policy careers at the local level. See what it takes to become a local legislator, community services manager, or city manager.

Global Policy Specialties

Find out how to take your public policy career global. Explore global specializations such as terrorism, diplomacy, and foreign trade.

Understand What Public Policy Professionals Do

Public policy professionals create, research, and amend legislation and programs that affect the public in a variety of areas, from the economy to public services, foreign policy and relations, and government on the national and local levels. Public policy is a broad area of study with a variety of careers to choose from within various specializations. Major concentrations include economic policy, public policy on the national level, local and urban policy, foreign policy, democracy, politics and institutions, and international trade and finance. Below, you will find the most popular public policy careers and their educational requirements.

See Why You Should Specialize in Public Policy

Public policy is a broad field and you won’t be able to learn everything there is to know about it, regardless how strong your program is. You need to choose an area of specialization where you will focus your studies. Although bachelor’s degree programs in public policy are uncommon, those that exist require students to specialize in their third year of school. By the time you enter your master’s degree program, you should know how you’d like to specialize. Choose wisely, as the type of public policy degree you earn will inform your career choices.

Explore Popular Public Policy Specializations

Policy careers fall into the general categories below. Explore your options to see which area of public policy you should pursue based on your career goals.

Economic Policy

This specialization focuses on economic policy and the interaction of government and the private sector. Choose this specialization if you are interested in working in the public sector as an economic advisor or finance manager.

Economic Advisor

  • Projected national job growth: 6%
  • Average salary: $89,450/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: Economic advisors provide research and advice that affect policy decisions at the highest levels of an organization or the government. They must have a thorough knowledge of both economics and governmental policy and understand how politicians and NGOs can shape a country’s economy to provide useful advice.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose to become an economic advisor if you want to play an influential role in the local or national economy. You may also work as a researcher in academia or for a think tank, writing papers that may be cited and referenced at the national level.

Finance Manager at NGO

  • Projected national job growth: 13%
  • Average salary: $97,248/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: Finance managers coordinate an NGO’s funding, usually from grants and donations, and direct how funds are distributed to further the goals of the organization.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose to become a finance manager if you are comfortable assuming responsibility for the use of large sums of money and deciding how an NGO can use its funding most effectively. Finance managers also make decisions affecting budgets for years in the future. Choose this career if you are interested in increasing the effectiveness of organizations while helping people around the world.

Statistician

  • Projected national job growth: 14%
  • Average salary: $72,830/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: Statisticians use mathematical theories and equations to evaluate the effectiveness of specific policies or programs. Statisticians with a public policy background can work in government organizations at all levels, providing key scientific data that can help these organizations determine whether a program or policy is effective.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose to become a statistician if you excel at advanced mathematics and want to use research methods to shape public policy. In order to succeed in this field, you will need to be able to convey the meaning of complex statistical data to nontechnical personnel, for which you must have strong communication skills. As a statistician, you can expect to work both in an office environment and in the field supervising surveys and collecting data.

Law and Public Policy

This specialization focuses on how national, state, and local laws affect the creation of public policy. Pursue this specialization if you would like to work with lawyers and other legal specialists in the public or nonprofit sectors. Example careers include legislators at all levels, public policy analysts, and political scientists.

Legislator

  • Projected national job growth: 0%, as there are set numbers of elected legislators at all times
  • Average salary: $19,260/year
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Job description: Legislators are usually elected officials who draft and pass laws. They work at the local, state, and federal levels in the legislative branch of the government.
  • Why would I want to do this? Pursue this career path if you want to directly influence what kinds of public initiatives are implemented at various levels of government. You need to be a confident and influential speaker and have a thorough understanding of politics. Although salaries for legislators are generally symbolic, elected officials have the privilege of representing their constituents.

Political Scientist

  • Projected national job growth: 8%
  • Average salary: $107,420
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: Political scientists are career researchers whose main subjects are historical and modern political systems.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose political science if you are interested in how individuals and organizations create and operate political systems, and want to conduct research analyzing various aspects of the government. Most political scientists work at the federal government level. You should pursue this career path if you are a strong writer and researcher and are interested in analyzing government organizations and policy decisions from multiple angles.

Public Policy Professor

  • Projected national job growth: 17%
  • Average salary: $62,050/year
  • Entry-level education: PhD
  • Job description: Public policy professors provide instruction on law and public policy to students at the university level.
  • Why would I want to do this? Pursue a career as a public policy professor is you are interested in both public policy and teaching. In addition to teaching, professors of public policy enjoy conducting research and writing influential papers for publication in their specializations. You should pursue this career path if you are passionate about teaching public policy and would enjoy mentoring students outside of the classroom.

Policy Analyst

  • Projected national job growth: 15%
  • Average salary: $70,960/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: Policy analysts research complex problems at the governmental level and recommend solutions that can be implemented through legislation and public programs.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose to be a policy analyst if you see yourself working at a think tank or NGO, where you would scrutinize the legislation that comes out of Washington, D.C. or at a state or local level. In this specialization, you have to think critically to identify problems and recommend changes or alternative solutions to make the government more effective at addressing public concerns. You should pursue this career path if you often find yourself theorizing how a certain governmental policy could have been implemented more effectively.

Legislative Aide

  • Projected national job growth: 18%
  • Average salary: $46,680/year
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Job description: Legislative aides typically assist attorneys or legislators with research on legal topics.
  • Why would I want to do this? Become a legislative aide if you want a career analyzing legislation and advising lawyers, politicians, or other public administrators on various topics dealing with the law and public policy. You should pursue this career path if you are interested in the public impact and theoretical basis of legislation.

Research Associate

  • Projected national job growth: 15%
  • Average salary: $55,000/year
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Job description: Research associates work with senior researchers in government departments or think thanks to study and write about specific topics in public policy and legislation.
  • Why would I want to do this? Pursue a position as an entry-level research assistant if you want to gain valuable experience in social policy and government institutions. You should enjoy research- and writing-intensive work and have an interest in furthering policy research.

Educational Research Scientist

  • Projected national job growth: 15%
  • Average salary: $107,500/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: Educational research scientists are employed by the U.S. Department of Education or independent think tanks to research and analyze national education policy.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose educational research if you want to become an expert in education policy and desire to study education at an advanced level, typically as a PhD. Educational research scientists inform policymakers on current research that affects decisions regarding public schools and universities. You should pursue this career path if you are interested in developing education policy.

Local and Urban Policy

Similar to the specialization of law and public policy, local and urban policy is focused on how legislation affects the public, but with an emphasis on the local level. You should pursue this specialization if you are interested in making changes in your immediate community, whether by working for the local government or for locally based NGOs. Common careers include legislator and local government analyst.

Local Government Analyst

  • Projected national job growth: 15%
  • Average salary: $35,500/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: Local government analysts research various problems that arise in local or municipal governments and recommend solutions or legal changes.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose to become a local government analyst if you frequently see opportunities for improvement in your own community and want to see your ideas implemented. Because municipal governments operate on much smaller scales than the federal government, local government analysts can recommend changes or policies that can be implemented quickly. As a local government analyst, you will be able to perceive the effects of your work much faster than at the national level.

Social and Community Service Manager

  • Projected national job growth: 27%
  • Average salary: $57,950/year
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree, though a master’s degree is preferred
  • Job description: Social and community service managers operate various programs that provide public services to a specific area and lead the staff working in these organizations.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose community service management if you enjoy working with people, possess well-developed leadership skills, and want to make a difference at the local level. Community service managers are responsible for directing and supervising staff working for community-level NGOs and government institutions.

Urban Planner

  • Projected national job growth: 16%
  • Average salary: $63,040/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: Urban or regional planners work with local legislators as well as the private sector to plan and develop the use of designated geographical areas.
  • Why would I want to do this? Pursue a career in urban planning if you would enjoy planning on a large scale and are interested in learning more about how cities function. Urban planners understand the different elements that must exist to create a viable community, and they collaborate with politicians, NGOs, and developers to build or improve communities. You can expect to work in the field to assess problems first-hand.

City Manager

  • Projected national job growth: 0%, as city managers are usually appointed by city council members
  • Average salary: $104,500/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: A city administrator or a city manager is often the chief executive of a city and oversees the city government staff in addition to running day-to-day operations.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose city management if you want to make important decisions regarding the selection of staff and the policies a city undertakes. City managers often have extensive experience in local government, either as former elected officials or as administrators in various government offices. You should pursue this career path if you have strong management skills, enjoy working with others, and are interested in public policy at the city level.

Health Services Manager

  • Projected national job growth: 22%
  • Average salary: $84,270/year
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Job description: Health services managers direct medical programs for individual clinics or even oversee the healthcare services for an entire community.
  • Why would I want to do this? Become a health services manager if you want to ensure adequate access to healthcare for individuals in a community, and collaborate with public officials to increase access, reduce costs, and improve the general health of a certain population. You should pursue this career path if you are interested in medicine and healthcare policy.

Social Policy Researcher

  • Projected national job growth: 15%
  • Average salary: $107,500/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: Social policy researchers focus on analyzing and improving legislation and programs at the community level.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose social policy research if you are interested in a becoming an expert in a specific aspect of social policy, such as healthcare or education, or in a specific community or region. You need to have strong communication skills to be able to relate your research and data to politicians and other policymakers in your field of expertise.

Global Policy

The global or foreign policy specialization has a world focus and analyzes how the governance and policies of other countries or areas of the world affect U.S. policy. If you specialize in global policy, you may focus on one region of the world, such as the Middle East, or you can concentrate on U.S. foreign policy. You should pursue this specialization if you are interested in living or traveling abroad and know or want to learn foreign languages. Careers include diplomat or foreign policy consultant.

Foreign Service Officer

  • Projected national job growth: 10%
  • Average salary: $78,000/year
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Job description: Foreign Service officers, also known as diplomats, represent American interests abroad in a variety of roles and countries.
  • Why would I want to do this? Become a Foreign Service officer if you want to travel the world, often to politically important regions, and have a direct influence on foreign relations with the country you are stationed in. As a Foreign Service officer, you will also provide support and services for Americans abroad. You should pursue this career path if you speak foreign languages, want to travel, and would like to meet people of a variety of cultures.

Consultant

  • Projected national job growth: 22%
  • Average salary: $78,160/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree, but salary and opportunities increase with PhD
  • Job description: Consultants who specialize in global policy give highly valuable advice to NGOs as well as private companies that operate abroad or on a multinational scale.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose consulting if you plan to become an expert on the policy of a particular country or region of the world. In addition to being very lucrative, consulting is a highly satisfying profession, as many consultants are free to choose their clients, set their fees, and essentially work as independent contractors. Consultants who are policy experts in a certain country or region can help NGOs and businesses navigate through unfamiliar legislation and customs.

Non governmental Organization Policy

The nongovernmental organization policy specialization focuses on how NGOs and other entities shape public policy. You should consider the NGO specialization if you want to work in nongovernmental organizations around the world and if you have a strong passion for helping others.

Program Coordinator

  • Projected national job growth: 13%
  • Average salary: $47,000/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: Program coordinators direct and oversee the daily operations of specific programs conducted by NGOs around the world.
  • Why would I want to do this? Become a program coordinator if you want to oversee all aspects of an NGO’s program, including recruitment and training of staff, community outreach, and coordination with other NGOs or governmental organizations in a specific area. You should be open to travel, as you may often be based abroad and oversee an NGO’s operations in a specific country or region. You should pursue this career path if you are passionate about helping others and have strong management skills.

Program Manager

  • Projected national job growth: 27%
  • Average salary: $57,950/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: Program managers oversee specific aspects of programs run by NGOs around the world.
  • Why would I want to do this? Become a program manager if you would enjoy ensuring that an NGO’s programs are run as planned and coordinating with other departments or institutions working in the area, particularly those addressing similar problems. You should pursue this career path if you have excellent analytical and communication skills for collaborating with team members and other stakeholders.

Administrative Services Manager

  • Projected national job growth: 15%
  • Average salary: $77,890/year
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Job description: Administrative services managers manage and support the everyday operations of an NGO or nonprofit organization.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose administrative services management if you are interested in maintaining the facilities, offices, records, and other data of NGOs. Depending on the size of the organization, you may work with a team or individually to ensure that the day-to-day operations of the NGO carry on smoothly. You should pursue this career path if you are interested in management and possess strong leadership skills.

Operations Research Analyst

  • Projected national job growth: 15%
  • Average salary: $70,960/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: Operational research analysts use data analysis to evaluate the operations of NGOs and nonprofits and suggest improvements.
  • Why would I want to do this? Become an operations research analyst if you want to help NGOs become more efficient, so that more money can be spent on helping people rather than on operations costs. You should pursue this career path if you are interested in data analysis and have strong researching skills.

Executive Director of NGO

  • Projected national job growth: 13%
  • Average salary: $149,427/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: The executive director of an NGO or nonprofit oversees all aspects of the organization’s operations, including finances and management of other executives.
  • Why would I want to do this? You should pursue a career path leading toward an executive position at an NGO if you are a strong leader and are passionate about working in the nonprofit sector throughout your career. To become an executive director of an NGO, you will typically need extensive experience in the public or nonprofit sector. Executive directors are ultimately responsible for decisions affecting the organization and its mission.

Terrorism and Peace Policy

Often a part of foreign or global policy, terrorism and peace policy are often offered as a separate specialization focused on antiterrorist legislation and policies. You should consider this specialization if you have a background or interest in terrorism, homeland security, and antiterrorism initiatives. This specialization can lead to a career in the Foreign Service or in counterterrorism.

Counterterrorism Analyst

  • Projected national job growth: 7%
  • Average salary: $93,175/year
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Job description: Counterterrorism analysts employed in the Counterterrorism Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and similar agencies work to detect and disrupt terrorist activity within the U.S. and abroad.
  • Why would I want to do this? Become a counterterrorism analyst if you want to be an expert in assessing the risk of a terrorist attack and suggesting preventative measures to save the lives of innocent people. You should pursue this career path if you are interested in working with the FBI, CIA, or the Foreign Service to prevent terrorist activity in the U.S. and around the world.

Terrorism Consultant

  • Projected national job growth: 22%
  • Average salary: $78,160/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Job description: Consultants who specialize in terrorism or counterterrorism policy give highly valuable advice to NGOs as well as private companies who operate in areas at risk for terrorist activities.
  • Why would I want to do this? Consider a career as a terrorism consultant if you want to help NGOs, governments, or private companies assess the risk of operating in a certain area as well as offer advice on how to keep their employees safe. You should pursue this career path if want to become an expert in terrorism in a specific region and are willing to work and live in volatile regions of the world.