tell me about your master's in public policy
October 3, 2007 9:46 AM   Subscribe

Do you have a Master's in Public Policy? What's it like?

More specifically, what kind of jobs have you had since you got your degree? What kind of educational background and/or work experience did you have before you got your degree? Do you live in DC?

I'm a college senior concentrating in philosophy. I graduate this spring. All I know is that I don't want to pursue any further study in philosophy. I'm thinking about alternate routes I can take in the future, and what I can do to prepare for them now.

To me, an MPP seems like a good combination of politics, economics and the social sciences in general, which have been my main focus at school outside of philosophy. (For instance, this semester I am taking Welfare Economics, Statistics, a seminar on Civil Liberties, and a cognitive science course on decision making.) But honestly, I don't know anyone with anyone with an MPP or a job in the field, so I have no idea.

Ideally I would like to find a job where I can use my "philosophy skills" -- critical thinking, analysis, writing clearly -- in a practical, interesting and meaningful way. I ask about DC because I am concerned that most public policy jobs are located there. I grew up in the DC metro area, and I'd rather not pursue a career path that will tie me down to one city. I wouldn't mind living in DC at some point, but I don't like the idea of spending my entire life there.

Also, if you have any suggestions of other career options that I should consider, please let me know. At this point I feel pretty lost.
posted by puffin to Education (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Loads of people use the public policy masters as an "add on" to other degrees, most notably a law degree, but also economics, public health, business, etc. Not that you couldn't do one alone, but if you are concerned about having a degree that will be immediately useful in terms of employment, it's something you might want to consider.

Your skills -- "critical thinking, analysis, writing clearly" -- are exactly those needed for a law degree. A law degree will also let you work all sorts of places that aren't DC, and many of the larger and better law firms have thriving government or policy practices that would combine law and policy issues. So a joint law/public policy might be a good choice for you.

If you're inclined to go that route but aren't sure you want to work in law, try to go somewhere that will give you money so you don't have a crushing debt load when you leave. Big law will help you pay that off, policy work in DC will not.
posted by ohio at 10:14 AM on October 3, 2007

I should also note that a law degree is a HUGE committment in money, time, and psychic resources. I am not advocating that you do a law degree because there is nothing else to do, only that maybe you could look into it.
posted by ohio at 10:15 AM on October 3, 2007

Second the law degree. Every job you can take as a MPP, a J.D. does as well or better.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:15 AM on October 3, 2007

But don't get a J.D. because you want to use your philosophy skills. Get a J.D. because you have a burning desire to be a lawyer.
posted by The World Famous at 10:26 AM on October 3, 2007

I work with a ton of MPP's, although I am in DC. I don't know--I'd really recommend against getting an MPP unless you have a pretty good sense of a job you'd want with it. It strikes me a generalist degree that funnels into very specific types of jobs; it's fantastic if you'd like to work in a government consulting firm, a policy advocacy organization, or the actual government, but it doesn't seem to have a lot of specific uses outside of that where another degree wouldn't work better (and give you more options down the road).

In fact, even the people I know with MPP's outside of DC work in government consulting. I like the work, but getting a master's in economics or public health or statistics seems like a better bet if you don't want to be tied down to one city--if flexibility is important to you, there are definitely better options out there.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:41 AM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

(And I disagree with those above that say a JD is the same qualification as an MPP--they are very very different career paths, and while my company would hire a smart person with a M.A. or Ph.D. in almost any social or hard science, I can't imagine them hiring a JD. While the focus on analysis and writing may be the same, the jobs really aren't.)
posted by iminurmefi at 10:43 AM on October 3, 2007

I work with a bunch of public policy folks - some MPP holders, some not - in a thinktanky sort of place in California. My spousal equivalent has an MPP/MPH, and has worked for government and nonprofits, and as a consultant. She may chime in later.

I'm going to disagree with this statement: Second the law degree. Every job you can take as a MPP, a J.D. does as well or better, not because lawyers aren't fine and smart people, but because law school teaches you about the law, and public policy work is not the same as legal work. My understanding is also that getting an MPP will not plunge you into debt the way law school does, thereby requiring you to take some corporate job to pay off your debts before you start your "real" career.

Anyway. Poke around the website for the Goldman School of Public Policy (it's at Berkeley).
posted by rtha at 10:50 AM on October 3, 2007

I have a MPP. I feel like my grad program gave me a really great education, and I use the skills I learned there every day. I work in health policy and advocacy.

Whenever I hear someone say that they are going to law school because they want to do policy work, I do my best to talk them out of it. Law school gives people a different set of skills, which are useful in their own way, but it's not the same thing as the policy analysis focus that you'll get from a policy program.

I strongly encourage you to work for a few years and figure out what you're interested in doing before you go to grad school. My program was geared towards people with some work experience and an area of focus, and the people who got the most out of the program were those who already knew that they were interested in education policy or international relations or whatever. It was more about the skills than the content.

That said, it does sound like a MPP would be a good fit for you. It does focus on what you are interested in, and you should look at programs you like. Good luck!
posted by gingerbeer at 11:51 AM on October 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you everyone! This is really helpful.

Your skills -- "critical thinking, analysis, writing clearly" -- are exactly those needed for a law degree.

I am considering law -- I just took the LSATs. However, I'm not sure if I'd be happy in the typical law firm environment, which is kind of hampering any "burning desire to be a lawyer."
posted by puffin at 12:51 PM on October 3, 2007

I (hydrpphonic's girlfriend) also have an MPP, which I got in Chicago and stayed in Chicago after graduating. Granted, a lot of my classmates went to DC to work in government, but most of my close friends from the program stayed in Chicago and work in the non-profit and consulting fields. I'm in development at a non-profit that focuses on economic justice and tax policy, so my MPP was a huge benefit to me getting the job.

To me (and this is completely biased) an MPP sets you apart from other job candidates and professionals--I mean there are a ton of lawyers and MBAs out there--and it is a very versatile degree. I do second gingerbeer's comments about getting some work experience and having an issue area in mind while looking at schools. You don't have to know exactly what policy area you want to focus on--I didn't narrow in on mind until 2nd year--but it does help to choose classes you'll like (and make school worth the expense) and make connections in your area of interest.

Lastly, if you decide to apply to grad school for public policy, decide how much of the quantitative aspect (the focus on stats and econ) of policy you want to get into. I was talking to a coworker who has an MPP from another school and was saying how he'd wish his program was more quantitative, like mine. Even though have a good quantitative background isn't hugely important in development, I know that if I wanted to go into hard core policy analysis, where I got my MPP will give me an edge.
posted by hydrophonic at 1:43 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was also a philosophy major, and decided that i was really interested in policy. I applied to a bunch of places for policy, but was mostly in the end deciding between Brown and Columbia. I actually decided to go with Columbia School of Social Work, with a concentration in Public Policy. It has a slightly different focus than other Public Policy degree, there is a large field-work aspect, and for me who didnt have much experience, that was a great opportiunity to gain a lot of skills. Basically, you work for about 21-25 hours per week, and your developing skills are well integrated with classes. There is a strong focus on social justice and ethics, which is very interesting with my philosophy background. Also, you can pursue a joint degree in law, or business or public policy. Good luck!!!
posted by tessalations999 at 4:07 PM on October 3, 2007

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