Many students don’t realize that economics provides a great springboard to graduate study and a career in public administration and policy. While economics graduate programs are highly technical and mathematical, public policy programs are more application and issues oriented. There are a number of career tracks that follow from a graduate degree in public policy, including politics, international development, education and urban planning. If putting your economics skills into solving real-world issues appeals to you, this might be a good option.
Two main types of graduate programs are offered: one focused more on public policy and affairs, and another type focused more on public administration. Public policy programs tend to have more economists on faculty and stress economic and econometric methodologies more strongly in their curriculum. Public administration programs are less economics-oriented and closer to MBA programs in their approach. A Master’s degree in either of these two approaches generally takes about two years to complete.
The following are the skills and academic preparation recommended for these graduate programs.
1. Quantitative Skills. Performing basic statistical and regression analyses as found in UO’s econometrics courses. Taking a class or two on Geographical Information Systems (GIS) from the UO Geography Department is also recommended.
2. Writing Skills. Many programs require a writing sample for the application. An economics honors thesis or term paper with some analytical or statistical analysis component would be an excellent source for this.
3. Public Speaking Experience. Join groups on campus and work yourself into leadership responsibilities to gain leadership and public speaking experience.
4. Internships. An internship will help you decide if this is the right path for you.Working or volunteering for a local government agency or nonprofit organization (such as United Way) will also help you gain work experience.
The UO economics department also offers a Professional Concentration in Public Policy and Administration.
Picking the Right Program
Unlike law and MBA programs, finding reliable rankings for programs in public policy and administration is more difficult because of the wide variety of concentrations. Some programs may list specialties, but only cover these courses infrequently with adjunct instructors or guest practitioners. When identifying schools that interest you, make sure full-time faculty are teaching courses in the area and they’re offered on a regular basis.
The U.S. News and World Report’s Rankings of Public Affairs Programs is a good resource. Also, be sure and verify the schools you’re interested in are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration.