Public Policy vs Public Affairs: Career ROI

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Updated: February 29, 2024, Reading time: 9 minutes

Public Policy vs Public Affairs - featured image

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Public Policy and Public Affairs are two of the most popular options for pursuing a career in public service. Although there are many similarities across these programs, there are also significant differences in curriculum, career outcomes, and concentration. 

Some students may prefer the more analytical and policy-focused approach of Public Policy programs, while others may be drawn to the broader, interdisciplinary perspective offered by Public Affairs programs. Prospective students must carefully research and compare programs to find the best fit for their academic and professional aspirations.

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

A Quick Look At the Differences Between Public Policy and Public Affairs

Let’s compare these two majors so you can make an informed choice on your academic and career aspirations!

Public PolicyPublic Affairs
Average Salaries$128,020$102,341
Job Growth 2022-20327 percent6 percent
Benefits to ClientsBring expertise in policy analysis and development, offering clients informed insights and strategies for navigating regulatory challenges and achieving policy objectives.Build strategic partnerships, manage public perception, and advocate for the client’s interests, thereby enhancing the organization’s reputation and influencing decision-making processes in its favor.
Education RequiredMaster’s in Public PolicyMaster’s in Public Affairs

What is Public Policy?

What is Public Policy - Image

Public Policy consists of laws, regulations, actions, and policies addressing a specific topic, shaped by education, advocacy, lobbyists, and special interest groups. It is a dynamic, complicated process that addresses public problems, ranging from political, economic, cultural, or social.

There are different types of Public Policy where you can work in: 

As an aspiring Public Policy professional, your specific job responsibilities will vary depending on which Public Policy you or your company is/are committed to. However, your primary duties will be:

Public Policy: Education and Career Path

If you want to land a career in Public Policy, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree directly related to the field. As an undergraduate, you gain a foundational knowledge of Political Science, Economics, Sociology, and Public Administration.

Public Policy majors take on these jobs:

Upon earning at least three years of practical experience in an entry-level Public Policy career, you should consider pursuing a master’s degree. The Master in Public Policy will be your starting point for career advancement. An MPP is a multidisciplinary, cross-sector program that trains and allows you to pursue a concentration, including:

An MPP’s core curriculum focuses on critical thinking, analytical skills, and data-driven decision-making. You can engage with professionals to analyze urgent policy problems and design effective solutions. You will be trained rigorously using the latest science and technology trends. 

An MPP degree, however, will not qualify you for research and academic positions. Instead, an MPP will help you pursue leadership roles, such as:

To teach at postsecondary institutions or lead research teams, you must get a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Policy. A PhD will also serve as a pathway to becoming a sociologist.

Public Policy ROI: Education Cost and Salaries 

The average cost to complete an undergraduate degree at a public higher education institution is $21,854. However, if you pursue a degree at a private institution, you can expect to spend an average of $47,940. More data from the NCES shows that the average cost for a graduate degree is $20,513.

The amount of time and money required to pursue degrees for a career in Public Policy may be substantial. However, upon landing higher-level positions, you will see a significant return on investment. You can pursue a career in almost any industry with a Public Policy degree.

Numerous job routes, including law, law enforcement, justice, lobbying, policy research, and advocacy, are available to those with a degree in Public Policy. 

According to the BLS, higher-level positions in Public Policy earn an average of $128,020. The field is also expected to grow 7 percent from 2022 to 2032. Moreover, the field of Public Policy has over 900,000 employed workers

A career in Public Policy is for you if: 

A career in Public Policy is Not A Great Fit if: 

What is Public Affairs?

What is Public Affairs - Image

Public Affairs is among the most critical aspects of running a business or organization. Before delving deeper, it’s essential to know that Public Affairs is different from Public Relations, although they both aim to effectively promote and manage the image and reputation of an organization. 

The Public Affairs Council defines Public Affairs as an organization’s efforts to monitor and control its business environment. It incorporates corporate citizenship, communications, government relations, and issue management techniques. 

The goals of Public Affairs are influencing Public Policy, cultivating and preserving close ties with elected officials, including legislators, and interacting with and keeping an eye on stakeholders.

As a Public Affairs officer, you mainly deal with non-corporate entities, including nonprofits, government agencies, and trade associations. You advocate for the interests and goals of the organization you represent and manage reputational dangers.

To do these, you need to understand crisis management, risk assessment, media relations, stakeholder engagement, reputation monitoring, and strategic communication.

Public Affairs: Education and Career Path

The first step for a career in Public Affairs is to obtain a bachelor’s degree covering professional ethics, speech, politics, and mass media topics. These courses are commonly found in Public Affairs and other closely related majors, such as Public Relations and Communications. 

A bachelor’s degree in Public Affairs will focus on developing skills that allow you to make a difference. This includes effective communication, political acumen, relationship building, project management, and media literacy skills.

You will learn the fundamentals of finance, budgeting, and policymaking. In addition, you can select a major and gain analytical and leadership abilities relevant to your chosen field of study. 

Some of the careers you can pursue with only a bachelor’s degree in Public Affairs include:

A master’s degree is crucial to pursue higher-level roles and open more career opportunities. So, you should consider a Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree, a program that blends academic theory with practical experience. This degree level aims to help you immediately impact the world. 

Most online MPA degrees are designed for candidates with relevant work experience of at least three years or at least have been involved in Public Affairs in some capacity. The coursework covers:

Research, Policy Analysis, and Policy Assessment may also receive a lot of attention in MPA courses.

Specialized concentrations are frequently offered in healthcare policy, nonprofit management, and education policy to meet various career goals. During your studies, you may also be required to complete an internship or other practical fieldwork to give you invaluable experience.

However, if you’re employed, you can leverage your current employment by seeking opportunities to get involved in relevant projects or committees within your organization. 

With a master’s degree in Public Affairs, you can apply for leadership positions. This includes:

The same rules apply to this field for a career in academia and research: you must obtain a Ph.D.

Public Affairs ROI: Education Cost and Salaries

Pursuing a bachelor’s degree, according to NCES, costs an average of $21,337. Depending on where you live, this amount can go higher or lower. On the other hand, graduate degrees in public institutions cost an average of $12,596 and $28,017 in private colleges and universities. 

Public Affairs careers offer rewarding opportunities for those seeking to make a difference, requiring creativity, communication skills, and maintaining a positive reputation. According to GlassDoor, the average annual pay in Public Affairs is $102,341. Moreover, the BLS data shows an employment increase of 6 percent from 2022 to 2032.

A career in Public Affairs is for you if: 

A career in Public Affairs is not a great fit if:

Public Policy vs Public Affairs - fact

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