The University of Massachusetts Amherst

What Is Public Policy?

Picture of Students Studying

What Is the Public Policy Major?

Public policy is a great major for someone who wants to make a positive impact in the world. It looks at what the government does, doesn’t do, and could do to address public problems such as climate change, healthcare, education, immigration, policing, technology, sustainable development, and more. Majors think about how the government, nonprofits, the private sector, and individuals interface to tackle these societal issues. They may take leadership and management courses, so they are poised to lead public agencies or to create and manage nonprofit organizations and social enterprises.

How Do Public Policy Majors Affect Change?

Policies have a real impact on people’s everyday lives. Take, for example, the problem of higher education affordability.  A public policy major would learn how the political environment and federal branches of government impact higher education policy passage and implementation, utilize economic concepts to understand public funding and market conditions that led to the rise in cost, and analyze data on race/ethnicity, gender, and class to fully understand the problem. They would learn how to manage public programs, so they could work at the Department of Education implementing a loan forgiveness program. They would learn how to be effective leaders, so they could offer college debt counseling at a nonprofit. They would learn managerial skills, so they could start a social enterprise to provide emergency loans to students.  

Our students have dreams of social change, and we will help them build a toolbox to come up with creative solutions, assess their feasibility, and hone their writing and presentation skills to persuade others to join in support.  They are able to take management classes specifically designed for social mission organizations. 

What Are the Program Specifics?

The major in public policy helps students understand and address complex policy issues from broadband access in rural areas to how to combat global climate change. The major requires foundational courses such as statistics and microeconomics. It also allows for 20-credits of electives based on a student’s interests within a range of public policy areas and contexts—public, nonprofit, and social enterprise management. 

In the senior capstone project, you will bring together your skills and knowledge to help solve real-world policy and management problems. There are an array of capstone options from a team consulting project for a government or nonprofit organization to collaborating with a School of Public Policy faculty member on a university research project to developing an independent project or thesis. Whichever you choose, it will help you bridge from college into your professional career.

What Are Career Options with a Public Policy Degree?

We provide career services, including a professional development seminar, internship support, job placement support, mentorship, and an engaged alumni network. With your public policy degree, you can go on to work in government or nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and abroad. You may decide to start your own social enterprise, or you may continue on to graduate school. The public policy major provides a solid foundation for law school, doctoral programs, and an array of professional masters programs in public policy and management, education, public health, and business.