How to Become a Public Policy Analyst

There are various avenues to follow when pursuing a career in public policy analysis. Those who want to become a policy analyst may work with public policy programs and use a wide range of skills. The specific skills that candidates require greatly depend on the field that they plan on specializing in.

What Does a Policy Analyst Do?

Policy analysts form a niche occupation in the greater field of political science. Their role is to evaluate current policies and events for organizations that have an interest in and that are affected by policies. These organizations include labor unions, political groups and the government.

Policy analysts may use information that they gather and interpret from various sources, including public opinion surveys, economic data and election results. They may use this data to infer how the implementation of new policies or changes to existing policies will be received and how they will affect various players. What is public policy analysis in particular? This field focuses specifically on analyzing, evaluating and suggesting improvements to policies that affect the public.

Public Policy vs. Political Analyst

Political analysts may also be referred to as political scientists. What does a political analyst do? That can vary depending on the role and specific employer, but one may research and analyze governmental bodies, political ideology, policies, trends and even foreign relations. On the other hand, public policy analysts are a subfield that falls under political scientists, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Policy analysts help determine how implementing new practices may affect organizations. 

Why Study Public Policy?

When considering whether to study public policy, one might wonder, “Why is public policy important?” Public policy issues touch each and every person. The importance of public policy analysts should not be underestimated. These individuals are not only responsible for conducting public policy analysis, but they also work with other key role players to come up with different (and perhaps better) alternatives to policies that are already in place. They also may play key roles in developing new policies.

You may want to study public policy if you think you would enjoy:

  • Conducting and analyzing data from local public opinion surveys.
  • Staying up to date with the latest events, policies and other related topics.
  • Collecting voter registration data to uncover nationwide voting trends. 
  • Forecasting other political, social and economic trends.
  • Publishing research results through articles or presentations.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Public Policy Analyst?

Because there is no specific degree or qualification required to become a public policy analyst, the time it takes to achieve the position will vary from person to person. Most political scientists have a master’s or even a PhD. Some policy analysts may gain entry-level employment with a bachelor’s degree. Those seeking entry-level employment may consider strengthening their candidacy with internships or volunteer work in addition to short courses in policy-related topics. This means it could take as few as four years and a bachelor’s degree to become a public policy analyst or many more if pursuing a terminal degree. 

Policy Analyst Education Requirements

There isn’t one specific degree that must be obtained to pursue a career as a public policy analyst. There are some skills that may be helpful in the job, like analyzing both quantitative and qualitative data. As there are many paths to a career in policy analysis, candidates could consider completing a Master of Public Administration (MPA), Master of Public Policy (MPP), or Master of Public Affairs degree. These degrees have a core offering that includes research methods, statistics, program evaluation and policy formation. A public policy analyst could also hold a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. While these advanced degrees are beneficial, candidates with a bachelor’s degree could also be eligible for entry-level positions.

Steps to Becoming a Public Policy Analyst

There is not a specific route to follow when pursuing a career as a public policy analyst. Instead, candidates typically obtain fundamental education relating to research and statistics along with studies in political science.

1. Obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Entry-level workers are encouraged to pursue an undergraduate degree in political science, writing or statistics. These candidates may benefit from participating in internships or volunteer work where they can apply their academic knowledge and expand their experience and skillset.

2. Gain work experience.

Those with a bachelor’s degree and suggested experience through internships or volunteer work may seek entry-level employment in political science. Entry-level roles may include assistants or research assistants for research organizations, political campaigns or nonprofit organizations as well as some government positions.

3. Consider a master’s degree.

Those who are looking at advancing in the political science field may consider completing a Master of Public Administration, Master of Public Policy or Master of Public Affairs degree. Students may also complete master’s degrees in political science, international relations or other applied political science specialties.

4. Think about pursuing a PhD

Individuals who are interested in pursuing an advanced career in political science may consider completing a PhD. These candidates may complete a PhD in one of four subfields, including national politics, comparative politics, international relations or political theory.

4 Skills That Public Policy Analysts Use Every Day

A public policy analyst may find it helpful to be able to draw from a variety of skills. While there are particular skills that may be required for specialized positions, there are a few that most people in a political analysis role may use often.

1. Analytical skills

Public policy analysts work with qualitative and quantitative research. They may be required to design and deploy research projects. Once they have gathered the relevant data, they may need to evaluate and interpret it in order to present their findings to key role players.

2. Communication skills

Public policy analysts may be required to collaborate with other researchers and decision-makers as well as members of the public. They may also write reports and give presentations to deliver their findings to different audiences.

3. Creativity

Part of the role of a public policy analyst is to stay up to date on political subjects. They are also tasked with devising new and novel ways to look at and address issues. Both of these tasks can be aided by creative thinking and a sense of curiosity. 

4. Critical-thinking skills

A public policy analyst may want to be able to scrutinize, analyze and interpret data in order to infer logical and sound conclusions from the information provided.

Why Become a Policy Analyst?

The political science field is predicted to see a 9% growth between 2020 and 2030. The industries that employ political scientists in general, and public policy analysts in particular, vary widely. According to the BLS, some of the top industries include professional and scientific services, the federal government, and religious, grantmaking and civic organizations.

A career in public policy analysis might offer an individual the opportunity to work at the foundation level where public policies are investigated, analyzed, and changed or improved. Candidates who are able to work independently and with integrity while taking initiative may find they succeed in this role. Similarly, persons who have strong analytical and critical thinking skills and a strong drive for personal achievement might thrive as a policy analyst. 

Public Policy Analyst Careers and Salary

The median annual public policy analyst salary in the United States was $122,510 in 2021, according to the BLS, which classifies public policy analysts under political scientists. Public policy careers may be sought after, which means that might be competition in the field. Nonetheless, various industries offer policy analyst careers, and analyst jobs are predicted to see a higher than average growth in the coming years.

Many of those with a background in political science may go on to become postsecondary teachers and high school teachers. They might also transition into becoming economists, historians, market research analysts or even urban and regional planners. 

If you are interested in working in a growing field in which you can affect change, especially if you may want to work in government, a career as a public policy analyst may be a good fit. 

*Last updated April 2022