CM’s Guide to the Policy Studies Major

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Every community faces problems from too many potholes to too much smoke in the air. The policy studies major gives you a start in making your local and global community better. Think community service is all doing good and nothing about doing well yourself? That’s where you’re wrong: bring in some cash money with this major while channeling your inner Joe Biden (minus the memes).

What You’ll Be Doing

Policy studies gives students the tools to identify issues and problems within the community to create strategies to  and propose solutions to eradicate them. Policy studies transforms you into a public servant for the community: think of legends like Barack Obama and Leslie Knope. “They require us to actually work for non-profits or governments,” Bianca Castro, a sophomore policy studies major at the Maxwell school at Syracuse University said. “It’s not a theoretical class where you write essays; it’s a major that requires you to identify social problems in the community, in a business, on campus and create proposals or programs to help reduce those problems. We learn about different government tools to reduce these problems: taxes, grants, security measures, vouchers and so on.” Here’s an example students understand very well every time the weekend (maybe even earlier on a boisterous week) rolls around: “Let’s say at SU [or your college], the underage drinking is a problem. A policy studies major would look at that and think about what policy could reduce this problem, and so they could propose banning stores selling alcohol within a certain mile radius of SU,” Castro said. Get ready to master technical writing for grants, systematic evaluation and the biggie: mastering Excel sheets.

The Classes You’ll Take

Policy studies and public affairs classes focus on policy analysis, management, economics, management and leadership. Classes like research methods teach you the ropes of gathering demographic information that leads to specific policies. Most core classes include a mix of political science, number classes like statistics and economics and social science courses. For example, at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at University of Michigan, you can take policy seminars like Climate Change Governance, K-12 education and U.S Social Welfare Policy.

Internship Opportunities


As a survey intern, you create a database of demographic, attitudinal and factual questions and then interpret the results. “It ranges: you can be working at a Fortune500 company or at a non-profit,” Castro said. But before you start changing polices, you should know how they work in the field. Which is why Storholm interned as a substitute teacher. “I can see how the education system works before I try to implement policy around it,” she said. Or public studies majors can help build Excel spreadsheets and collect data for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, or for an organization that aids veterans, like Tiny Homes.

Career Opportunities

1. Consultant:

Dig your hands into the grunt work that could later give you a leg up in drafting policy. Learn about surveying populations, determining their needs and writing a report for your client to tell them what direction they should go in. “I am leaning towards energy consulting. I would work for say, a company that manufactures and sells solar panels. I could work for them, market them, help them comply with market regulations. I also could work with sustainability department of a Fortune500 company and help them comply with government regulations. I want to interpret government policy on the environment and help people realistically comply with them,” Storholm said.

2. Non-profit management:

As a manager, you work on one specific issue and advocate and recommend policies to improve the conditions of the population you serve. For instance, take the issue of teen pregnancy: you could be working for Planned Parenthood, advocating for women’s rights, health, funding and services.

3. Policy-maker:

If managing and consulting seem a little less proactive, why not draft policy yourself? A policy-maker makes the rules in government about how children are educated and eventhe rules for Target’s Black Friday. A policy-maker identifies a problem and set about finding that lightbulb over their head for a solution.

4. Teach for America:

Professor Coplin said about 10 percent of public studies students go into Teach for America or the Peace Corp. Students form the grassroots of change in Teach for America classrooms, teaching classes like mathematics and  reading while still learning themselves. According to the Teach for America website, a recent study showed that TFA members perform just as well with 1.7 years of experience as a teacher in the same school with 13.6 years of experience.

5. Corporate and Sales:

The best part of being a policy studies major? You pick up skills that fit just about every organization, like that one pair of jeans that never lets you down and goes with all your shirts. That’s the kind of thinking that gets policy studies majors succeeding even outside drafting policy and consulting. Leadership and management forms a big part of public affairs graduate programs at universities like University of California and Harvard. Public policy majors can succeed in a staffing firm finding people to fill jobs and deciding who is going to get the “Hired!” call. Policy majors understand how to assess the culture, demographics and needs of a company to find the perfect person for the job.


“15/10! It’s taught me so much about life, my career, the workforce and service and helping the community. Service, skills, empowerment, being proactive and taking action–those are values that I have as a person and I want my work to share similar values.”–Bianca Castro, Syracuse University, Class of 2019

“It’s one of the most practical majors here. The skills that you learn you actually use. Not only do we learn about policy and how to implement and write policy, but we also learn how to use Excel, how to communicate and be a person someone wants to deal with. You could have the best policy ideas, but if you can’t get hired to work with people who can push that policy, it can never get done. Personally, the program has taught me incredible communications and time management skills and how to be a confident leader.”–Mary Storholm, Syracuse University, Class of 2019

“Prof. Coplin, the director of the program, holds his students to high expectations, which is his unspoken word that he believes we can develop skills to leave our communities better than we found them. I love how it encourages me to be involved with the Onondaga County and acknowledge the issues of the place where I study. It makes me serve people and organizations that need an extra hand.”–Damia Mendoza, Syracuse University, Class of 2019

I’m a full-time sophomore studying magazine journalism at Syracuse University and part-time author of a constant stream of #randomthoughts residing in my brain that will probably never be printed. Keeping hopes up for an audiobook, though.

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