Economics Degree vs Public Policy Degree: Which Masters to Choose
When I was about to receive my Bachelor diploma, I was confused. I knew where I wanted to work, but I didn’t know how to get there with a Degree in Law. I also knew that I needed to steer my professional training towards economics, but I didn’t know how. The problem was that I just didn’t have enough credits in any economics-related disciplines to meet the requirements of the majority of study programs available. After having weighed all the options, I made up my mind to apply for an MA in Public Policy and to try to focus on economics-related disciplines.
Public Policy classes are famous for interdisciplinary approaches, which can be seen both in the syllabus and in the backgrounds of students. Our class brought together not only social scientists (including a large number of economists), but also biologists, psychologists and others from more technically oriented programs. Some of us were aiming to enter governmental departments and international organizations, some were focused on the private sector and many of us were thinking about academic and research careers.
Any interdisciplinary approach is two-sided: on the one hand, what you can do is incredibly varied and one tends to possess a broad knowledge about a diversity of global issues. On the other hand, you are not a specialist in any specific field, and only relevant work experience might help you to build your professional profile. This was probably the main reason why a large proportion of students with considerable professional experience ended up working in the same field they had worked in before. In contrast, students who had less experience or broader educational background were more flexible in choosing their career path.
As I hoped, there was little chance to avoid economics in classes. The good thing was that the majority of theories were considered and taught in the context of the existing research in public policy. It brought a certain balance: students who majored in economics before could test already well-known concepts “in action”; and students who had little knowledge in economics would not completely sink in the theoretical aspect of an unfamiliar subject. While doing all the available introductory econ and stats classes in my first semester, each reminded me that I was not going to be an economist. Don’t get me wrong: I had no expectations that the degree in Public Policy would convert me into an economist. And in some ways, making this clear I was saved from a disappointment. The study program met my expectations: I developed an understanding of economic processes behind global development issues and became more comfortable with quantitative research methods.
Unfortunately, the degree created a trap for other students. One of my fellow classmates had already developed a strong interest in economics disciplines during his previous studies, even though he majored in Political Science. His abilities were proved by his outstanding performance in the subjects involving quantitative skills and he considered the Public Policy degree to be a bridge to his future career in Economics. After graduation he applied for numerous research positions for economists, being sure that he possessed the necessary skills and qualifications. It did not go to plan. Rather, he was not even considered for the vast majority of economics positions he applied for, as he didn’t have the right degree on paper, i.e. he didn’t have a degree in Economics.
So, which degree to chose: Public Policy of Economics? There are a few things to consider when it comes to the choice of advanced education. One should always remember that any diploma has its strengths and its limitations, and there are numerous other factors that shape your career path. As it happened in my case, you simply might not have that much choice due to application requirements. As it turned out, a Public Policy Degree did the trick for me: I managed to gain qualifications and accrue skills that I had previously lacked - although I was unable to compete with trained economists in the economics job market later. It probably did the trick for some economists as well, by offering a different perspective on already well-known issues and giving a chance for a slight career change. For those undecided, what you choose should depend on qualifications that you already possess, the knowledge you want to acquire, your general expectations from your Master Program and your career aims.