Career Guide


The Public Policy and Administration major is offered through the Department of Political Science, within the College of Arts & Letters.


Public Management
Public Policy

Admission and Progression Standards

Visit the Major Snapshots site to learn more about the admission and progression standards of this major.

Description of Major

The major in public policy and administration provides students with a general foundation in the nature of public policy, the public workplace and its political and legal environments. This program consists of a core of courses offering general knowledge essential for understanding and working in the public arena. This core provides students with an appreciation of the political culture of public work, the economic environment of public work, measurement techniques and a basic understanding of the policy process.

Students are offered a choice between two concentration options: public policy or public management. In the Public Policy concentration students acquire knowledge of the nature, dynamics, implementation and substance of public policy and its analysis. The Public Management concentration emphasizes government institutions, administrative process, and technical skill development.

In addition, courses in both concentrations heighten student's critical, analytical and communication skills through case studies, exercises and the intensive writing requirement. The public policy concentration requires a senior capstone experience which seeks to bring policy and analytical skills to bear on a practical issue of public policy. Public management students must complete the dual capstone requirements of a public management seminar and an internship, requiring an integration of knowledge from both general studies and major studies by focusing students on specific cases and workplace applications.

Because the public administration major develops techniques and skills applicable to varied career paths in public service, students are encouraged to choose a complementary minor with a narrower, substantive focus.

Interested students may apply to participate in the Fifth year Master of Public Administration degree program, which allows qualified students to earn an M.P.A. degree with one additional year of study. Students should apply for this program in their sophomore year. See the JMU Graduate Catalog for more information.

The Political Science Department also offers a major and minor in Political Science, a major in International Affairs, a minor in Public Policy and Administration, and a minor in Political Communication.

More About the Field 

Public Policy and Administration typically involves the management and coordination of day-to-day operations of a public agency, including hiring, delegating responsibilities, and preparing the annual budget. Public administrators are called on by legislators to use their expertise to assist them in designing policy proposals that create or change government services. For example, the elected officials of a community decide what services a community will provide while the public administrator decides how best to deliver these services. Administrators are not only concerned with the day-to-day responsibilities of running government, but they must also plan for the future. Administrators and policy makers must be prepared to deal with changing federal and state regulations and tax rates, as well as population and other demographic shifts. Moreover, they need to be prepared for changes in the economic climate that can dramatically affect public service demands.


Public administrators work in numerous settings, such as the military, the White House, Yellowstone Park, the state capital, and the community center down the street. Individuals in this field can specialize in local, state or federal government or in a community or non-profit agency. Public administrators working in federal agencies and departments, for example, may manage processes to collect taxes, arm the military, conduct foreign policy, perform scientific research, tabulate the census, support the arts or administer Social Security benefits. Administrators in state government are charged, among other things, to establish state services like public universities and emergency planning and management. Through local governments, states provide for police, education, recreation programs, waste management, roads, jails, prisons, and other services to citizens. Nonprofit organizations also employ administrators responsible for the development and implementation for the development and implementation of a wide variety of programs – ranging from social services (e.g. American Red Cross) to membership organizations (e.g.AARPP).

Complementary Majors and Minors 

Since the public administration major is of broad application, students are encouraged to choose a complementary minor with a narrower, applied focus. The minors recommended for students consideration include Communication Studies, Computer Science, Conflict Analysis and Intervention, Criminal Justice, Economics, Environmental Information Systems, Environmental Management, Environmental Studies, Family Studies, Gerontology, Health Communication, Human Resource Development, Human Science, Integrated Science and Technology, Management Science, Modern Foreign Language, Non-profit Studies, Political Communication, Substance Abuse Intervention, Sociology, Urban and Regional Studies, Women's Studies, or Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication.

Characteristics of Successful Students

Naturally, success in our program comes more easily to those students with a keen interest in public service in its various forms. Students involved in leadership roles in student government or other student organizations may find Public Policy and Administration appealing, as will students interested in government and politics.


Many graduates choose typical career paths associated with this major. However, some graduates choose unrelated careers that utilize skills and experiences developed during their years in college. Keep in mind, that some fields will require graduate study or further training. The listing below offers examples of possible career paths and is not meant to be comprehensive.

  • Advisor
  • Airport Manager
  • Building Code Compliance Officer
  • Campaign Manager
  • Chamber of Commerce Director
  • Child Welfare Administrator
  • City Manager / City Planner
  • College Student Services Director
  • Community Affairs Director
  • Community Development Advisor
  • Community Services Director
  • Comptroller
  • Consumer Advocate
  • Cultural Affairs Director
  • Donor Relations Assistant
  • Education Administrator
  • Environmental Management
  • EPA Administrator
  • Field Office Manager
  • Financial Manager
  • Government Contractor
  • Government Officer
  • Hospital Administrator
  • Human Resources Manager
  • Legislator
  • Lobbyist
  • Mayor
  • Mediator
  • Member Services Coordinator
  • Negotiator
  • Park Manager
  • Patent Office Manager
  • Policy Analyst
  • Political Consultant
  • Politician
  • Presidential Advisor
  • Professor
  • Program Evaluator
  • Public Administrator
  • Public Advocate
  • Public Affairs Director
  • Public Housing Administrator
  • Public Interest Group Director
  • Public Relations Specialist
  • Public Safety Director
  • Public Works Administrator
  • Risk Analyst
  • Sales Representative
  • Security Specialist
  • Speech Writer
  • Urban/Regional Planner

Who Employs Graduates?

Federal, Local, State Government Administrative Agencies, such as, Budget Analysis, City Management, Commerce, Community Affairs, Defense, Education, Energy, Financial Administration, General Services, Health and Human Services, Labor, or Urban Planning

Federal and State Government Legislative Services, such as, Auditing, Billing Draft Services, Budgeting, General Accounting Office, Government Printing Office, Legislative Councils, Legislative Reference Services, Library of Congress, or Staff to Legislators

Independent Government Agencies, such as, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Office of Personnel Management, Securities and Exchange Commission, Smithsonian Institution or U.S. Postal Service

Other employers include Charitable Organizations, Colleges/Universities, Community Service Agencies, Consulting Firms, Government Contractors, Healthcare Facilities, Hospitals, Lobbying Organizations, Nonprofit Agencies, Nursing Homes, Political Parties, Professional Associations, Public Action Committees, Public Interest Groups, Public/Private Schools or Think Tanks.

Internships and Experiential Opportunities 

Students concentrating in public management and PAA minors must complete an internship with a governmental or non-profit organization. Students in the public policy concentration, as well as all majors in the Political Science Department, may do an internship as an elective in the major. The department has a very strong internship program that has earned a regional reputation for quality. Four credits are earned in PAA 496 (Internship in Public Policy and Administration) for 200 hours of practical experience under faculty supervision. The internship provides students an opportunity to refine career goals, develop job contacts and obtain references for future employment applications. An internship coordinator assists students in locating appropriate internships; however, the ultimate responsibility for securing the internship resides with the student. Students also have the option of pursuing federal government and international internships by participating in the Washington Semester program.

View our list of internship coordinators for each major.

Career Profiles 

Human Resources Specialists and Labor Relations Specialists
Political Scientists
Urban and Regional Planners
A Day in the Life of a City Planner
A Day in the Life of a Property Manager 

Additional Resources to Research Careers
  • Handshake: view new internships and jobs that employers are looking to hire JMU students from your major 
  • Career Outcomes: see where alumni worked or studied right after graduating.
  • GoinGlobal: learn more about employment opportunities overseas as well as H1B visa information for international Dukes pursuing jobs in the U.S.
  • O*NET: browse occupational profiles to learn about thousands of different careers, pulling data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 
  • CareerOneStop: explore thousands of different careers by looking at career profiles 
  • Utilize the LinkedIn Alumni tool to see what others have done with their majors and what their career paths look like. Reach out to alumni via LinkedIn and conduct an informational interview.

© University Career Center, James Madison University

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission from the JMU University Career Center. Content for each major has been written/reviewed by faculty in the respective department and is revised each year. Requests to update content can be submitted to

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