What is Public Policy?

Public policies are laws, regulations, decisions, and actions taken by governmental and non-governmental organizations to address social issues. As an academic discipline, public policy researchers seek to understand the development and causes of social problems, explain the political processes influencing which problems are addressed and how, design solutions to these problems, and evaluate these solutions.

Public policy problems of interest to UNC Public Policy faculty vary widely from global policy issues to domestic policy issues and include topics such as antitrust regulations, economic development, education, environment, health, human rights, immigration, poverty, and taxation.

What types of careers are there in public policy?

Students interested in public policy follow many career paths. Some combine their interests in public policy with interests in business, economics, journalism, law, management, politics, public health, or social work. Public policy students may seek careers working on research within universities or think tanks such as the Rand Corporation, the Urban Institute or the Brookings Institute. Others may pursue careers in politics and may work as lobbyists for for-profit businesses or policy advocates for non-profit organizations. Additionally, students may pursue careers as legislative analysts for state legislators or policy analysts for federal government organizations such as the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service. In general, a variety of both governmental and non-governmental organizations need help interpreting policies and advocating for innovation and change. Therefore, students of public policy with strong analytic and writing skills are always in high demand.

Rand Corporation, the Urban Institute or the Brookings Institute. Others may pursue careers in politics and may work as lobbyists for for-profit businesses or policy advocates for non-profit organizations. Additionally, students may pursue careers as legislative analysts for state legislators or policy analysts for federal government organizations such as the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service. In general, a variety of both governmental and non-governmental organizations need help interpreting policies and advocating for innovation and change. Therefore, students of public policy with strong analytic and writing skills are always in high demand.

Where can I find information about careers in public policy?

One of the best ways to learn more about careers in public policy is to speak with a faculty member in Public Policy. In addition, the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management(APPAM) provides information about careers in public policy on its website.

What are the current requirements for the public policy major?

Requirements for the public policy major differ slightly depending on what year you entered the university.  If the requirements for the major changed during your tenure at UNC, you must follow the guidelines in place for the year that you matriculated into UNC-Chapel Hill.  Please refer to the appropriate Undergraduate Bulletin for additional information on course requirements. Additional information on requirements to enter the Public Policy Honors program can be found in the Honors Advising Handbook available from the Student Services Manager.

How many public policy electives do I need to take to graduate with a major in public policy?

Two.  Students who complete a third elective will graduate with a public policy major and concentration in their field.  However, a third course is not required for graduation with a BA in public policy.  Students seeking to graduate with honors must complete a third elective course.  The first semester of the honors thesis research sequence (PLCY 691H) will count as a third elective.  Please see the honors handbook for more details.

How many public policy electives do I need to take to graduate with a minor in public policy?

The undergraduate minor in public policy consists of five courses. Students must complete at least four of the following core courses: ECON 310 or 410, or PLCY 410 Microeconomics Foundations of Public Policy; PLCY 210/210H Policy Innovation and Analysis; PLCY 220 The Politics of Public Policy; PLCY 340 Justice in Public Policy; PLCY 460 Quantitative Analysis for Public Policy; PLCY 681 Research Design.

Students must also complete one additional PLCY course at the 100 level or above. First-year and sophomore students considering a minor in public policy are encouraged to complete PLCY 101 or 110.

When will Policy 410 be offered?

PLCY 410 is a course on Microeconomic theory applied to public policy. It is currently not offered in the Department of Public Policy.  Public Policy majors should enroll in either ECON 310 or ECON 410.  Public Policy majors planning to obtain doctorates in public policy or economics should enroll in ECON 410.  Students interested in doctoral programs in public policy or economics should also complete coursework in differential calculus and multivariate calculus.

Who should enroll in Policy 460?

Sophomores, juniors, and seniors who are PLCY majors and minors should enroll in PLCY 460.  We strongly recommend that all majors complete PLCY 460 by the end of their junior year. Juniors who expect to complete an honors thesis must complete PLCY 460 and PLCY 581 by the end of their junior year and prior to enrollment in PLCY 691H. Please see the honors handbook for more details.

If I have taken upper level statistics courses, may I opt out of Policy 460?

No. All public policy majors are required to complete PLCY 460.  PLCY 460 focuses on applications of statistics to problems in public policy analysis.  Statistics courses in other majors focus on applications for those majors.

Is STOR 155 required?

No. UNC Public Policy strongly recommends students complete an introductory statistics course (STOR 155, ECON 400, PSYC 210, SOCI 252) prior to enrolling in PLCY 460, but it is not required.

What electives are available to students in Public Policy?

Students in public policy may choose an elective from a list of over 300 courses at UNC-Chapel Hill.  Please see the list of approved public policy elective courses in this packet.  If a student would like to take a course not currently on this list and a faculty member of public policy recommends the course, the student should complete the elective course approval form and submit the form to the student services manager.  If approved, the course will then be added to our list of approved elective courses. Students should submit requests for approval of new elective courses prior to enrolling in the course.

Can students receive elective credit for PLCY 293: Internship in Public Policy (formerly PLCY 320) or 393: Public Policy Clinic (formerly PLCY 325)?

No.  PLCY 293 and 393 count as experiential learning courses.  However, students are expected to complete additional course work for their public policy electives.

What are the requirements for enrolling in a masters or doctoral program in public policy?

Requirements vary. The most competitive masters programs strongly prefer students with college-level economics, statistics, and calculus. In addition, masters programs prefer students with at least 2-3 years full-time professional experience. Many doctoral programs in public policy require students to have completed at least one year of calculus, one semester of microeconomic theory with calculus, and a semester of statistics. Students considering a PhD in public policy should complete ECON 410 to satisfy the microeconomic theory requirement.

What is a field concentration?

A field concentration is a group of courses that are thematically linked. The Department provides descriptions of several common field concentrations that are recognized by researchers and employers in the field. However, students may also design their own, unique field concentrations which blend across those the Department provides.

How many electives do I need to take to have a field concentration?

The field concentration is optional. For a field concentration, you are required to complete a minimum of 3 electives. Three credits may be for a PLCY course at the 100- or 200- level. The remaining two elective course must be at the 300-level or above and must be on our list of currently approved courses. A list of currently approved courses is available in the undergraduate bulletin and from the Department’s student services manager. If a course that you would like to complete as an elective is not on this list, please complete the Elective Course Approval Form.

The elective/field course that I am most interested in is not listed on the approved list of courses. How can I get it added to the approved list?

New classes are continually being developed throughout the university. If a course that you are interested in as an elective is not currently on our approved list, please complete the Elective Course Approval Form. Most courses with relevance to public policy and taught at the 300-level and above can be approved as electives.

Who records my field concentration?

UNC Public Policy. The field concentration is not recorded on transcripts or diplomas but is identified in departmental records and can be stated by students on their resumes.

What is an honors thesis?

An honors thesis is substantial research project culminating in a written report of 30-100 pages. Students engaging in honors thesis research evaluate current public policy problems through a combination of qualitative and quantitative data collection activities and/or secondary data analysis of publicly available data. The honors thesis provides a total of six credit hours toward the major. Students completing an honors thesis enroll in PLCY 692H instead of PLCY 698 during the Fall or Spring semester of their senior year. More information on the honors thesis process is available here.

What are the requirements for graduating with honors or highest honors in public policy?

The requirements for honors are stated in the undergraduate bulletin and summarized in additional detail in the Honors Handbook.  Please see the Honors Handbook for these details.

Does the honors thesis count as an elective in public policy?

No. Students writing an honors thesis complete PLCY 692H as an alternative to PLCY 698. Students who enroll in PLCY 692H but who do not receive honors for their thesis research still receive credit for the course and can graduate with their peers. Students who enroll in PLCY 692H but who fail to complete their thesis or receive an incomplete in 692H will not be eligible to graduate. They must either complete the thesis or complete PLCY 698 in a subsequent semester. Therefore, we strongly discourage students from taking an incomplete in 692H. Grades of incomplete are treated as a 0.0 (i.e. an F) in the calculation of the GPA until they are completed. If not completed in the subsequent semester, incompletes become permanent Fs on the student’s record. If students are unsure of their capacity to complete an honors thesis in the required time frame, they should enroll in PLCY 698.

What type of honors or awards does UNC Public Policy offer to undergraduates?

The Department recognizes outstanding students in public policy through various different honors or awards:

  • One to two students are chosen from the graduating class each year to serve as the student speaker for the class. To be considered for student speaker, the Student Services Manager or DUS must receive a nomination letter for your candidacy by April 1.
  • One student who has received Highest Honors on their thesis research is selected to receive the Best Thesis Award. To be considered for best thesis, the Student Services Manager must receive a pdf copy of your thesis and a nomination for highest honors on or before April 1.
  • The Michael A. Stegman Award for Policy Research and Advocacy is given to honor one or more graduating seniors who best exemplify the values and legacy of Professor Michael Stegman, the first chair of UNC Public Policy.
  • The Kathy A. Taft Award is given to a rising or graduating senior majoring in public policy with an interest in and dedication to education policy.
  • The Hodding Carter III Public Service Fellowship was established in 2015 in honor of Hodding Carter III, the (Emeritus) University Professor of Leadership and Public Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill. The Fellowship supports opportunities for UNC undergraduate public policy majors to engage in public service opportunities in our communities, the American south, the nation and around the globe.
  • The Richard N. L. (“Pete”) Andrews Fund was established in 2015 in honor of Professor (Emeritus) Pete Andrews. The Andrews Fellowship is awarded to a rising junior majoring in public policy, environmental studies, environmental sciences or environmental health sciences with a demonstrated interest in and dedication to policy-related research and/or service related to solutions for local, state, national and/or global environmental challenges.

To be considered for any of these honors and awards, students must either nominate themselves or be nominated by a Public Policy student or faculty member. Because we do not always know about all the activities our students engage in, we very much welcome self-nominations. If you would like to be considered for an award, please do write a brief letter to the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS). In the letter, describe the work that you have done and tell us why we should consider you for one of our awards.

What funding opportunities are available through Public Policy?

There are many types of funding available through UNC Public Policy. You can find a list of all of our funding and awards here: http://publicpolicy.unc.edu/plcy_unc/awards/.

What are the requirements for getting on Dean's List?

To be eligible for the Dean’s List, students must meet one of the following requirements: (1) a 3.200 semester grade-point average with no grade lower than a C if enrolled in fifteen or more hours of letter-grade credit, exclusive of physical education activities courses; (2) a 3.500 grade-point average with no grade lower than a C if enrolled in at least twelve but fewer than fifteen hours of letter-grade credit, exclusive of physical education activities courses.

  • To be eligible for the Dean’s List, students must meet one of the following requirements: (1) a 3.200 semester grade-point average with no grade lower than a C if enrolled in fifteen or more hours of letter-grade credit, exclusive of physical education activities courses; (2) a 3.500 grade-point average with no grade lower than a C if enrolled in at least twelve but fewer than fifteen hours of letter-grade credit, exclusive of physical education activities courses.
I plan to take a public policy course at another university. Can I get this course pre-approved?

No. We cannot pre-approve transfer credits. To receive transfer credits, students must show that they have passed a course with a grade of C or better. However, the Director of Undergraduate Studies can review the syllabus for a course to be taken at another university and provide you with an indication of whether the course has sufficient public policy content to count as an elective for the major. However, the department is strict towards its approval of transfer substitutes for core courses.

I plan to study abroad. Will the course I take count towards my public policy major?

Perhaps. A study abroad course offered at the equivalent of the 300-level and above which has sufficient public policy content may count as an elective for the public policy major. However, because students must earn a minimum of a C (not C-) for any transfer course, final approval of study abroad courses cannot be provided until the transcript is received.

How do I obtain credit for a public policy course taken through a study abroad program or at any other university?

If a student would like to receive credit for an elective in public policy completed at another university or as part of their study abroad program, they need to provide a syllabus for the course for review by the Director of Undergraduate Studies and must have received a C or better in the course.  To receive approval of a transfer class, the student must complete the transfer credit request form available in this packet.

I would like to participate in research. What kinds of opportunities are there for undergraduate research?

All faculty in the Department of Public Policy engage in a substantial amount of research as part of their jobs. Several faculty provide opportunities for students to collaborate on research projects for credit as well as for pay. Depending on their skill level, students may be invited to assist with the management of data collection activities, conduct statistical and qualitative analysis of data, and draft reports or papers. To engage in research for credit students should work with faculty to design an independent study through PLCY 395 (see section on independent studies). To engage in research for pay, students should ask individual faculty if they have any positions available.

Additionally, students seeking experience are encouraged to develop unpaid internship experiences with faculty. The University also offers several other programs for students interested in gaining research experience. These include the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, the Carolina Research Scholar Program (CRSP), the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (MURAP), and the Carolina Population Center Summer Internship Program. For the most up-to-date information on undergraduate research opportunities at UNC-Chapel Hill, please see the Office of Undergraduate Research.

In addition, several leading think tanks offer summer undergraduate research programs for outstanding students in public policy. The Student Services Manager maintains records of these opportunities. Please see the Student Services Manager for more details.

  • All faculty in the Department of Public Policy engage in a substantial amount of research as part of their jobs. Several faculty provide opportunities for students to collaborate on research projects for credit as well as for pay. Depending on their skill level, students may be invited to assist with the management of data collection activities, conduct statistical and qualitative analysis of data, and draft reports or papers. To engage in research for credit students should work with faculty to design an independent study through PLCY 395 (see section on independent studies). To engage in research for pay, students should ask individual faculty if they have any positions available.
  • Additionally, students seeking experience are encouraged to develop unpaid internship experiences with faculty. The University also offers several other programs for students interested in gaining research experience. These include the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, the Carolina Research Scholar Program (CRSP), the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (MURAP), and the Carolina Population Center Summer Internship Program. For the most up-to-date information on undergraduate research opportunities at UNC-Chapel Hill, please see the Office of Undergraduate Research.

In addition, several leading think tanks offer summer undergraduate research programs for outstanding students in public policy. The Student Services Manager maintains records of these opportunities. Please see the Student Services Manager for more details.

  • To design an independent study, you will need to write a syllabus outlining the objectives of your course; the readings you will complete; and the research and writing you will undertake. It is up to the supervising instructor in consultation with the student to decide exactly how much reading and possibly outside work is to be done by the student, how often the two will meet to discuss what is being accomplished in the course, and what papers or examinations will be a part of the course. Some reading and written work involving policy analysis must be done to receive credit for this course.
Can I receive elective credit for independent studies?

Yes. Students may receive up to 3 credits for an elective in public policy from an independent study.  Independent studies are intended for advanced material not available through regularly offered classes at the university. Students who have completed existing courses in a topic area and would like to pursue more intensive research and study in collaboration with a faculty member in the department should consider an independent study.

Students wishing to complete an independent study should carefully think through the purposes and substance of their independent studies, and work with their supervising instructor in developing a formal syllabus (a “learning contract”) for the course.  It is up to the supervising instructor in consultation with the student to decide exactly how much reading and possibly outside work is to be done by the student, how often the two will meet to discuss what is being accomplished in the course, and what papers or examinations will be a part of the course.  Some reading and written work involving policy analysis must be done to receive credit for this course.

PLCY 396, 496, 596 titled “Independent Study/Reading in Public Policy,” may be taken for 1-3 hours of credit, depending on the amount of academic work to be done by the student.  (Alternatively, a student may take PLCY 395, “Research in Public Policy,” for 1-3 credit hours, wherein students generally collaborate with public policy faculty in an on-going research project in public policy.) To receive elective credit for an independent study, the faculty member and student must complete the independent study proposal form in this packet and return it to the Student Services Manager. Independent studies must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies prior to enrollment.