Skip to main content

Frequently Asked Questions

Definition of Policy and Career Options

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.

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.

Current Requirements

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 enrolled into UNC-Chapel Hill. Please refer to the appropriate Undergraduate Catalog 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 for the public policy major can elect to graduate with a concentration in their field. However, a third course is not required for graduation with a BA in public policy. You can find a list of approved electives for the public policy major in the Catalog.

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: PLCY 310, ECON 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 581 Research Design.

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

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, available in the Catalog. If you would like to receive elective credit for a course at the 300 level or above not currently on this list, and you think the course is policy-relevant, complete the elective course approval form. 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.

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.
However, if you have taken one of the following combinations of courses, you can fulfill the PLCY 460 requirement:
(a) ECON 400 and ECON 470
(b) ECON 400 and ECON 570

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.


I'm planning to do an internship that will involve policy analysis. Can I get academic credit?

Public Policy majors or minors who complete a internship focused on academically relevant policy research can enroll in PLCY 293. PLCY 293 fulfills the IDEAs in Action “High-Impact Experience” requirement but does not count as elective credit toward the Public Policy major or minor. Interested students should review the PLCY 293 application and PLCY 293 syllabus. Please note that you must submit your application before your internship begins or before the last day of course registration, whichever comes first. If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Anna Krome-Lukens prior to the start of the internship.

Can I use PLCY 293 as elective credit toward the Public Policy major or minor?

No. PLCY 293 counts as an experiential learning course, but students are expected to complete additional course work for their public policy electives.

MPP Dual-Degree Program

What is the MPP dual-degree?

The dual-degree is an accelerated program that allows students to earn a Master of Public Policy in only one additional year. The degree requires 48 credits, and students may begin taking MPP courses during senior year. Up to 12 credits may be completed as an undergraduate and double count toward both the undergraduate and the graduate degree. The MPP requires a professional internship/work experience. The UNC MPP is the first program in the UNC system and is the only public MPP offered in the state of North Carolina.

What are the requirements for enrolling in the MPP?

The program has four prerequisites: ECON 101, PLCY 210/210H, PLCY 460, and PLCY 581. We welcome students from all majors and backgrounds, and you are not required to major or minor in Public Policy to be eligible to apply. Admission is competitive and an application to the UNC Graduate School is required.

Where can I find more information?

Please visit the UNC MPP website for more information, including a curriculum checklist, cost of attendance, and a link to apply to the program.


Field Concentrations

What is a field concentration?

A field concentration is a group of courses that are thematically linked. The Department lists several common field concentrations that are recognized by researchers and employers in the field, including education and labor markets; environment and human welfare; innovation and entrepreneurship/science and technology policy; social policy and inequality; health policy; bioethics and human rights; international development policy; global conflict and cooperation. 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. One course (three credits) may be for a PLCY course at the 100- or 200- level. The remaining two elective courses 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 Catalog (click “Public Policy Elective Course List” near the bottom).

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.

Honors Courses

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 Catalog 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?

The first course in the honors thesis research sequence, PLCY 691H, counts as a third elective for the public policy major.

What if I start an honors thesis but don’t finish it?
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.

Honors and Awards

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

The Department recognizes outstanding students in public policy through various honors and awards. 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. For up-to-date information on award deadlines and application processes, visit Honors and 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.
What funding opportunities are available through Public Policy?

There are many types of funding available through UNC Public Policy. For up-to-date information on award deadlines and application processes, visit Honors and Awards.

Funding opportunities include:

  • 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.
  • The Thomas W. Ross North Carolina Leadership Fellows Program recognizes passionate and accomplished Public Policy majors who want to work within any sector (public, higher education, philanthropy, non-profit) and seek to advance ideas that improve the quality of life for North Carolinians. In consultation with a prospective mentor at a host organization, Ross Leadership Fellows will propose a plan of action that addresses a challenge or problem facing North Carolina. Ross Leadership Fellows will develop their professional skills in a public service environment while deepening their academic learning through hands-on experience.
What are the requirements for getting on Dean's List?

To be eligible for the Dean’s List, full-time students who enter the University as first-time, first-year students beginning in fall 2010 must meet the following requirement:

  • A 3.500 grade point average with no grade lower than a C and enrollment in at least 12 hours of letter-grade credit, exclusive of physical education activities (PHYA) courses.

The grade point average is based on the grades received and recorded by the Office of the University Registrar at the time the Dean’s List is published. No changes are permitted to the Dean’s List after that date.

  • 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.

Study Abroad and Transfer Credits

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?

Please visit the UNC Study Abroad website to learn more about the credit review process. To receive elective credit toward the major or minor in Public Policy for a course taken abroad, you will need to submit a full syllabus for the course that includes information about the dates, days, and times the course met and a description of assigned reading and grading assignments/exams. If all of this information is not included on the syllabus, please provide the information in your notes and include supporting documentation. The Public Policy department rarely awards transfer credit for core courses in the public policy major or minor. Approval requires that the course material in the course taken abroad be nearly identical to that of the department’s required course. If you are requesting credit for a core course, please provide substantial documentation of course content and assignments (e.g., written work) completed.

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. The department is very unlikely to approve transfer substitutes for core courses.

Research and Independent Studies

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 your skill level, you might be invited to assist with the management of data collection activities, conduct statistical and qualitative analysis of data, or draft reports or papers. To engage in research for credit you should work with faculty to design an independent study through PLCY 395 (see section on independent studies). To engage in research for pay, you 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 for 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.

Can I receive elective credit for independent studies?

Yes. You may receive up to 3 credits for an elective in public policy for 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. 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 you plan to complete. (Alternatively, you may take PLCY 395, “Research in Public Policy,” for 1-3 credit hours; in this course students generally collaborate with public policy faculty in an on-going research project in public policy.)

If you wish to complete an independent study, please review the independent study proposal form. It asks you to carefully think through the purposes and substance of your independent studies, and work with your supervising instructor to develop a formal syllabus (a “learning contract”) for the course.  It is up to the supervising instructor, in consultation with you, to decide exactly how much reading and outside work you will do, how often you will meet to discuss what is being accomplished in the course, and what papers or examinations you will complete. You must do some reading and written work involving policy analysis to receive credit for this course.

To receive enroll in an independent study, you and your faculty member must complete the independent study proposal form and return it to the Student Services Manager. Independent studies must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies prior to enrollment.

The Robertson Scholars Program

I am a Robertson Scholar. Can any of the courses I take at Duke count towards the major or minor?

Perhaps. Some of the courses offered in Public Policy and Economics at Duke may be suitable replacements for UNC PLCY core classes or be acceptable as electives. To see if a particular Duke course is suitable as either a replacement for a core class or as an elective, please fill out this form. Please note that the Director of Undergraduate Studies will not approve a substitute for a core class unless it is nearly identical to the core class taught at UNC.