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Determining whether a policy degree or a business degree is the better option for you ultimately depends on your professional goals and personal motivations.

You may be contemplating which graduate degree is best for you: a policy degree or a business degree. Both are versatile professional degrees that will prepare you for a broad range of positions. You'll learn valuable skills—strategic thinking, leadership and management, and negotiation, for example—in either type of program.

Determining which degree is the better option for you ultimately depends on your professional goals and personal motivations. Here are some helpful questions to consider as you decide which kind of professional degree to pursue. 

What are your career goals?

Do you want to work in a government setting or in a corporate setting? Do you aspire to be a non-profit leader or a business leader? Are you more interested in being a policy analyst or a financial analyst?

A Master in Public Policy (MPP) or Master in Public Administration (MPA) will provide you with specialized instruction and training for leadership positions in local and federal government, as well as nonprofits, NGOs, and IGOs. Generally speaking, a business degree such as a Master in Business Administration (MBA) will prepare you for a career in the private sector. 

If you are committed to serving the public interest and your ultimate goal is to pursue a career in the public or nonprofit sectors, an MPP and MPA may be ideal. That said, many of the skills you will obtain in a public policy or public administration program are relevant in any sector. In fact, a number of HKS graduates enter the private sector each year.

If you’re still figuring out your career goals, spend some time identifying a handful of job titles that are of interest to you. Browse job listings on LinkedIn to see what skills those jobs demand and look at profiles of professionals in those roles to see what degrees they hold. This could be a helpful exercise for identifying which degree you should pursue.

What motivates you?

Reflecting on what motivates you can help inform which type of program suits you best. Consider which of these would motivate you more:

  • Shaping public policy or shaping business strategies?
  • Driving societal change or driving corporate growth?
  • Increasing public welfare or increasing return on investment?
  • Developing advocacy campaigns or developing market strategies?
  • Meeting public needs or meeting consumer demand?

If the former options spark more excitement, you may find that a policy degree is in closer alignment with your personal motivations.  

Who do you want to network with?

The connections you make in a graduate program are invaluable, so you should also consider the kinds of networking opportunities that will be available to you.

In a policy program, you’ll have an abundance of opportunities to meet government officials, policy experts, and nonprofit leaders. As an HKS student, you’ll have access a vast alumni network and fellow students who share a commitment to the making a difference in the world. Our Office of Career Advancement facilitates networking opportunities through its Career Chats program and events with alumni, fellows, and Executive Education participants. Meanwhile, our research centers frequently host events with leading experts on a wide range of policy areas. 

Can you pursue both?  

In short, yes. If you’ve done your research and find that your interests lie at the intersection of public policy and business, you might consider a combined degree. Combined degree programs allow you to earn two degrees in less time than it would take to complete them consecutively, through reduced coursework and residency requirements.

If you are interested in pursuing an MPP and MBA, for example, it would typically take you four years to earn both—two for an MPP, two for an MBA. As a joint or concurrent degree candidate, you would earn both degrees in three years.

If you are not interested in pursuing both degrees but would still like to take courses in both policy and business, cross-registering into courses at Harvard Business School or MIT Sloan is an option for HKS students as well.  

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