Choosing To Major In Public Policy

What You Can Learn From Former PPS Students

The original graduating class of PUBPOL undergraduate majors in 1974 had four students. From that start the department has graduated more than 2,500 undergraduate majors.

Here are some things that PUBPOL alums have said about the major:

  • The interdisciplinary nature of the major and the chance to construct their own course of study.
  • The analytical tools taught in PPS 155, including decision analysis and negotiation tactics.
  • Learning to write a concise memo. Alums working in law, business, and government all stress the importance of writing skills to their jobs.
  • The ethics classes, which forced students to think about their roles in society and pushed them to learn to communicate their ideas.  
  • Some expressed regret that they had not written a thesis.

Students who wrote an honors thesis mentioned it as the highlight of their academic career. The internship experience was frequently mentioned as central to the PPS major. Students indicated they learned a great deal about policymaking and learned about their own approach to careers and the workplace from the experience. Many voiced concerns that financial restrictions might make the internship experience unavailable to students on financial aid. Elise Goldwasser, internship coordinator, was singled out for praise in helping students find internships that match their interests. Graduates from the Glasgow program praised its operation.

Another way to approach your selection of courses is to read research on the college experience. Richard Light's book Making the Most of College is a very accessible assessment of what types of courses and college experiences lead students to rate their undergraduate years as happy and productive. A key theme in the book is the benefits of working closely with a professor in a class or research setting, which is an argument for writing an honors project if you become a PPS major.

A final way to evaluate your decisions at Duke is to think about what you hope to accomplish in life and work backwards to see the types of courses and experiences that will prepare you for this. What will be important to you later in life? What will you value most? What will you be remembered for? Consider how the namesake of the Institute, Terry Sanford, was described by his friends and colleagues in remarks at Duke and on the House and Senate floor (see http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?i105:I09844:i105SAN.html ).

Sanford Building

Sanford Building