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Public Policy Studies

Public Policy Studies combines economics, political science, sociology and other academic fields to create a rigorous, interdisciplinary major designed to give students the tools and background needed to understand the role of public policy in society, how public policies are developed and implemented, and how to evaluate policy options.

Examples of public policy questions include:

  • Given rising fuel costs, should state and local governments invest more dollars in alternative fuel sources or increase subsidies for public transportation?
  • Which educational programs and methods have proven most effective for improving the high school graduation rates of children from low-income families?
  • How can we best secure our nation’s borders?

The major is designed to prepare students for admission to graduate or professional programs or for careers in law, government, public service, activism, research, or business. The PPS major cultivates graduates with a sophisticated, in-depth understanding of the vast array of issues - both global and national - that influence policy problems and outcomes.

Many PPS majors do a semester abroad as well as an internship, and classes taken abroad may count towards the requirements for the major. An honors program allows students to conduct in-depth research projects during their senior year.


The core courses for the PPS major are in the politics of public policy, economics, research methods, the social contexts of public policy, and the history and ethics of public policy. Students have a choice as to how to fulfill some of these requirements. A student contemplating a major in public policy studies should also take the following prerequisites: MATH 1201 or 1301; ECON 1500 or 1510 or both MATH 2820L and either 2810 or 2820; PSCI 1100, ECON 1010, and ECON 1020.

Areas of Concentration

In addition to building a strong foundation of general knowledge about public policy and set of skills to use in analysis, the program encourages students to specialize in an “area of concentration,” a set of three courses taken in at least two departments from set course lists for the following areas: Advanced Quantitative Methods for Public Policy; Economic Policy; Social Policy; Environmental, Resource, and Energy Policy; International and Foreign Policy; and Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy.

General Electives

Students take two general electives from the following list drawn from courses in Political Science on the structure and processes of policymaking in the United States: PSCI 2240, PSCI 2245, PSCI 2253, PSCI 3241, and PSCI 3244.

After Vanderbilt

PPS majors have gone from Vanderbilt to jobs on Capitol Hill, graduate school in Public Health and other policy-related areas, service in Teach for America and the Peace Corps, and law school, to name just a few of the many paths these students have chosen.


Faculty throughout the College of Arts and Science and the Peabody School teach courses that support the PPS major. Whenever possible PPS also offers special topics courses taught by policy professionals.


Christopher (Kitt) Carpenter
PPS Director and Professor of Economics


Public Policy Studies Website