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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. 


The core courses for the PPS major are in research methods, statistical methods, ethics, public finance, government, economics, and society and culture.  Students have a choice as to how to fulfill these requirements, and can work with the program director to choose options appropriate for their interests.  A student contemplating a major in public policy studies should also take the following prerequisites: PSCI 1100, 1101, 1102, or 1150; ECON 1010 and 1020. 

Policy Tracks

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 a “policy track,” a set of five courses developed with the Director of the PPS program and tailored to the student’s interests.  Policy tracks are generally issue areas such as business policy, health policy, environmental policy, crime and justice, etc.. Normally the track incorporates courses offered by several different departments in order to reinforce the interdisciplinary nature of the major.  Many PPS majors do a semester abroad as well as an internship, and classes taken abroad may count towards the requirements for the major.

During their senior year, PPS majors take a capstone seminar that guides them through a policy relevant research project in their track area, allowing them to combine their knowledge of research methods and the insights they have gained pursuing the major.  The resulting research project is one that students can show to future employers to illustrate their capabilities or can choose to develop during graduate study.   

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
Professor of Economics

Public Policy Studies Website