Public policy tends to be an “umbrella” term for a variety of specialized majors, so it can be difficult to narrow down a subdiscipline, research schools to find your best fit, and even to pick out the right questions to ask.
IPFW Associate Professor of Public Policy Rachel Rayburn has agreed to help us dive into the four most common questions she hears prospective students ask—and the questions she thinks students should ask instead.
1. Which degrees do you offer?
“The department of public policy is often very interdisciplinary,” Professor Rayburn says. “For example, if you went to the history department, everyone there is going to have a history degree. In our department, we have probably four or five different degrees, such as political science and sociology professors. But we house different majors so you wouldn’t necessarily think environmental policy would be one of them, but it is a concentration in our department.”
At IPFW, the public policy “umbrella” includes political science, sociology, environmental policies, criminal justice, health services administration, legal studies, and public management. Freshmen often begin undecided, take a class, and then declare their major under one of these disciplines. In fact, many high school students aren’t even aware that criminal justice is offered; they just try a class and love it.
2. Are there classes offered as general education?
Gen Ed classes are a great way to experience a major without having to commit to the major itself. Professor Rayburn finds this is a great way for students who are curious about criminal justice or legal studies to “dip their toe in” until they’re more certain about their path.
“For example, I’m teaching Victimology in the fall and most students are thinking, ‘I have no idea what that is, but it sounds kind of cool, so I think I’ll try it’,” she explains.
These types of classes can also easily turn into a minor. Professor Rayburn mentions that, from an employer’s standpoint, adding a minor is an easier way to get something extra on your résumé. Just don’t take on too much at a time!
3. Can I get experience outside the classroom?
You can’t exactly network in the classroom, so how much of a class takes place outside the classroom? Professor Rayburn mentions that getting students outside the classroom is huge—it gives them networking opportunities that teach them how to introduce themselves to someone, how to ask a question during a speech, and how to meet with people in the community.
“You can go and you can have a perfect GPA and do really well in your coursework, but if you don’t have any actual experience, it’s still going to be hard to get a job,” Professor Rayburn says. “Even if all you do is a ride along with a police officer, that’s a great point for your résumé!”
For example, at IPFW, the Public Policy Student Association hosts an event each year where community members come to campus to meet with students. It’s like speed-dating with potential employers. Public policy students are also encouraged to get internships and take on independent research projects.
4. Are there opportunities for volunteer service?
Professor Rayburn says that this is a great way to learn more about potential careers and to get “real world” experience in the industry of your choosing.
“IPFW holds 3-4 opportunities for volunteer experience as a class, the most recent one being with the Community Harvest Food Bank—it’s hard work, but it’s a Saturday morning experience like none other,” Professor Rayburn says. “We’ve gone to ACJC (Juvenile Correction), rescue missions, Charis House, local police departments, and the Department of Homeland Security. Some health administration students also do public awareness work for local hospices.”
Through volunteer service, students learn to make connections with organizations. These connections may ensure that someone will remember your name in the future when a job opportunity arises.
Your next step is to schedule a campus visit and talk to public policy faculty members about your major interests. Learn more about IPFW’s Department of Public Policy, schedule a campus visit, and download the College Visit Checklist to take with you!