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What does a Policy Analyst do?

You could probably name several politicians who have an impact on the laws and programs which help define life in America, but what do you know about the behind-the-scenes people who formulate those policies? If that kind of work intrigues you, then you should consider a career as a public policy analyst.

Public policy analysts represent a subset of sociologists and political scientists. They advise politicians, and others, on potential solutions to problems and on the impact of policy proposals. In this capacity, they must be able to evaluate the direct impact of the policy itself - which may involve economic, scientific, military, or a variety of other factors - as well as assess the political impact of advocating those policies. This role can be a way to wield influence behind the scenes, as well as excellent preparation for political office.

Job requirements for policy analysts

While there are no formal requirements for policy analysts, it is a competitive field which often requires detailed, specialized knowledge, so education is important. At minimum, you will probably need a bachelor's degree, and a master's or Ph.D. can add to your career options as a policy analyst.

The education of a policy analyst includes heavy elements of sociology and political science, and a key element of this education is a detailed knowledge of statistical methods. Policy analysts need to understand how to collect and analyze data, which may include studies related to the policy itself, and polling data to gauge the electorate's reaction to possible policy changes.

Finally, a policy analyst can have the greatest impact by communicating effectively, so coursework in written communications, public speaking, and new media can be a great addition to the studies of a future policy analyst.

Career opportunities for policy analysts

In general, employment growth for sociologists and political scientists is expected to be much faster than average in the years ahead. As you might expect, the highest concentration of jobs in these professions is found in and around Washington, D.C., but because policy analysts also advise state and local governments, business organizations, and unions, and also work at academic institutions and think tanks, there are employment opportunities across the country.

Since policy analysts are a subset of political scientists and sociologists, you could expect salaries to be roughly in line with those professions.

In short, there are excellent employment and salary possibilities for policy analysts, but beyond that, there is the potential to have a lasting impact on the society around you.

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