Careers For Public Service Majors

By Genevieve Carlton

Published on August 3, 2021

Careers For Public Service Majors is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Jobs Public Service Majors Hold

Public service professionals serve their community by educating children, promoting public health, and offering social services. They work in fields like public finance, law enforcement, and public administration.

Earning a degree in a public service-related major can open the door to many public service careers. For example, social work majors can pursue careers in social and community services. Criminal justice majors can work in law enforcement, the courts, and the correctional system. An education degree may lead to a public service career as a teacher or principal.

A public service degree allows graduates to pursue jobs in the public and nonprofit sectors. Public service majors possess skills in critical thinking, data analysis, and policy planning. They can apply these skills in the business world.

This article introduces public service degree jobs, salary data for public service careers, and specializations within public service.

Frequently Asked Questions About Public Service

Q. What can you do with a public service degree?

Public service degree-holders may work in education, law enforcement, and social services. The degree can lead to many public and nonprofit sector jobs.

Q. How do I start a career in public service?

Most public service careers require a college degree. After meeting a specific job's educational requirements, professionals can complete any licensure requirements.

Q. What are the highest-paying jobs in public? service?

Many managerial positions in public service offer above-average salaries. For example, social and community service managers earn a median annual salary of $69,600, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This figure exceeds the median annual pay of $41,950 for all occupations.

Q. What does a career in public service involve?

Public service careers span education, law enforcement, public health, and public financing. In these diverse fields, professionals keep public sector organizations running smoothly.

Public Service Specializations

Public service professionals can specialize in a variety of areas. In the public sector, these specializations may include public health, public administration, public policy, and public finance.

Public service professionals may pursue careers in education, community services, and law enforcement. Educators, police officers, social workers, and social services directors pursue specialized training for their careers.

Depending on their career path, public service professionals may earn an undergraduate or graduate degree. Some careers also require a license or certification. This section introduces a few of the many public service specializations.

Public Administration

Public administration is the public sector equivalent to business administration. Professionals manage budgets, supervise teams, and evaluate programs. A public administration degree trains learners in public policy analysis, policy implementation, and public budgeting.

During a public administration program, degree-seekers specialize in areas like urban development and international affairs. Some students specialize in homeland security. A public administration degree often includes nonprofit management training.

Public Health

Public health plays a central role in protecting communities. During a public health program, students learn about environmental health and health promotion. They also study infectious diseases. Many programs incorporate an internship. Degree-seekers specialize in areas like epidemiology, public health policy, and health communication.

Public health degree-holders may work as health education specialists, prevention specialists, epidemiologists, and public health administrators. Some public health career paths require a master's degree.

Criminal Justice

Criminal justice encompasses law enforcement, the court system, and the correctional system. During a criminal justice program, learners study crime prevention, and criminal law. Other topics include victimology and criminal investigation. Many programs offer specializations in criminology, criminal justice administration, and forensics.

A criminal justice degree can lead to many public service career paths. With an associate degree, graduates can work as police officers and correctional officers. A bachelor's degree meets the requirements for federal law enforcement careers. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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What Are the Education Requirements for Public Service?

Public service careers generally require a college degree. Specific education requirements vary. For example, many federal jobs require a bachelor's degree. Most supervisory roles require a master's degree. This section explains the different degree levels for public service careers.


An associate degree introduces learners to an academic discipline and offers foundational courses. For example, learners interested in public service study education and finance. They also focus on management and public administration. Students complete coursework in communication and mathematics.

Full-time students usually need two years to earn an associate degree. Graduates can enter the workforce or transfer into a four-year college to complete a bachelor's degree.


A bachelor's degree prepares graduates for entry-level public sector and nonprofit jobs. Undergraduates choose a major to focus their studies. Common public service majors include public administration and education. Many students also major in social work, criminal justice, or public health.

Public service majors take upper-division courses in their specialization. Degree-seekers also take general education courses that strengthen critical thinking and analytical abilities. Many bachelor's programs let majors pursue internships and complete capstone projects.


A master's degree provides graduate-level training in a discipline such as public health or public administration. Other options include criminal justice, public affairs, and urban planning. Master's degree-seekers study their discipline's theory and practice. Many master's programs incorporate an internship, practicum, or project. Master's students often pass an exam or complete a thesis to graduate.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree to apply for a master's program. Some programs require prerequisite coursework or field experience.


A doctorate represents academia's highest degree. It prepares graduates for careers in research, leadership, and higher education. Most tenure-track professors hold a doctorate.

In public service, doctoral students explore public policy, public administration, and education. Graduate students complete coursework in their focus area. They conduct research in their specialization and write a dissertation based on that research. Most doctoral programs require 4-5 years.

How Much Does a Public Service Degree Cost?

The cost of a public service degree varies depending on the college and degree level. In general, an associate degree costs less than a bachelor's or graduate degree.

In 2018-19, public two-year colleges cost around $3,300 per year in tuition and fees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. A four-year degree at an in-state, public university costs $9,200. Out-of-state tuition runs $26,400. Private universities cost nearly $32,000 per year in tuition and fees. Graduate tuition averages around $12,200 per year at public universities and $27,800 per year at private universities.

Public service majors can save money by researching affordable programs. Students can often find tuition discounts by choosing an in-state university or enrolling in an online program that charges a flat tuition rate for distance learners. Online students also do not incur room-and-board or commuting expenses.

How Much Do Public Service Majors Make?

Salaries for public service degree jobs vary widely. Social workers earn a median annual salary of $51,760. Other careers in the social services and nonprofit sector offer similar salaries.

Specialists in public service finance typically earn above-average salaries. Budget analysts earn a median annual salary of $78,970. Public sector executives, including city managers, mayors, and county administrators, earn nearly $108,000 annually.

A master's degree, work experience, and certifications help professionals increase their earning potential. For example, urban and regional planners need a master's degree. These professionals earn a median annual salary of nearly $76,000.


Career and Salary Outlook for a Public Service Degree

A public service degree can lead to a variety of careers. Professionals may work in the public sector, the nonprofit sector, education, healthcare, or business. See below for some potential careers for public service degree-holders.

Police Officers

These professionals promote public safety in their community. They respond to emergency calls, patrol in their community, and investigate crimes. Police officers also conduct searches, observe suspects, and arrest suspected criminals. They may testify in court.

Social Workers

These professionals help clients manage problems. They connect clients with community resources, advocate for social services in their community, and develop programs to meet client needs. Clinical social workers can diagnose and treat mental health disorders. Most social workers need a state-issued license.


School principals oversee their school's daily operations and long-term planning. They manage staff and teachers, promote a productive environment, and meet with the superintendent. Principals also set class schedules, oversee the curriculum, and manage the budget. As school administrators, principals typically possess a teaching background.

Health Education Specialists

These specialists train the public about wellness promotion. They create educational programs to teach audiences about health and wellness. They also assist people seeking health information or health services. Community-focused health education specialists analyze data to develop community programs.

Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Police Officer $67,290 5%
Social Worker $51,760 13%
Principal $98,490 4%
Health Education Specialist $48,140 13%

Source: BLS

Certifications and Licensure for Public Service

A certification or license can open new opportunities in many public service careers. School principals and clinical social workers usually need a state-issued license. Voluntary certifications, like the certified public manager credential, can help professionals demonstrate expertise in a particular area. Most certifications and licenses require a mix of education, experience, and exam scores.

Graduation Cap

Certified Public Manager

The CPM credential recognizes public-sector middle managers who complete a management development program. Local, state, and federal managers qualify. Some states also include nonprofit managers. Managers earn the CPM credential after completing all required exams and projects.

Graduation Cap

Certified Health Education Specialist

The CHES credential recognizes candidates with a health education degree or at least 25 credits of coursework in health education classes. Candidates answer 165 questions during the three-hour, competency-based exam. The certification helps professionals pursue jobs in the public sector, business, education, and nonprofit sector.

Graduation Cap

NASW Specialty Credentials

The National Association of Social Workers offers several specialty certifications for professionals with a bachelor's or master's in social work. The specialty credentials recognize advanced skills in a social work subfield. Students can pursue certifications in areas such as addiction social work, case management, healthcare, and clinical social work.

Resources for Public Service Majors

Public service majors can explore a variety of resources to guide their educational and professional development. The following resources connect students with internships, educational tools, and job openings. Learners should also network and research to find resources for their specific public service career paths.


Swarthmore College offers a list of nonprofit, government, and public service resources. The site includes information on public sector careers, internships in public service organizations, and job listings.

American Public Human Services Association

APHSA represents state and local health and human services organizations. The association offers workforce development and training resources. APHSA also hosts conferences and offers professional education tools.


The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration unites 300 universities that offer programs in public service fields. The organization also accredits master's programs and provides resources for students considering a public service career.

Career Sites to Follow

Created by Georgetown Law, this site includes 30 public service career sites. Students can use the links to find jobs in the public sector, with nonprofit organizations, and in other public service roles.

Portrait of Genevieve Carlton

Genevieve Carlton

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.

See articles by Genevieve

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