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Is Public Policy the Right Major for Me?

Choosing a major is an important decision. Fortunately, Duke University offers extensive resources to guide you. Even before you arrive on campus, you can start charting your path with the people and resources at the Duke Academic Advising Center.  It is the academic home for Trinity College students who have not yet declared a major. Students must declare a major by the beginning of spring break in their sophomore year. Talking to faculty advisors can help you make the right decision for your goals. 

Professor Sandy Darity“Even if a faculty advisor is not in the area where your current interest lies, they probably have some very valuable advice on how you might succeed at the university level. Talking to someone outside of your area of focus may actually create opportunities to see new ways to think about what you are working on and discover ways you can integrate what want to do with other disciplines and fields you have never considered.”  

- William "Sandy" Darity, Professor of Public Policy,
African and African American Studies and Economics 

Reflect on Your Goals and Values

When considering the public policy major, think about what you hope to accomplish in life. Then work backwards to see what types of courses and experiences will prepare you for this. What will you value most? What will you be remembered for?

Terry Sanford, the founder and namesake of Duke’s public policy school, was an inspirational leader. See how his life and legacy were described by his friends and colleagues in remarks at Duke and on the floors of the U.S. House and Senate.

Consider What Public Policy Alumni Say

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  • Caroline Fairchild headshot

    One Sanford Alum's Academic Pathway

    Caroline Fairchild, a 2012 Duke graduate who majored in public policy, is the managing news editor at LinkedIn. While at Sanford, Fairchild completed the Policy Journalism and Media Studies Certificate, and received valuable advice on potential media careers from Professors Kenneth Rogerson and Phil Bennett. Dean Judith Kelley ran her thesis program. (Fairchild researched how international media coverage of Myanmar affected international policy toward the country.)


    Upon graduation, Fairchild received a scholarship to intern at Bloomberg News. There, she fell in love with reporting. She now works collaboratively with product managers and data scientists at LinkedIn to help ensure their content is effectively reaching targeted audiences.

    Read more about Caroline Fairchild's journey from Sanford to LinkedIn.

The original graduating class of Public Policy Studies (PPS) undergraduate majors in 1974 had four students. From that start the department has graduated more than 3,500 undergraduate majors.

Here’s what some of our alumni have said:

  • They enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature of the major and the chance to construct their own course of study.
  • They continue to use analytical tools taught in Introduction to Policy Analysis (PPS 155), including decision analysis and negotiation tactics.
  • Learning to write a concise memo is a valuable skill for almost any pursuit. Alums working in law, business, and government all stress the importance of writing skills to their jobs.
  • The required internship experience was central to the PPS major.
  • The ethics classes forced students to think about their roles in society and pushed them to learn to communicate their ideas.  
  • Some expressed regret that they had not written an honors thesis.

Declaring the Major – What Happens Next

If PPS is right for you as a first or second major, follow the major declaration guidelines established by the Duke Academic Advising Center.  (A minor in public policy is not offered.)

All Public Policy majors are automatically assigned a faculty advisor in the Sanford School. However, you may select a different faculty advisor with that faculty advisor’s permission. Once permission is granted please email the Undergraduate Program Coordinator for this change to be made in ACES. Students are strongly encouraged to meet with their faculty advisor to inquire about course selections, career and internship aspirations, research opportunities and the like.

Registering for Courses

All Public Policy first majors are REQUIRED to meet with the Undergraduate Program Coordinator each advising period prior to course registration. These meetings allow for discussion of major requirements, individual progress toward the degree and clearance for enrollment eligibility in ACES. Only graduating seniors and students studying away may conduct this meeting via email. Information regarding appointment scheduling will be emailed prior to the advising period.

Second majors should refer to their first major department for instructions on registration eligibility.