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Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy is among the nation’s top graduate schools, according to the list of “2020 Best Graduate Schools” compiled by U.S. News and World Report.

The Sanford School was ranked fifth in its core specialty, public policy analysis, up from ninth in the last U.S. News ranking. Sanford is the only school in the southern United States in the top 10 for public policy analysis.

Public policy analysis is widely viewed as the key indicator among schools of public policy. Others in the top 10 for this specialty include University of Michigan (Ford School), University of California, Berkeley (Goldman School), University of Chicago (Harris School), Indiana University (Bloomington), Princeton (Woodrow Wilson School), and Carnegie Mellon (Heinz School.)

Sanford and Duke also landed in the top 10 for Environmental Policy and Management (#3) – a reflection of the graduate programs offered by and with Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment – for Social Policy (#7), and for Health Policy and Management (#6). These rankings were unchanged from last year.

About the rankings

The U.S. News rankings reflect the opinions of deans, directors and department chairs at 285 schools of public affairs and administration nationwide that award the MPA degree, the MPP degree, or both.  The survey was distributed in 2018 and the response rate was 52 percent. [See details on methodology.]

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"We focus on public policy analysis which is one of the most important skills a student can learn to prepare for policy work. That strength is clearly revealed in these rankings." - Dean Judith Kelley

“Sanford is not a school of public administration, like most on this list,” said Dean Judith Kelley. “We focus on public policy analysis, which is one of the most important skills a student can learn to prepare for policy work. That strength is clearly revealed in these rankings.”

Although public policy, public affairs, and international policy programs are grouped together for the magazine’s survey, the programs can vary considerably with regard to curriculum, scholarly research and other factors.

At the master’s level, Sanford offers the MPP degree, the MIDP degree and a number of dual degrees, while Nicholas offers MEM and Master of Forestry degrees (MF). The schools also jointly offer the international Master of Environmental Policy (iMEP) at Duke Kunshan University in China.

Although prospective students often consider rankings when comparing graduate schools, even more important is for each student to choose a school where professors and classmates will inspire them and where they can pursue their individual career goals, Kelley added.

“Students should ask themselves, ‘Is this an environment where I will grow and learn?’ and ‘Are alumni of this school doing something similar to what I want to do?’” Kelley said.