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What Can I Do with My Public Service Degree?

From helping at-risk youth as a social worker to safeguarding personal data as a cybersecurity analyst to directing emergency services, a public service degree prepares you for a range of career options. Keep reading to see where a public service degree can take you.

Author: Shannon Lee
Editor: STEPS Staff

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What You Can Do with a Degree in …

What Jobs Can You Get with an Undergraduate Degree in Public Service?

Want to jump right into the workforce after college? An undergraduate degree in a public service field can get you there. Students who earn an associate degree can qualify for many entry-level positions in fields like psychology and criminal justice while earning a bachelor’s degree can substantially expand one’s career options. The choice between an associate and bachelor’s will often come down to the specific job you’re interested in. For example, pursuing a career as a teacher requires a bachelor’s degree at minimum. Here’s a closer look at what types of public service careers you can pursue with an undergraduate degree.

Career Matches for Popular Associate Degrees in Public Service

The two-year associate degree can prepare you to move directly into the workforce and start building valuable experience in your chosen field. Though many of the careers available with an associate degree are entry-level work, the strong educational background gained through the degree can help with advancement. Here are just a few degree options.

Associate Degree in Criminal Justice

An associate degree in criminal justice is a great way to begin a career in public service. There are numerous workplace options available for those who hold the degree, such as work in correctional facilities, jails and prisons, police departments, and more. While an associate degree isn’t a requirement for many criminal justice careers, it can help you stand out amongst candidates and open up career promotion opportunities.

Career Match2018 Median SalaryEst. Growth (2018-2020)Est. Growth Rate (2018-2020)Additional Experience/ Training Needed
Police Officer$63,38037,5005%Graduation from police academy
Correctional Officer$44,400-31,400-7%Several months of academy training
Private Detective / Investigator$50,0902,6008%On the job training
Security Guards/Gaming Surveillance Officers$28,53040,6004%On the job training

Associate Degree in Psychology

The fascinating study of the human mind can begin with an associate degree. This two-year degree provided a firm basis for the study of psychology, which will serve you well when pursuing a variety of careers in public service. The degree can open doors to several entry-level positions, while also serving as a stepping stone to the bachelor’s degree, which prepares students for higher-level positions in the field, such as social work or community health. Here are a few of the careers that graduates can look into as soon as they’re done with their associate degree.

Career Match2018 Median SalaryEst. Growth (2018-2020)Est. Growth Rate (2018-2020)Additional Experience/ Training Needed
Human Resources Assistant$34,520-5,300-4%On the job training
Social and Human Services Assistant$33,75052,20015%On the job training

Associate Degree in Fire Science

Those who want to help their communities by fighting fires and handling related duties often choose to better understand the fires they fight – and for many, that means earning a degree in fire science. The associate degree in fire science can help students learn about fire prevention, firefighting and more while allowing them to earn credits that can be applied to higher degrees. Those who choose to earn a degree in fire science can look forward to a choice of several careers in the field, better opportunities for advancement and the possibility of higher pay. Below are a few of the jobs available to those who choose to earn this associate degree.

Career Match2018 Median SalaryEst. Growth
Est. Growth Rate(2018-2020)Additional Experience/ Training Needed
Fire Investigator$62,5107006%Fire academy training / firefighting experience
Firefighter$49,62017,6005%Fire academy training
Forest Fire Inspector and Prevention Specialist$39,60050024%Fire academy training / firefighting experience

Career Matches for Popular Bachelor’s Degrees in Public Service

Many jobs in public service require a bachelor’s degree. The following are just a few of the degree options that can lead to a variety of careers in the field.

Bachelor’s Degree in Education and Teaching

Public service work is clearly on display in school systems across the nation. Teachers and administrators have the unique opportunity to shape the future of children and youth – and for many, that is a reward that no paycheck could ever compare to. In the vast majority of cases, a bachelor’s degree is the basic requirement to become a teacher. Those who earn the degree often spend a few years teaching before going back to school (often part-time or online) to earn their master’s degree. Here are a few of the many careers available to those who pursue a bachelor’s degree in education and teaching.

Career Match2018 Median SalaryEst. Growth (2018-2020)Est. Growth Rate (2018-2020)Additional Experience/ Training Needed
Elementary Teacher$58,23047,9003%Licensure or certification for public school teachers
High School Teacher$60,32038,2004%Licensure or certification for public school teachers
Special Education Teacher$59,78013,6003%Licensure or certification for public school teachers
Kindergarten Teacher$55,4705,1004%Licensure or certification for public school teachers
Middle School Teacher$58,60021,4003%Licensure or certification for public school teachers
Career and Technical Education Teacher$56,750-1,800-1%Licensure or certification for public school teachers

Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health

Public health degrees prepare students to work in administration, education, and community health programs. The bachelor’s degree is often the entry-level requirement for these positions; workers can gain experience and move up the ladder, choose to make a lateral move into a similar field, or go back to school for a higher degree, which can open even more doors to advancement. The following positions are some – though certainly not all – of the options available for those who pursue the bachelor’s degree in public health.

Career Match2018 Median SalaryEst. Growth (2018-2020)Est. Growth Rate (2018-2020)Additional Experience/ Training Needed
Medical and Health Services Manager$99,73071,60018%Experience in a clinical or administrative role in a hospital setting
Health Educator$54,22014,10011%On the job training; the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential is required by some employers
Community Health Worker$39,5407,70013%On the job training

Bachelor’s Degree in Emergency Management

When disaster strikes, emergency management crews help mitigate the damage, keep residents safe, identify the cause, and do all they can to enhance response and protection in the future. Though some can enter emergency management without a degree at all, in order to become a leader in the field, at least some formal education is usually required. Bachelor’s degrees in emergency management can open doors to work as a high-level director on the regional, state or even federal level. Here are some of the options for those who choose this degree.

Career Match2018 Median SalaryEst. Growth (2018-2020)Est. Growth Rate (2018-2020)Additional Experience/ Training Needed
Emergency Management Director$74,4205005%Multiple years of experience in a related field

What Jobs Can You Get with a Graduate Degree in Public Service?

Some public service careers require an advanced degree before a student can be eligible for them. For instance, becoming a licensed social worker requires a master’s degree while those who want to work as a psychologist must earn their PhD before they can obtain licensure. The higher degrees can lead to careers that offer better pay, higher chances of promotions, more responsibility and the ability to move into other careers that are closely related, such as a psychologist moving into higher education as an instructor. Read on to discover just some of the careers open to those who choose to pursue a graduate degree in a public service field.

Career Matches for Popular Master’s Degrees in Public Service

Many who pursue public service degrees will look to that master’s level as their entry into higher paying positions, better promotions and in some cases, entirely new careers. Here are a few careers that dovetail nicely with master’s degrees in public service.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

Current and future social workers look to the master’s degree as a way to move into licensure and begin working in-depth with families, individuals, couples, and groups in a variety of settings. Social workers might find themselves working everywhere from prisons to schools, in private practice or in community settings. The master’s program is often tailored to allow students to continue working and gaining valuable experience as they earn their degree. Here are some of the options to look forward to with the MSW.

Career Match2018 Median SalaryEst. Growth (2018-2020)Est. Growth Rate (2018-2020)Additional Experience / Training Needed
Clinical Social Worker$49,47081,20011%All states require licensure
School Social Worker$46,27024,8007%All states require licensure
Child and Family Social Worker$46,27024,8007%All states require licensure

Master of Public Health (MPH)

The Master of Public Health degree prepares graduates to move into a variety of positions that focus on the well-being of communities. They might focus on anything from discerning why certain populations are more prone to certain diseases to figuring out which microbes help with bodily functions while others hinder them. The MPH programs are often available online and through flexible scheduling to make it easier for busy professionals to further their education while continuing to gain experience in related fields. Here are a few of those promising careers.

Career Match2018 Median SalaryEst. Growth (2018-2020)Est. Growth Rate (2018-2020)Additional Experience / Training Needed

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

The MPA is best suited for those who want to move into management of cities, towns, municipalities or organizations and businesses. It also works well for those who want to learn to understand certain populations on a more intimate level or work in areas of politics and public policy. Here are few of the options:

Career Match2018 Median SalaryEst. Growth (2018-2020)Est. Growth Rate (2018-2020)Additional Experience / Training Needed
City Manager$104,240165,0007%Years of experience in support positions
Political Scientist$117,5703005%Internships, volunteering, or work in a related field
Top Executive$104,980150,6006%Years of support in management positions

Career Matches for Popular Doctoral Degrees in Public Service

For some of the following careers, the doctorate is a requirement for licensure. For others, it’s a great way to boost earning potential and job security. Here are a few of the careers that match the degree.

PhD in Psychology

The doctorate in psychology is not only the terminal degree; it is one of the two pathways (along with the PsyD) required for someone to become licensed as a clinical psychologist. Though most clinical psychologists work in an office or clinical setting, there is still plenty of room for them in others areas, such as schools (either as a professor or as a practicing psychologist), prisons, rehabilitation centers, private practice, research and more. Here are some of the options.

Career Match2018 Median SalaryEst. Growth (2018-2020)Est. Growth Rate (2018-2020)Additional Experience / Training Needed
School Psychologist$76,99023,80015%Licensure is required
Clinical Psychologist$76,99023,80015%Licensure is required
Psychology Professor$76,7105,60012%Experience as a psychologist

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Those who want to move into administration at the district, regional, state or federal level might want to pursue the Doctor of Education, which prepares them for the rigors of running everything from a small school to a large district. The EdD is perfect for ensuring these professionals stay right on top of the ever-changing world of education by preparing them with intensive research and analytical skills. Here are some of the career options available to EdD graduates.

Career Match2018 Median SalaryEst. Growth (2018-2020)Est. Growth Rate (2018-2020)Additional Experience / Training Needed
School Principal$95,31011,2004%Years of work in school systems, either as administrator or teacher
Instructional Coordinator$64,45011,5006%Years of work in school systems, either as administrator or teacher
Postsecondary Education Administrator$94,34013,5007%Years of experience in a college administration setting

Public Service Degrees with the Most Direct Career Routes

Some people know exactly what they want to do with their career. They have a goal and are laser-focused on that. Those individuals are often quite happy to find a very direct career route – a specific educational program that leads to only a handful of professional options. Here are a few.

Bachelor’s Degree in Education/Teaching

Students in this degree path choose their specialty – such as elementary, secondary, early childhood education, or special education – and follow that path to completion of the degree. Though they might choose to add on endorsements that broaden their teaching horizons, for the most part this degree leads straight to teaching positions in public or private school districts.

Years of College

4 years

Post-Grad Requirements

Licensure in the state in which you will teach

ETA to Career Start

4 to 4 ½ years

Bachelor’s Degree in Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is all about making certain our digital connections to the world are safe and secure. This focused degree path most often leads to a career as a cybersecurity analyst or management positions within IT companies. It might also provide lateral job moves into areas like database administration or security software development, both of which have a crucial security element to them. As the world’s digital footprint becomes broader, these jobs are becoming much more in demand.

Years of College

4 years

Post-Grad Requirements


ETA to Career Start

4 years

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

The Doctor of Psychology (or a PhD in Psychology) is a requirement for those who want to become a licensed psychologist. Though other jobs are certainly possible in the psychology field when one holds a doctorate, work as a psychologist will be the norm. The only differences might be in where the psychologist chooses to work, as there are numerous clinical, research, and academia settings ready to accept someone with this highly-trained experience and education.

Years of College

4 to 5 years beyond the bachelor’s degree

Post-Grad Requirements

Must meet clinical hour requirements for licensure

ETA to Career Start

8 to 9 years

Public Service Degrees with the Most Flexible Career and Future Education Options

Many degrees in public service lead to more open-ended career and future education opportunities. Getting an undergraduate degree in psychology or criminal justice, for example, doesn’t limit your choices as much as some other academic paths would. Here’s a deeper look some of the more flexible degrees in public service.

Associate or Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology

Those who learn more about how the human brain works might find that their knowledge of human behavior serves them well in a variety of jobs, even those outside of the psychology field. Psychology degree graduates often know more about how people work together, what motivates them (and what slows production), what kind of triggers individuals and groups respond to, and so much more. Consider this degree and career path:

Example Degree and Career Path

Associate or Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

Those with deep knowledge of the criminal justice system are in a good position to leverage what they know to several potential careers. They might choose to go into social work, psychology, or a similar field that allows them to help others. Here’s an example of how an initial degree in criminal justice can open related doors.

Example Degree and Career Path

Additional Resources for Matching Your Public Service Degree to a Career

O*NET OnLine Education Crosswalk
This unique website allows you to enter in a particular profession, such as teacher, and see the variety of careers and related jobs that are possible for someone with the proper training in the field.

This website sponsored by the federal government offers a wealth of job opportunities for those in public service and related fields. The jobs listed can cover a wide breadth of public service careers, and some are even tailored for those of certain populations or traits, such as jobs for the disabled or military veterans.

Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management
This professional organization is perfect for those seeking to learn more about public policy, public management and related fields in public service. Not only does it explain certain degrees and their worth in the field, it also provides job listings, networking opportunities and much more.

Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook
This government website is the gold standard for learning about jobs available in the public service area and beyond. Look up jobs you’re curious about to find in-depth information on the education, training, pay, job outlook, and more.