Is it possible to go back for an academic degree after getting a professional degree?/Should I?

I went to a very academically and theory oriented liberal arts undergrad program (New College of Florida), Poli Sci with a minor in Economics. Wrote an undergraduate thesis that required statistical anlysis, hypotheses, lit review, all that fun stuff. I really enjoyed it but after graduating (May 2016) I decided I wanted to apply some of that theory in the real world. I worked for DCF for a while, now I work for office that watches over the state university system. With a tuition waiver I’ve been going to a professional master’s program at FSU called the Master’s in Applied American Politics and Policy. I haven’t finished the program, I am probably set to do that either at the end of this year or in Spring of 2020 depending on my finances - but the program is really not academically-oriented at all and I’ve realized that there is a chance this isn’t what I intend to do with my career.

I’m ultimately aiming to work in policy analysis, whether that be as a policy analyst in a legislature or - in my dream world - doing the sort of research that the Brookings Institute does. The important thing for me is the ability to do actual political SCIENCE - at least some research, some statistics, some analysis, that maybe leads to a policy suggestion. I have often wondered if a more academically oriented master’s in political science would open up more opportunities for me in this realm, as my current program seems more oriented towards campaigning, re-election, and supporting politicians, and less about the policies themselves. I was kind of shocked to learn that a lot of students in this program, who majored in poli sci in undergrad, have never really even seen a poli sci article with regressions from a journal, let alone done any sort of original research.

I fear that the longer I continue working full time in positions that don’t necessarily require me to use these skills, combined with having a professional master’s degree that also doesn’t require me to use these skills, the harder it will be for me to ever have the chance to attend one of these more academically-oriented programs - which, at least to me, appears to be a prerequisite for getting one of these prestigious policy analyst positions. Does anyone have any advice about this? I had a really clear idea of what colleges were looking for when I applied to undergrad, and a pretty good idea for my professional master’s program too, but I really have no idea what is expected for academic political science master’s programs.

You’re getting a lot of looks at yoru post and no answers. I think it’s because it’s too many words. Maybe if you condense your thoughts it would help you get a helpful response.

@allhailcorporate: Please take my comments as intended–to be constructive criticism & to help.

You need to learn to communicate in a more effective manner. Clear & concise writing which shares well thought out & refined concerns should be your goal.

What do you expect an “academic” masters degree to do for you that a professional masters degree does not? Do the Brookings Institute and similar institutions hire academic masters degree holders for the kinds of jobs you are interested in? How about a PhD if you really want to do research?

The short answer is Yes, you can move into an academic program after a professional degree. Don’t worry about that.

Why are you in your current program? Will it get you a job? If it won’t, it’s perfectly OK for you to drop out.

Why do you think you need an academic program in addition to this first one? Do you need a research PhD for your goals?

@allhailcorporate: Two suggestions. First, try to get published. Second, volunteer for a political party or candidate & create your own job description. You need credibility & work experience.

Getting a position in a think tank is not easy. I have an acquaintance who runs one in DC & he is brilliant with an Ivy League undergraduate degree & was a top student at a prestigious law school (Harvard, I think). Plus, he comes from a wealthy family. Worked on a lot of political campaigns. I think he runs the most prestigious think tank (conservative) in the country.

Another was a student at a DC area school known for connections to the federal government. He was brilliant & had an impressive academic pedigree.

P.S. To be taken seriously, you need a graduate degree from a university such as Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

Brookings ain’t possible from where you are currently. Look up the bios of their current researchers. Many PhD’s, and some research-oriented MA’s but all from top, aka, prestigious, schools. Or, if not a top terminal degree, they have a rich and rigorous research background.

If you really want to go that route, complete your current program and apply for an MA at a school like Georgetown or Hopkins, for local DC connections (or Harvard or Yale for prestige…)

Maybe I came after the OP edited their original post or something, but I didn’t have any difficulty reading or understanding their post.

To answer the main question here - no, work experience or attending a professional master’s program isn’t going to tank your prospects for an academic MA program. This is especially so in a field like political science/public policy, where people make that jump (or just plain straddle the line) throughout their careers, often.

Think tanks do have employees (including research staff) other than the researchers. Yes, all of the top researchers are going to have PhDs or prestigious MAs and lots of experience, so if you want to do that, you’ll need an MA (and honestly, you should probably look at getting a PhD). But Brookings also hires research assistants with bachelor’s degrees, as well as people with a variety of other backgrounds for operational and administrative support. Check out, for example

this listing for a research assistant on economics research (
this position as a research associate at Cato Institute (
this job as a survey research assistant at Mathematica Policy Institute ( or one of several program associate roles (example here:
this research and evaluation analyst at RTI (
this research assistant position at RAND (

And this kind of work is excellent preparation for a top PhD program.

I have friends who work at or have worked at some of the big think tanks as researchers (RTI, RAND, Mathematica, Advisory Board) and a lot of the work there is set up pretty similarly to academia - you have researchers who lead teams or projects, but they have master’s and bachelor’s level associates and assistants who work with them and help them with the work. Of course, with a lot of these jobs - as with undergraduate research assistant work - the assumption is that you do it for 2-3 years before you go on to do something else: usually graduate school, often something else. In fact, RAND actually puts that in their bachelor’s level listing, that the duration is limited to 3 years.

Others are right in that when you do go for a graduate program, you’ll want to seek the kinds of programs that routinely send people to those kinds of roles, particularly if you want a research associate role in a big think tank. They do tend to hire people from more prestigious programs, and you’ll have people in your network who have worked there or know people who work there. (That’s why I know so many…I went to Columbia. They send a LOT of people to think tanks. They come recruiting on campus.) And you should strongly consider getting a PhD, as a lot of the research jobs - and any room for advancement - that you want do go to PhD-holders.

I wouldn’t say that working on a political campaign is the best kind of experience if you want to get into a research role, unless you’re doing a specific kind of research work for them. (Not that it’s a bad idea, but but’s not the only or best way to get into a think tank.) Getting published would be nice and definitely appealing to graduate programs, but it’s not absolutely required, especially not for an MA program.

I think the OP’s problem has to do with the specific masters program in policy he chose, which was very very applied. If you look at other more conventional MPP programs particular in the top 10-15, you see that there are specific research method requirements such as for econometrics and qualitative methods. Some of those graduates do go on to participate in research projects, but mostly the goal is to produce intelligent consumers of policy research articles and reports.