What Is an MPA Degree?

Interested in public sector jobs? Check out this blog to learn about MPA degrees and the exciting careers available to MPA graduates.
Updated on March 23, 2023
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  • An MPA combines business concepts, legal studies, economics, and political science.
  • MPA students learn how to analyze policy and manage government and nonprofit programs.
  • Students can pursue concentrations like nonprofit financial management and urban planning.
  • MPA careers include policy analyst, diplomat, and public relations specialist.

Public administration refers to the management of public sector organizations at the local, state, and federal levels. The term can also refer to the management of nonprofit organizations. Leaders in this field advocate for sound public policies and oversee teams that develop and implement community services. Common public administration jobs include city manager, labor relations specialist, and policy analyst.

A master of public administration (MPA) is often advertised as an alternative to a master of business administration (MBA) because both degrees center on business concepts like financial and project management.

MPA programs also focus on public policy — a term broadly defined as the multifaceted strategies government officials and institutions use to implement and uphold laws and legal norms. These purposeful policies and legislative actions consist of intertwining regulations, federal laws, and executive orders.

However, positive change often begins with an individual whose passion for social justice spurs them to a service-oriented career. You can jumpstart that career by earning a relevant bachelor's degree and then building on your previous education and work experience with a graduate degree.

Why Get an MPA Degree?

A flexible, interdisciplinary degree, the MPA prepares students for federal, executive, and other high-level management positions that support the common good. MPA programs also train learners to work as public policy researchers and advocates.

Graduates can find employment with government agencies, community nonprofits, and global NGOs. MPA graduates can also pursue careers with private companies that develop green goods and offer socially conscious services, such as community development organizations or charities.

Popular Online Master's in Public Administration Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

How Does an MPA Program Work?

An MPA is a graduate-level, professional credential that requires at least 30 credits of coursework and practical training. This process typically takes two years, though some colleges and universities provide accelerated tracks that let distance learners graduate within one year.

Students should only attend schools that hold regional or national accreditation. Additionally, many of the top public administration programs are accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration.

Should You Get an MPA, MPP, or MBA?

Whether you should earn an MPA, MBA, or master of public policy (MPP) depends on your specific career goals. While both MPA and MBA programs help students develop skills in executive management and organizational leadership, an MBA provides more advanced coursework in topics like marketing, financial planning, and supply chain logistics.

Similarly, both MPA and MPP programs highlight policy analysis, but an MPP leans heavily into cost/benefit evaluations and data modeling. An MPP is a great degree for students who want to work as researchers, policy advisors, or administrative consultants.

MPA Dual and Joint Degrees

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the MPA, many students choose to enroll in a dual-degree program to gain additional training for a specialized career. For example, students can earn a concurrent juris doctor (JD) to prepare for careers in law and policy analysis. Additionally, learners with a passion for community health and wellness can earn a dual degree in public administration and social work.

Combining an MPA with an MBA is another popular choice for students who want the ability to work in both the public and private sectors. This dual-degree program may take less time than other combinations since MPA and MBA curricula usually share many core classes.

What Do You Learn in an MPA Program?

To prepare students for public administration jobs, the best MPA programs generally focus on core business areas like organizational management and professional communication. Learners also develop policy research, program evaluation, and data collection skills by engaging in projects that ask them to identify major challenges facing their organization or community.

Depending on their school, MPA candidates may be able to personalize their curriculum by choosing a concentration like healthcare administration, policy data analytics, public financial planning and budgeting, or global policy. Students are usually required to complete an internship or practicum experience. These programs often culminate in a capstone project and/or cumulative exam.

MPA programs often include the following courses:

  • Policy issue analysis
  • Organizational theory
  • Urban politics and planning
  • Managing government and nonprofit organizations
  • Public service leadership

What Can You Do With an MPA Degree?

MPA programs offer the advanced coursework and internship opportunities needed to prepare graduates for public sector jobs related to transportation and regional planning. You can also work with nonprofit organizations as a financial director or social services manager. Some graduates also go on to work in the private sector as a management consultant or policy analyst.

Are MPA Graduates in High Demand?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, careers with local and state government grew 2.6% between 2013 and 2018, reflecting a slow but steady recovery from the 2007 economic recession. Public sector jobs in higher education and healthcare increased 2.9% and 6.9%, respectively.

Certain MPA careers may grow even faster. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that public relations and fundraising manager positions will grow 9% between 2019 and 2029. During the same period, the BLS projects 17% growth for social and community services managers.

What Jobs Can You Get With an MPA?

Jobs for MPA graduates include public policy positions like legislative assistant, nonprofit program analyst, and survey researcher. You can also work in public health as an HIV/AIDS educator, community health services manager, or global health policy specialist.

The list below contains 10 additional public administration jobs. Note that depending on your target career, you may also need to have professional certification/licensure and/or a doctoral degree.

  • City manager
  • Urban planning and development director
  • Public relations consultant
  • Emergency management director
  • Operations research analyst
  • Diplomat
  • Postsecondary instructor
  • Organizational performance consultant
  • Budget analyst
  • Community outreach manager

How Much Money Do MPA Graduates Make?

According to PayScale, MPA graduates make an average annual salary of $68,000; however, your actual earning potential will depend on factors like your location, industry, employer, and experience.

For example, while the median annual salary for social and community services managers is $67,150, according to the BLS, professionals working for local governments earn a median annual salary of $85,550.

Is an MPA Degree Worth It?

Many MPA programs are flexible, letting students personalize their degree plan with diverse concentrations, internships, and research opportunities. The value of an MPA greatly depends on your prior academic experience and career goals. Consult the pros and cons listed below and conduct your own research before deciding whether or not an MPA is right for you.


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    MPA programs come in all shapes and sizes and generally do not require applicants to hold a specific undergraduate degree. Students should enroll in a program that aligns with their professional objectives.

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    Service-Oriented Careers

    MPA programs provide the academic training students need to turn their passion for social equity and community welfare into actionable knowledge and practical skills. They graduate prepared to tackle challenges like climate change, the prison-industrial complex, urban decay and poverty, and international terrorism.

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    Expanding Opportunities

    The growing interconnectedness of global politics and socioeconomic exchanges contributes to the merging of public, private, and social sectors into a dynamic fourth sector. This change could lead to an increase in public administration jobs as more sustainable, community-oriented companies emerge.


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    Broad Curriculum

    The MPA's interdisciplinary nature may prove too broad for students looking for the focused curriculum of an MBA or law program. Before submitting an application, make sure the school offers the courses, concentration, internships, and research resources you want.

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    High-Stress Work Settings

    Because they often oversee the policy development and evaluation for multiple programs, public administrators must be able to work efficiently and adapt quickly. These professionals also need great leadership and interpersonal communication skills, since their work relies on the cooperation of community members, business partners, and government officials.

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    Competitive Job Market

    Public sector jobs are highly competitive — especially at the federal level, where there is low turnover and an ever-growing pool of qualified candidates. Successful public administrators are flexible and ready to relocate and apply their skills in new ways.

BestColleges.com 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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