Bachelor’s in Public Administration Program Guide

October 29, 2020

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The public administration field is growing quickly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growth rates between 16% (social workers) and 18% (social and community services managers) for public administration-related careers between 2016 and 2026. Additionally, given the emotional intelligence required in public administration careers, most related jobs should remain safe from automation in the coming years.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growth rates between 16% and 18% for public administration-related careers between 2016 and 2026.

In the following sections, you'll learn about the advantages of a public administration degree, different public administration degree programs, how to pay for those programs, and relevant logistics.

Should I Get a Bachelor's in Public Administration?

A public administration degree prepares graduates to work in nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and other social and civil service institutions. Students earning this degree typically possess a desire to make an impact. The curriculum provides students with an overview of the field, combining survey courses in areas such as public service and project management with more specific studies in areas like grant writing. By the end of their program, students know how to manage a government or nonprofit project through completion.

Students pursuing a public administration degree choose between on-campus and online learning or a hybrid of both. Each delivery method benefits a specific type of learner. Online students are generally older and with more work experience than on-campus students. In addition to working professionals, online education often appeals to students who live in remote areas without easy access to schools. On-campus students; however, are often recent high school graduates with little professional work experience.

No matter which delivery method students choose, pursuing a degree in public administration provides many opportunities, including networking with fellow students, professors, and professionals. Additionally, students pursuing a public administration degree may have the opportunity to gain real-world experience interning with a public administration organization. Some programs provide career services or job placement assistance. A public administration degree gives job seekers a leg up on candidates without the degree as it demonstrates competence in the field.

What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Public Administration?

Government and nonprofit settings offer a variety of positions for bachelor's in public administration degree holders. While a public administration degree prepares graduates to work in the administrative branches of these organizations, graduates can also learn skills that help them in different job settings, such as auditing. Public service administrators often find work in the government and with nonprofits.

Social and Community Service Manager

This management-level position is often an entry-level option for graduates with a public service administration degree. These managers oversee the administration of social and community service programs for government agencies or nonprofit organizations.

Median Annual Salary: $64,100

Projected Growth Rate: 18%

Social Worker

Social workers help individuals and families cope with mental health, nutritional, housing, and other life challenges. These workers must have at least a bachelor's degree and often work flexible or abnormal hours.

Median Annual Salary: $47,980

Projected Growth Rate: 16%

Health Educator or Community Health Worker

These professionals work in nonprofits, hospitals, community clinics, government health agencies, and other health-related settings. They teach community members about the benefits of adopting healthy behaviors and what those behaviors are. These professionals must have at least a bachelor's degree and often need additional credentials.

Median Annual Salary: $45,360

Projected Growth Rate: 16%

Social and Human Service Assistant

These professionals perform similar duties to social workers, supporting families and individuals with case management in areas like rehabilitation. They often assist social workers with their duties and generally work in government agencies or nonprofits.

Median Annual Salary: $33,120

Projected Growth Rate: 16%

How to Choose a Bachelor's in Public Administration Program

Some students choose between programs based on one or two key factors, such as cost and location; however, many other factors determine whether a bachelor's in public administration program will fit a student's needs. Some of the most important factors are highlighted below.

Program Length

Students should consider the length of a program, as it often impacts the overall cost of an education. Several factors affect program length, including whether students study full time or part time, whether the program offers online or on-campus courses, and whether the program delivers online coursework asynchronously or synchronously.


Before committing to a program, students should review its curriculum to ensure the coursework will provide them with the skills and knowledge best aligned with their goals. Additionally, if students have a particular concentration or specialization in mind, they should make sure that their chosen program's curriculum offers it.


Beyond the tuition of a program, students should check whether schools charge tuition per credit or per semester, as this distinction affects how long it takes for students to complete their studies. Some schools, such as Western Governors University, offer self-paced programs in which students earn competency units in lieu of credits, allowing them to graduate relatively quickly and inexpensively.

Online vs. On-Campus Program

As mentioned, online programs typically cater to working professionals, while on-campus programs often appeal to recent high school graduates. Each program typically comes with various cost advantages and disadvantages.

Practicum/Internship/Other Direct Experience

Direct experience in the field, such as a practicum or an internship, boosts a student's resume and increases their job prospects after graduation.


Students should strongly consider enrolling in an accredited program, as it removes barriers to employment and additional education.

Capstone Experience

Students seeking a specific capstone experience, whether it's a thesis, a project, or a seminar, should review their program's curriculum to ensure it's aligned with their goals.

Full-time or Part-time Study

Students enrolling in full-time programs graduate faster, while part-time enrollment affords students the opportunity to work while attending classes.

Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's in Public Administration Programs

Students should avoid public administration degree programs without regional accreditation. Administered by one of six geographic organizations overseen by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, regional accreditation means that the program passed a standardized vetting process.

National accreditation also ensures a chosen program meets quality standards. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) is the field's most respected accrediting organization. NASPAA accreditation signifies that a program met a rigorous, standards-based evaluation. Some employers require degrees from NASPAA-accredited programs.

Bachelor's in Public Administration Program Admissions

Applications typically require transcripts, recommendation letters, and standardized test scores. Students must submit all materials by specific deadlines. Some schools deliver admissions decisions on a rolling basis, while others require students to submit applications in the fall, after which admissions committees review them and send out decisions in the spring. Many colleges subscribe to CommonApp, which allows students to apply to multiple schools at once.

Students should consider applying to at least three schools, including one school where they have a high chance of admission.


Many bachelor's in public administration programs prefer applicants to have at least a 2.5 GPA. Sometimes applicants can offset this requirement with test scores or work experience.

Admission Materials

The application typically requires personal information, such as mailing and email addresses, and personal essays. While the personal information section does not take long, students should allocate at least 10 hours to write, edit, and solicit feedback about their essays. Students must submit all transcripts from prior learning institutions, including schools they took classes at but didn't graduate from. Typically, students must submit at least two letters of recommendation. Ideally, the letters come from teachers, counselors, supervisors, or coaches that know the student well. Students should give at least two months for professionals to write their letters. The SAT and ACT are the two most common tests asked for by schools. While the number of schools requiring standardized testing drops each year, they are still required by many colleges and universities. Minimum admissible scores vary by school. Most applications include a fee between $20 and $90. Some schools waive this fee for students with demonstrable financial need.

What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's in Public Administration Program?

The following section covers common concentrations, courses, costs, time to completion, and other important components of earning a bachelor's in public administration.

Concentrations Offered for a Bachelor's Degree in Public Administration
Concentration Description Careers
Public Health Policy Students pursuing public health policy learn about public health and relevant policy. They take courses such as epidemiology, public policy, introduction to public health, and quantitative methods. Graduates can work in community clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare organizations. Community organizer, health educator, community health worker, registered nurse
Public Service This track caters to generalists who want to keep their options open after graduation. Students complete a survey of courses in the field, learning about different public health disciplines, such as project management, fundraising, and law enforcement. Students typically have a lot of autonomy in structuring their program with elective courses. Firefighter, police officer, fundraiser, city manager
Nonprofit Management In this concentration, students learn about three branches of nonprofit organizations: fundraising, operations, and finance. Learners take courses in grant writing, project management, and nonprofit organizational management. Nonprofit director, fundraiser, nonprofit operations manager
Disaster Management/Emergency These professionals create organizational plans, protocols, and prevention strategies for disasters and emergencies, including disease outbreaks, hurricanes, and terrorism. Learners take relevant courses, such as disaster response and recovery, risk assessment, and applied research and evaluation. City planner, emergency administrator/manager
Natural Resource Administration This pathway prepares students to manage and steward the planet's natural resources. Coursework covers areas such as sustainability, urban ecology, and project management. While this concentration is offered in some undergraduate programs, it is more frequently found in graduate programs. Sustainability director, urban planner

Courses in a Bachelor's in Public Administration Program

Program coursework and curricula vary depending on the school and programmatic specifics. The following standard courses are found in most bachelor's in administration programs.

Introduction to Public Administration

This course provides a broad survey of the public administration field. Possible topics include project management, ethics, common public administration problems, and the current job landscape.

Quantitative Methods for Public Administration

Policymakers and administrators increasingly use data-driven decision making to shape the future of cities, states, and countries. This course provides an introduction to quantitative study methods for future public administrators.

Resource Development in Nonprofit Organizations

This course prepares students to work on the development side of nonprofit organizations. Students learn about fundraising methods, including grant writing, annual campaigns, and online fundraisers. Students may also learn about the theories behind why people donate and how to maximize charitable donations.

Introduction to Project Management

Public administration jobs often consist of a series of projects, so any future public administrator must learn how to manage them. Students in this course learn different frameworks for managing projects, theories behind team dynamics, and other relevant topics. Additionally, the course typically includes a hands-on element, such as a capstone project, to hone practical management skills.


In many programs, students can work for credit in a government agency or a nonprofit organization to gain real-world work experience. Students often complete these internships during their junior or senior years in the program.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Public Administration?

Earning a public administration bachelor's degree takes an average of four years and 120 credits to complete. However, students may expedite this process by enrolling in a school that offers an accelerated option, allowing them to take more courses per semester. Students can also earn their degree faster by taking courses in the summer term.

Whether or not a program offers full-time or part-time study affects how long it takes to earn a degree. Students who work full time should consider enrolling in part-time programs that charge tuition per credit because these programs do not penalize students for taking longer to complete their degree. Additionally, students who enroll in online programs can often choose between synchronous and asynchronous learning.

How Much Is a Bachelor's in Public Administration?

While costs vary based on school, program, scholarships, financial aid, and other factors, students should generally prepare to spend between $50,000 and $150,000 on a bachelor's in public administration program. On-campus students should consider costs beyond tuition, including housing, technology, and other campus fees. Additionally, many schools require first-year, on-campus students to purchase a meal plan.

While tuition for on-campus and online degrees is comparable, online students typically enjoy lower overall costs. For instance, some universities allow online students to pay in-state tuition, even if they do not reside in the state. Aside from tuition, online students should factor in any technology fees and online course fees.

Both online and on-campus students can save money on their degree by completing an associate degree in public administration at a community college before transferring to a four-year university.

Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Public Administration Prepares For

Registered Nurse

Many public administration graduates enter the nursing profession. To earn an RN license, students must complete an additional accredited program and pass a qualifying examination.

Certified Health Education Specialist

Health education is a common track for public administration graduates, and while many positions in the field do not require certification, the additional credential makes you a more competitive job applicant. Applicants must take a competency exam and meet certain continuing education requirements to earn this license.

State-Based Social Work Licensure

Many public administration graduates pursue social work, especially those who want to see the immediate impact of their efforts. The requirements for social work licensure differ by state, but in general, students must graduate from an accredited program and pass a qualifying examination.

Project Management Professional

Public administration careers often involve various degrees of project management. Future project managers gain a leg up on the competition by earning this certificate from the Project Management Institute (PMI). To earn the certificate, candidates must pass an exam. According to PMI, employees with the certificate earn 20% more than employees without it.

Resources for Public Administration Students

This website provides a thorough job board of public administration-related roles. Applicants can search by location or keyword.

Pi Alpha Alpha Honor Society

Pi Alpha Alpha is the global honor society for students in public affairs and administration. The society offers a job board and many local chapters.

American Society for Public Administration

One of the field's leading professional organizations, ASPA focuses on teaching, ethics, networking, and solutions. Offerings include local chapters, an annual conference, publications, and a job board.

NASPAA Resources for Students

This article provides insight into graduate programs for undergraduate public administration students thinking about continuing their education. Exploring Public Service Careers for Women

This article outlines career options within the public health field for women. It includes median annual salaries for different careers, interviews with women in public service, and a brief history of women in public service.

Professional Organizations in Public Administration

Networking can provide ample job opportunities. For that reason, professional organizations occupy an important role for graduates of public administration programs. In addition to networking opportunities and connections, many of these organizations offer job boards, professional development, and other services. Below are five of the industry's prominent professional organizations.

Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration

The NASPAA offers annual conferences, newsletters, and additional resources for public administration students.

National Forum for Black Public Administrators

NFBPA exists to advance the careers of black public administration professionals. The organization provides support in the form of local chapters, forums, and scholarships.

American Society for Public Administration

ASPA is an interdisciplinary organization focused on public administration teaching, ethics, networking, and solutions. The organization offers an annual conference, local chapters, access to publications, and a job board.

Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management

APPAM aims to improve and advance public policy and public administration through research, analysis, and education. The organization provides conferences, access to publications, newsletters, a blog, and a job board.

International City/County Management Association

ICCM aims to “advance professional local government” through four primary areas: innovation, ethics, leadership, and management. ICCM offers extensive professional development opportunities and access to scholarly publications in the field.

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