MPA Career Guide for 2020

There was a time when a career in public administration was synonymous with a government career. In the past few decades, the emergence of what has been called the “new public sector” has expanded public service administration jobs to include nonprofits, NGOs, educational institutions and private companies. This means that there are more opportunities to pursue a career with an MPA degree. The challenging problems that are facing the public today require trained professionals who can define and administer the public agenda.

List of MPA Careers

Career Benefits of an MPA Degree

According to PayScale, the average MPA salary is $66,000 per year, which is above the national median pay for all workers. PayScale reports a wide range of salaries for MPA degree holders, all the way up to $125,000 a year or more. 

The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) reports that graduates of MPA programs can expect to receive a higher salary than non-graduates when they are initially hired by the federal government. Keep in mind that MPA salary can fluctuate based on your level of experience, MPA specialization, your location, and number of years in the industry. 

Many graduates have used an MPA to obtain deeper knowledge of their chosen field. A graduate degree in public administration can also help you stand out from the competitive public administration landscape. With over 80,000 local, state and federal government agencies in the U.S. and more than 1.5 million non-profit organizations, there are myriad possibilities for public service careers. Individuals with MPA degrees are equipped with an understanding of government and administration that can make them uniquely qualified for many different public service positions.

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Public Administration Jobs: Finding a Federal MPA Job

The federal government is one of the top employers of MPA graduates. With a workforce of nearly 3 million people, it is the largest employer in the nation. Federal jobs for MPA graduates are available in Washington, D.C., as well as in every U.S. state and 140 countries overseas. Federal job benefits include annual pay increases within a well-defined salary grade system, health and life insurance, retirement benefits and paid holidays, vacation and sick days. 

To find positions with the vast ranks of the federal government, MPA graduates can search through job titles and descriptions in the online version of the Handbook of Occupational Groups and Families. When employment opportunities in the federal government become available, they must be posted on USAJOBS. On this website, available jobs are categorized by college major. Job seekers can also search for positions by location, agency or keyword and create customized job searches that generate automatic emails when positions that match become available. In addition to providing job listings, USAJOBS provides job application information as well as a resume builder tool that helps job seekers create resumes that conforms to federal government standards. 

Public administration job functions at the federal level can include:

  • Assessing the effects of global climate change and providing emergency services following natural disasters.
  • Administering programs that support homeland security and fight terrorism.
  • Limiting the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases.

Finding a State-Level MPA Job

MPA graduates who are interested in public administration jobs at the state and local level will find a wealth of resources and job leads at CareerOneStop. The U.S. Department of Labor sponsors this job search site, which provides links to state-by-state listings of government jobs. The demand for MPA graduates who can manage human and financial resources, determine policy and administer programs for the public good has never been greater. Local government jobs include city manager, governor, director of government affairs and special agent. There are also jobs in environmental and natural resource management, health and education. 

Some job functions at the state level can include:

  • Providing equal educational opportunities or health care for all segments of the population.
  • Helping former convicts transition into productive lives.

Finding an NGO or Nonprofit MPA Job

Graduates of MPA degree programs who are interested in helping people across international borders can look for jobs on Idealist.org. Examples of MPA jobs in nonprofit organizations include development manager, budget analyst, grant writer, policy analyst and executive director. International MPA jobs include economist, intelligence analyst and public affairs officer. 

A few job functions for NGO and nonprofit workers include:

  • Providing basic necessities like food, shelter and medical care to growing populations in developing countries around the world.
  • Designing targeted development and fundraising plans for a nonprofit organization.

MPA Career Resources

To help guide their career decisions, MPA graduates should look for issues that they have a passion for, roles they want to play and organizations that they want to work for. A volunteer or paid internship is a good way to gain experience in public service before deciding on a career. Public Service Careers is an excellent source for descriptions and future prospects for MPA jobs. Besides the intangible rewards that come with a career in public service, earning an MPA degree can mean an increase in salary.

Students and recent college graduates who are seeking government employment can take advantage of the federal government’s Pathways Program. This program streamlines the process of finding and applying for jobs in the federal government and provides additional training and career development opportunities for employees who are embarking on a new government career. MPA graduates who completed their degree in the previous two years are qualified for Pathways’ Recent Graduates Program. In addition to salary and benefits, this program provides 40 hours of additional training and mentorship in exchange for an agreement on the part of the employee to remain in the job for one year. 

The Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program is another Pathways component that should be of special interest to recent MPA graduates. The goal of this program is to create future government leaders. Qualifying individuals who have earned an advanced degree within the preceding two years can apply for a two-year appointment as a PMF. While receiving a salary and benefits, PMF participants attend classroom sessions that focus on leadership, management, policy and other government topics, and complete challenging work assignments. Completion of the programs qualifies participants for immediate appointment to a leadership position in the federal government. Admission to the PMF Program is based on the results of an online assessment followed by an in-person interview.

When Is an MPA Worth It for Your Career?

As a working professional, you may be wondering if an MPA is worth the time and effort. You may be wondering if some programs require you to leave your current job or work part-time.

Traditional MPA degree programs usually require two years of full-time course work and a summer internship. Those who want to increase their career options without sacrificing their current commitments have had the option of taking longer to earn the degree in executive or part-time programs. 

Internet technology has led to the advent of online MPA programs that allow professionals to schedule their coursework around their other responsibilities. Some of the nation’s top universities now offer online master of public administration programs that offer the same degree and curriculum offered to on-campus students. A few of these MPA programs also offer a GRE waiver to those who qualify, which can make getting your MPA even easier. 

With part-time and online learning capabilities increasing every year, a public administration master’s degree might be more attainable than you thought. A graduate degree can provide you with additional expertise in your chosen field, while giving you an extra qualification compared to job applicants who only hold a bachelor’s degree.