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What is an MPA?

An MPA is a Master of Public Administration graduate-level degree that provides its students with the skills needed to run programs and implement policies for the public good. The degree qualifies graduates to work in a wide range of public service positions, including non-profit organizations, government agencies and private companies. This graduate-level degree has become increasingly more sought after due to the growing demand in knowledgeable of multiple areas of business (both in for profit and non-profit sectors).

As you will see in the MPA curriculum section below, the skills a student learns in an MPA program will prepare he or she to excel in a wide variety of business verticals, including business management, operations, marketing, and accounting, among many others.

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Core Curriculum of an MPA

An MPA degree typically requires courses related to (spoiler alert) administrating! An MPA program typically requires two years of study (usually four semesters of full-time course work and a summer internship), though some students require additional time to complete a thesis for the degree.

Thankfully, dozens of graduate schools in the U.S. offer full-time and part-time MPA programs, as well as executive for professional students. These give nine-to-fivers the freedom to schedule coursework around their job commitments. Most MPA curriculum includes the following subject areas, as well as coursework more specific to an MPA student's area of focus:

General Areas of Study of an MPA Degree:

  • Problem Solving: gain the ability to solve complex situations in administration through critical thinking.
  • Decision Making: learn how to master management, and organization to effectively make tough decisions.
  • Research Methods: develop skills in research and analysis and how to apply insights from your research.
  • Statistics: use advanced models of research and statistics to optimize administrative strategies.
  • Management Concepts: build up your leadership skills using management tactics, plans, and theories.
  • Ethics: learn theories and laws of ethics to apply to public administration.

Concentration-Specific Areas of Study of an MPA Degree:

  • Microeconomics: understand advanced of principles of microeconomics and its implications.
  • Public Finance: learn the role that the government plays in the economy to better manage its impact on your organization.
  • Policy Formulation: gaining insight on policy formulation will help you navigate the innerworkings of policy.
  • Program Implementation: learn implementation methods to become a stronger, more effective leader in your organization.
  • Information Systems: your MPA curriculum will help you engage in learnings about information systems.

There is some overlap between MPA and MPP (Master of Public Policy) degrees, but MPP programs are typically concerned with policy design and analysis – as opposed to the program implementation and management that MPA programs focus on. That said, the curriculum for the two degrees have converged in recent years, so students should look beyond the degree title for a program that best aligns with their career goals.

As far as the degree title itself, the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA), recognizes graduate schools that use a variety of different names for MPA/MPP programs, including "Master of Public Affairs," "Master of Public Service," "Master of Government Service" and "Master of Government Administration." (The ASPA considers all of these degrees to fall under the classification of MPA/MPP.)

Specializations of an MPA Degree

MPA students have a great deal of flexibility when it comes to choosing a field to enter following graduation. Examples of topics you can specialize in include:

  • Public Healthcare: learn the role that the government plays in the healthcare industry to better manage its impact on your organization.
  • Nonprofit Management: your MPA curriculum will provide you with management adeptness in the nonprofit industry.
  • Environmental Policy: fully comprehend the role that government and other institutions play in the environment to be fluent in how regulation may affect your organization.
  • Development of Philanthropic Organizations: grasp the necessary knowledge on how to interact, engage, and develop initiatives with philanthrophic organizations.
  • Urban Planning: engage in the statistics, strategic thinking, and research involved in urban planning.
  • Transportation: this Master of Public Administration concentration will provide you with the tools to reason the transportation industry.
  • Criminal Justice: study the innerworkings of the criminal justic system to make an impact in this sector.

For the best career prep, it's recommended that MPA students select a program that offers specialization topics in line with their interests and goals – or one they already have work experience in.

Career Benefits of a Master of Public Administration

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. This research (see: soul searching) will result in deciding whether you’d like to pursue a job in the private or public sector. For instance, some examples of MPA jobs in nonprofit organizations include development manager, budget analyst, grant writer, policy analyst and executive director. See our guide on MPA career paths for more helpful information!

MPA Salary

MPA graduates are typically employed in either the public, private or non-profit sector. Although MPA salaries can vary greatly depending on sector, experience, geographical location and other factors, it is still useful to look at average salary data to determine the value of earning an MPA degree. Earning an master of public administration (MPA) degree in preparation for a career in public service or the private sector can mean a substantial increase in salary and greater job security.

MPA Professors Answer the Question: What is an MPA?

An MPA is described as a terminal degree, meaning that graduates will not require additional education beyond the masters for career advancement. Over the past 50 years, it's become increasingly important for national and international policymakers and leaders in the public sector, so once earned, your MPA can take you to big places.

"Master of Public Administration (MPA) is the professional degree for people who seek careers in public service as managers, decision-makers and executives."

—Ben Cokelet, Adjunct Lecturer of Public Administration, NYU Wagner, Founder of PODER, @ProjectPODER

“What someone can do with a public administration degree will depend on their personality and commitments. I have seen it lead to a range of things: from deeply wonky policy research to shiny hip philanthropy PR to the long hard slog of building new human service organizations from the ground up. And everything in between.”

—Derek Coursen, Adjunct Professor of Public Administration, NYU Wagner, Human Services Informatics

“The UIC MPA program is a curriculum of the basic components of public administration (budgeting, human resource management, economics, legal context, data analysis/statistics, and policy analysis) and a student-selected concentration in either public management, financial management, non-profit management, or local government administration. A number of students (part-time) in our program are UIC employees who use the MPA to advance their careers at UIC. Others employed in various local public sector organizations (e.g., local governments,state government, police, etc.)are also part-time, and use the MPA in a similar fashion.”

—George Beam, Associate Professor of Public Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago, http://george-beam.com

"Many of our graduates work for local governments and non-profit organizations. Former students are city managers, HR managers, policy analysts, program evaluators, etc. Many graduates use the degree to get promotions or obtain better employment."

—Doug Goodman, Ph.D., Associate Professor and MPA Director, UT Dallas

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