Since both MPAs and MPPs center around Public Service, it can be confusing to differentiate between the two. The main distinction you’ll need to make before choosing your degree path is whether you want to be:

  • A. a professional in public service management (ie. performing an organizational, human resources, or financial role in the space), or
  • B. someone in the trenches who analyzes, evaluates, and solves the problems within policies that public service groups form around.

A. Want to be the boss? Get Your MPA you’ll want a Master of Public Administration (MPA). The skills learned in an MPA program can be applied to the organizational, financial and human resource challenges that are associated with policies and programs that address the public good.

B. Prefer getting your hands dirty? Get An MPP The Master of Public Policy (MPP) is a related degree that focuses on the systematic analysis and evaluation of information needed to solve policy problems. MPP graduates have the skills needed to weigh alternatives and develop effective solutions for issues in the public sector.

Not sure? You’re in luck! At one time, there was an obvious difference between MPA and MPP degrees, but over the past two decades these fields of study have seen some convergence. Many MPA programs now involve policy issues, while a growing number of MPP programs address policy implementation. Instead of focusing on semantics, students should look for programs that align with their career goals. Both MPA and MPP programs are built upon core courses and courses related to a field of specialization. In general, there are differences in the core course emphasis and the fields of specialization between MPA and MPP degrees. Here’s an overview of most of the similarities (and where the degrees slightly differ):

Master of Public Administration

  • Core Focus in Administration, Leadership, and Management
  • Course Topics in:
    • Finance
    • Management Principles
    • Information Systems
    • Human Resources
  • Management/Leadership Role In:
    • Federal, state and local government
    • Nonprofit Organizations
    • Private Companies

Master of Public Policy

  • Core Focus in Evaluation, Strategy, and Research/Analysis
  • Course Topics in:
    • Research Methods
    • Economics
    • Statistics
    • Cost-benefit Analysis
  • Policy Analysis Role In:
    • Government Agencies
    • Nonprofit Organizations
    • Private Companies


Top-Ranked MPA Designed to Prepare Tomorrow’s Public Service Leaders.
Multidisciplinary Curriculum with Real-World Experience; GRE Waivers Available.

Delivered by Syracuse University’s #1-Ranked Maxwell School.
Action-Oriented Curriculum Completed in as Little as 15 Months; No GRE.

MPA Online from USC Price
Earn your MPA online from USC Price, ranked #3 for public affairs.
The program can be completed in as few as 24 months. A bachelor’s degree is required to apply.


Specialization within your MPP or MPA Degree

Specialization fields for an MPP degree would be a matter of choosing a policy or “issue” area to focus on, such as:

  • Health Policy
  • Environmental Policy
  • Education Policy

A specialization within an MPA degree, on the other hand, would be a more general branch of focus that has programs and policies to be managed. Examples for fields of specialization for MPAs could include:

  • Public Finance
  • Criminal Justice
  • Nonprofit Management

(NB: It’s worth noting that MPA programs often require professional experience in the area of specialization, so be sure to pick a focus that you’ve had a related job or internship experience in, or plan to).Concurrent Degrees: Getting an MPA and an MPP Since there is some overlap–at least in employer type–within possible careers for MPA and MPP degrees, some students in both MPA and MPP degree programs opt to pursue dual or concurrent degrees, which allows them to complete both degrees in a less time if they were pursued sequentially. Dual and concurrent degree programs typically require a reduced number of credits for each degree, and in exchange, open up a wider variety of careers. Some of the most popular dual degree programs involve an MPA or MPP degree and a JD (Law), MBA (business) or MD (medicine) degree.