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15 Best Master of Public Administration Degree Programs 2021

Written by Victoria Hudgeons
Last Updated: February 19, 2021

Master of public administration (MPA) programs build the knowledge and skills required for careers in management and governance of the public sector. The degree overlaps somewhat with a business administration curriculum, emphasizing principles, policies, and practices as they relate to the administration of public programs.

Public administration programs train students to thrive within ever-changing social, political, and economic climates. With a degree in public administration, individuals can pursue careers in local, state, or federal government. They also gain research skills applicable to positions in research and academia, and they qualify for careers in international and nonprofit settings.

The 10 Best Master of Public Administration Programs 2021

Rank School Location
1 Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio
2 California State University, Long Beach Long Beach, CA
3 California State University, Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
4 Brigham Young University Provo, UT
5 Harvard University Boston, MA
6 Western Carolina University Cullowhee, NC
7 San Diego State University San Diego, CA
8 University of Washington Seattle, WA
9 New Mexico State University Las Cruces, NM
10 California State University, Fullerton Fullerton, CA

See Detailed MPA Rankings

Why Get an MPA Degree?

For the right person, an MPA degree can foster significant personal and professional satisfaction.

The ideal MPA candidate is an early- to mid-career professional interested in management positions in the nonprofit, public, or government sector. Successful MPA program candidates possess a bachelor's degree with completed quantitative coursework in economics and statistics, and several years of experience in a relevant field. Passion for public policy is a must.

Before choosing to pursue an MPA, prospective students should consider how they plan to finance their education, whether they want to study in person or online, and whether an MPA is the best option to help them achieve their long-term career goals. Related degrees like the MBA, master of public policy, and master of public health may better serve some professionals' goals.

With an MPA, graduates may see gains in upward mobility and salary. Other benefits of an MPA include:

  • Enhanced Leadership Skills: MPA degrees enhance hard and soft skills needed to enact effective leadership in the field of public administration and policy. Program capstones and internships allow students to apply these skills to real-world settings.
  • Focused on Student Interests: The best MPA programs offer concentrations and open electives that allow students to focus on narrow interests and fields of study, such as nonprofit management, social policy, health policy, or government management.
  • Opportunity to Influence and Impact: MPA degrees commonly require students to interact with nonprofit organizations and government agencies through internships, professional experiences, and capstones. MPA students get to apply classroom knowledge and start making a difference in the world even before they graduate.

MBA Vs. MPA Degrees

Graduate students earn more degrees in business than in any other field, which can lead many to make the incorrect assumption that an MBA is simply the "best" option available for professionals who want to work in management.

MBA and MPA degrees share several similarities and significant differences. If you find yourself unable to decide between the two, check out the following table to learn more about what makes an MPA stand out from the ever popular MBA.

Comparing MPA and MBA Programs

Master's in Public Administration Master's in Business Administration
Overall Focus Focus on using management competencies to evaluate and improve public policy, nonprofit efficiency, and public services. Focus on using management competencies to improve efficiency of business operations and increase profit margins.
Applied Experiences Project opportunities involve work with nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Project opportunities involve work with nonprofit organizations, for-profit corporations, and other private businesses.
Student Demographics Early- to mid-career professionals passionate about civic engagement, typically looking to pursue public service leadership. Early- to mid-career professionals with experience in business, typically looking to climb the corporate ladder and increase salary potential.
Program Length One or two years, if studying full time. Part-time options available. One or two years, if studying full time. Part-time options available.
Capstone Requirements Commonly project based with a real-world client. Sometimes a master's thesis or comprehensive exam. Almost always project based with a real-world client. Less commonly a master's thesis or comprehensive exam.

Top 15 MPA Programs and Schools 2021

On this page, readers can explore the top 15 master of public administration programs for 2021. Read on for more information on MPA degrees. Follow the link below to learn more about our ranking methodology.

Our Ranking Methodology

What the Best Master of Public Administration Degrees Have in Common

While every school offers enrollees a unique experience, prospective students can expect to notice the following similarities as they research the best MPA programs.

  • They are accredited. Regional and national accreditation ensure that institutions meet rigorous minimum standards. Generally, regional accreditation holds more distinction. Some employers and higher education institutions only recognize regional accreditation. All of the schools on our ranking hold regional accreditation from one of the following agencies:

    • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
    • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
    • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
    • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
    • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
    • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

    In addition to school-wide accreditation, MPA degree-seekers may also seek program-specific accreditation from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA).

  • They are reputable. We measure reputation by percentage of applicants admitted, admissions yield, and return on investment — the salary potential of a program's graduates. When a school holds consistent standards in its admissions process, students can engage at the same level academically. New Mexico State University, for example, caps MPA admission at 25 students per year to prioritize program excellence over student volume.
  • They promote academic excellence. Measurements for academic excellence can include program retention rate, graduation rate, and the number of full-time faculty. When high rates of students continue through a program, this demonstrates satisfaction from enrollees. A robust faculty indicates a commitment to the school and engaged professors to support program participants.
  • They are affordable. Affordability goes beyond tuition rates alone, also considering whether a program provides students with grant and scholarship opportunities. This category also accounts for student debt levels six years after graduation. Figures showing graduates with little or no debt indicate strong job placement rates with lucrative salaries. Texas A&M International University, for example, advertises a tuition rate of only $77 per credit for in-state students.

1. Ohio State University

Public university in Columbus, Ohio, accredited by HLC

This 150-year-old university situated in Ohio's capital city enjoys a strong reputation for its medical center and cancer hospital. With its renowned art center, robust athletics, and city-center location, Ohio State's campus makes for an invigorating college experience.

Master of Public Administration

A program of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, Ohio State's MPA approaches public policy through economics, management, and data analysis. The program offers many opportunities for customization, including dual degrees that pair topics like business administration or social work with the MPA. A degree-seeker can also select a graduate minor such as neuroscience, African American and African studies, or rural sociology.

Ohio State MPA students take courses in public policy formulation and implementation, managing public sector organizations, and public affairs statistics. The program also requires an integrative capstone project, where each enrollee engages in a classroom-based professional experience by defining a problem, constructing alternatives, and finishing with a workable recommendation.

Applying to Ohio State

Each candidate must hold an accredited, four-year undergraduate degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Application materials include an online application, three letters of recommendation, a $60 fee, and optional GRE scores. The program prefers academic prerequisites in microeconomics, statistics, and American government.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $723/credit
  • Required Credits: 52 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Delivery Format: On campus

2. California State University, Long Beach

Public university in Long Beach, CA, accredited by WSCUC

Founded in a repurposed apartment building in 1949, CSULB now features a large campus in sunny Southern California. The school's globally minded mission aims for integrative curriculums that value diversity, compassion, and the public good.

Master of Public Administration

CSULB's MPA program welcomes full-time and part-time students, especially individuals already employed in the public sector. The program emphasizes building leadership skills to prepare students for advancement in the field.

Required coursework includes foundations of public policy and administration, government budgeting and finance, and policy issue analysis. Each degree-seeker must also complete a directed research project and assemble a student learning portfolio.

Enrollees can customize their degrees by focusing on public works administration or urban affairs. Learners can also add graduate certificates in personnel management, public management analysis, or public sector financial management.

Applying to CSULB

Each applicant must submit undergraduate transcripts demonstrating a minimum 3.0 GPA, along with a professional writing sample, demonstration of professional experience in public affairs, two letters of recommendation, and a $55 fee.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $3,588/term (in state); $3,588/term plus $396/credit (out of state)
  • Required Credits: 39 credits
  • Program Length: 24 months
  • Delivery Format: 100% online or on campus

3. California State University, Los Angeles

Public university in Los Angeles, CA, accredited by WSCUC, NASPAA

Proudly proclaiming its status as a Hispanic-Serving, Minority-Serving, and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution, Cal State LA features a thriving student body of 26,000 students. The school makes full use of its city-center location, encouraging students to engage in community and scholarship in pursuit of the greater good.

Master of Public Administration

With the backdrop of a major urban center as a starting point, Cal State LA's MPA emphasizes critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and ethical public service. As a program of the Department of Political Science, the MPA requires courses in public administration as a field of practice, public sector organization and management, and public budgeting and financial administration.

Students can select electives in management perspectives and analytic perspectives. Each enrollee completes a capstone project and an administration-focused internship in a public or nonprofit organization. The capstone also includes a comprehensive exit examination.

Applying to Cal State LA

An applicant must submit undergraduate transcripts with a minimum 3.0 GPA for the last 60 credits. The application also requires two recommendation letters, a personal statement, a resume, and a $70 fee.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $4,106/term (in state);$4,106/term plus $396/credit (out of state)
  • Required Credits: 36 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Delivery Format: On campus

4. Brigham Young University

Private university in Provo, UT, accredited by NWCCU

This Latter-day Saint university centering action and intellectual scholarship in its institutional mission to serve 33,511 students. In addition to its home base in Provo, Utah, BYU also maintains campuses in Idaho and Hawaii.

Master of Public Administration

Students pursuing MPAs at BYU can choose to pursue full-time MPAs or part-time executive MPAs. The full-time pathway features additional specializations, including a dual MPA/law degree, a healthcare concentration, and a focus on Ph.D. preparation. Enrollees explore project management, communication, and human resource management.

The curriculum diverges as each degree-seeker chooses a sector emphasis such as nonprofit, local government, or state and federal government. Designed for learners with four years of professional experience, the executive MPA requires coursework in organizational behavior, administrative environment, and legal issues in public administration.

Applying to BYU

Each applicant must possess a four-year undergraduate degree and submit transcripts, three recommendation letters, and a statement of intent. BYU also requires a digital interview, a commitment to the school's honor code, and an ecclesiastical endorsement.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $6,930/term (Latter-day Saint tuition); $13,860/term (non-Latter-day Saint tuition)
  • Required Credits: 57 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Delivery Format: On campus

5. Harvard University

Private university in Boston, MA, accredited by NECHE

Among the most prestigious schools in the country, Harvard's history dates back to 1636, making it the oldest institution for higher education in the United States. Home to the world's most extensive academic library, Harvard continues to innovate in research, healthcare, and art.

Master in Public Administration

Harvard's MPA, fitting for full-time professionals already working in the public sector, features high flexibility. The program requires courses in key areas of economics and quantitative analysis, management and leadership, and public ethics and political institutions. The program offers dual degrees such as medicine and law.

Harvard's MPA program encourages learners to take courses through other Harvard graduate schools and provides access to classes through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University.

Applying to Harvard

Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree and three years of full-time professional work experience. Harvard expects students to enter having completed graduate-level coursework in economics, financial management, and politics. Other materials include GMAT or GRE scores, two recommendation letters, and a $100 application fee.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $52,872/year
  • Required Credits: 64 credits
  • Delivery Format: On campus

6. Western Carolina University

Public university in Cullowhee, NC, accredited by SACSCOC

With its main campus located about an hour from Asheville, North Carolina, in picturesque Cullowhee, WCU traces its history back to 1888 as the founding of a school for rural teachers. Today, WCU enjoys a strong reputation for research and community engagement.

Master of Public Affairs

WCU's MPA, a program of the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs, operates through an instructional site in Asheville. The program features a robust alumni network, with former students working in local government, nonprofit leadership, higher education, and law enforcement.

Course requirements include legal issues in public affairs, public policy analysis, and public personnel management. Each enrollee completes a capstone project by partnering with a local organization. The program also requires a professional field experience, usually through an internship.

WCU's program also hosts regular professional development events and provides access to professional organizations.

Applying to WCU

Each applicant must hold an accredited bachelor's degree and submit transcripts along with a $65 application fee. The program also requires an essay and a B average for the last two years of undergraduate courses.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $5,015/term (in state); $10,219/term (out of state)
  • Required Credits: 39 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Delivery Format: On campus

7. San Diego State University

Public university in San Diego, CA, accredited by WSCUC, NASPAA

With a student body of more than 35,000, SDSU emphasizes global reach, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The school's groundbreaking research encompasses diverse subject areas, including biomathematics, medicine, and climate change.

Master of Public Administration

SDSU's online MPA degree serves students currently working in government and nonprofit sectors. The program, structured to support full-time professionals, delivers asynchronous coursework and two on-campus immersion events that bookend the degree.

Core courses include scope of public administration, seminar in administrative theory, and methods of analysis in public and urban affairs. Elective options, which each cohort chooses by vote, include negotiation and bargaining in the public service, managing water and energy resources, and policy design and analysis.

All students complete capstone projects by devising solutions to real-world professional problems they face.

Applying to SDSU

Each candidate must submit undergraduate transcripts, two recommendation letters, a resume, GRE or GMAT scores, and a statement of purpose. The program prefers applicants with 3.0 GPAs but considers those with GPAs above 2.85.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $509/credit
  • Required Credits: 36 credits
  • Program Length: 16 months
  • Delivery Format: Online (asynchronous) with some in-person requirements

8. University of Washington

Public university in Seattle, WA, accredited by NWCCU

Headquartered in Seattle, UW's mission projects creativity and optimism. UW's sports programs and innovative student clubs make the campus an exciting space to live and work.

Master of Public Administration

Students pursuing MPA degrees at UW can choose from seven specializations, including analysis and evaluation, environmental policy, social policy, and international development. Alternatively, participants may customize their degrees by choosing electives that best fit their needs.

WU's MPA core requires coursework in management, leadership, and budgeting; economics; quantitative methods; and applications in policy analysis and program evaluation. Students culminate their degrees with consulting capstone projects in real organizations.

Applying to UW

Each candidate must possess a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA in the last 90 credits. Application materials include a resume, statement of purpose, 1-3 recommendation letters, and demonstration of quantitative preparation, potentially in the form of GRE scores. The program prefers prerequisites in government, microeconomics, and statistics.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $24,138/year (in state); $41,105/year (out of state)
  • Required Credits: 72 quarter credits
  • Delivery Format: On campus

9. New Mexico State University

Public university in Las Cruces, NM, accredited by HLC, NASPAA

This NASA space-grant college situated just over the U.S.-Mexico border takes pride in its status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. The school's mission prioritizes diversity, research, and public service.

Master of Public Administration

Situated within NMSU's Department of Government, the MPA degree combines theory and practice to emphasize career leadership and Ph.D. preparation. This MPA imparts knowledge in politics, law, and economics while encouraging social justice action.

Course requirements include research methods in government, public budgeting, public policy analysis, and ethics in government. Each enrollee also completes 18 credits of electives and can choose between a final thesis or an internship. The program offers dual-degree options to combine the MPA with a criminal justice or public history degree.

Applying to NMSU

Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA over the last two years of study. Prerequisite expectations include American government and politics, public administration, economics, and statistics or research methods. Admission materials include three recommendations, a personal statement, a writing sample, a resume, and a $30 fee.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $3,556/term (in state); $12,365/term (out of state)
  • Required Credits: 42 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Delivery Format: On campus

10. California State University, Fullerton

Public university in Fullerton, CA, accredited by WSCUC, NASPAA

With a strong reputation for astrophysics, cybersecurity, and business, the diverse CSUF emphasizes immersive educational experiences. Located just outside of Anaheim, CSUF enrolls more than 40,000 students annually.

Master of Public Administration

Established in 1968, CSUF's MPA degree emphasizes public service, diversity, and social equity. Degree-seekers can specialize in human resources, public finance, local government management, or public policy. The program boasts strong Orange County connections, including a city management fellowship program, career development resources, and internship opportunities.

The program requires core courses in foundations of public administration, administrative research and analysis, and public budgeting and finance. Each enrollee also completes a capstone seminar in public administration theory, which situates public administration within the overall structure of government. The MPA culminates with a comprehensive examination consisting of two take-home essay questions.

Applying to CSUF

Each candidate must submit transcripts with a minimum 2.75 GPA, a resume, statement of intent, and two recommendation letters. Prerequisites include American government or U.S. history, statistics or research methods, and economics.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $4,195/term (in state); $4,195/term plus $396/credit (out of state)
  • Required Credits: 39 credits
  • Delivery Format: On campus

11. Texas A&M International University

Public university in Laredo, TX, accredited by SACSCOC, NASPAA

Dedicated to learning through the arts and sciences, TAMIU teaches leadership skills for students to excel in a global society. The school, established in 1970, takes pride in its border-adjacent location and its rich history of international collaboration.

Master of Public Administration

At TAMIU, the MPA degree builds on professional experience through a lens of cultural diversity and international thinking. Required coursework includes program evaluation, administrative law, and administrative ethics.

Each enrollee also completes nine credits of electives, which they can satisfy by pursuing a 12-credit certificate in nonprofit leadership and management. The certificate covers strategic planning and fiscal administration for nonprofits, grant and contract management, and international nonprofit management.

Each enrollee completes their studies through a cumulative project or internship. Students without professional experience typically complete internships.

Applying to TAMIU

TAMIU requires each applicant to hold an accredited bachelor's degree and meet three out of four of the following requirements: minimum 3.0 GPA; over three years of professional experience; satisfactory statement of purpose; satisfactory interview. The university charges a $35 application fee.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $77/credit (in state); $486/credit (out of state)
  • Required Credits: 42 credits
  • Delivery Format: On campus

12. California State University, Fresno

Public university in Fresno, CA, accredited by WSCUC

This staple institution of Central California dates back to 1911. Today, the bustling campus features a planetarium, an extensive library, and Mountain West Conference athletics.

Master of Public Administration

Fresno State's MPA degree emphasizes core competencies of ethical public governance, policy development, decision-making, communication, and public service. Enrollees can concentrate in state and local public management or nonprofit management and leadership. Students without professional experience also complete internships by working with public or nonprofit organizations.

The 21-credit core curriculum requires courses in administration and society, quantitative applications for public administration, and human resources management. Prior to graduation, students may elect to complete a comprehensive examination or a thesis that addresses a specific problem in public administration.

Applying to Fresno State

Each applicant must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.7 GPA. Application materials include a statement of purpose, two recommendation letters, GRE scores, and a $70 fee.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $3,588/term
  • Required Credits: 36 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Delivery Format: On campus

13. Texas State University

Public university in San Marcos, TX, accredited by SACSCOC

Texas State hosts over 38,000 students in a diverse selection of majors. The school collaborates with NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and other national agencies to further its forward-thinking research in materials engineering, biomechanics, and emergency communication.

Master of Public Administration

Texas State's MPA degree offers three tracks: an applied research project concentration, a thesis option, and a non-thesis option. All three options require similar core courses, such as introduction to public policy and administration, public finance administration, and public personnel administration. All students must pass a comprehensive examination to graduate.

The applied research concentration develops research skills for public management and policy by collaborating with faculty throughout their studies. Each enrollee also completes a research project as a capstone. The thesis track requires a supervised paper with a problem statement, literature review, and research design. In the non-thesis track, students take additional elective courses.

Applying to Texas State

Each candidate must submit transcripts demonstrating a minimum 3.0 GPA in the last 60 credits, plus a personal statement and two recommendation letters. The program may grant conditional acceptance to applicants with minimum 2.75 GPAs who submit GRE scores.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $347/credit (in state); $756/credit (out of state)
  • Required Credits: 39 credits
  • Delivery Format: On campus

14. University of Central Florida

Public university in Orlando, FL, accredited by SACSCOC, NASPAA

UCF places a high value on the innovation provided by distance learning. With a 25-year history of online programming, UCF prides itself in engaging its online students to the fullest extent through community engagement and a highly collaborative environment.

Master of Public Administration

UCF's online MPA offers dual-degree options in criminal justice and nonprofit management to prepare students for careers as city planners and managers, education directors, and program analysts. Enrollees receive access to free professional development workshops and a research forum.

Degree-seekers at UCF take core courses in public administration in the policy process, analytical techniques for public administration, public budgeting, and human resource management. Each learner also completes an integrative capstone for three credits. The program encourages students without work experience to complete internships.

UCF also offers a parallel on-campus MPA degree.

Applying to UCF

Applicants must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Required materials include three recommendation letters, a resume, and a statement of goals.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $327/credit (in state); $1,152/credit (out of state)
  • Required Credits: 42 credits
  • Program Length: 2-3 years
  • Delivery Format: 100% online

15. University of South Florida

Public university in Tampa, FL, accredited by SACSCOC, NASPAA

Established in 1956, USF boasts a diverse student body of more than 50,000 students. With a strong commitment to research and innovation, USF maintains an active and collaborative health center, investment in anti-racist community building, and a high spot on the list of university patent-holders in the U.S.

Master of Public Administration

USF's MPA degree prioritizes partnerships with local government offices and public agencies to emphasize real-world experience. The university's professional mentorship program and internship opportunities provide a career-focused approach. Enrollees can pursue graduate certificates in public management, management of non-governmental and nonprofit organizations, and data science for public administration.

Required courses for USF's MPA include research methods in public administration, organization theory and leadership, political economy for public managers, and human resources management. Students can pursue electives in management, nonprofit administration, budgeting and financial management, or public organizational management.

Applying to USF

Each candidate must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Application materials include a letter of intent, GRE scores, a resume, two recommendation letters, and a $30 application fee.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $348/credit (in state); $773/credit (out of state)
  • Required Credits: 48 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Delivery Format: On campus

What To Expect From Top MPA Programs

Specific coursework and requirements for top MPA programs vary, but most feature similar objectives and outcomes. MPAs prepare students for careers in government, the private sector, and nonprofit organizations by exploring a breadth of topics including management, communication, and public policy.

Core classes in MPA programs emphasize topics such as principles of public administration, ethics and social justice, and public policy analysis.

Through coursework in applied economic metrics, policy analysis, and the politics of public policy, learners establish foundations to explore advanced aspects of public administration.

MPA degrees may allow students to specialize in a subset of public administration. Specializations such as nonprofit management and leadership, social entrepreneurship and innovation, and law and public policy prepare learners for careers in nonprofit organizations, start-ups, and legal institutions, respectively. Other concentration options include policy analysis, public management, and emergency management.

Hybrid and online degrees offer the same classes as traditional programs, but often with more flexible, convenient options. Hybrid public administration degrees integrate online content with in-person requirements, such as weekend class meetings or workshops. The hybrid format meets working professionals' needs through the flexibility of online classes, while still offering opportunities to meet and interact with classmates and instructors.

How Long Does It Take To Get an MPA?

The time it takes to earn an MPA varies by student and institution. Programs typically include 30-48 credit hours, which traditional students can complete in two years. Part-time learners usually complete their classes in 3-5 years.

Online public administration master's degrees may allow students to complete classes on an accelerated schedule, earning their MPA in as little as 18 months. Some online MPA programs allow public administration students to earn their degree at their own pace.

MPAs often include capstone requirements that may extend the time to completion, as some capstones require a significant amount of time and research.

Popular MPA Program Courses

MPA programs typically comprise three types of courses. Core courses ensure every student receives a similar foundation of knowledge and skills. Electives allow students to customize their program according to individual interests. Capstone courses serve as a culminating experience prior to graduation.

Courses you can expect to encounter in your MPA program include:

  • Management and Leadership: A course in management and leadership teaches students about organizational dynamics; management theory and techniques; human behavior in public organizations; and how to coordinate with stakeholders to produce change. Coursework uses real-world examples to prepare students to manage effectively in a variety of social and political organizations.
  • Financial Management: Financial management courses in an MPA degree focus on the ways government and public service organizations obtain, allocate, and spend resources. Students develop hands-on budgeting and analytical skills as they explore operating and capital budgeting processes, including the forces that influence government spending decisions.
  • Public Administration Values: This course increases student awareness of the ways in which moral and political values impact both the public policy process and non-elected public officials who serve their communities. Students develop the skills needed to conduct civil discourse in order to create, analyze, implement, and evaluate public policies and programs.
  • Statistics for Public Policy: As part of an MPA degree, students study the application of statistical methods in addressing public policy and management concerns. Essential subject matter in this course includes probability theory, sampling distributions, hypothesis testing, and experimental design. Students become capable of independent basic statistical analysis.

The MPA Capstone or Thesis

Prior to MPA completion, all candidates must successfully complete a culminating experience — typically a capstone seminar or thesis.

The MPA capstone seminar involves a semester-long professional experience with a real-world client, such as a government agency or nonprofit organization. Working alone or in small teams, students typically serve as consultants aiming to solve a specific problem by designing and implementing projects. Students also complete a written report and formal presentation of their research and findings.

Degree-seekers who elect to complete a master's thesis produce a substantial, independent 50- to 60-page research paper. A thesis aims to contribute original research to the field of public administration.

A capstone project serves the needs of degree candidates who plan to seek leadership positions in the public administration sector. Candidates who plan to continue their education and pursue a Ph.D. often find that a thesis better suits their goals.

What Jobs Can You Get With an MPA?

The best MPA programs provide students with rigorous training in management, analytics, finance, and communication. Graduates can apply these highly transferable skills to virtually any job sector.

The BLS projects some of the country's highest job growth rates from 2019-2029 in three attractive industries for MPA graduates: educational services, healthcare, and social assistance.

Social and community service managers, in particular, may experience major employment growth. The BLS projects a 17% increase for these careers from 2019-2029 — much faster than the average for all other occupations.

MPA degree-holders should know that their career options extend far beyond the boundaries of the following representative list. According to PayScale survey data, MPA graduates also secure well-paying positions like management consultant, data analyst, government affairs director, and communications manager.

Whether you hope to work for a government agency, an international nonprofit, or a private business, an MPA provides countless opportunities for you to make a difference in the lives of others.

Social and Community Service Managers

These professionals coordinate programs that support public well-being and supervise the workers who provide program services. Tasks include identifying necessary programs, analyzing data to determine effectiveness, and implementing improvements.

  • Required Education: At least a bachelor's degree. Preferred fields of study include social work, public administration, public health, and related fields.
  • Job Outlook: +17%
  • Median Annual Salary: $67,150


Top Executives

Top executives work in nearly every industry, including government, social assistance, and the nonprofit sector. Tasks vary by organization size but typically include establishing and implementing goals, policies, and procedures.

  • Required Education: At least a bachelor's degree. Preferred fields of study include public administration, business administration, and related fields.
  • Job Outlook: +4%
  • Median Annual Salary: $104,690


Public Relations and Fundraising Managers

These professionals coordinate and direct campaigns to enhance their organization's public image and encourage donations. Major employers include educational services and civic organizations.

  • Required Education: At least a bachelor's degree. Some jobs require a master's. Preferred fields of study include nonprofit management, public relations, and related fields.
  • Job Outlook: +9%
  • Median Annual Salary: $116,180


Human Resources Managers

Human resources managers coordinate and direct administrative functions. Tasks include overseeing employee recruitment, consulting with management regarding strategic planning, and handling employee services like payroll and training. The government, healthcare, and social assistance industries regularly employ HR managers.

  • Required Education: At least a bachelor's degree. Preferred fields of study include human resources, business administration, and related fields.
  • Job Outlook: +6%
  • Median Annual Salary: $116,720

Financial Managers

These professionals analyze data, create financial reports, and develop plans for the long-term financial goals of their organization. Financial managers with an MPA may also focus on securing grants. Common employers include government agencies and nonprofits.

  • Required Education: At least a bachelor's degree. Preferred fields of study include finance, economics, and business administration.
  • Job Outlook: +15%
  • Median Annual Salary: $129,890


Selecting Your Master's in Public Administration Program

Program guides and rankings provide a good head start, but they cannot completely replace careful, individualized consideration. A variety of factors may impact a prospective student's search for the right school. Areas to evaluate include:

  • Accreditation: Accreditation ensures that a college or university meets certain minimum standards pertaining to academics, financial matters, and student services. When looking for an MPA program, seek out schools with NASPAA accreditation and appropriate regional accreditation. Visit this guide for more information on master's program accreditation.
  • School Size: Regardless of school size, graduate programs typically offer small class sizes and easy access to faculty. However, school size may impact research and funding opportunities for students. Larger schools can often support more extensive campus facilities, for example.
  • Concentrations: Nearly all top MPA programs offer the opportunity to select electives according to your professional interests. However, if you aim to work in a specific area of public administration, consider seeking out a program with a corresponding concentration or specialization option.
  • Program Length/Format: MPA degrees offer a variety of completion schedules, including accelerated one-year plans, full-time two-year plans, and longer part-time plans. Consider, too, whether you prefer to take classes on campus, online, or a combination of both.

Should You Get Your MPA Degree Online?

Online formats often suit MPA degrees well. Programs generally accept a limited number of students, ensuring meaningful collaboration and networking even at a distance.

For those who plan to live and work in their home communities after graduation, online learning enables professionals to study without relocating to a distant campus. Students do not need to give up their job, and if the MPA curriculum requires an internship, they can seek out local opportunities to make a difference.

Before you commit to a distance program, consider the following:

  • Your Learning Style: Think back to your previous school experiences. If you excelled in an active classroom environment, online studies may present a learning curve. If you found it easiest to focus in a quiet dorm or computer lab, online learning may offer a better fit for you.
  • Your Learning Environment: When you study remotely, it becomes your responsibility to find a suitable learning environment. Does your home offer the quiet time and space you need to complete rigorous graduate coursework?
  • Technology Requirements: Before you enroll, make sure you meet all basic technology requirements and feel comfortable completing a majority of interactions through web-based means like discussion boards, email, and video chat.

Resources

Professional Organizations in Public Administration

Professional organizations for public administration professionals allow like-minded individuals to connect, cooperate, and collaborate. Professional organizations provide their members with access to continuing education resources, networking opportunities, and advocacy campaigns. Additional benefits include career guidance and access to job boards, research publications, and topical updates.

Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management

APPAM unites research, analysis, and education to improve public policy and management around the nation. Members receive access to the APPAM community of academics, practitioners, students, and field veterans. Other member benefits include webinars and podcasts, an annual conference, and a job board.

Public Management Research Association

PMRA fosters research on public organizations by publishing field-related journals and holding annual events. By linking the study of public institutions, their management, and public policy, PMRA seeks to expand interdisciplinary research into government and governance.

American Society for Public Administration

Dedicated to linking public administration scholars and practitioners, ASPA serves public service professionals by building networks and fostering solutions to governance challenges. Members include civil servants, elected officials, researchers, and nonprofit managers. Individuals who join gain access to networking opportunities, ASPA publications, and professional development programs.

Alliance for Nonprofit Management

ANM brings together consultants, funders, academics, and executives to exchange perspectives across the nonprofit management field. Through events, award programs, and the alliance's directory, members learn to advance their practice, initiate and participate in innovative methods, and lead in the field.

International City/County Management Association

Uniting local government professionals from around the world, ICMA provides development programs, research updates, and publications to members. Additional resources include technical assistance, training programs, data, and job postings.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an MPA good for?

MPA degrees provide advanced applied education in leadership, finance, and public policy issues. This degree suits professionals seeking long-term employment in big-name nonprofits, NGOs, and government agencies focused on public administration and policy.

Which is better: an MPA or MBA?

This depends entirely on the aspirations of the prospective student. Both program types require advanced study of similar concepts (management, economics, etc.), but MPAs focus on public policy, while MBAs focus on business operations.

Is an MPA degree worth it?

For the early- to mid-career professional looking to enhance their leadership skills and climb the management ladder in the government, nonprofit, or public sector, an MPA can certainly be a worthwhile investment.

What is an MPA degree salary?

According to PayScale data, U.S. professionals with an MPA earn an average of $67,510 annually, but you may earn more or less. Salary potential varies based on occupation, employer, years of experience, and geographic location.

Learn More About MPA Programs and Business Schools