What Is an MPA?

public administration

Key Takeaways:

  • An MPA, is a graduate degree that focuses on public sector management and leadership. It is designed to prepare individuals for careers in government, non-profit organizations, and other public service sectors.
  • An MPA equips you with versatile skills applicable to a broad range of roles that require leadership, strategic planning, policy analysis, and public management expertise.
  • Career opportunities in government include city manager, policy analyst, budget analyst, public affairs director, and urban planner.
  • Private sector careers include corporate social responsibility manager, public affairs consultant, and management consultant.
  • Some specialized careers include healthcare administrator, environmental policy analyst, and human resources manager.

If you have a heart for public service, then a graduate degree in public administration may be a great fit for you. Many people think of a Master of Public Administration (MPA) as the public sector’s version of an MBA, or Master of Business Administration. While some of the same skills are required for professionals who work in the corporate world, the aim of a professional with an MPA is different than that of someone with an MBA. MBA professionals often work to improve profits for a specific company while MPA-holders work to help improve communities and society at large by making smart public policies and decisions related to the greater good. While an MPA is often associated with service to the public, it’s also a valuable degree choice in today’s job market. Want to learn more about the MPA credential? Read on and discover more about the Master of Public Administration degree, including admissions requirements, curriculum, availability, and more.

MPA Program Basics

The MPA is an extensive program designed to educate students on the totality of public policy. How it is made, changing it, administering it – these are all the concerns of the MPA major and their coursework. As it is a master-level college program, the MPA requires rigorous academic coursework. Students should be prepared to study high-level topics in public administration such as public finance, economics, policy analysis, statistics, research methods in public administration, and more. After graduation, professionals with an MPA can find work in a variety of roles within government and nonprofit organizations. Individuals with an MPA often report a high level of job satisfaction, and many MPA positions are quite lucrative as well.

Featured Programs

Master of Public Administration (MPA): Admissions

If the idea of an MPA interests you, the next step is to learn about the admissions requirements for this graduate-level program. As with any academic program, admissions standards for MPA programs will vary depending on the school you plan to attend. Still, it’s good to have a general idea of standard requirements and criteria prior to building your application.

Typically, colleges and universities that offer Master of Public Administration programs will require applicants to demonstrate successful completion of an undergraduate degree program by submitting their academic transcript. Many schools will mandate that the applicant have a minimum GPA, which can vary depending on the college or university in question. Old Dominion University, for example, requires a minimum undergraduate grade point average of 2.8 for its MPA program. Other schools may have higher or lower GPA standards.

Another common requirement for MPA admissions is prior knowledge in certain prerequisite areas. Because schools want to ensure that the students they admit are ready for advanced courses in public policy and administration, they may insist that applicants hold an undergraduate credential in a specific major such as accounting or business. Alternatively, these schools may require that MPA applicants prove that they have completed certain prerequisite courses. For example, the University of Texas at Austin suggests that its MPA applicants take introductory classes in micro-and macroeconomics, statistics, and accounting before applying to the program.

Other typical MPA admissions criteria may include:

  • GMAT or GRE Scores
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Personal Essay or Statement
  • Resume
  • Application and Application Fee

Master of Public Administration (MPA): Curriculum

Before you lock in your decision to pursue a Master of Public Administration (MPA), you would be wise to learn about the curriculum for such a program. After all, it’s always a good idea to know what to expect prior to enrollment in any degree program. Of course, the best way to learn about which courses you’ll be taking is to visit the website of the college or university you plan to attend. However, if you’re still undecided about your school selection, you can still get a general idea of what your degree plan may consist of. That’s because many colleges and universities in the United States that offer an MPA follow the curriculum guidelines established by the National Association for Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA).

MPA programs usually require 40 credit hours of postgraduate coursework, on average. These credit hours are mostly comprised of core courses and elective classes. Some programs may also require additional hours for a practicum, internship, or other culminating experience.

Sample Core Courses for MPA Programs

Core courses for an MPA usually make up the bulk of this type of graduate degree program. Though titles for these classes may vary from school to school, they typically cover the same basic material. Examples include:

  • Introduction to Public Administration and the Policy Process
  • Legal Environment of Business for MPAs
  • Information Technology for Accounting and Control
  • Organizational Analysis
  • Ethics in Public Administration and Policy
  • Public Service Leadership
  • Public Administration Analysis and Evaluation

MPA Concentrations and Electives

Public administration is a broad field and encompasses many different sub-fields and topics. Thus, in addition to required core MPA courses, you can expect to take some concentration-specific classes and/or electives to round out your Master of Public Administration program. If the school you attend offers formal concentrations, then you will be required to complete the classes aligned with your chosen area of emphasis.

Common MPA Concentrations

Some popular MPA concentrations include:

  • Community and Economic Development
  • Environmental Policy/Natural Resource Management
  • Local Government Management
  • Nonprofit Management
  • Policy Studies
  • Financial Administration
  • Public Management
  • Healthcare

Some schools opt to offer elective classes in lieu of designated concentrations. If this is the case for your college or university, it’s advisable to customize your MPA by selecting elective classes related to a specific area of interest or career path within public administration. Doing so can make your application especially appealing to employers upon graduation from your Master of Public Administration program.

Sample MPA Electives

Below, you will find some sample elective classes associated with a Master of Public Administration curriculum:

  • City and County Management
  • Navigating Nonprofit-Local Government Relationships
  • Diversity in Public Administration
  • Community Revitalization Applied
  • Special Topics in Public Administration
  • Community Engagement and Urban Governance
  • Mediation and Negotiation
  • Values and Bias in Public Policy

Noteworthy MPA Examples

One of the best ways to see the MPA credential at work is by looking at some cases of its actual use. Perhaps David Petraeus is a name you may recognize. This important figure in government and military service earned his MPA in 1985 and went on to head the CIA and become a US General and 10th Commander of the United States Central Command.

Another great story rising from the merits of an MPA is that of television celebrity, news anchor, and author Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly started with Fox 25 years ago and has gained international notoriety for his views and news presentations as well as other media productions. All of this started with an MPA.

The list of big names and the ways in which their MPAs served them goes on and on. Felipe Calderon eventually became the President of Mexico. Kathleen Sebelius went on to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Thad Allen became a commandant of the US Coast Guard after earning his MPA. As you can see, the doors of opportunity opened by this unique credential are numerous indeed.

Where Is the MPA Offered?

You may be wondering which college/university you can attend for a Master of Public Administration. Fortunately, the list of MPA schools has grown substantially over recent years. In fact, according to the NASPAA, there are currently 285 colleges and universities in the United States that offer a Master of Public Administration (MPA) credential. Of these, nearly 60 are offered fully online, and about a dozen are primarily online with some in-person requirements.

The Best Colleges and Universities for an MPA

Choosing the best MPA degree program is largely a matter of personal preference. While high-quality programs are often both institutionally and programmatically accredited, there are other factors you’ll want to consider, including cost, scheduling options, support services for students, and more. Then, there’s the matter of reputation. According to the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking of graduate programs in public affairs, the following schools currently offer the best MPA programs:

  • Syracuse University
  • Indiana University-Bloomington
  • Harvard University
  • University of California-Berkeley
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Washington
  • University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
  • University of Texas-Austin
  • New York University
  • Princeton University
  • University of Georgia
  • University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Most Affordable Schools for an MPA

In reality, affordability is often the deciding factor for many a student looking to pursue an MPA. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the following colleges and universities offer advanced degrees in public administration for less than $10,000 per year in tuition expenses:

  • American Public University
  • Bellevue University
  • Brigham Young University
  • Columbia Southern University
  • Franklin University
  • Jackson State University
  • Mississippi Valley State University
  • Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico-Ponce
  • Southern New Hampshire University
  • The University of Texas- Permian Basin
  • University of Management and Technology
  • University of North Carolina at Pembroke
  • University of Phoenix- Arizona
  • University of Puerto Rico- Rio Piedras
  • Western Carolina University

Advantages of Online MPA Programs

As mentioned, online MPA programs are not only available; they’re plentiful. If you’re considering going back to school for an MPA, you should evaluate the many benefits of attending your public administration classes via distance education. Online programs at the postsecondary level have been making steady gains in terms of quality and legitimacy. Today, an online MPA credential means just as much in the workplace as a traditional Master of Public Administration, and online MPA programs are just as academically challenging, too. These distance learning programs provide many unique benefits, particularly for non-traditional students such as working adults and single parents, for example. Online MPA offerings are extremely flexible, for example, and can be completed from home. They’re often less expensive than traditional MPA options as well.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master of Public Administration (MPA) Programs

Below, you’ll find a compilation of frequently-asked questions our editors receive from MPA hopefuls. The information provided here is meant to provide general advice and is not a substitute for counsel from a school official.

How long does it take to complete an MPA program?

Completion times for these graduate degrees in public administration can vary widely. For example, students who undertake an accelerated program of study can earn the MPA credential in as few as 18 months. On the other hand, those who elect a part-time MPA degree plan can take up to six years to complete all degree requirements, depending on your course load. An academic advisor can help you choose a pace of study that fits your individual schedule and career goals.

How much does it cost to get an MPA?

Like completion times, tuition expenses for MPA programs can vary significantly from one college or university to the next. According to U.S. News & World Report, annual costs for MPA study can range from $8,000 to $42,000.

What can I do with an MPA?

A: There are many different career paths one can take with an MPA credential. Some examples include:
Nonprofit Administrator
City Manager
Urban Planner
Educational Administrator
Public Relations Manager
Human Resources Director
Public Administration Consultant

How much will I make with a Master of Public Administration (MPA)?

Depending on your employer, job title, and geographical location, your salary with an MPA can vary quite a bit. Still, PayScale reports the average salary for professionals with an MPA credential to be just under $70,000 per year.

What professional organizations are there in the field of public administration?

Many MPA students and graduates join professional associations for career development resources and opportunities. Some organizations to consider include:
American Society for Public Administration (ASPA)
American Association for Budget and Program Analysis (AABPA)
Alliance for Nonprofit Management (ANM)
Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM)
American Political Science Association (APSA)
International City/County Management Association (ICMA)
National Forum for Black Public Administrators (NFBPA)

Can I complete my MPA online?

Yes. There are several dozen fully online MPA degree programs available right now. Some hybrid programs exist as well; these options combine in-person and online instruction.