Masters in Public Administration: A Guide for Aspiring Learners

Cole Neder

Cole Neder

Updated & Fact Checked: 05.20.2024

Public administration is a field that involves the management and implementation of government policies and programs. It encompasses a wide range of activities aimed at efficiently and effectively delivering public services to citizens. Public administrators work in various sectors, including local government, private organizations, non-profit entities, and the public sector. Roles in a public administration job usually include the following: 

  • Policy analysis and development
  • Budgeting and financial management
  • Human resource management
  • Public relations and communication
  • Program evaluation and implementation
  • Ethics and legal compliance

A Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree is often pursued by individuals aiming for leadership roles in public administration, providing them with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate the complex landscape of public service.

Pay and Job Outlook

Professionals looking for employment in the field of public administration benefit from high growth and a positive job outlook. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, organizations and governments employed 377,800 administrative services managers in 2022, expected to grow by 5% by the year of 2032 or 397,700. Here are some common roles and job titles in the field of public administration:

Human Resources Manager

Median Salary: $130,000

Projected Job Growth: +5%

Program Overview:
Supervise the hiring process, including recruiting and interviewing candidates for open positions. HR managers handle disputes between employees and make disciplinary decisions as necessary.

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Budget Analyst

Median Salary: $82,260

Projected Job Growth: +3%

Program Overview:
Helps government agencies and private companies understand short-term and long-term financial expectations. Create and track budgets, meet goals, monitor spending, and propose improvements.

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Management Analyst

Median Salary: $95,290

Projected Job Growth: +10%

Program Overview:
Help organizations improve their profitability and efficiency by interviewing staff, observing operations and analyzing company financial data. Typically work as contractors who temporarily assist companies.

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Policy Analyst

Median Salary: $68,020

Projected Job Growth: +7%

Program Overview:
Forecast changes in policy, the economy and society, along with analyzing how ongoing laws have affected communities. Collect data to analyze shifting tides in public opinion and develop theories based on findings.

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Urban or Regional Planner

Median Salary: $79,540

Projected Job Growth: +4%

Program Overview:
Help to improve disadvantaged areas, plan for public spaces like parks, or develop locations for unhoused individuals. Collaborate with public officials and contractors to oversee projects.

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Community Development Manager

Median Salary: $124,240

Projected Job Growth: +9%

Program Overview:
Collaborate with employees to deliver social programs with public and private organizations. Research social programs to determine their effectiveness and make suggestions for improvements.

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While average wages are generally higher for executive and manager-level roles, the median salary for those who have recently graduated with an MPA degree makes a median salary of $58,000 per year. This varies depending on location, cost of living, and employment sector.

Public Administration Degrees

If you’re interested in a rewarding career that offers high wages, competitive benefits, and makes a difference in people’s lives, then explore obtaining a degree in Public Administration. While the most common track is a Master’s degree in Public Administration, there are numerous options.

Undergraduate Degrees for Public Administration

Preparing for a Master of Public Administration (MPA) graduate degree involves building a foundation in areas that are relevant to public administration, policy analysis, and management. While there is no specific undergraduate major required for admission to MPA programs, certain fields of study can provide a solid background. Here are some recommended classes and majors to consider from 4-year bachelor’s degree programs across the United States:

  • Political Science or Public Policy
  • Public Administration or Affairs
  • Economics or Statistics
  • Environmental Studies
  • Communications
  • Urban Studies or Planning
  • Legal Studies

Masters Degree in Public Administration

A Master’s degree in Public Administration (MPA) is a graduate-level program that focuses on equipping students with the knowledge and skills needed to excel in leadership and management roles within the public sector. The curriculum typically covers subjects such as policy analysis, organizational behavior, public finance, and strategic planning.

Many programs are offered in flexible formats. Most programs offer on-campus classes, which you will find here categorized by state. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many programs now also offer hybrid and online-exclusive learning formats, which cater to long-distance students and mid-career professionals. You can find available online programs here. 

MPA programs aim to develop professionals who follow employment paths that navigate the complexities of government and nonprofit organizations, addressing societal challenges and promoting effective governance. A comprehensive guide to utilizing your MPA degree can be found here.

Ranking MPA Programs

Enrolling in a top-ranked Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) program can offer several advantages. These programs often have faculty members who are experts in their fields, providing students with high-quality education and exposure to cutting-edge research and practices in public administration. 

Institutions such as the U.S. News & World Report often rank public administration institutions by measuring the following metrics: 

  1. Academic quality
  2. Cost and ROI
  3. Available student resources
  4. Post-graduate salary averages
  5. Graduation rates

Our Public Administration experts have also ranked MPA programs, using these metrics and more, including accreditation, faculty expertise, specializations, and practical experience opportunities. You can find our rankings by following this link.

Degree Certificates

Obtaining a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) certificate instead of a full degree has both positives and negatives. On the positive side, an MPA certificate can be a cost-effective and efficient option for those seeking targeted education in a specific area of public administration, enhancing their professional credentials.

However, the limitations of a certificate lie in its scope; it may not provide the comprehensive education and depth of understanding that a full MPA degree offers. Job opportunities and career advancement may also be more limited compared to individuals with a complete MPA degree. 

The decision between a certificate and a degree depends on individual career goals, time constraints, and the level of expertise required for one’s desired role in the public sector. Learn more about different MPA certificates here.

Unique and Specialized MPA Programs

A Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) degree is unique in its focus on preparing individuals for leadership roles in the public sector, emphasizing skills and knowledge necessary for effective governance. Several specialized MPA programs cater to diverse needs and career stages.

MPA Program Specializations

Master of Public Administration (MPA) programs often offer a variety of specializations or concentrations to allow students to focus their studies on specific areas of public administration. The availability of specializations can vary among institutions, but here are some common MPA specializations:

  • Public Health (MPH)
  • International Affairs (MIA)
  • Public Policy (MPP)
  • Criminal Justice Administration (CJ)
  • Urban and Regional Planning (MUPP)
  • Social Service Administration (LNHA)
  • Information Management (MIM)

Accelerated MPA Programs

Accelerated MPA programs are designed to be completed in a shorter time frame than traditional programs. Typically, they condense coursework and may require intensive study, allowing students to earn their degrees more quickly. This option is suitable for individuals who want to expedite their education and enter the workforce sooner. Learn more about available accelerated MPA programs here.

Dual Degree MPA Programs

MPA programs often offer dual degree options, allowing students to earn two degrees simultaneously. Common combinations include MPA with a Master of Public Health (MPH) or Master of International Affairs (MIA). Dual degrees provide a broader skill set, enabling graduates to address complex issues at the intersection of different disciplines. Learn more about dual degree MPA programs here.

MPA Programs with No GRE Requirements

Many Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) programs have chosen to eliminate the GRE requirement in their admissions process to enhance diversity and inclusivity. The move towards a more holistic admission approach considers factors such as academic achievements, professional experience, and recommendation letters, aiming to provide a comprehensive evaluation of an applicant’s potential success in a public administration program. Find different MPA programs that do not require a GRE score here.

Executive and Mid-Career MPA Programs

Geared towards professionals with significant work experience, executive or mid-career MPA programs cater to those looking to enhance their leadership skills and advance in their public service careers. These programs often offer a flexible schedule, accommodating the needs of working professionals, and may focus on practical applications of public administration concepts. Learn more about different executive-track MPA programs here.

Tuition Costs and MPA Program Affordability

pursuing higher education can be a significant financial investment, and assessing the affordability of tuition helps individuals make informed decisions based on their budget constraints. Affordable tuition makes it more accessible for individuals to pursue advanced degrees without accumulating excessive student debt.

Most Affordable Programs

According to the Education Data Initiative, students who obtain a Master’s degree can accrue over $80,000 in student loan debt by the time they graduate. This makes tuition affordability and the degree’s return on investment an important aspect of choosing an MPA program.

As a prospective student, be financially prepared while searching for your degree by reviewing our list of affordable MPA programs that offer competitive tuition rates for on-campus, online, and distance learning opportunities.

MPA Scholarship Programs

Scholarship availability can play a pivotal role in making MPA programs financially viable. Scholarships help alleviate the financial burden, making education more accessible to a broader range of individuals. For prospective students committed to public service and contributing to societal well-being, the availability of scholarships ensures that financial constraints do not hinder their ability to pursue an MPA.

Doctorate Programs in Public Administration

A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in public administration delves more extensively into the discipline compared to a Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.). These doctoral programs generally demand approximately 55 to 95 credits, culminating in the completion of a dissertation and a defense presentation. 

Typical Ph.D. coursework in public administration may include subjects such as organizational theory, policy analysis, and public management. Individuals obtaining a Ph.D. have the option to pursue careers similar to those available to MPA graduates, though some may opt for roles in academia and research instead.

If you are a Master’s student- or a professional who has already obtained their MPA degree- explore our guide to different MPA Ph.D. programs here.

NASPAA Accreditation

NASPAA (Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration) accreditation for a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) program signifies that the program has met rigorous standards of quality and effectiveness in public service education. 

A NASPAA accreditation assures prospective students that the MPA program meets high academic and professional standards, ensuring a quality education that aligns with the expectations of employers and the public sector. Accreditation also signifies that the program is committed to continuous improvement and staying current with best practices in public administration.

Overall, NASPAA accreditation is a valuable endorsement for MPA programs, instilling confidence in both students and employers regarding the program’s commitment to excellence and relevance in the field of public administration. Using our guide to research and locate different online NASPAA-accredited programs.

Additional Resources

Obtaining any degree or certificate in public administration is a significant investment that takes research and preparation. Here are some additional resources to help you make decisions that are the best fit for you: 

MPA Programs by State