Public Policy vs. Public Administration: Four Key Differences

Which master’s degree is right for your career? We explain why you might want to choose public administration vs. public policy.

Public Policy vs. Public Administration-Four Key Differences

There are many reasons to choose to pursue a career in the public sector rather than in the business world. Often, people are drawn to public or nonprofit careers because doing so gives them an opportunity to do good and enact change for the better, rather than just increasing profits for a corporation. But even if you know you want to work in government or at a nonprofit organization, the exact path you follow can vary greatly.

A master’s degree in a relevant program can help you achieve your career goals, whether you’re continuing down an existing path or preparing to switch careers. But which degree is right for you? Two of the most popular degrees for public sector workers are a master’s in public policy (MPP) and a master’s in public administration (MPA). Both degrees tend to have online, part-time programs that you can generally complete within two years.1 Both degrees can put you on a path to success, and each has its own specific advantages. Choosing between a master’s in public policy or public administration depends on your career goals, your personal strengths and how you hope to make a difference.2

To help you make that determination, we’ve identified four major differences between a master’s of public policy and a master’s of public administration.

Public Policy vs. Public Administration

  1. Tight Focus vs. Broad Focus: An MPP is focused on one thing: policy. You’ll study all aspects of policy, from infrastructure to public opinion, and you’ll strengthen your background in a number of related fields, including economics and statistical analysis.3 But at the end of the day, it is a highly specialized degree that is almost exclusively relevant to a particular area.2 On the other hand, if you’re looking for something more versatile, an MPA degree can give you a broad range of skills and knowledge to help no matter which direction you want.1 If you’re interested in leadership and administration roles in the public sector, or you anticipate that you might want to leave the public sector at some point, an MPA degree may be a better choice for you.
  2. Policy Research and Evaluation vs. Management and Implementation: The work done by public policy professionals informs the work done by public administrators, but the two career paths differ in that one works to create policy while the other works to implement it.1 It is, therefore, important to ask yourself which topics you find most exciting and what kind of tasks you would be most interested in doing. If you’re drawn to law and statistics, and you are interested in developing public policy, consider an MPP. If you are instead more interested in business, management and related skills, but you’d prefer to work in the public sector rather than private, an MPA might be a better fit.
  3. Quantitative vs. Qualitative: Choosing between an MPP and an MPA degree is about more than just what career path you hope to pursue. You should also consider what your personal strengths are. Students in MPP programs gather and analyze data that they use for detailed problem-solving,3 making it a better fit for analytical-minded individuals. On the other hand, MPA students tend to graduate into jobs that require a great deal of human interaction, so it’s best to have good people skills if you intend to follow this career path. That’s not to say you can’t be an MPP student who excels at interpersonal communication, or an MPA student who is great at number crunching or data analysis. But generally speaking, MPP students work more with information and MPA students work more closely with people, so choose the degree that fits your personality better.
  4. Professional Experience Optional vs. Required:2 An MPA degree builds on your existing professional background and can be applied to a variety of different professional roles, so it typically requires that you already have some experience in public administration. It expands on what you already know and builds on it to make you a more effective leader. If public policy appeals to you, and you think you have the right strengths and interests to be a good fit for it, you will probably be successful in an MPP program, even if your undergraduate degree and professional experience are not tied to public policy in any way.

If you’re interested in a versatile degree that will develop your leadership skills and prepare you to advance in a career in the public sector, the online Master of Public Administration program at Kent State University is an affordable, convenient and NASPAA-accredited choice.


  1. Retrieved on December 22, 2019, from
  2. Retrieved on December 22, 2019, from
  3. Retrieved on December 22, 2019, from
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