The MPA: How to Get One and Where It Can Take You

Read on to find out more about a Master in Public Administration degree, what to expect from the program, its admission requirements, and several government and community service careers for which it can prepare you.

How and Why to Get an MPA

If recent newspaper headlines are to be believed, many people are wondering if the U.S. government is getting too large. While it’s true that over 15% of the workforce is involved in the military, public and national service, the size of the U.S. government proportionate to the total population has actually shrunk in the last 50 years. Beyond that, we’re facing an aging government workforce, of which one third will be eligible to retire by 2025.1

In the coming years, highly trained and educated professionals will be needed to step up to ensure continuing government effectiveness and accountability, despite the large number of employees that will soon exit the workforce. Aspiring public servants can start earning a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree now so they can later reach their career aspirations for executive leadership in government or non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The emerging class of new government leaders will be able to effect positive change in their communities and revitalize public support for and involvement in government. Read on to find out more about a Master in Public Administration degree, what to expect from the program, its admission requirements, and several government and community service careers for which it can prepare you.

What is a Master’s in Public Administration?

An MPA is a graduate degree designed to prepare students for careers in public service. It is much like a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) but for public service instead of private or corporate business. MPA candidates typically have a passion to serve and improve society.

An MPA can help people achieve personal and social success as career civil servants. In general, completing a master’s degree has become increasingly important for career advancement. On average, people who hold a master’s degree earn nearly 20% more in salary compared with those who have only a bachelor’s degree.2

Some notable MPA graduates include:

  • Ann Margaret Veneman, former Executive Director of UNICEF
  • Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General
  • David Petraeus, former Director of the CIA
  • Kevin Martin, former Chairman of the FCC
  • Klaus Schwab, President of the World Economic Forum (WEF)
  • Raymond Kelly, former Commissioner of New York City Police Department3

MPA vs. MPP Degree

A Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree is related to an MPA but it is more technical in nature. An MPP degree focuses on analyzing and solving different aspects of policy. MPP students focus on data—both quantitative and qualitative—to develop and measure solutions to new and ongoing challenges in society.

What to Expect from a Public Administration Program

Since an MPA is a master’s program, the average completion time is four semesters. Some schools might have shorter certificate programs, accelerated programs, or doctoral degrees that can be completed separately or combined with the MPA. Many programs are online, although not all online programs are accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA).

NASPAA is the accrediting body that helps to ensure a set of shared, industry-standard values and quality. A NASPAA-accredited MPA program might offer a better-quality education and have a higher reputation than non-accredited programs.

The MPA degree prepares graduates for public leadership roles, but many students may already serve in the public sector. As such, many schools offer evening and weekend learning options for both full-time and part-time students who may be working while they complete their degrees.

MPA Concentrations

Most programs have a variety of concentrations and/or specializations that range from the highly specialized local level to a broader state or federal leadership level. Some schools may have several concentrations to choose from while others may have just a handful. Typically, MPA students will choose just one concentration that will help guide their elective choices.

Possible MPA concentrations might include:

  • Budgeting/Finance
  • City/Local Government
  • Criminal Justice
  • Economic Development
  • Education
  • Emergency Management
  • Environment
  • General/Public Management
  • Health and Social Policy
  • Homeland/National Security
  • Information Technology
  • International/Global
  • Leadership
  • Nonprofit Management
  • Organizational Management
  • Public Policy Analysis
  • Public Sector
  • Social Policy
  • State
  • Survey Methods

MPA Curriculum

Government and NGO leaders face a broad range of complex problems that affect many layers of society and administration. MPA students take a wide range of courses to prepare them to solve daunting societal problems and make sweeping or incremental changes that improve people’s lives on the individual level or at the local, state or federal levels.

A typical public administration course of study will have a core that all MPA students take, which usually includes a capstone seminar, plus electives. Examples of some typical courses might include:

  • Capstone
  • Graduate Introduction to Public Administration
  • Electronic Governance
  • Ethics
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Internship
  • Leadership in the Nonprofit and Public Sector
  • Managerial Accounting
  • Methods in Public Administration
  • Microeconomics
  • Nonprofit Advocacy
  • Nonprofit Board Executive Relationships
  • Nonprofit Law
  • Organizational Management
  • Personal Accountability
  • Policy Analysis
  • Program Evaluation
  • Public Administration and Democracy
  • Public Budgeting and Financial Management
  • Public Finance
  • Public Management
  • Public Personnel Administration
  • Public Policy Design
  • Public Sector Economics
  • Public Sector IT Management
  • Research Methods
  • Statistics
  • Strategic Planning

Requirements for MPA Program Admission

Because a Master in Public Administration degree is at the graduate level, students must first have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in order to be admitted. They’ll need to possess and demonstrate a strong sense of personal ethics, a desire to enact positive change, and a great deal of stamina to achieve even modest success in the face of mounting public criticism and political polarization.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree and an aptitude for doing good despite hardships, admissions requirements for an MPA program might include the following:

  • A completed application form
  • Application fee
  • GRE (Graduate Record Examination)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts from previous colleges or universities
  • Resume/CV
  • Statement of purpose
  • Writing sample

What can you do with a Master’s in Public Administration?

About 45% of MPA alumni are currently employed in municipal, state and federal government, and roughly 26% of alumni work in non-profits.4 Some graduates end up in military leadership positions and others in the private sector. Others may already be working in their desired office or field but simply desire to gain new skills or advance their career.

Earning your MPA will help you launch a wide variety of careers, including these:

  • Chief librarian
  • Chief of police
  • City manager
  • Development manager
  • Director of advancement
  • Director of development
  • Executive director
  • Government program manager
  • Grants coordinator
  • Human resources director
  • Program coordinator
  • Program director
  • Program manager
  • Public works director
  • Services director
  • Social and community service manager
  • Urban or regional planner

Start your journey to effective public service.

Start making a difference in your city, state or country by earning a Master’s in Public Administration. This graduate degree may help you start or advance a career in government or NGO work.

Kent State’s affordable online MPA program makes completing your degree surprisingly convenient, and its thoughtfully designed curriculum will engage and challenge you to make informed decisions as a civil servant. Contact an Admissions Advisor or start an application today.


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