What’s the Difference Between an MBA and MPA Graduate Degree?

What’s the Difference Between an MBA and MPA Graduate Degree?

Grad school can open a world of opportunities. It’s wise to do your research and make sure you’re pursuing the right degree and program to reach your career goals. People interested in strengthening skills to head an organization might need to make a decision between more than one degree, specifically: a Master of Public Administration (MPA) or Master of Business Administration (MBA).

“MBA” may be the more familiar acronym but an MPA is just as strong of a degree. Both degrees will help students gain valuable leadership skills and connect with others in their field. The biggest difference between the two is the areas that they focus on: the MBA is more oriented towards a private sector career while the MPA focuses on giving students skills to navigate the public sector.

MPA vs MBA Graduate Program Curriculums

Because MPA students are likely to pursue a career at a not-for-profit or in a governmental role, the curriculum will include courses specific to those roles such as:

  • Advocacy
  • Non-profit law and ethics
  • Public budgeting and finance
  • IT for the public sector
  • Personal accountability in public service

MBA students, on the other hand, are likely to study topics that will be relevant to a private sector job where profit is the focus, such as:

  • Supply chain management
  • Business analytics
  • Marketing
  • Risk management
  • Accounting

Both degree curriculums are likely to have some sort of practical application component such as an internship or practicum project. Students pursuing either degree will find these requirements exceedingly useful as they can be used to make industry connections and provide students with real-world experience that they can include on resumes and discuss in interviews.

MPA vs MBA Careers

Just as with undergraduate degrees, you’ll likely find yourself working with people of all different backgrounds no matter what career path you choose. However, the day-to-day jobs for MPA and MBA graduates vary, even within the same companies.

MPA Graduate Jobs

Jobs you could get with an MPA include:

  • City Director
  • City Planner
  • Community Health Director
  • Police Commissioner
  • CIA Administrator
  • Policy Analyst
  • Representative for the United Nations

MBA Graduate Jobs

Jobs you could get with an MBA include:

  • Product Manager
  • Consultant
  • Supply Chain Manager
  • Marketing Director
  • Financial Analyst
  • Operations Analyst

What should you look for in an online MPA or MBA program?

If you’re considering getting your graduate degree online, know that there are many high-quality programs available offered by top institutions. But how should you decide which are worth applying to?


One of the best ways to assess a program is to look at the faculty. What’s their expertise and what other qualifications do they hold? For both MPA and MBA graduates, faculty will be one of the key resources for making connections and finding both internships and job opportunities. You can look into faculty backgrounds to see where they’ve worked, what leadership positions they’ve held and what sorts of research they do to see if you share similar interests.


Certifications, badges, or other recognition by industry organizations is another clear way to determine if you’re looking at a qualified degree program. If you’ve settled on pursuing an MPA, for example, you’ll definitely want to enroll in a program that’s accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). NASPAA is the organization that set the standard for education in public administration. Attending a NASAPAA accredited program doesn’t just guarantee a strong education - future employers will see attendance at a NASPAA university as a sign of a well-prepared candidate.


As with many major decisions, cost will certainly play a factor in your selection of MPA or MBA program. While exploring programs, it can be helpful to make a comparison chart to plot things like cost per credit along with other features such as admissions requirements, certifications and estimated time to completion. There are many affordable options for online programs, even from well-known universities.

Should I get an MPA or MBA?

If you’ve read through our explanation of the difference between the two programs and still aren’t totally sure which you’d rather choose, here are a few more main differences to consider:

An MPA degree is good for people who want to:

  • Solve problems facing an organization, community or government
  • Include public service as a part of the way they make money
  • Focus on social issues in their work

An MBA degree is good for people who want to:

  • Apply proven tactics to sustain business
  • Lead at an organization with profit as the bottom line or start their own business
  • Earn as high of a salary as possible

Gain Momentum in a Public Service Career

Kent State University’s online Master of Public Administration program is an excellent choice for those interested in pursuing a professional excellence while furthering causes they care about. As one of the most affordable online NASPAA-accredited options in Ohio, the online MPA is ideal for working professionals who want to sharpen their skills and gain a competitive edge. Talk to an Admissions Advisor today to learn more about the online MPA or, if you’re ready to take on the public sector, apply today.

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He is an Associate Professor in the Evaluation and Measurement program within the College of Education, Health and Human Services at Kent State University. He is also the program coordinator for the online Master of Education degree in Research, Measurement, and Statistics.
Dr. Astrid N. Sambolín Morales is an Assistant Professor in Kent State Online’s 100% Online Master of Education degree in Cultural Foundations. She received her PhD in Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity from the University of Colorado Boulder and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research provides a more nuanced picture of the agency, resistance, and empowerment enacted by displaced Puerto Rican m(others) in the U.S., and her work was funded by several grants, including the University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center, the BUENO Center for Multicultural Education, the URBAN Research Network, and the NAEd Spencer Foundation.
Felesia McDonald, ’14 is an adjunct instructor in the iSchool, teaching courses in the 100% Online Master of Science in User Experience. McDonald is also the Sr Manager UX Design at Optum, a branch of UnitedHealth Group.