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Is an MPA Worth It?

April 08, 2021
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Before you commit to an advanced degree such as a master's of public administration, it's important to consider whether it will be worth the investment of your time and money. For some people, an MPA program can be a life-changing experience that prepares them for professional success and greater personal fulfillment. For others, an MPA may not be the right choice.

One of the things that makes an MPA distinctive is that it has a specific focus (the public sector) and cultivates a broad range of knowledge and skills within that area. An MPA can be a powerful addition to your résumé, but it's much more than that. In an MPA program, you'll learn management skills and how to be a leader in public service or at a nonprofit organization, preparing you to develop and implement policies that make a difference in your organization or your community.1

When people ask "Is an MPA worth it?", they're often actually looking for the answers to several more specific questions:

Is an MPA a good fit for my career goals?

You should go into any graduate degree program knowing what you want to do with your degree. Are you already working in public administration, or are you intending to transition into the public sector? A good MPA program will give you a broad education beyond just business-related courses. In addition to management, economics and finance, you'll also study fields like sociology, public policy, political science, labor law, urban planning and more.2 If you would prefer to work in the private sector, an MBA more exclusively focused on business may be a better fit than an MPA.

If you aren't yet in the public sector or you don't have professional experience in public administration, an MPA can fill those gaps and prove you're qualified to make the change.3 Many programs require you to complete an internship, so by the time you graduate you'll not only have a degree but also firsthand experience working in the field.

Will getting an MPA increase my salary?

For many people, the allure of working in the public sector is less about the salary and more about the ability to make a difference in their community or the world. Even so, it helps to know that your investment in graduate school will pay off, and there's a considerable difference between the salary you may make with a bachelor's degree compared to a master's in public administration.4 There are so many different career options in what you can do with an MPA that it's hard to say exactly how your salary will change, but an MPA degree should pay for itself in just a few years.

How do I find the best MPA program for me?

An MPA program that's worth the investment will go far beyond giving you a set of initials to add to your résumé. Look for a program that is focused on your professional success, with accomplished faculty members and excellent credentials (such as NASPAA accreditation). An MPA degree is a lifelong investment in your career, providing resources that should continue serving you long after you graduate.

In choosing the right MPA program, ask yourself:

  • Will the location and timeline of the program fit my life? If you enroll in an online MPA program, you won't have to put your life on hold or relocate to take classes; these programs are designed to be convenient for working professionals.2 That means there's less risk and a lower time investment.
  • Does the university offer career support for MPA students and alumni? A good school should be able to help you with career services, including career placement.5 Research whether recent alumni have had success in finding new jobs or getting promotions with current employers.
  • Will I be able to build my professional network? The quality of faculty at an MPA program can have a huge impact on your education — and on your professional network. Be sure to choose a program with faculty members who bring truly relevant experience and are active in their field. Make sure you participate in class discussions that will allow you to learn more from both your professors and your fellow classmates. Consider MPA programs with strong faculty that will not only enhance your educational skills, but also increase your contacts and expand your professional network.5

Ultimately, whether an MPA is worth it depends on the particular degree program you choose and what you hope to get out of it. That's why it's so important to choose an MPA degree program that matches your individual needs and career goals. The online Master of Public Administration program at Kent State University is a flexible, affordable, NASPAA-accredited program that offers an excellent education. If you're ready to move into a leadership role or further advance your career in the public sector, consider what a degree from Kent State could do for you.