Guide to a Master’s Degree in Public Administration
This website is designed to serve as a comprehensive resource for students who are earning or interested in earning their master’s degree in public administration or affairs, also known as MPA. Interested visitors will be able to learn about the top MPA programs in the US, and also will learn about career options, salaries, job demand, as well as grant and fellowship options to pay for your education.You will also learn about why it is worthwhile to obtain an MPA degree. The MPA can be compared to an MBA degree, which teaches students the skills needed to lead or run a business or private organization. The MPA is similar, but the curriculum focuses on the government and public sector. You will learn the skills required to be an effective change leader in a public organization.Skills that you will hone in an MPA program include:
- Organizational management
- Public and nonprofit finance
- Human resources
- Public law
- Strategic communications
- Program and policy evaluation
Top Master’s in Public Administration and Affairs Programs
The 10 universities below are rated as the best public administration and affairs master’s programs in the US, according to US News and World Report.
University of Southern California (Featured)
USC Price’s online Master of Public Administration prepares students to identify areas for improvement in their communities and ensure change is implemented. This includes learning to design and run new public systems and programs; evaluate, develop and implement new policy; and track, allocate and raise public funds. In 2019, USC Price was ranked a #3 program for public affairs by U.S. News and World Report.
Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) is one of the highest-rated MPA programs in the US – #2 according to US News and World Report. This is a two year program that consists of 48 credit hours. The core courses are in public management, statistical analysis for effective decision making, public management economics, law and public affairs, and public finance and budgeting. This program offers a dozen specialities, including health policy, economic development, international development, information systems, environmental policy, nonprofit management, and public management. The program has an experiential requirement, which consists of a semester long internship or group research project. There also is a capstone project where the student works on solving a problem for a government organization. GRE scores are required for admission.
Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government offers a Master in Public Administration and International Development. It is a two year program that is designed to prepare a new generation of leaders in public administration and international development. This is a program that is both economics centered and multidisciplinary in approach. It combines rigorous training in quantitative and analytical methods, with a strong focus on practice and policy. Each year, approximately 70 students enroll in this highly selective program. It is mainly geared to prepare professionals for careers in the field in international development, not for a career in academia. Prerequisites for entry include micro and macroeconomics, as well as multivariable calculus. Core classes include statistics and econometrics; economic development; management in a development context, good governance and applications and cases in international development. Classes at JKS are taught by the case method, traditional lecture format, or both.
University of Georgia
The MPA program at the University of Georgia is designed for the professional who wants to use their education to work at high productivity at all levels in public sector management, as well as in applied research. This program takes two years to complete, and is open to people without previous experience in public service. This MPA program normally results in a terminal degree, but some graduates do go on to doctoral programs. Forty-one hours are required to complete this program, and it includes a set of five core courses in public administration and democracy; public personnel administration, public financial administration, organizational theory, and economic foundations of policy analysis. There also are 18 hours of electives, and an internship or professional experience paper requirement. The MPA program also challenges all students to complete 100 hours of public service before they graduate. All volunteer work must be carefully documented, and no paid work may be counted in this number.
The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs offers a two year MPA program that has a core curriculum in political, economic, quantitative and behavioral analysis. More than 80% of students in the program have work experience and some have several years of work experience. This program features a faculty that has co-appointments with various disciplinary departments. Members represent many social sciences, including political science, economics, sociology, psychology and demography. Many professors have high level experience in public policy, including former members of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, former economists from the Labor Department, as well as former US ambassadors. The MPA program features courses with lecture, seminar and workshop formats that are taught by renowned faculty scholars, as well as leaders in public policy with many years of experience. Admissions requires GRE scores and strong volunteer experience that shows a strong interest in the public good.
New York University
The Wagner School at New York University offers an MPA in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy that is ranked #6 in public affairs, according to US News and World Report. Graduates of this highly regarded program play large roles in redeveloping cities, and also are effective advocates for social justice. The required core courses for this two year degree include statistical methods lab; microeconomics discussion; financial management discussion; statistical methods for public health management; managing public service organizations and introduction to public policy. To be admitted into this selective program, you need to have a strong academic record, and ideally several years of work and volunteer experience that shows you are seriously dedicated to public policy. Further, you should have at least two recommendations, essays and GRE scores are highly recommended but not required. Note that this university also offers a related master’s in urban planning, and an executive master’s in public administration, for professionals with many years of work experience.
University of California-Berkeley
This university’s Goldman School of Public Policy will prepare you for a career of public leadership. Most students in this two year program are in the master’s of public policy, or MPP, program. The school has a strong focus on ensuring that its teaching, research and programs are of the highest quality possible, and that the public receives ample benefits from the knowledge and leadership there. Admission into this selective program is based upon letters of recommendation, academic record and GRE test scores, employment and experience, and a strong statement of purpose. All of these criteria must demonstrate that you have a very strong commitment to public policy. The most weight is given to your last two years’ academic record in your undergraduate work. It is highly recommended that you have courses in microeconomics, statistics and calculus before you start here.
Carnegie Mellon University
The H. John Heinz III College was founded originally in 1968 as the School of Urban and Public Affairs. The idea behind the school was to provide a systems analytic approach to public policy questions. This concept was inspired both by engineering and mathematical social sciences to bring more of a science-based approach to public policy. This graduate school is not organized in traditional academic departments; rather, the faculty in the School of Public Policy and Management and the School of Information Systems and Management work together on research and instruction. This is a unique operating model that often leads to better innovation in research and overall a better education. The School of PUblic Policy and Management is the top school of public affairs in information and technology management, according to US News and World Report. It is ranked #7 in public policy analysis and #8 in environmental policy and management.
University of Kansas
The University of Kansas School of Public Affairs and Administration develops the most highly skilled leaders, problem solvers and innovators who want to deal with the most difficult and pressing social and economic problems at all levels of government, from local to international. The MPA degree has an Intern option, which means completing the degree on a full time basis, and finishing the program in three terms. In the second year, you are in a full time internship. The other is the Career option, which is made for the student who is already working full time and may have significant public policy experience. Both programs have the same courses; it is only the timing of the classes that is different. This program also excels in public policy and administration research. Faculty here conduct some of the best research on the public sector in the world. To be admitted, you must possess a very strong academic record in your bachelor’s program. GRE scores are required now of anyone who earned their bachelor’s in the last three years; for other applicants, these scores are optional.
Online MPA Degree
Many universities now offer excellent online MPA programs. This offers the student many advantages. You can continue to work full or part time and take classes on your schedule. Also, you can attend a school in another part of the country or world – no need to relocate.
Some of the quality online MPAs that you can explore include these options:
University of Southern California
The Master of Public Administration (MPA) online program is designed to educate the next generation of leaders who can solve tomorrow’s most pressing issues—from the environment to healthcare reform, immigration, infrastructure, urban development, and more. Individuals enter the program as students and prepare to graduate as change agents. Offered by the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, this online master’s program takes a different approach—to teach students how to view management and policy issues through the lens of social entrepreneurship.
- Additional Online Options:
- Villanova University
- University of Denver
- Arizona State University
- University of Illinois – Springfield
- Kent State
- University of Missouri
MPA Degree Overview
A Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree is a professional graduate degree that is highly desirable for professionals who want to work in government agencies, nonprofits, international NGOs and other government-related institutions.
An MPA degree most often focuses on organizational government, administration and finance. Many MPA programs offer many concentrations, such as nonprofit management and public policy. Most MPA programs take two years to complete, and a few may be completed in as little as a single year.
Note that a related degree is the Master of Public Policy (MPP). Many universities offer one or the other, and some offer both.
Reasons to Earn an MPA Degree
Working in government can be a very rewarding and profitable career. While you may not earn as much income as in the private sector in some cases, most government jobs are very stable and have excellent benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for political scientists is $102,000. Also, that source also reports that jobs in the field will increase by 21% by 2022.
MPA Course Requirements
Some of the most common classes that you will need to complete for this graduate program are:
- Policy analysis
- Issues and cases in public administration
- Organizational behavior and leadership
- Public budgeting and accounting
- Finance and accounting
- Research methods and strategies
- Managerial accounting
- Financial management
- Information technology for accounting
Most professionals who apply to a university to earn their MPA have a background in the liberal arts. You should have had courses in political science, history, government, statistics and English. Some programs also want you to have a mathematical or analytical background, so classes in accounting, finance and mathematics are very helpful.
MPA Career Outlook
As mentioned above, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports job growth for political scientists will be 21% by 2022. There should be more jobs available in the government sector as governments are looking for ways to solve problems through public policy, and to learn how to spend taxpayer funds more effectively.
The median salary for all political scientists was $102,000 in 2012, according to government statistics.
Additional Resources for MPA Students
- American Society for Public Administration
- National Forum for Black Public Administrators
- National Academy of Public Administration
- The American Review of Public Administration
- State Academy for Public Administration
MPA Financial Aid
Some of the best ways to fund your MPA degree is to choose one of the methods below. Many universities offer a varieties of programs to help graduates pay for their education.