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MPA and MBA sound a lot alike to the human ear, but these two graduate-level degrees have some very significant differences in focus and application. If you’re trying to decide between Master of Public Administration and Master of Business Administration Programs, read on for a closer look at some of the defining characteristics that make these programs similar in some ways and very different in others.

Are you interested in business leadership, management, and decision-making? If you are looking at master’s degree options, you will notice two common choice for this career path: MBA and MPA.

What do MBA and MPA Programs Have in Common?

An MBA is a master’s in Business Administration, while an MPA is a master’s in Public Administration. At first glance, they have a lot of similarities: They both deal with areas like accounting, management skills, marketing, financial planning, analytics, organizational theory, and more. And both degrees tend to take around two years to complete at a typical pace.

So, what makes them different?

The key distinction is that an MPA is more focused on public policy, social impact, and government work, while an MBA is a bit broader and focuses more on the private sector. Let’s dig deeper to see what this actually means for your education and career.

Master’s in Business Administration

An MBA prepares students for management positions in private companies, both for-profit and non-profit. In the private sector, goals are often focused on things like financial results (bringing in revenue, cutting costs, etc.) and brand growth (finding new leads, growing the customer base, etc.).

This means that those with an MBA are well-prepared to make decisions about whether a project is going to be cost effective or not. For example, in an MBA-oriented job, a manager would ask, “What is the return on investment for upgrading the company website?” and make a decision based on potential new sales and income vs. the cost of upgrading.

Likewise, if an MBA manager deals with marketing, they tend to look first at what marketing can do to bring in more customers and generate more sales. Efficiency and results are typically given priority.

Career After Graduation: Those with an MBA may work as marketing managers, financial managers, human resource managers, team supervisors, operations and logistics managers, and similar jobs. They often have room to advance into other leadership positions within a company.

Master’s in Public Administration

An MPA prepares students for management positions in the government or nonprofit organizations. In the public sector, goals tend to be very different from the private sector: Here, leaders focus on meeting the requirements of public policy and improving society based on the mission of their organization.

As a result, MPA jobs focus less on profit and more on the impact to the community and the effect that the organization can have. For example, an MPA manager would ask, “Will funding this project actually lead to better drinking water for the community?” and make the decision based on their allotted budget and how their particular location will benefit.

In the same way, the MPA focus on marketing is very different from an MBA. Instead of winning over new customers, MPA marketing decisions focus on how well marketing content can raise awareness, education the public, and effect change.

Career After Graduation: Those with an MPA may work as administrator in public education, law enforcement, or emergency managers. They may serve as community development directors, city managers, and other similar positions. Their positions and budget are controlled by local government decisions.

Download your guide to learn everything you need to know about earning a master’s in public administration online.


What You Can Expect from the Curriculum

While an MBA and MPA will share many subjects, we’ve seen how they can approach those subjects very differently based on the different goals between the private and public sectors. Classes for each degree also cover a diversity of topics and skills. To get an idea of the curriculum difference, take a look what Post University includes in its core curriculum for both MBAs and MPAs: 

MBA Coursework

  • Organizational Creativity, Discovery, and Innovation
  • Strategic Integrated Marketing Communications
  • Organizational Dynamics and Effectiveness
  • Business Analytics for Managers
  • Financial Tools for Managers
  • Quantitative Analysis for Decision Making
  • Business Strategy and Planning
  • Project Management

MPA Coursework

  • The History and Future of Public Administration
  • Ethics in Public Administration
  • Public Policy Labor Law and Labor Relations
  • Public Finance Policy and Application
  • Risk Management for Public Administrators
  • Research Methods for Public and Nonprofit Administrators

Picking a Concentration

At Post University, you also have a variety of concentrations to choose from. These are specializations in more specific topics that, in effect, let you customize your education to your career goals. These concentrations will include additional high-level classes that explore a certain subject in-depth. A concentration can help you prepare for certain positions you may be interested in or help you learn more about an area you are particularly passionate about.

For an MBA, popular concentrations include:

  • Corporate Finance
  • Corporate Innovation
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Health Care Systems Leadership
  • Data Analytics and Decision Making
  • Project Management
  • Investment Management
  • Global Supply Chain Management
  • Marketing
  • Management Consulting
  • Sustainable Enterprise

In the MPA program, concentrations include:

  • American Political Process
  • Public Policy
  • Health Policy
  • International Relations
  • Urban Planning
  • Human Resource Administration
  • Administrative Law
  • Public Financial Management
  • Community Development
  • Emergency Management and Homeland Security

Differences in Compensation

Generally, an MBA in the private sector will have a higher salary than an MPA in the public sector. According to the latest results from PayScale, an MBA holder has an average salary of $87k, while an MPA holder has an average salary of $66k. Keep in mind that public sector positions are typically paid for with taxes and fees at set levels based on government budgeting decisions, while private sector positions are based on profit and demand.

However, there are other factors to consider in addition to salary alone. MPA positions tend to come with greater stability and strong guaranteed benefits, but less room to advance. MBA jobs involve more uncertainty, but MBAs are applicable across many industries and people in these positions tend to have many options if something doesn’t work. As always, pay rates and benefits can vary greatly from location to location.

Conclusion: Which Option is Best for You?

An MBA is typically a good choice for students interested in working in the private sector (across many potential industries), earning promotions, and focusing on the company’s bottom line. An MPA is often the right choice for students interested in working in the public sector, improving society, and helping communities with specific problems or challenges. If you are choosing between different master’s degrees, it’s a good idea to think about what’s important to you personally, and where you see your career heading in the future!