For undergraduate students and working professionals with an eye for public service, nonprofit leadership, or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree can be the key to advancement and mission-driven success. However, MPA degree programs aren’t always as well-known as their flashier counterparts like the MBA. It’s essential that you know what you’re getting into before committing to an MPA program.
Here at Post University, we understand the value of an MPA degree. But we also recognize that the program isn’t right for everybody. Below, we’ll outline a wide range of pros and cons that come with committing to an MPA program.
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Pro: You Get to Study a Variety of Subjects
One way that the MPA excels is in its variety. For example, MBA programs are strongly business-focused, and for good reason, but in an MPA program, you’ll study all sorts of exciting subjects along with a core of business-relevant courses.
And with specific concentrations, such as Post’s concentration in Emergency Management and Homeland Security, you can tailor your MPA to your career goals.
Pro: Variety of Career Paths
With an MPA degree, you’ll gain access to an extensive range of career paths. This is one of the biggest pros of an MPA program for those in the public and nonprofit sectors. You’ll be prepared for positions at all levels of government—federal, state, and local. And you may find (or continue) your calling at a nonprofit organization or a nongovernmental organization (NGO). Universities, consulting firms, foundations, and even health care organizations may prioritize candidates with an MPA.
The private sector is an option, as well. For example, Harvard University reports that 72% of its 2017 MPA graduates landed in the private sector. Unlike other degrees which might be the key to advancement into middle or senior management, the MPA is more common among executives and C-level leaders.
Pro: You Can Choose a Concentration That Interests You
Just as with other broad master’s programs, the MPA degree isn’t a cookie-cutter program perfect for all students. Your reason to get an MPA degree may be quite different than another’s, and your coursework ought to be different as a result.
Various institutions offer a number of concentrations beyond the basic MPA program. At Post University, we offer a concentration in Emergency Management and Homeland Security. The concentration includes a unified set of core courses as well as a number of credits specialized to the concentration.
Pro: You Don’t Need a Specific Undergraduate Degree
Some master’s programs are very tightly tied to a specific bachelor’s degree program and are full of prerequisites and requirements. A master’s program in the hard sciences or the arts, for example, typically requires a corresponding bachelor’s degree (or multiple semesters of remedial work).
The MPA isn’t like this. Students from many undergraduate and professional backgrounds can and do pursue the MPA degree. As mentioned earlier, MPA candidates have widely varying goals for pursuing the degree. That’s why MPA programs tend to be built with the needed level of flexibility so that individuals from a wide range of backgrounds can pursue the degree.
Pro: Salary Potential
Another of the pros of an MPA program is the salary potential. While most people who pursue an MPA aren’t doing it as some kind of cash grab, it can lead to lucrative positions. The MPA is not typically something an entry-level employee or low-level public sector employee holds. Instead, the degree prepares you for higher-level leadership roles.
No matter what sector you’re in, generally speaking, the higher your level, the higher your salary and compensation. Salaries for MPA holders range as widely as the sectors and organizations in which MPA earners serve. That said, PayScale estimates a $68,000 average salary for degree holders. Some positions, like executive directors and HR directors, have much higher averages in the $80,000 range.
Pro: Online Options
While some students enroll directly into an MPA program upon earning their bachelor’s degree, this isn’t particularly common. Most MPA programs are built with the career public servant or professional in mind. Many institutions offer mostly- or all-online MPA programs, giving you the ability to continue working in your current role while pursuing your master’s degree.
Pro: You Can Work Internationally
Do you have the heart to help others combined with a travel bug? If so, the MPA might be the perfect professional degree for you. Many MPAs work at or lead nongovernmental organizations or NGOs. NGOs tend to operate in less developed nations, providing assistance in collaboration with local governments and international aid.
Governmental and private-sector roles may also include international travel, so if this is something you would enjoy, it’s undoubtedly one of the big pros of an MPA program.
Pro: You Can Switch Sectors Easily
While having an MPA isn’t quite as universal of a credential as, say, PMP certification, it is a strong indicator that you have a specific set of skills and training. As a result, it tends to be easy to switch sectors. Perhaps you’ve spent half a career in the public sector or at a nonprofit, but now it’s time to switch to a higher-earning position in the private sector.
With an MPA, this transition is often pretty simple. Your existing experience and your credential combine to make you an attractive candidate for the relevant roles, no matter the sector.
Pro: A Graduate Degree Is a Worthwhile Investment
Not only do MPA degree holders tend to command respectable wages, simply holding a graduate degree of any kind tends to be a worthwhile investment. It’s true: Master’s degrees aren’t free, and they’re rarely easy. But if you have what it takes to earn one, the numbers are in your favor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, those who held a master’s degree had median weekly earnings of $1,401, while those with bachelor’s degrees earned a median of $1,173 per week.
Unsurprisingly, the unemployment rate is also considerably lower for those with masters or professional-level degrees.
A Few Cons.
Con: Some Target Careers Are Competitive
Earning an MPA does present a few cons to be aware of. One of these is the competition factor. There are many people gunning for leadership-level positions, especially in certain sectors like the federal government and high-paying private-sector jobs. You’ll need to stand out from the competition, which can be hard to do.
Of course, having an MPA is part of standing out: You’ll immediately distinguish yourself from applicants who do not have a master’s credential.
Con: The Risk of a High-Stress Job
Another risk that comes with earning an MPA is the possibility of landing a high-stress job. Many of the sectors that hire MPAs are known for being stressful. These include some governmental leadership positions, as well as some in the nonprofit and NGO sectors. Working overseas in a conflict zone is rewarding and has a humanitarian benefit—but it’s certainly more stressful than many career paths.
Con: Broad Curriculum
Because the Master of Public Administration degree is intended to prepare people for a wide range of public service positions and other roles, the curriculum is broad, both by necessity and design. You may take a particular interest in public policy or nonprofit operations, for example, yet take courses that don’t go as deep as you want in one particular area.
For some, this broad curriculum is a significant turnoff. And the truth is, the MPA program isn’t right for everyone. If you’re desiring laser-like focus, there may be another program (or program concentration) that’s a better fit.
Con: High Level of Self Discipline Is Required
The higher you go in educational attainment, the more self-directed the work becomes. Whether you’ve only recently earned your bachelor’s degree or it’s been a few years, you likely remember how much of an adjustment college was. You had to plan your schedule a week at a time and account for a semester’s worth of assignments without much prompting.
Grad school tends to be even more self-directed. To add to the challenge, most MPA candidates are working professionals who have to split their time between working and studying. Additionally, many MPA programs are 100% online.
If you’re self-disciplined and intrinsically motivated to complete your coursework, you’ll be fine. But an MPA program may be more difficult for those who struggle to stay disciplined, focused, and motivated.
Potential Con: Challenging If You’re Not a People Person
Most public administration careers require a significant amount of person-to-person interaction. Many roles involve some amount of public speaking or at least leading meetings of various sizes. Most—though not all—public administration jobs are a people-person’s dream job.
Now, if you love interacting with others, networking, and even public speaking, you’ll see this aspect as a positive, not a negative. But if you struggle in front of groups and would rather keep to yourself, you might have an uphill challenge. Perhaps you’re targeting a role or career that doesn’t require a flashy, dynamic personality. Still, aspects of the MPA coursework may stretch your natural disposition.
Potential Con: You Need to Be Flexible and Adaptable
While there are certainly plenty of long-term career positions in public administration, there are also many contract-based or short-term positions. Even within a stable, long-term job, you’ll likely encounter a wide range of projects of varying lengths. In short, you’ll need to be flexible, able to quickly adapt from one project to another. In some cases, you’ll need to pivot between multiple concurrent consulting gigs.
Again, if you love a fast-paced, ever-changing work environment, this isn’t a con. But if you value predictability, it could be.
Considering an MPA? Consider Post University
Now that you’ve considered these pros and cons of pursuing an MPA, all that’s left is to take the leap. If you’re ready to earn your MPA, you need to find a school that provides the quality instruction you’re looking for with the flexibility you need.
Post University offers a 100% online Master of Public Administration degree, one that’s led by scholar-practitioners who have years of relevant field experience. In addition to a general MPA studies track, Post offers a concentration in Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
Whatever path you plan to take with your MPA, your journey starts at Post. Reach out for more information, or apply online today.
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