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Public administration is a field that centers around the desire and need to develop and improve public policies while promoting initiatives that make a positive difference across entire communities. Forbes defines this as the “planning, preparation, and execution of policy meant to build and strengthen civil society.” Public administration leaders stand at the forefront of this effort, providing inspiration, guidance, and advocacy every step of the way.

It takes hard work and extensive insider knowledge to enact change, however, and not just anybody is up to the task. Leaders are better capable of driving these changes if they have gained a thorough understanding of how public policy functions in the modern era. It is also important to recognize which challenges might arise along the way—and how specific tools or strategies can help overcome these issues.

While some critical skills can be gained through experience, a targeted, graduate-level education can prove far more impactful for public sector professionals. Another consideration: the most influential public administration positions may simply not be available to applicants who lack graduate credentials.

The solution? Earn a Master of Public Administration. This is a path forward for a variety of aspiring public sector professionals. It can be a difficult program to understand, however, so we are here to help.

In this guide, we will answer several important questions about public administration and necessary training, such as what is an MPA and what does it involve? Keep reading to find out.


What Is a Master of Public Administration (MPA)?

A Master of Public Administration is a graduate degree that focuses on preparing students to work in public affairs at the municipal, state, and even federal levels. MPA coursework may differ somewhat from one program to the next—but ideally, the degree will encompass not only a full overview of public policy but also business topics to prepare grad students for success in executive administration and management.

Typically spanning about two years, the MPA touches on core concepts related to public policy, ethics, and labor relations while delving into research methods, organizational dynamics, and even project management. These courses involve a blend of theoretical study and practical application.

MPA programs may culminate in a capstone project, allowing students to demonstrate their mastery of a wide range of topics while improving soft skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and communication. This experience provides powerful reflection on the many topics that coalesce within the MPA program .

The MPA should not be confused with licensure. While it can provide valuable preparation for public administrators, licensure requires several additional steps following graduation. The process will vary from one state to the next, so it is important for graduate students to be mindful of specific requirements, especially as they pertain to personal career objectives.

Who Is a Master of Public Administration For?

While a thorough understanding of public policy can prove beneficial for a variety of ambitious graduate students, navigating an MPA program will not necessarily be ideal for everybody. A lot depends on personal interests and career plans. After all, even when business topics are explored, the MPA remains a highly targeted program. It is best suited to those who hope to make their mark within public agencies or nonprofits.

In addition to specific career plans, students well-suited to the MPA degree are deeply passionate about the causes they hold dear. They are excited to explore intriguing concepts relevant to public policy — and they yearn to apply their on high-powered, often public-facing careers. These exceptionally motivated students are self-starters who will go the extra mile to develop a wide range of critical skills and knowledge.

Not sure if an MPA is right for you? Think carefully about your career goals and your personal passions. Are you fascinated by the intricacies of policy analysis and public management? Can you sustain this interest through multiple years of dedicated study? If so, you are a wonderful candidate for an MPA degree.

You Want to Make a Difference in the World

The most important quality in an aspiring MPA student? A desire to make a difference. If you are deeply passionate about public affairs and eager to make your mark in this sector, an MPA could be for you.

Public administrators’ overarching desire to make a difference is abundantly clear based on research published by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). In the OPM’s 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, an impressive 91 percent of respondents agreed, “It is important to me that my work contribute to the common good.” The survey concludes that “employees are steadfast and committed to providing good work that serves the American people.”

This culture of service connects public administration professionals of all types. It is also evident that those trained in public administration make their mark within nonprofits, the corporate sector, or even as entrepreneurs.

What Can I Expect From an MPA Program?

Throughout the two-year span of your MPA program, you will be encouraged to broaden your horizons and embrace a variety of new perspectives. You will have the opportunity to develop a far-reaching skill set that incorporates leadership concepts and a vast range of soft skills. Along the way, you could hone your abilities as a researcher and as a communicator.

Course Requirements

Comprehensive coursework forms the basis of any MPA program. This graduate degree centers around foundational courses covering the full scope of public administration, its origins, current status, and what is possible in the future. Examples of core courses include:

  • Public Administration Ethics
  • Public Policy
  • Risk Management
  • Labor Law and Labor Relations

All MPA students are expected to successfully complete these critical courses. Beyond this, the MPA may differ depending on personal goals and career plans. Many students will appreciate the MPA’s thorough overview of public policy and how it is integrated with business and management-focused courses. These business-oriented classes delve into everything from innovation to project management.

It is also possible to seek a concentration in emergency management, homeland security, or criminal justice. This focus provides a deeper dive into cybersecurity strategies and intelligence operations and is an excellent option for MPA students who aspire to work in emergency management. Without the concentration, however, the standard MPA trajectory includes supplementary coursework centered around management-oriented topics. These provide broader preparation for a wide range of career paths.

Career Opportunities

The following careers may be available to MPA graduates, depending upon other qualifications held by the candidates.


Public Relations Manager

Public relations (PR) managers help agencies, nonprofits, and other community-oriented organizations craft and share a meaningful narrative that gets the public invested in their work. PR managers seek to engage their audience in the most direct and impactful ways to get a message across. Public relations positions may be responsible for establishing campaign objectives, monitoring progress, and building strong relationships with the media and stakeholders.

Human Resources Manager

Human resources managers deal with the many facets of the employee lifecycle, ranging from recruitment to hiring, onboarding, training, and more. HR is a diverse field that plays into organizations of all types, including, of course, public agencies and nonprofits. HR managers oversee the full scope of personnel concerns while fostering a culture that aligns closely with organizational objectives. In the public sector, HR also has to be well-equipped to handle working closely with unions as well as knowing how to manage the rights of employers and employees under union contracts. These managers should inspire and empower employees to do their best work.

Financial Analyst

If your MPA program delves into business topics, you could be prepared to take on roles beyond public affairs. As a financial analyst, for example, you could provide valuable guidance for businesses or even individual investors as they make well-informed budget management decisions.

While many financial analysts are employed by major corporations (or focus on working with private clients), these roles are also available within the public sector. In this capacity, finance professionals can help agencies and municipalities make the most of often limited financial resources.

Public Works Manager

Public works involves a broad range of infrastructure projects or initiatives, typically financed by the government and meant to improve the health and safety of the community while enhancing public recreation or enjoyment. Public works managers oversee entire projects or departments centered around these ambitious goals. Along the way, they provide critical supervision, training, and encouragement for many types of specialists and technicians.


The Master of Public Administration holds a great deal in common with another respected degree: the Master of Business Administration (MBA). Depending on concentrations, there may be several overlapping courses, such as Organizational Dynamics and Effectiveness or Project Management. Beyond this, both programs are clearly leadership-oriented. The main difference lies in the coverage of public policy. This is a central focus of the Master of Public Administration, whereas the MBA emphasizes business-related topics such as descriptive analytics and corporate finance.

Both programs are worth pursuing, but it is important for aspiring graduate students to thoroughly understand their unique career goals, and how these may be better aligned with the MPA or MBA.

Advantages and Disadvantages of an MPA Degree

There are many advantages to pursuing an MPA, several of which we have already described the benefits of in detail above. Above all else, this program provides a thorough examination of all things public policy. The MPA also provides ample opportunities to develop relevant, transferable skills, including business-related competencies and soft skills that top employers value. This broad coverage can ensure that, upon completing the MPA, graduates are highly marketable to a variety of employers.

There are a few potential downsides worth mentioning, however, depending on personal goals or passions, these may not feel like downsides at all. Most significant is the rigorous nature of this program. As with an MBA program, the MPA degree calls for a major commitment. The coursework is inherently challenging, with students asked to explore a variety of new perspectives and master the complex decision-making models and processes associated with modern public policy. Public policy for MPA majors is an evergreen area of learning due to the publics’ demand for changes which creates a dynamic environment in which these professionals will always be adjusting to how they can best serve those around them.

Depending on the student, the central caveat of the MPA could either be an advantage or a disadvantage: the focus on policy analysis. This forms the basis of the MPA program and, while many aspiring public administrators find this downright fascinating, the nitty-gritty of public policy certainly will not appeal to everyone. For this reason, a passion for policy analysis should be a prerequisite for this program.

Make a Difference in Public Administration

If you have goals related to public sector service, you could benefit from a graduate-level education. Post University’s Master of Public Administration could be a fit. Reach out to learn more about this exciting degree program.