What Is an MPA Degree? (With How-to Steps and Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 2, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A graduate degree typically provides better job opportunities and higher salaries. You can develop key skills in human resources, public policy, financial administration, and community organization by earning a graduate degree in public administration. Learning about this degree's opportunities can help you make informed decisions on your career path. In this article, we explain what an MPA degree is, discuss the benefits of earning one, outline steps on how to earn it, review different specializations under this path, and share the primary duties and salaries of careers you can pursue with this degree.

What is an MPA degree?

A Master of Public Administration, or MPA degree, is a graduate-level qualification for professionals interested in leadership development in the public and non-profit sectors. An MPA can help you advance in your career in these fields, as it provides business and financial knowledge on policies and power dynamics. The coursework for an MPA typically includes a combination of management and finance classes and topics like ethics, natural resources, land use, conflict resolutions, and urban planning.

Besides in-person classes, some universities offer MPA programs in an online or hybrid format. While pursuing an MPA, you can develop skills in grants administration, which provide funding for economic projects and community development, such as educational programs and infrastructure.

Benefits of earning an MPA

Reasons to consider earning a master's degree in public administration include:

Enhances leadership responsibilities

Advancing in public service careers typically involves developing managerial and leadership skills. You can build these while pursuing an MPA, as the degree focuses on educating people interested in working in the non-profit sector, policy-making, and public management. Relevant leadership skills you can learn include managing public funds, human resources, and creating policies.

Expands your network

A graduate degree in public administration can provide the opportunity to meet people with a wide range of experiences. You can interact with professionals with different experience levels within your desired field. Many MPA programs have an international focus and attract students from around the world. Learning how other economies and governments respond to public issues together with international students can help you grow a global network and insight.

Increases your expertise

You can become an expert in your field by specializing in it during your postgraduate studies. As there are diverse specializations in the public administration field, it provides an opportunity for you to gain relevant skills and knowledge for your selected specialization. For example, if you're interested in policy-making, you can consider a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree.

Offers job flexibility

With an MPA, you can increase your job opportunities and flexibility. You can work in different sectors, including education administration, government, urban planning, politics, international development, and health care administration. Aside from working in the public sector, you may also work in private corporations. Companies are typically also looking to hire professionals with an MPA for various roles. For example, a broadcasting organization can hire MPA graduates for policy analysis of political news.

Related: Public Policy Careers: Essential Skills and Jobs List

Provides better salary

Earning an MPA gives you a competitive advantage in your desired field. Employers also tend to assign more leadership responsibilities to professionals with an MPA. Typically, these extra responsibilities come with a higher salary. As this MPA is a graduate degree, administrators with this qualification may be eligible to earn more than those with a bachelor's degree.

How to earn an MPA

You can follow these steps to pursue a Master's Degree in Public Administration:

1. Complete an undergraduate degree

A graduate degree is a common prerequisite to pursuing a degree in public administration. This is because it provides background knowledge and skills that prepare you to continue your education. It can be advantageous to earn a Bachelor's Degree in Public Administration, but a degree in related fields can also apply. Other acceptable areas include economics, political science, business administration, and sociology.

Related: Public Sector Jobs (With Description and Salary Information)

2. Gather other necessary documents

Next, you can gather the documents relevant to your application process. You can research the schools you want to apply to and find their specific requirements and prerequisites. Aside from a degree from a recognized institution, schools may ask for documents like a letter of recommendation, a transcript, a passing score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and proof of coursework in subjects like economics and statistics. Schools may waive them if the MPA program is online.

3. Enrol and choose a specialization

You can apply for your master's after confirming your desired school has an MPA program that involves the training you want to complete. Most MPA programs have similar core courses. After their completion, you can choose to specialize in a particular concentration. Core courses in MPA programs include:

  • Policy design and advocacy

  • Managing organization for public service

  • Introduction to public and non-profit administration

  • Research methods in political science

  • Public and non-profit financial management

Specializations in MPA programs

Here are popular specializations to consider after completing your core MPA courses:

  • Non-profit management: This specialization has diverse opportunities, as non-profit organizations constantly look for qualified personnel to create and manage their programs. This allows administrators to use their skills to support a cause in which they're interested.

  • Urban development: MPA graduates specializing in urban development can create better policies that suit the community's growing needs. They typically gather and analyze data helpful in executing the changes.

  • Criminal justice: This specialization involves protecting the public through diverse programmes and policies. Administrators in the criminal justice specialization help create and enforce these programs.

  • International affairs: This specialization offers MPA graduates the opportunity to work with the United Nations. They develop programs and policies that affect a mass of people and operate on international levels.

  • Local government: A career opportunity under this specialization is to become a director of urban planning to manage a government's parks and recreation department. There are also opportunities in schools, hospitals, and transportation.

  • City management: Administrators working under this specialization are often in charge of the daily operations of the city in which they work. Their responsibilities include budgeting, financial planning, and management of the community.

  • Health: Administrators working in the health sector develop and implement public health policies. Health sectors employ the services of these professionals to enforce policies.

7 Career paths you can pursue with an MPA

Here's a list of careers opportunities in public administration you can consider after earning this degree:

1. Budget manager

National average salary: $76,294 per year

Primary duties: Budget managers help allocate and organize financial resources in both private and public sectors. They estimate future spending, develop budget plans, and execute them for organizations. These professionals perform cost-benefit research and make financial recommendations to ensure their spending remains within budget.

2. Policy analyst

National average salary: $68,750 per year

Primary duties: Policy analysts explore issues and craft solutions by investigating current and potential policies. They share their findings, propose actions, and advise legislators and politicians, government authorities, and individuals capable of passing bills. The roles of the policy analyst are essential as they influence governance and inform decisions about public services and programs.

3. Human resources manager

National average salary: $74,205 per year

Primary duties: These professionals direct, coordinate, and oversee the recruiting, evaluation, and hiring of new staff. They also often manage payroll and cultivate employees' relationships. A human resource manager serves as a connection between an organization's employees and senior management team.

4. Urban planner

National average salary: $111,761 per year

Primary duties: Urban planners consider public and environmental welfare and guide the development of new or existing communities. They oversee projects that can promote economic and ecological growth by gathering data, performing analysis, and developing proposals. These professionals work toward making a community convenient, equitable, and comfortable for living.

5. Economic consultant

National average salary: $59,785 per year

Primary duties: Economic consultants help improve businesses' performance by analyzing the economic status and proposing effective business plans. They compile relevant data and recommend more effective strategies for operating. These professionals typically work for consulting firms within specific industries.

6. Public works manager

National average salary: $82,597 per year

Primary duties: These professionals work in the public sector and supervise various departments' activities. Departments they're in charge of include water and sewage treatment plants, utilities and equipment maintenance, and streets. They collaborate with other high-level officials to complete their duties.

Related: 12 Public Relations Careers (With Salaries and Duties)

7. Environmental consultant

National average salary: $67,042 per year

Primary duties: These consultants conduct research and advise on environmental matters. They work with both private and public sectors and make recommendations that can help increase ecological safety. Environmental consultants help organizations comply with health regulations, reduce potential harm, and increase energy efficiency.

Salary figures reflect data based on indeed salaries at the time of writing. Salary may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location.

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