A Master of Public Administration, or MPA, is a versatile graduate degree that opens doors to many exciting career possibilities in the public sector. This graduate program prepares students for top leadership jobs in public service, government and nonprofit organizations. Through coursework and internships, students learn to administer city services, manage county budgets, oversee nonprofit agencies and analyze policies that affect the public good.


"MPA" stands for Master of Public Administration.


An MPA is the degree of choice for those seeking a career in the public sector. Aspiring business executives who see themselves climbing the corporate ladder in the private sector are more inclined to pursue a Master of Business Administration, or MBA. The two career tracks have some overlap in areas such as accounting, human resources, marketing and strategic planning.

Deciding between an MPA vs. MBA is a big decision influenced by personal values, work setting preferences and intended career goals. The MPA program of study focuses more on government regulations, public policy, community development and democratic decision making. Online MPA programs can be completed in two years or less.

Benefits of Graduate Education

Working adults with undergraduate degrees in areas like business, finance, health or education can sharpen their administrative and supervisory skills by pursuing an MPA. Most high-level jobs such as city manager, urban planner and human services director prefer or require an MPA. The MPA is considered a terminal degree, meaning it is the highest practical degree offered in that discipline. Individuals interested in research and teaching often pursue a Ph.D., but a doctorate is not required for most public sector administrative posts.

The MPA curriculum includes foundation classes in law, public affairs, quantitative analysis and ethical leadership plus an area of concentration. Depending on the desired area of specialization, it can be helpful to pursue an MPA along with a law degree, a Master of Public Health or a dual MPA and arts administration degree, for instance. Professionals who hold this master’s degree put initials after their name indicating that they completed an MPA, the terminal degree of their profession.


  • Jane Doe, MPA

MPA Program Focus

Many MPA programs are partially or completely online. Curriculum varies from one graduate school to the next. However, most schools expect students to take foundational classes in management, administration and finance.

Next, students can focus on classes directly related to an area of interest, such as local or state government. Finally, students apply their new knowledge and skills to a workplace problem to demonstrate their administrative proficiency.

MPA Program Example

Like many schools, Harvard University offers a two-year MPA program geared toward bright, promising professionals with at least three years of work experience. The program provides a supportive environment through weekly gatherings, social events, dinners and personal mentoring by a faculty member at Harvard.

Students work closely with advisers to develop an individualized plan of study over four semesters. However, all students must take two foundational courses in areas related to public policy, such as social and urban policy. Also required is a four-credit course in an area of analysis, management or political thought.

Public Administrator Salaries

Salaries vary substantially depending on the size and type of the organization managed by the public administrator. For example, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported in 2018 that the highest-paid CEOs of Minnesota’s largest nonprofit health organizations earned between $1 million and $3 million annually. By comparison, the head of the YMCA of the greater Twin Cities made $644,000, and the director of Scholarship America in Minnesota earned $300,000.

Salaries are not as high for public administrators working in government jobs and nonprofit organizations. For instance, the manager of a large city municipality earns an average salary of $127,179 per year, as reported in the 2018 GuideStar Nonprofit Compensation Report. The head of an animal protection agency makes an average annual salary of $34,527.

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