What Is an MPA Degree?

Individual studying for a Master of Public Administration (MPA).

Individuals with a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree can follow a variety of career paths in the public and nonprofit sectors, as well as political and nonpolitical spaces. The professional graduate degree combines courses in political science, government policy, leadership development, law, ethics, and more to prepare professionals for service-oriented professions centered on the public good. From high-level decision-making to policy implementation and program design, public administration professionals commit to bringing positive change to their communities. 

Below, we’ll be going over the specifics of an MPA degree along with potential career paths, helping aspiring professionals to answer the question: “Is an MPA worth it?” 

What Can You Do With a Master’s in Public Administration?

Before enrolling in a graduate program, prospective students may consider the following questions: 

  • What is an MPA degree good for? 
  • What can you do with a master’s in public administration?
  • What jobs can you get with a master’s in public administration?

For those who are uncertain about what to do with a degree in public administration, thinking through personal goals and the demands of the field can help determine a potential career path. 

An MPA degree is a broad-based, versatile leadership degree that provides professionals with ample opportunities to work in public service organizations and nonprofits. After completing an MPA program, graduates are able to pursue leadership positions where they create, manage, and improve programs and policies that have a lasting impact. Day to day, they come up with real-world solutions that yield quantifiable results.

Public Administration Pros and Highlights

Prospective public administration professionals may still ask themselves, “Should I get an MPA?” 

With the solid foundation that an MPA degree provides, there are many benefits to consider. 

So, why get an MPA and is an MPA degree worth it? An MPA equips students not only with an understanding of how public service organizations function, but also with the skills needed to help those organizations develop strong and innovative solutions. MPA graduates seek to become leaders with positive influence, helping organizations drive meaningful change one step at a time. The degree may prove useful for those looking to start their career in public administration as well as those looking to advance their careers. Many will also use the MPA degree to transition into roles in the public sector.

No Specific Undergraduate Degree Required

The pathway to earning an MPA is flexible. Most master’s programs don’t require an undergraduate degree in public administration for admission, which means applicants can consider a variety of prospective programs, including those offered online. From sociology to communications, MPA students come from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds — and this allows them to bring unique interests and perspectives to the classroom. The public sector facilitates employment with a lot of different interest areas including education, communications, social services, emergency management, and public health. 

While students can come from a variety of academic backgrounds, MPA candidates commonly major in political science, history, or a related subject at the undergraduate level. That’s because these majors are closely aligned with government, law, politics, public service, and organizational management — subjects and industries central to the MPA field. Depending on the university, some undergraduate programs allow students to enroll in courses that are further explored in a master’s program. Still, other master’s degree programs may require newly accepted students to complete prerequisite courses such as American Government

Learn on Your Time With an Online Option

While some people can attend in-person classes full-time, some professionals may need a more flexible option as they balance other priorities. But why should you consider an online MPA? What are the benefits of an online degree?

Online programs accommodate different schedules and allow busy professionals to complete their degree at their own pace, from anywhere in the world. Whether students opt for part-time or full-time enrollment, many online programs provide the same caliber of coursework as in-person programs. In the end, professionals receive a high-quality education and get connected to a large alumni community, many of whom are leaders and advocates in the field.

UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government offers a 45-credit top-ranked online master’s in public administration program. With concentrations in international relations, nonprofit management, public health, and more, graduates use their specialized training to develop strong, long-lasting, cost-effective solutions to public service challenges.

Work in a Variety of Fields

While completing an MPA program, professionals who aren’t currently in a public administration role will likely want to start searching for jobs in public administration. There is no single career path for those who pursue an MPA. Many graduates will end up working in the public sector, across local governments, state governments, the federal government, and nonprofit organizations. Still, others will apply to jobs in the private sector, in the areas of corporate social responsibility, human resources, or community relations. 

Graduates can pursue roles in the following areas and more:

  • Community and social services 
  • Business and financial operations 
  • City/county management
  • Emergency management and disaster response
  • Education 
  • Consulting

Health care is also a common industry for professionals with an MPA. Public health administration jobs are wide-ranging, available to professionals with varying experiences and career ambitions. 

One of the advantages of having an advanced degree is that there is a rich variety of master’s in public administration jobs, which offers professionals a wider range of careers to choose from. 

Salary Potential

An MPA degree salary is different for each person depending on which sector they go into, their role, and their prior work experience. 

Here are some common public service jobs and median yearly wages for each one:

OccupationMedian Annual Salary (May 2021)
Law enforcement workers 
Social and community service managers
Urban and regional planners
Medical and health services managers
Political scientists
Human resources managers
Human resources specialists 
Budget analysts

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook

In the program search and application process, candidates may want to look out for information on career support and career outcomes associated with the school they have their sights set on. This information lets students know what career development tools, resources, and services are available to them and gives them the opportunity to plan accordingly. 

The rigorous online MPA program from UNC prepares professionals to take on high-earning leadership positions in government and nonprofit organizations. 

Considerations for Earning an MPA

There are many reasons professionals may want a degree in public administration, whether they aim to improve overall quality of life for members of their community or help private companies and institutions grow to their fullest potential. An MPA may help individuals gain the toolkit to become decision-makers and help organizations run efficiently and more effectively. 

Time Dedication 

If a student decides to enroll in a full-time MPA program, they’ll typically be able to complete their degree in two years. However, if they choose to be a part-time student, it will take longer to complete the degree. 

So, how hard is an MPA degree? 

An MPA requires professionals to internalize broad but necessary knowledge of policies, laws, and administration best practices and apply them to their career of choice. Depending on their background and experience, some individuals can face a learning curve when exploring the more advanced facets of their field. 

Potential Stress

MPA graduates complete a rigorous education program that covers policies, laws, and processes. They practice high-level skills in analysis, management, and research, with the aim of becoming strong and confident leaders in an industry of their choice. That doesn’t always come easy. 

While aspects of the educational journey and field may be stressful, public administration can be a rewarding career path as it has the ability to bring necessary change and make a real difference in people’s lives. 

Broad Curriculum 

Because an MPA degree can be used in many industries, master’s programs usually offer a relatively broad, interdisciplinary curriculum that covers a range of subjects to help prepare people to be decision makers. Professionals can choose a concentration that aligns with their personal interests and career aspirations, but must still take the required foundational courses in publication administration theory, management, and more. The priority is that they’re trained to become equitable, effective leaders who can guide others toward making a difference in their communities. 

Competition in the Job Market 

Competition varies widely for each field. Regardless of their chosen sector, professionals should aim to demonstrate that their graduate program equipped them not only with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed, but also with the ability to be innovative and to envision an action plan for optimal growth. Exceptional leadership qualities and characteristics can help professionals set themselves apart from others in the job market. It’s important for students to leverage available career-building tools through their school and program.

Employment of social and community managers is projected to grow 15% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average growth rate for all occupations.

Effective Communication Skills

A public administrator’s role and influence can impact many lives. Professionals communicate with people of varying roles and backgrounds on a regular basis, whether that’s with other department employees or key stakeholders. 

Therefore, they are taught to demonstrate amiable, professional behavior and be able to communicate their thoughts in a clear and effective manner. Organizations are always looking for effective, capable leaders — and public administration professionals are often well-equipped to meet such expectations.

Consider an MPA Degree From UNC-Chapel Hill

At UNC-Chapel Hill, students of all backgrounds can receive a quality public administration education. The MPA program is dedicated to preparing public service leaders who ascend into decision-making roles. And the curriculum is designed and taught by leading public service experts, providing students with unique and up-to-date insights into the field. In addition to the esteemed faculty, students have access to personalized career services and professional development with support from an engaged alumni network of more than 1,500 people.

As students engage in hands-on learning in and outside of the classroom, they develop essential skills to become agents of change who improve the communities in which they work. 

Last updated April 2022.