What Is An MPA Degree? Plus Courses, Jobs And Pros And Cons

Updated 24 March 2023

The management of public sector organisations, including non-profits, often requires specialised academic qualifications. A Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree can help you start a career in government or fields such as policy design, labour relations and energy management. Knowing what a degree in public administration involves can help you decide whether this is the specialisation you want to study. In this article, we define what an MPA degree is, review the programme delivery, discuss the courses and explore job prospects, including the benefits and limitations.

What Is An MPA Degree?

An MPA degree is a master's degree in public administration. It is a programme you can take if you are considering a career in the management of public services. It is an alternative to a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and similarly covers the topics of business and finance. Where it differs is that an MPA programme also focuses on public policies.

The objective of studying MPA courses is to understand the complex relationships between society, state and administration. An MPA programme strives to create leaders in the public sector through various courses, such as policy analysis, social economics, civics, law and management. MPA graduates can work as legal counsellors, human resource managers and consultants in the administrative offices of the government, private or non-profit organisations.

Related: What Is The Difference Between Private And Public Sector?

Programme Delivery For An MPA

An MPA is a post-graduate degree programme and is available in full-time, part-time and distance education options. The full-time and distance learning programmes are usually two-year programmes. Students typically complete the part-time programme over a maximum period of four to six years, depending on the institution. Another option to study public administration is to enrol in an integrated MPA programme. This is usually a five-year programme and allows students to start a combined bachelor's and master's degree after passing the 12th board exams.

An MPA programme can prepare you to become an expert in the fields of public service and administration. Once you complete the programme, you can be ready to take leadership positions in governmental organisations. You can often start working in top-level positions since you have a master's degree. MPA programmes typically help you gain an understanding of administrative aspects such as critical thinking, process improvement, strategic communication, analytical techniques, methodological reasoning, ethics and professionalism.

Related: What Does A Public Relations Officer Do? (Duties And Qualifications)

Admission Criteria For An MPA Programme

Colleges and universities offering MPA programmes typically accept applications from students who have completed a bachelor's degree in any discipline. Institutions may require a minimum average grade of 50%. Premier institutes may require a minimum of 60%. The exception is the integrated MPA programme, which typically accepts applications from students who have completed their 12th board exams.

The institutes may further evaluate candidates based on scores on national entrance examinations. Questions on these entrance exams typically cover topics such as the constitution, political theories, public administration concepts and general knowledge. If you are applying for a seat in an MPA programme and have cleared your entrance exams, the institute may take their final decisions based on a group discussion and a personal interview.

Courses In An MPA Programme

A two-year MPA programme typically consists of four semesters. The first two semesters usually include core courses, and the last two semesters include electives. Throughout the programme, course formats often include workshops, case studies, seminars, internships and projects. The following is a list of courses a student may take in an MPA programme:

Cores courses

Core courses cover the basics of policy and management. Here are common core courses MPA programmes typically offer:

  • Frameworks of public policy

  • Economics and public policy

  • Communication for policymakers

  • Policy statistics

  • Financial management

  • Budgeting

  • Ethical issues

Elective courses

These courses allow students to specialise and understand the topics more deeply. The following are elective courses MPA students may be able to take:

  • Conflict management

  • Education policy

  • Higher education administration

  • Environmental policy

  • Environmental management

Related: 10 Benefits Of Pursuing An MBA For A Career Change

Job Prospects After Getting An MPA

An MPA degree can help you get a position in various service domains, including the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Here are roles you can apply to as an MPA graduate:

Public sector

Public sector roles for an MPA graduate typical involve leadership positions in government organisations and institutes. The following are examples of public sector positions:

  • Regional planner

  • Urban planner

  • Economic development director

  • Human resources director

  • Director of energy management

  • Community relationship manager

Related: How To Get A Government Job (With Interview Tips And FAQ)

Private sector

Though an MPA programme specialises in policy-making and is typically suitable for candidates aspiring for public service jobs, many private companies also hire MPA graduates to manage their business policies, external relations and finances. Here are private sector jobs that may be available for MPA graduates:

  • Public relations manager

  • Human resources director

  • Financial analyst

  • Budget analyst

  • Policy director

  • Operations manager

  • Communication director

  • Marketing manager

  • Administration specialist

  • Environmental specialist

Related: What Is The Private Sector? (With Roles And Examples)

Non-profit sector

Professionals in the non-profit sector often liaise with government and private sector organisations. They typically hire MPA graduates for leadership roles that manage communications between the different types of organisations. The following are non-profit sector jobs MPA graduates might apply for:

  • Communications director

  • Director of public affairs

  • Development director

  • Program director

  • Marketing director

  • Membership director

  • Advocacy director

  • Public relations manager

Related: What Is A Non-Profit Organisation? Definition And Key Features

Benefits Of Getting An MPA

A master's degree in public administration can have several benefits. Here are its advantages as a programme and the career path it can lead to:

Flexible programme

An MPA programme is flexible because admission requirements typically include a bachelor's degree in any discipline. This means that regardless of whether you have a bachelor's degree in the sciences, arts or commerce, you can enrol in an MPA as long as you score well on the entrance tests. MPA programmes are also flexible in that they offer part-time delivery. This can enable you to work alongside taking the classes so that you can fund your education.

Opportunity to serve

MPA programmes typically prepare future leaders in the public service domain. As an MPA graduate, you are likely to get an opportunity to serve society by involving yourself directly in policymaking. You can accept leadership roles in governmental and non-profit organisations and may have the opportunity to take high-level decisions that impact the environment, community welfare and international relations.

You can also get into a role that hires the top talent in administrative positions to ensure that all public service operations proceed efficiently. Your role can impact the decisions of political leaders, business leaders and industry stakeholders for long-term countrywide benefits.

Related: How To Write An Objective For A Public Relations Resume

Expanding job prospects

MPA graduates can apply to job openings in all three sectors: public, private and non-profit. With an MPA degree, you can start directly in leadership positions without having to grow your career from an entry-level position. Organisations often offer such positions to MPA graduates because the programme provides them with in-depth knowledge of policies as part of the elective courses.

Related: 20 Highest-Paying Jobs With an MBA (With Salaries)

Limitations Of An MPA Programme

Here are limitations an MPA programme has both in terms of courses and career options:

Expansive curriculum

The curriculum for an MPA programme typically includes several interdisciplinary courses. Some courses may have similarities with an MBA programme's courses, such as management and finance. Some other courses may overlap with programmes from the humanities department, such as political sciences, sociology, communication studies and international relations. MPA programmes may also have common courses with law programmes. As an MPA student, you may feel that you are learning many topics all at once instead of focusing on one domain.

High-stress career

A typical day in a public services leadership position may involve communicating with many national and international stakeholders who affect the creation and implementation of policies. This means that the role involves adapting quickly to rapidly changing situations, dialogues and decisions. The decisions you take as a public service leader are also of high importance, as they can impact an entire community. This may result in a high-stress job with little time for work–life balance.

Related: How To Handle Pressure From Work (With Practical Tips)

Competitive administrative jobs

Though MPA graduates can apply for jobs in any sector, most candidates get this degree because they aspire to serve the community. This often means getting a job in government organisations. The public sector typically has fewer open positions than the private sector. Aspirants in the public sector also typically have high qualifications, which makes getting a job in this domain more competitive. Competition is also high in the private sector, where companies often prefer to hire candidates with niche specialisations such as an MBA instead of an MPA.

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