Business Administration

The 13 Best Master’s Degrees for Government Jobs

The 13 Best Master’s Degrees for Government Jobs
Most government agencies use a coding system called the General Schedule to classify jobs, ranking positions on a level of 1 to 15. Any role above GS-9 requires a master's degree. Image from Unsplash
Lucy Davies profile
Lucy Davies April 29, 2021

At the local, state, and federal levels, government work requires more rigorous and more specialized training than ever. A master's degree can help you land an excellent government job and advance more quickly in your role.

MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider

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There is a lot of good news for anyone looking for a government job, not the least of which is that the government is actively hiring. Whether you are looking for employment in one of the branches of the armed forces, the Department of Homeland Security or Veterans Affairs (all top government employers) or for more like something the Smithsonian, the federal government posts new jobs every day.

In addition to the volume of jobs available, the federal government offers a wide variety of positions within its more than 100 agencies and bureaus. There are jobs in program analysis, information technology, criminal justice, business administration, education, healthcare administration and public health, engineering, and human resource management—and that’s just to start. Some positions are occupational specialties, like geographer and forest conservation technician. Others are open to just about everyone.

As you explore your options, don’t assume you’ll be stuck in Washington, DC, just because you are looking for government work. The distribution of civilian federal workers in the US is fairly evenly spread across the map. The greatest percentage, in fact, are found in the Southeast, with lower numbers in the Northeast and overseas, and only around 15 percent in the DC metropolitan region. And that’s not even considering state and local government jobs, of which there are plenty.

So let’s take a look at some of these career opportunities and determine whether your bachelor’s degree and work experience are sufficient to get you started or if you’ll need to proceed only after obtaining your master’s. We’ll also identify the best master’s degrees for government jobs by addressing the following:

  • Do you need a master’s degree for a government job?
  • The 13 best master’s degrees for careers in government
  • Should I get a master’s degree to advance my career in social justice?

Do you need a master’s degree for a government job?

With such a wide range of government jobs available, you will find a correspondingly broad spread of qualifications required and salaries offered. As with any job search, you should lay out your goals and expectations to organize your career options. While you may not need a graduate degree to get started, you may find that having one offers a higher salary starting point and fuel for a growing career.

Some government positions may require an advanced degree from the beginning; others may allow for growth within the role. Most government agencies use a coding system called the General Schedule to classify jobs, ranking positions on a level of 1 to 15, with minimum education and experience indicated. To qualify for a particular rank, you need to satisfy either the education or the experience requirement, but not both (these rankings generally apply to jobs in the scientific and professional categories: e.g., computer science, biology, chemistry, engineering). Anything above a GS-9 requires a master’s degree, law degree, or a PhD. Years of experience can stand in place for a degree, depending on the position.

While the government hires people at all levels of education and experience, further growth in your position might depend on you pursuing an advanced degree. A graduate degree can enhance your:

  • Credentials
  • Professional network
  • Skills and knowledge


You should include all your accomplishments on a resume when applying for a government position. Including concrete examples is the best way to highlight your achievements. If you organized a fundraiser, how much did it raise? What were the improvements you made at your last job, and how did they save the company money?

Listing your degrees will be a big part of your credentials list; including a graduate degree can have a significant impact. Knowing your career path and the requirements you’ll need to meet to ascend through the ranks will help move you from entry-level positions to higher leadership roles.

Professional network

One of the most valuable benefits of obtaining your master’s degree is the networking you can do during your time in graduate school. The professors and alumni you meet will provide unique opportunities for further learning, advice, and recruiting, whether you attend a traditional program or pursue an online master’s. These unique connections can set you up for expanded opportunities in your job search.

Skills and knowledge

The qualifications required for any government position are outlined in the vacancy announcements for job openings. You may come to the table with skills and knowledge from experience in a similar position held in the private sector; you should, of course, include them on your resume. These will serve you well as you enter the government workforce. However, the coursework you curate while working in a related degree program will allow you to move up in both title and payscale in a more focused way.


“Should I Get A MBA?”

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13 best master’s degrees for careers in government

Let’s look at the list of the top master’s programs and see how the academics might set you up for your move into government work. We’ll consider master’s degrees in:

  • Public policy
  • Business administration
  • Criminal justice
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data analytics
  • Healthcare administration
  • Human resource management
  • Information technology
  • Law
  • Public administration
  • Public health
  • Social justice/human rights
  • Social work

Public policy

Working on a Master of Public Policy (MPP) requires a lot of group work and collaboration. That’s by design, since work in public policy is highly cooperative and collaborative, whether in the private or public sector.

In this interdisciplinary field, you’ll study everything from ethics and leadership to qualitative research and urban planning, and you’ll graduate with a solid foundation in program evaluation and research methods. An MPP will prepare you for work as an urban planner, political scientist, lobbyist, or policy analyst, with a median income of about $72,000.

Business administration

Getting your Master of Business Administration (MBA) has been the mark and measure for competitive industries like finance and tech, and while it can’t guarantee a huge boost in pay, it will most likely provide a higher starting salary. The pursuit of an MBA in the private sector might get you a spot in the c-suite. In government positions, it can provide greater opportunity by making you a more attractive candidate. With opportunities to study in-person or online at competitive schools like Howard University and The University of Tulsa, you have greater flexibility to pursue an MBA or executive MBA in a setting and time frame that fits your lifestyle.

In an MBA program you’ll study micro and macroeconomics, statistics, finance, and management, and you’ll be well prepared for jobs in operations, analytics, information systems, and business and finance. Starting salary would be about $85,000, higher than non-MBA candidates. You might start even higher if your degree is from a top business school or if you’ve developed a much-needed specialization.

Criminal justice

A Master of Arts or Master of Science in criminal justice can move you toward work in government agencies like Health and Human Services or the Department of Justice, in jobs with ICE or the Secret Service.

Coursework includes criminology, law and procedure, cybercrime, homeland security and terrorism, research, and law. Jobs in criminal justice include work in intelligence research, criminal investigation, forensic science, and research. Payscale fixes the average annual income for holders of an MS in criminal justice at just under $57,000.


With the growth of the internet and dependence on digital information, the need for cybersecurity, particularly in the government sector, is rapidly increasing. If you have a master’s in cybersecurity under your belt, you are in a very strong position to enter the workforce in both the public and the private sector.

Coursework for a master’s in cybersecurity covers cryptography, law and policy, designing and maintaining security systems, and performing security audits, with further specialization opportunities available. Graduates might look for top positions like chief information security officer or computer network architect or find work as a software developer, cybersecurity analyst, investigator, or engineer The annual salary range for these positions may start in the low six-figures for candidates with a master’s degree as job growth in the industry continues to climb. The University of Tulsa offers an online Master of Science in Cyber Security; the program is recognized by the federal government as a Center of Academic Excellence in information assurance research and cyber operations.

Data analytics

With the ever-increasing volume of data storage and the current lack of highly qualified candidates to fill positions, data analysts are in high demand. A master’s degree in data science or data analytics qualifies you for positions across government agencies.

Courses of study include applied statistics, predictive and descriptive models, systems architecture, data visualization, data management, and data warehousing. With a data analytics master’s, you might look for positions as a data mining analyst, business intelligence architect, data engineer, or analytics architect. With the high demand for data analytics at various levels, salary will depend on your specific specialization, but salaries range from about $82,000 to the mid-six-figures. Online data science master’s options include Stevens Institute of Technology and Tufts University.

Healthcare administration

Jobs in the healthcare industry combine a focus on the needs of a community with efficient and organized systems to provide quality care. Professionals work closely with doctors and nurse practitioners to provide patient care. They must be proficient in healthcare policy, record keeping, budgeting, law, and ethical standards.

As a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) candidate, you’ll study healthcare information systems, finance, management, and strategic planning. You’ll have the opportunity to specialize in areas like maternal health, pediatrics, and long-term care. Online programs like the MHA at NYU offer a streamlined and comprehensive option for students already employed in healthcare and looking for greater opportunity in the industry or to specialize in a particular area. The government operates many healthcare facilities, all of which need efficient management.

Human resource management

The largest federal agencies in the US employ approximately 2 million civil servants, according to the Office of Personnel Management. Someone has to manage that workforce; in fact, it requires a small army of human resource professionals. An MBA in human resources will put you in a great position to work as a compensation benefits manager, employee experience director, or training and development manager, or to lead as head of HR.

Studies for this degree include labor market analysis, forecasting, managing human capital, compensation and benefits, recruitment,and management strategies and typically take two years of full-time study. Salaries for top-level HR can top $200,000, but entry-level positions requiring only a bachelor’s degree may begin at well less than half that.

Information technology

As slow-moving and intractable as the government can be, even it is not immune to the digital revolution. Everything is online these days, the government included. As a result, information technology constitutes a substantial bloc of any government agency’s workforce.

A course load for an IT master’s typically includes emerging technologies, programming, IT applications and project management, and security applications. There are many types of IT degrees, so you should look for a good fit for your interests. Expect salaries to range from $71,000 with a bachelor’s and up to $84,000 with a master’s degree. Job opportunities should arise across all government functions.


A law degree can land you a position in politics as a committee member, policy advisor, or legislative assistant, or in almost any government agency. Whether you decide on a Juris Doctor (JD) or a master’s in law, jurisprudence, or legal studies, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice your specialty.

Public administration

If you are interested in making positive change in the ways government intersects with public health and policy, then pursuing a Master of Public Administration (MPA) might be an excellent path for you.

Coursework covers public finance, microeconomics, and research methods, with specializations in urban planning, transportation, and community and economic development. Positions might place you at the CDC or the FDA, in jobs like director of public safety, public relations specialist, or environmental health administrator, commanding salaries ranging from $80,000 to the lower six-figures

Public health

The COVID pandemic threw public health into the spotlight; at this point there probably isn’t an American alive unaware of its import. While not every public health official becomes an Anthony Fauci, all contribute to promoting public well-being and preventing the spread of contagious diseases.

Government jobs in this field enjoy a global reach and create the opportunity to effect positive change across borders, with schools like Tulane Universityoffering unique specializations like combined public health and tropical medicine.

Studies focus on health policy management, environmental science, epidemiology, and behavioral science. Salaries for health statisticians can breach $150,000. Other high-paying public health roles include policy analyst and positions in NGOs, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies worldwide.

Social justice/human rights

American government policy prioritizes social justice and human rights at home and abroad (although it must be said, the definition of those terms varies depending on who controls the executive branch). Studies include global development, sustainable food systems, economics, world health, migration and refugees, and gender issues.

Social justice and human rights work might find you in positions like program officer, researcher, social service worker, lobbyist, or lawyer, with annual salaries ranging from $44,000 as a mediator to higher-salaried staff attorney. You should find opportunities everywhere, from the State Department and intelligence agencies to criminal justice and social welfare agencies.

Social work

Social work provides a unique opportunity for helping others live productive and healthy lives. If you have this desire to contribute in this way, you might find government job opportunities in agencies like the Veterans Administration, Health and Human Services, or the Department of Justice.

A Master of Social Work (MSW) can move current government employees into higher-paying positions. Coursework focuses on communities and social systems, child welfare and social work, aging populations, death and dying, substance abuse, trauma and violence, and behavioral health. With an MSW, you’ll be qualified for positions as a substance abuse counselor, clinical therapist, mental health counselor with salaries ranging from around $50,000 to upwards of $70,000 with a completed master’s degree.

Should I get a master’s degree to advance my career in social justice?

As with any career in the social sciences, the cost of an advanced degree should be weighed against future earnings. If you are committed to earning a living serving the public, pursuing a master’s can only help you achieve your career objectives.

As an activist and advocate for others, arming yourself with the knowledge, connections, and credentials a master’s offers will give you ammunition to fight for people, animals, and the environment. And if you’re looking for added bonuses: government work tends to be pretty secure, and the benefits are usually reasonably generous.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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