Public Administration & Policy

Why Getting an MPA Is Good Policy—In More Ways Than One

Why Getting an MPA Is Good Policy—In More Ways Than One
An MPA is well-positioned for a career that helps solve complex problems, improves operational efficiency and effectiveness of service professions, and improves people's lives. Image from Unsplash
Katherine Gustafson profile
Katherine Gustafson May 29, 2019

Lifelong civil servant or elected official, lobbyist or NGO administrator—if the job involves working with the government, an MPA gives you a competitive edge.

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Take a look at the University of Southern California Price School of Public Policy blog postings to sample some of the career opportunities available to Master of Public Administration graduates. Recent alumni profiles included a real estate developer serving the homeless, an employment liason for a state legislator, an Air Force urban planner, and a public school system CFO. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

MPA graduates pursue fascinating career paths like these, along with many other opportunities ranging from roles as public administrators to CEOs. An MPA launches graduates into careers in government, nonprofits, or the private sector; they work in federal, state, and local agencies, social service organizations, international financial institutions, and management consulting firms, to name a few.

An MPA is well-positioned for a career that helps solve complex problems, improves operational efficiency and effectiveness of service professions, and improves people’s lives.

The basics

What: An MPA program typically covers topics related to business and government, including political science, public policy, economic development, management and leadership, information technology, strategic planning and communications, health policy, economics and quantitative analysis, public safety, and social and urban policy. The degree, which focuses on public sector management at the local, state, and federal levels, usually takes two years to complete on a full-time basis.

Who: An MPA is a good fit for those with a bachelor’s degree in the social sciences, such as economics, political science, public policy, or international affairs. Some applicants already have a master’s degree in a related subject, such as economics, public policy, or management, and are interested in advancing certain skills by continuing their education.

Requirements: An undergraduate degree is required; a GMAT or GRE score are typically required for admittance. Many who get MPAs already have some work experience in public agencies, nonprofit institutions, or administrative functions of private companies. In fact, some programs require that applicants have years of professional experience prior to entry (e.g. Harvard University). Other programs prefer but don’t require work experience (e.g. . There may also be a requirement for applicants to have already taken some graduate-level classes in related subject areas.

Master’s in public administration jobs

An MPA prepares graduates for many types of careers, far too many to list. Here are a few of the most promising options MPAs can expect to compete for or work towards.

Government agency administrator

Government jobs are stable and well-compensated, and they allow you to make a direct difference in people’s lives. An MPA will prepare you for leadership roles at the federal, state, or local level. Federal agencies employ high-level civil servants to execute policy directives, a task that requires a good understanding of public policy and well-honed management chops. Regional, state, and local government agencies also need talented managers who can work effectively with other government agencies and elected officials such as city council members and mayors.

Salaries for government administrator positions vary depending on the level of government and type of position, but most who work in this sector expect to earn a good living. City managers earn an average of almost $70,000, while federal government managers and program analysts earn an average of more than $110,000. This job market is recession-proof; government employment stays robust regardless of economic ups and downs. If you’re looking for a stable career, government is a good way to go.

Legislator

Legislators work with others in their elected bodies to debate the merits of various courses of action and decide how those legislative priorities should be actualized. It’s a natural fit for extrovert MPAs, whose degree certainly provides the necessary understanding of public policy and the processes by which laws are created, implemented, and modified.

There is no average salary for legislators since their compensation varies extremely widely from state to state. State legislators in Arkansas make $39,400, while those in California—the state with the highest paid legislative body—make $107,240. Like other government jobs, legislative positions are stable, though a given legislator must continue to win elections to remain employed.

Social and community service director

Social and community service directors manage social and human service organizations that focus on helping those in particular demographics or those with specific challenges. They might work with children, veterans, older adults, or people experiencing homelessness, substance abuse, or unemployment. Many graduates of MPA programs enjoy these jobs because they combine administrative acuity with public service.

Social and community service managers earn an average salary of $64,100, while those at the director level earn more. Those in the highest 10 percent of this profession earn around $110,000. These workers enjoy a good job outlook; employment for social and community service managers will likely grow 18 percent between 2016 to 2026, a rate more than twice the average for all U.S. occupations.

Political scientist

Political scientists research and analyze political systems, ideas, and trends. Almost half of those in this profession work in the federal government, while almost a third work in professional, technical, and scientific services organizations. Others work in educational, religious, or civic institutions.

The median salary for political scientists is $115,110, with a range from $56,150 to more than more than $161,890. The job outlook is not particularly robust; employment in this field is growing at less than half the rate of average U.S. occupations, with 3 percent growth predicted between 2016 and 2026.

Executive

An MPA degree prepares graduates for top leadership roles such as the CEO of a company or the executive director of a nonprofit organization. MPA programs teach high-level leadership and analytical and communication skills that translate well to upper-level management. While many MPAs look forward to working in the nonprofit or public sector, the private sector is an increasingly popular goal. 72 percent of Harvard’s 2017 MPA class entered the private sector.

Top executives earn an average of $104,700 per year, with top earners bringing in twice that amount. CEOs average $183,270. Job growth in this occupation is expected to be just about on par with the average for all U.S. occupations.

Management analyst

Working for management consulting firms is a popular option among those with MPA degrees. Management analysts help clients improve operations, performance, and profitability. They may do research on company procedures and finances, conduct on-site observation, and analyze and propose new strategies.

Salaries for management consultants range widely, from $47,140 to more than $152,210, with a median of around $82,000. These yearly totals are often supplemented by bonuses and profit sharing. The demand for management consultants is strong, with growth in this field projected to grow 14 percent from 2016 to 2026, twice as fast as average job growth in the U.S.

MPA degrees can open up a wealth of opportunities, from managing a city government agency to consulting for some of the world’s top companies. MPAs have their pick of jobs with good earning potential and robust growth, many of which come with the added bonus of improving the lives and fortunes of others.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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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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