Why earn a master’s in public administration online?
Develop an analytical mindset
Learn how to make evidence-based management decisions, evaluate and solve problems, and justify your actions.
Gain a public service perspective
Build the hands-on skills needed to participate in and contribute to the policy and administrative process.
Enhance your career opportunities
Prepare for leadership with a professional education relevant to a wide range of organizations and fields.
Browse online MPA programs New
What is an online MPA degree?
An online master's in public administration (MPA) degree is often seen as the public sector equivalent of a master’s of business administration (MBA). It’s a graduate-level program that equips individuals with the knowledge and skills required for effective leadership and management in the public and nonprofit sectors. This degree focuses on the unique challenges and complexities of public administration, policy analysis, and governance. Online MPA programs often emphasize real-world applications of theoretical knowledge, fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills in various public service contexts. An MPA degree prepares learners for a variety of jobs and roles in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, healthcare institutions, and international agencies. After completing an online MPA program, you’ll be able to contribute to developing and improving public policies and services.
What’s the difference between an MPA vs an MPP?
A master’s in public administration (MPA) and a master’s in public policy (MPP) are distinct graduate degrees focusing on different aspects of public service.
An MPA is designed for individuals aspiring to leadership and managerial roles in public and nonprofit organizations. Online MPA programs emphasize the practical application of public policy, focusing on skills related to program management, budgeting, human resources, and organizational leadership. Conversely, an MPP is tailored for those interested in the analytical and strategic aspects of policy-making. MPP programs delve deep into policy analysis, emphasizing quantitative and qualitative research methods, economic analysis, and policy evaluation.
While both degrees are rooted in public service, an online MPA focuses on the practical implementation of policies and organizational management, whereas an MPP emphasizes the analytical and strategic skills necessary for effective policy-making and evaluation. Choosing between the two depends on your career goals and interests within the realm of public administration and policy.
Online master's in public administration admission requirements
The admission requirements for online master's in public administration (MPA) programs vary among institutions, and some documents may be optional.
In general, you need to include documentation that shows your suitability for the online MPA degree program of your choice. Typically, you’ll need an online bachelor's degree (sometimes specifically an online bachelor’s in business) from an accredited institution, official transcripts, letters of recommendation, a résumé, and a statement of purpose.
You usually need a competitive GPA, although specific cutoffs will be specified by the college or institution. Some schools will require GRE scores, although this isn’t always necessary — especially in the case of online programs. In some instances, proof of relevant work experience will be required, and international learners usually need to supply proof of English proficiency (TOEFL or IELTS test scores). Most programs require a non-refundable application fee, which varies by institution.
It's essential to check the specific admission requirements of the online MPA programs you're interested in.
How to apply
Each online MPA degree program has specific application instructions and cutoff dates. Visit the relevant program pages to ensure you meet the requirements and follow the necessary application steps.
What you’ll learn
Online master's in public administration (MPA) programs have a broad curriculum covering various facets of public service and administration. These programs combine management and leadership training with insights into the ever-changing social and political environment. Online MPA programs build skills in public policy, organizational behavior, and government or nonprofit finance.
Some standard courses and topics covered in an MPA program will likely include:
Public administration fundamentals: introduces the history, theories, and concepts of public administration, emphasizing the role of public service and ethics in the public sector.
Public policy analysis: teaches techniques for analyzing, evaluating, and formulating public policies.
Public budgeting and finance: covers budgetary processes, including revenue generation, expenditure planning, financial reporting, and fiscal management strategies.
Organizational theory: deals with theories of organizations and management, focusing on how public and nonprofit organizations are structured, function, and adapt to change.
Human resources management in the public sector: addresses recruitment, training, performance evaluation, and employee relations within the context of governmental and nonprofit agencies.
Leadership and public management: examines leadership styles, organizational behavior, and strategic management principles in the context of public administration and service.
Nonprofit organizations and governance: focuses on the unique challenges, program evaluation, and management techniques in nonprofit organizations.
Urban planning and policy: unpacks urban development principles, land use planning, and policies related to sustainable urban environments and community development.
Local government administration: examines the structure and functions of local governments, emphasizing challenges and strategies in delivering public services at the municipal level.
A capstone project: allows you to demonstrate the skills and knowledge you gained by solving a real-world problem.
An online MPA degree equips you with sound management, analytical, and policy-making skills and allows you to focus on specific topics depending on your interests. You could learn human resources to shape organizational culture and aid team engagement, development, and productivity. If you are interested in making informed decisions and developing strategies to address societal issues and challenges, you could learn public policy. Alternatively, if you are interested in how cities can grow to best serve its population, you’d benefit from learning urban planning.
What can you do with an MPA?
A master’s in public administration (MPA) degree equips you with the skills to participate in and contribute to policy and administrative processes. The program can prepare you for various leadership and administrative roles in, for example, social services, nonprofit administration, urban development, healthcare, and government.
Specific careers may include:
Urban planner: Develop land use plans that address environmental, economic, and social needs to create sustainable and functional urban areas.
Public policy analyst: Research and analyze policies, evaluating their effectiveness and proposing improvements.
Social and community service manager: Coordinate and supervise social service programs and community organizations, managing staff, budgets, and program delivery.
Budget analyst: Help organizations manage their finances and prepare budget reports, monitor spending, and ensure funds are allocated effectively.
Medical and health services manager: Plan, direct, and coordinate medical and health services while overseeing staff, budgets, and patient care.
Lobbyist: Influence legislators and policymakers by providing information, conducting research, and building relationships.
Development officer: Identify funding sources, write grant proposals, and cultivate donor relationships to secure financial support for your organization.
MPA salary and job outlook
Career opportunities for MPA degree graduates vary by role, location, and specific field. Given that public administration careers span various sectors, including government agencies, nonprofit organizations, healthcare, and education, there are numerous career paths to choose from. Factors such as an aging population, evolving public policies, and the need for efficient resource allocation continue to drive demand for skilled public administration professionals. Additionally, the increasing focus on environmental sustainability and technology integration in public services will likely create new avenues for specialized roles.
The estimated job growth in the field of public administration varies depending on the specific career path you choose. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical and health services managers have a 28% projected growth rate from 2022–2032, while social and community service managers have a 9% projected growth rate over that time.Footnote 1
Frequently asked questions
An online master's in public administration program typically takes 18 to 24 months for full-time learners to complete. Part-time learners may take longer, depending on the number of courses taken per semester. However, the exact duration will depend on the specific program, your course load, and any potential transfer credits. It's essential to check timelines with the schools you’re interested in.
The cost of an online master's in public administration varies widely based on the university, program reputation, and residency status. Some prestigious universities might have higher tuition fees, while more affordable options are available at others. Financial aid, scholarships, and grants can also impact the overall cost. It’s best to research specific institutions to get accurate and up-to-date pricing information.
The difficulty of an online master's in public administration (MPA) depends on individual abilities, prior experience, and program rigor. Online MPAs demand time management, self-discipline, and dedication. The coursework can be challenging, involving policy analysis, public finance, and leadership studies. Engaging in discussions, meeting deadlines, and balancing professional commitments add complexity. However, supportive faculty and peers and effective study strategies can enhance the learning experience. While challenging, success depends on your effort and adaptability, making it manageable with commitment and focus.
An online master's in public administration (MPA) can be worth it for many individuals. It enhances career prospects, offering government, nonprofit, and private sector opportunities. The MPA provides specialized skills in policy analysis, public management, and leadership, which are all vital in public service roles. Online MPA programs offer flexibility for working professionals, enabling career advancement without disrupting work.
Whether a program is the right fit depends on your individual goals, the reputation of the institution, and your dedication to applying the knowledge you gain. Once again, it’s best to research the available programs and related career outcomes before deciding.
Many online master's in public administration (MPA) programs offer eligible learners financial aid and scholarships. These include government grants, institutional scholarships, fellowships, and work-study opportunities. The availability and types of financial assistance vary by university and program, so it's best to research the options and contact your chosen institutions for information on financial aid options and eligibility criteria. External organizations and professional associations may also provide scholarships and funding opportunities for learners pursuing an MPA online.
Yes, there’s a difference between a master's in public administration (MPA) and a master’s in public policy (MPP). While both degrees focus on public administration and policy-making, MPAs emphasize management and implementation of public programs, preparing learners for leadership roles in government and nonprofit sectors. In contrast, MPPs concentrate on policy analysis, formulation, and evaluation, focusing on research and policy design. MPP graduates often work as policy analysts, advisors, or researchers, shaping policies. Conversely, MPA graduates are equipped for managerial positions and typically oversee the execution of policies and programs in public organizations.