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It’s not easy to choose a public policy or administration programme as most schools present overlapping options. It’s easy to get lost in the mix between the two and the way that schools package these different avenues together.
Differences between MPA and MPP degrees
Some universities offer a Masters in Public Affairs (MPA), others offer a Masters in Public Policy (MPP), some offer both or a combination of the two.
And, each strain of graduate study has the potential to lead graduates to different career paths – and to make it messy, they could all be the right route to the same job.
There is, however, a key difference between MPA and MPP degrees:
A Masters in Public Policy is more likely to focus on research and evaluation for the purpose of influencing the policies of governing bodies.
An MPA, on the other hand, is more like an MBA, except it relates to management decisions within the public sector.
Narrowing your shortlist of MPA and MPP universities
There aren’t extreme differences in the education or opportunities. More prestigious schools may attract renowned researchers and professors, but the course work may lean towards academic rather than practical objectives. The converse applies to smaller or only regionally prominent schools.
The career you want determines whether you lean closer to policy or administration. But, since many universities are prepared to offer both degrees or a mix, shortlisting schools can be complicated.
Where you want to work after graduation can help you shortlist programmes.
Students studying in New York are likely to have more contact with the United Nations or NGOs. Universities in Washington DC are likely to emphasize diplomacy, while regional American universities may look at local governance more acutely than international or development aspects.
If you know exactly what sort of work you would like to pursue with your MPA, MPP, or MIA degrees, research the schools your target organisations or companies recruit.
Given the similarities between programmes, it’s worth considering the cost. Investigate funding options and your debt burden when you graduate to help determine the ROI of your education.
MPA and MPP electives are important
Applicants should consider the flexibility they’ll have to choose courses and tailor their degree to the type of work they want.
Unlike other fields where core classes are the centre of the education path, elective classes form the core MPA and MPP degrees.
Career opportunities for MPA and MPP graduates
According to a recent survey conducted by Nonprofit HR, 10.7 million Americans work in the non-profit sector. It’s the third largest industry in the United States (behind retail and manufacturing).
The same report demonstrates growth across all non-profit sectors. But, not all MPA or MPP graduates (American or otherwise) turn their focus towards non-profit organsations.
There are plenty of opportunities for MPA and MPP graduates across the world. MPP graduates in the United States are more likely to find employment with governments than non-governmental non-profits. Of those graduating with a Master’s in Public Policy:
- 30% were employed by the federal government,
- 24% went to work for non-profit orgaisations,
- 22% found jobs in the private sector, and
- 17% were employed by local, state, and international governments or institutions.
Fortunately, it’s not just the non-profit sector that’s growing. The American Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts a 5% growth for political scientists. Significantly, they also identify a master’s degree as the entry-level requirement to secure a the typical median salary of $117,570 annually.
According to the BLS, that’s a “response to a growing interest in public policy and political issues. There will be demand for jobseekers with extensive knowledge of political systems, institutions, and policies.”
Why MPA and MPP degrees are a career requirement
In many cases, a bachelor’s degree in public affairs or policy is enough to employ anyone committed to public service. But, it’s not sufficient to move through the ranks. That’s not to say that on-the-job experience is worthless; quite the contrary.
But, according to the Executive Director of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA), Laurel McFarland, “One of the things employers often comment on is they’re looking for someone who can see the big picture of things and understand connections between things and put a better analytic framework on things.”
It’s more difficult to achieve that through on-the-job experience as, more often than not, you won’t be focused on the big picture as much as how things are done.
And, luckily, an MPA or MPP degree is likely to come with a salary boost as well. That’s true whether you opt for non-profit, private, or governmental work. The choice is yours with an MPA or MPP degree.
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If you want to go ahead and know the difference between master of science and master of engineering, or if you want to know what and where to study, try our Study Centre which is filled with expert opinions on a range of topics.
Post updated for accuracy and freshness on October 24, 2019. Originally published on August 31, 2016.