Many students choose to pursue an MPA in preparation for a leadership role in a specific field such as education, public health, social services, emergency management, or environmental sustainability.
MPA coursework integrates theory with practice, preparing graduates for successful careers in government as well as public and private organizations that support the public interest.
“There is plenty of important work to do out there and someone must do it. Why not me?”
MPA — Focus
Implementation and management of public policy
Design, analysis, and
impact of public policy
management and finance
MPA — Skills
Leadership, organization and personnel management, planning, program evaluation, communications, budgeting, strategic planning
Research methodology, data analysis, advocacy, campaign operations, public relations
Organization management, leadership, financial analysis, risk management, entrepreneurship
MPA — Careers
City or county manager, nonprofit CEO, program manager, urban planner, human resources manager, financial analyst, education administrator
Policy analyst, legislative aide, government relations manager, foreign service officer, program manager
Private-sector CEO or CFO, marketing manager, business analyst, management consultant
While both degrees are a good fit for individuals who have a strong interest in public service and want to make a positive impact in their communities, the curricula and outcomes are different. Master of Public Policy (MPP) programs are focused on policy analysis, which is a specific skill. With more of an emphasis on quantitatively focused courses, MPP students typically take a deep dive into statistical methods and data analysis with the purpose of designing, evaluating, and amending public policy. MPA programs, on the other hand, are focused on delivering an essential toolkit for decision-makers—which includes policy analysis—for managing, administering, and leading government and nonprofit organizations. MPP graduates often work behind the scenes creating policy, while MPA graduates are more likely to be in public-facing positions where they implement policy. UNC MPA’s accreditation association, NASPAA, offers a helpful comparison of public service degrees on its website.
While all levels of government hire policy analysts and public administrators, policy analyst positions are more common in the federal government, while public administration positions are more evenly distributed at the federal, state, and local levels.
“I want to be out in the community engaging citizens and mobilizing marginalized populations rather than sitting in front of a computer screen. While understanding numbers and data is beneficial, I want the complete toolkit for engaging communities and creating positive change.”
The MPA and the Master of Business Administration (MBA) share a similar focus on leadership and management skills for administrators. However, the MBA is typically oriented toward the private sector, with a focus on increasing profits and creating effective operations. The MPA emphasizes a similar administrative skill set but with a focus on the public sector, preparing students to be decision-makers in government and nonprofit organizations. While MBA graduates sometimes opt to work in public service—just as MPA graduates may choose to work in the private sector—students typically choose a graduate program that is oriented to the sector where they are most interested in pursuing a career.
“I chose to pursue an MPA because I wanted to learn the ins and outs of how to better serve the community through policy and collaboration instead of through business efficiencies and operations. This program was a good fit for my career goal, which is to become an executive director of a corporate foundation.”
A dual degree in law and public administration provides graduates with a leadership toolkit combined with legal training and knowledge. This joint degree program often attracts students with an academic background in political science or history, as well as those who have an interest in politics and government operations and policy. Typically, these individuals aspire to work in a setting where law and public administration intersect, including local governments and some nonprofit organizations.
In some cases, practicing attorneys choose to enroll in an MPA program because they find themselves moving away from the daily practice of law and gravitating toward roles that require a strong leadership and administration skill set.
“My JD prepared me to be an attorney, and my MPA equipped me with a skillset to lead an office of local government professionals, where I can provide creative and adaptive legal solutions to the complex problems facing many communities today.”
Use our interactive search tool to see the wide range of career opportunities that are available to MPA graduates. The skill set gained through our curriculum is widely applicable across interest areas and sectors.