About the Degrees

  • Do you want to change the world? Make a difference? Spend your career serving others?
  • Do you have the talent to lead, manage, analyze, negotiate, transform the status quo?
  • Interested in studying abroad?
Consider a professional graduate degree in public service!

Thousands of students like yourself make that decision every year, and are rewarded with satisfying careers in the public sector, nonprofits, consulting, and multilateral agencies. And, American universities have a long tradition of top quality education, career assistance for finding professional jobs, and networks of graduates around the world.

Making Your Choice

But how do you choose among the hundreds of programs and graduate schools out there? How can you find the degree that will best prepare you for the career you seek? This article explains and distinguishes the two main professional degrees for public service.

  • MPA (the master of public administration)
  • MPP (the master of public policy)
To decide which most fits your interest, we recommend asking yourself three important questions:
  • What are my career goals?
  • What is the core set of professional skills I want to develop?
  • What aspect of professional public service do I want to specialize in?

Your Career Goals
Working in professional public service demands cutting edge skills and the ability to function in complex international and domestic policy environments—it’s not just about the bottom line. Graduates work for governments and other organizations that have the power and authority to make policy and implement it. It is often exciting and challenging offering graduates with professional degrees the opportunity to utilize their skills everyday.
Graduates work in important functional areas like finance, human resources, IT, policy development, negotiation, homeland security, humanitarian assistance and institutional management. They work on exciting policy and diplomatic challenges in these fields: environment, trade, health, international development, and international security.
Most professional jobs in international public service are open to a variety of degree-holders. Professional public service is not a licensed profession, so several different degrees can serve as an entrée. Therefore, choosing a particular degree is often a matter of relative emphasis in curriculum, of specific specializations of interest, and of developing job contacts by tapping well-established relationships among alumni and faculty in your particular field of interest.

Go online and access career services
One excellent way to consider the job prospects from a particular degree program is to look at the career section of degree programs’ website. Many of them provide profiles of recent graduates and who hired them. Remember that some students come into a degree program with previous work experience making them better qualified for jobs than graduates at the entry level. But, the profiles are nonetheless suggestive of the career possibilities from the degree, and jobs that career services offices at a school will have some familiarity with. You can also contact the career director of the school by email or telephone if you have a question about the school’s record in assisting graduates with finding positions in specific organizations or agencies.

What Jobs do graduates with professional public service degrees take?

MPAs: A profile of a recent MPA graduating class shows that graduates took jobs as a city manager, in NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, Department of Finance and Administration of Australia, the Government Accountability Office (US), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport/Japan, and at Booz Allen consulting.

MPPs: Typical jobs include a Principal Economic Analyst, Research Fellow, President of the Non-profit Foundation, Analyst in the Congressional Budget Office, Director of Standard & Poor’s Public Finance Ratings Office, Intelligence Analyst, Environmental Specialist and Director of Economic Development, Budget Analysis and Microeconomic Studies Division.

Degree Requirements: Guiding your professional skill development

To find out, look at the required “core” courses of a degree program. Core courses are the ones you have to take, and they typically comprise at least half of your course load. By looking at the core, you can get a good idea of the “toolbox” of skills and knowledge that the school thinks you need to enter the profession and go far. There is considerable overlap between the MPA and MPP, but also considerable variation among schools within the same degree. Some useful generalizations can be made. These degrees feature coursework to prepare students for professional careers, including subjects like political and economic institutions, policy analysis, memo writing, quantitative methods, and research methods.

Times have changed

While once upon a time the MPA and MPP would have had a more domestic policy/management focus in the core, the internationalization of public administration and public policy curriculum has meant that all three degrees feature international topics and scholarship in the core.

In recent years, the MPA and MPP core have overlapped and blended at many schools, and look increasingly similar. The MPA core often emphasizes management courses, and explorations of public organizations and budgeting. The MPP often features economics and quantitative courses in the core, with building analytic capacity and processing information to inform efforts to solve policy problems as a hallmark of its core curricula. But exceptions abound, and the best advice is to look carefully at an individual degree program’s core curriculum on their website.

Then look carefully at the core courses to see if you would need to do anything to prepare for the degree program: do you have the mathematics background necessary for quantitative coursework, or do you need to beef up your math skills? Do you have any foreign language proficiency? With some degrees it is advantageous to develop some second language skills before entry, because, while a second language is required for graduation, there may not be a lot of time in your jam-packed schedule to start learning a language from scratch.

Here are some examples of the core courses required in different types of MPA/MPP degree programs:

MPA Emphasizing Management and Leadership
Public Affairs Colloquium; Public Budgeting; Public Administration and Democracy; Managing Public Organizations; Managerial Economics for Public Managers; Introduction to Statistics; Quantitative Analysis; MPA Workshop; Executive Leadership and Policy Politics
MPA Emphasizing Administration
Law, Ethics, and Professionalism in Public Administration; Communication Skills for Public Managers; Public Administration and Democracy; Public Personnel Administration; Public Financial Administration; Economic Foundations of Policy Analysis; Organizational Theory; Research Methods in Public Administration; Data Applications in Public Administration.

MPP Emphasizing Analysis
Mathematics for Public Policy; Public Management; The Political Environment; Quantitative Methods I; Quantitative Methods II; Benefit-Cost Methodology; Microeconomics of Public Policy; Law and Public Policy; Policy Research Seminar; Ethics and Public Policy. Ten week required summer internship.
MPP Emphasizing Analysis and Management
Microeconomic Analysis (2 courses), Political Analysis (1), Data Analysis and Evaluation (2), Ethical Analysis (1); Policy Analysis (2); Management and Leadership (2).


Some students have very specific career goals in mind, and one important factor in choosing among degrees is whether they offer specializations of interest to you. The definition of “specializations” (or “concentrations”) varies across programs and schools, but the general idea is that the program features a coherent set of courses in a specific area of study for which you can develop significant professional competence. Such specializations typically involve at least 3 courses, and can also involve internships, special seminars, and in some cases, more formally structured “certificate” programs that certify your completion and achievement of competency in the area.

Specializations vary widely across schools and programs—some schools have decades of experience in particular niches. And again, there is tremendous overlap among the MPA and MPP with respect to specializations. For example, international specializations are now available in both degree programs, as are specialties in non-governmental organizations. Nonetheless, MPPs generally offer the widest set of specializations in policy fields, including areas like social welfare and environment. MPAs often offer specializations in areas like local government management, IT for government, and budgeting/finance. International affairs specializations often feature areas like security policy, international law and human rights, diplomatic skills, and international business.

Here are the specializations offered in some typical public service degree programs:

MPA with IT, Finance, and Policy Specialties
International and National Security Policy; Environmental Policy and Administration; International and Development and Administration; Public and Nonprofit Management; State and Local Government Financial Analysis and Management; Social Policy (Aging, Education, Health, Welfare); Technology and Information Management.

MPA with Administrative Specialties
Human Services Administration; Higher Education Administration; Local Government Administration; Nonprofit Management; Public Budgeting and Finance Administration Public Management; Organization Theory; Public Personnel Administration; Public Policy Analysis; Health Policy and Administration.

MPP with Administrative Policy and International Policy Specialties
Specializations are series of courses in four areas. Examples: Human Resource Policy, International Policy, Regulatory Policy, and State and Local Policy.

MPP with Social and Global Policy Specialties
Specialties include social policy (education; child and family, crime, etc.) and global public policy (international development, global trade and finance, global environmental policy, human rights and democratization; security and humanitarian intervention)

Additionally some students who are interested in, or already, studying law or business pursue a dual degree along with an MPA orMPP. This gives them further flexibility in career choice and allows them to specialize to a greater degree as well.