Master of Public Administration vs. Master of Business Administration

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Taking the right path in higher education is critical to achieving a high level of success in both the private and public sectors.

For many professionals, the MPA vs. MBA decision is a critical step in setting the proper course toward their desired future.

In order to choose, it’s instructive to highlight some key differences between these two degrees, along with some additional information on the educational requirements, median salaries, and career growth opportunities.

Master of Public Administration

A Master of Public Administration can help prepare students for leadership roles in the public and non-profit sectors. Students can expect to develop skills in a wide range of areas, including public policy, leadership, research, sociology, and management, as well as a broad understanding of finance.

Educational Requirements:

When students apply to an MPA program, the admissions office will consider each applicant’s professional achievements and contributions, GPA and potentially their GRE score, depending on the program. Ohio University does not require applicants to complete a GRE to apply for an MPA. Program applicants are expected to have a 3.0 undergraduate GPA on a 4.0 scale. However, the applicant’s entire application packet is reviewed and those who do not meet this threshold may be conditionally admitted on a case-by-case basis. The MPA program covers administrative analysis, public budgeting, public administration, and organizational leadership. In addition, ethics, public affairs, and service leadership are also usually part of an MPA curriculum.

Career Outlook:

Those who earn an MPA find careers as county or city managers, legislators or legislative staff members, non-governmental organization directors, or public analysts, or they may obtain prominent positions in public administrations. Additionally, MPA graduates often operate as managers in nonprofit organizations, such as activist groups and charities. Additionally, those in public safety services, such as police and fire, along with the military often pursue a Master of Public Administration to advance their careers.

Master of Business Administration

A Master of Business Administration helps prepare students to work for companies in the private sector. Students learn skills that are required to thrive in business, such as finance, operations management, supply chains, accounting, and marketing. MBA programs also teach students to communicate, solve problems, manage risk, and improve their ability to consider economic, political, and social influences as they relate to business.

Educational Requirements:

When students apply to an MBA program, the admissions office will consider each applicant’s achievements and contributions to the community, GMAT/GRE scores, and GPA. Students should have a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale. All applicants must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. An MBA curriculum typically includes coursework in finance, management, marketing, business ethics, accounting, economics, and organizational behavior.

Career Outlook:

Those who earn an MBA often pursue management roles within their current profession or careers with banks or financial firms, and many aspire to become a venture capitalist, product manager, business analyst, entrepreneur, or management consultant, or to work in human resources.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)

The CAO of an organization reports directly to the chief executive officer (CEO). If the organization’s CEO is unavailable for a task, the CAO will carry out the duties in the CEO’s place. The CAO of a business is highly trained to supervise daily operations and is responsible for the administrative matters of the departments he or she manages. The responsibilities of CAOs include making sure staff members are adhering to all procedures, regulations, and rules of business. CAO roles will vary depending on the size of the company. CAOs may work in both public and nonprofit companies, so both an MPA and an MBA are appropriate.
Median Salary: $107,000

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

The CEO of a business is responsible for guiding the direction of an organization and usually makes most of the executive decisions. A CEO’s responsibilities include overseeing staff performance, including those of the president and vice president, and delegating tasks to managers. The CEO is also responsible for formulating a business strategy and outlining an organization’s goals. The CEO must effectively communicate the company’s strategy and vision to managers and employees so they can make the proper decisions to move the company forward. The title of CEO typically indicates the head of a private-sector company, so it’s not surprising to see more MBAs than MPAs in the role of chief executive.
Median Salary: $163,000

Reasons Students May Select an MPA over an MBA

  • A career in either the nonprofit or public sector may appear to be more rewarding than a similar career in the private sector. Individuals in management roles have the opportunity to drive positive change in their communities and can help grow organizations that aim to have a positive impact both locally and globally.
  • An MBA degree focuses on the world of business, whereas an MPA tends to focus on the landscape of public affairs. MPAs choose from concentrations in public management and leadership, along with nonprofit management, whereas MBAs typically choose from concentrations in finance, marketing, healthcare, accounting, operations, executive management, or business analytics.
  • As businesses become more connected with global communities, it has never been more important to take on social responsibility and give back. With a stronger focus on public administration, employees with MPAs are more attractive candidates, as they can help businesses build stronger relationships in the communities they serve.

Choosing the Best Career Path

Both MPA and MBA programs have the potential to lead to exciting careers. When comparing MPA vs. MBA, it’s important to consider professional goals. Students should ask themselves where they would like to be in 10 years: managing an organization in the nonprofit or public sector, or working in a private business? Visualizing the ideal future will help students decide which master’s degree is best for them.

Learn More:

The online Master of Public Administration at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs can help you build the skills to address public needs in effective, efficient, and imaginative ways. When you have an expert understanding of public administration and the professional tools to back it up, you can lead a career of consequence for your constituents.

Recommended Reading:

Ohio University Blog, “What an MPA Can Do For Your Career”
Ohio University Blog, “Public Administration: State of the Field”
Ohio University Blog, “Five Key Figures in the History of Public Administration”


Masters of Public Administration, “Public Administration Careers for MPA Students”
Payscale CEO, “Average Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Salary”
Payscale CAO, “Average Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Salary”