MPA vs. MBA: Which Is Right for You?

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Administrative professionals working together at a desk with computers.An advanced administration degree is more than educational achievement. It’s a key that can unlock opportunities that may otherwise be difficult if not impossible to attain. An advanced degree can help individuals become leaders who can greatly influence the direction of an organization, including the trajectory of its growth.

Both a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree can prepare students for success in professional administration. Both degrees can help individuals take their careers to the next level, but they each have distinctive qualities geared toward different career goals. For those considering the MPA vs. the MBA, learning about the differences between the two degrees can be critical to setting the proper course toward a desired future.

What Is an MPA Degree?

An MPA is what helps prepare students for leadership roles in the public and nonprofit sectors. The public sector includes government roles at the federal, state, and municipal levels. 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. These skills can help individuals perform fundamental tasks associated with roles in the public and non-profit sectors, such as implementing and advocating for public policies that can have a positive impact on a community and its residents.

Concepts commonly covered within an MPA program include policy analysis, public budgeting, public administration, and organizational leadership. Other concepts like ethics, public affairs, and strategic leadership are also usually part of an MPA curriculum.

When students apply to an MPA program, the admissions office will consider each applicant’s professional achievements and contributions, their undergraduate GPA, and potentially their GRE score, depending on the program. Ohio University, for instance, does not require applicants to complete a GRE to apply for an MPA.

Program applicants are normally 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. Some institutions may also have other admission requirements such as a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and a resume.

What Is an MBA Degree?

In contrast to the public focus of an MPA, an MBA helps prepare students to work for companies in the private sector. An MBA is what teaches students skills 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. Individuals with these skills can guide business strategies to positively impact a company’s growth and stability.

An MBA curriculum typically includes coursework in finance, management, marketing, business ethics, accounting, economics, and analytics.

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 undergraduate GPA. Students normally need a minimum 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale. All applicants must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Other admissions requirements may include letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and professional experience.

Public Administration vs. Business Administration

A close look at public administration vs. business administration reveals that the differences between the two generally center on their focus. As such, these differences can be seen in MBA and MPA programs. An MBA degree focuses on the world of business, whereas an MPA tends to focus on the landscape of public affairs.

MPA students generally choose from concentrations in public management and leadership, along with nonprofit management. Graduates generally find careers in government at the federal, state, or municipal level or in nonprofit organizations. Some of these roles include:

  • City manager
  • Legislators or legislative staff member
  • Nongovernmental organization director
  • Public analyst

MPA graduates may also obtain prominent positions in public administrations. Additionally, they often operate as managers in nonprofit organizations, such as activist groups and charities. Those in public safety services, such as police and fire, and in the military can also often pursue a Master of Public Administration to advance their careers.

MBA students typically choose from concentrations in finance, marketing, health care, accounting, operations, executive management, and business analytics. Those who earn an MBA often pursue management roles within their current profession. They can also have the skill set to pursue other leadership roles across a wide range of industries, from finance and technology to manufacturing and health care.

Select careers that can be pursued include:

  • Venture capitalist
  • Product manager
  • Business analyst
  • Entrepreneur
  • Management consultant

MPA vs. MBA: Salary Differences

Individuals with an MBA degree may earn more than those with an MPA, although this could be due to the nature of the work involved in the public and private sectors. According to January 2022 PayScale data, the median annual salary for individuals with MBA degrees is around $91,000, while MPA degree-holders have a median annual salary of around $70,000.

That being said, a career in either the nonprofit or public sector may be more personally rewarding than a similar career in the private sector. Individuals in public sector management roles can drive positive change in their communities and can help grow organizations that aim to have a positive impact both locally and globally. Those in private sector management roles can also influence change, but this influence generally relates to an organization’s growth or stability strategies.

As businesses become more connected with global communities, it has never been more important for them to take on social responsibility and give back. With a stronger focus on public administration, employees with MPAs may be more attractive candidates, as they can help businesses build stronger relationships in the communities they serve. This can make those with MPA degrees a great fit for companies since their skills can enable them to be leaders who can help a business straddle the line between corporate growth and corporate responsibility.

MBA vs. MPA: C-Suite Opportunities

An MPA or an MBA can help individuals prepare to take on roles in an organization’s C-suite. For those interested in taking their career to this lofty point, it is important for them to understand the core function of these roles to determine which degree may be a better fit.

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 an organization is highly trained to supervise daily operations and is responsible for the administrative matters of the departments they manage. 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 organization. CAOs work in both public and for-profit organizations, so both an MPA and an MBA are appropriate.

Median Annual Salary: Around $123,000 as of December 2021, according to PayScale

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

The CEO of an organization is responsible for guiding the direction of the 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 organization’s strategy and vision to managers and employees so they can make the proper decisions to move the organization 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 Annual Salary: Around $156,500 as of December 2021, according to PayScale

Choosing the Best Career Path

Both MPA and MBA programs have the potential to lead to exciting careers. When comparing the programs, it’s important to consider one’s 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.

Build a Bright Future in Administration

Earning a Master of Public Administration can help professionals facilitate positive change. Whether this change is a small one that touches a neighborhood or a larger one that influences an entire nation, MPA graduates can make a difference in the lives of others. This can ultimately make earning an MPA degree a fulfilling achievement.

With four concentrations to choose from, the online Master of Public Administration at Ohio University can help get you ready to make that difference. This program is designed to build the skills necessary to successfully address public needs in effective, efficient, and imaginative ways, putting you in a position to provide and improve services. Explore the curriculum and take the next step toward a career that can help boost communities.

Ohio University online Master of Public Administration Application Info Session


Hello everyone and welcome to our MPA applications instructions webinar. My name is Aili Byng and I will be taking you through the application process step by step.

So here’s a quick reminder about our admissions requirements. Obviously a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution is required for a master’s degree program. We will need official transcripts those printed on transcript paper and for admissions purposes unofficials are sufficient. There is no GRE or GMAT required for this program. You’ll see here also the TOEFL score for those of you that are international applicants. You will need a letter of intent or statement of purpose, copy of your resume, as updated as possible and three letters of recommendation. So here’s where you’re going to get started on the application process.

So to get started take this apply web comm link, copy and paste it into your browser and then when it opens click on degree-seeking. This next slide is going to show you how then to create your account. Remember please to note your user ID and password for future use. It’ll be important so that you don’t have to worry about trying to get in touch with OHIO IT to reset that for you. Sometimes it takes a long time on hold as they are very, very busy. So to begin your application, remember to click apply online and then of course have noted and already created your user ID and password. Just a quick reminder about that.

Very good so now step four. This is where you’re going to fill out your personal information and on this page in the application. Please make sure that you double check the spelling of your name because we have had occasions where then we have to go back in through the registrar’s office to correct something as simple as Robert and then accidentally have hit the R R twice. So just make sure double check everything take the time to be sure that everything is spelled correctly. Also please be sure for those of you who have gone under other names previously or under other names and your academic records please make sure that you note those names.

So step 5 when you get to the program selection page you’re going to type in public administration and then you’re going to select the program that you wish to apply for. Please note M as in Mary P as in Paul 4-4-1-3. This is the 100% online program select that and then click continue.

So now on to step 6. We’re going to select the term and click “save.” Be sure that you are selecting the correct term in which you’d like to start. Obviously May is Summer, Fall is late August, Spring is January, but if you select the wrong one and keep moving forward and then submit your application, you will have to pay a $10 administrative fee to make any changes. So just double-check that you are selecting the correct semester option to get started before you move forward. Here we go.

So step 7 this is where you’re going to upload all of your supporting documents. Your statement of purpose, resume, transcripts, etc. So a couple of notes here for you. Your statement of purpose or your essay should start with an educational section. You should detail your undergraduate studies and any graduate studies that you may have completed. If there were any extenuating circumstances about your studies or the grades received, this is a really good place to address this. Next you should cover your professional experience and after that you should cover your career goals and how this degree would help you in achieving those goals. It’s also really helpful to mention the areas of competencies that you expect the program will help you strengthen or develop. The committee, the program director, they very much like to see a very full complete logical start, middle, and end to the statement of purpose. Next your current resume. Make sure that it highlights your work experience paying particular attention to any public sector or nonprofit experience that you may have. Although that is not a requirement, it does help as far as admissibility is concerned. Remember there is a preference for three years professional experience; however, it does not have to be, as I mentioned, in public sector or nonprofit. It can be considered for admission. Other supplemental documents that you might want to add. These are for those additional things, so for example if you’ve already taken a GRE and you want to submit it you can. Remember GRE and GMAT are not required or if you have additional writing samples or anything that you would like to become a part of your application. That’s what the supplemental documents section is for.

So now step 8. You’re going to provide your academic history including your bachelor’s degrees institution and please note that for online MPA the GRE is not a requirement, but if you took it, as I mentioned before, you can certainly add it. Make sure that you have a transcript that you have scanned that is printed on transcript paper. Not something that you’ve downloaded from your institution’s website. That even though it says “unofficial transcript.” That is actually a DARS report or an advising report for admissions purposes. So we need to have transcripts that have been printed on actual transcript paper. Also remember that when I said that unofficial can be used for the admissions process, if you are accepted you will need to secure transcripts in an official manner. Meaning directly from your institution to the Graduate College or your enrollment advisor prior to the end of your first semester.

So on step 9. You’re going to provide at least three recommender’s information. Name and emails of those individuals that you’ve already spoken to and asked to serve as a recommender for you. When you “save and close,” even if you do not submit your applications that day you input this info, the system will automatically send them an email. It will include a form to be completed and signed and instructions on what we are looking for in a recommendation. Please make sure that you point out to your recommenders that they should look in their spam folder or their junk folder if they do not see the email from the application system because sometimes that’s exactly where it goes and it makes it a little more challenging for you to be able to secure your letter of recommendation in time. So step 10 this is where you’re going to complete the remainder of your application, pay your application fee, and then submit your application. Your application fee can be paid with a credit card. And your app can be submitted before your recommenders have completed their letters of recommendation. If you do not have transcripts but have instead ordered transcripts to be sent to the Graduate College or to your enrollment advisor, you can also submit the application with those documents missing. You will receive a confirmation that your application was submitted and you can send your advisor an email letting them know that it has been submitted. It’s really important to do that, so that the advisor can monitor from our side on your behalf and ensure that all of the documents are coming in as necessary. This is because, generally speaking, it takes about two weeks to receive an answer from the admissions committee and the program director on your application, once it shows as complete. Meaning all of the transcripts, all of the letters of recommendation, statement, resume etc has been received. So if you can avoid having a hiccups later on you’ll be able to get an answer sooner rather than later. So it’s our best practice to advise you or to let your enrollment advisor know that you have submitted the application as quickly as possible.

So a couple of important things to point out here on this last slide for you please remember. There are three starts a year as I had mentioned before Spring is in Mid-January;. Summer is in mid May and Fall is in late August. If you have any questions, you don’t have an admissions advisor or their information here are the main email and phone numbers that you can address and here is the address for your transcripts to be mailed to at our off-site location in Orlando, Florida.

And there you go that’s it. Before you know it you’ll be the leader that everyone looks to, having accomplished your MPA. So get started with your application today. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions at those numbers listed there or directly to your admissions advisor. We’re here to help you. Thanks everyone!