What Can I Do With an MPA Degree?

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Business woman and men discussing work at a conference tableThe diverse roles of public administrators provide many opportunities for students skilled at high-level organization and administration. For those looking to pursue a career in the public administration field, the following are a few important things to know before starting on the path.

Dynamic Roles of Public Administrators

Public administrators perform important administrative tasks in their companies and organizations, ranging from fiscal responsibilities to coordinating internal communications. With demand for public administrators in high-level positions, their expertise in a variety of areas makes them qualified to ensure that companies and organizations are structured efficiently enough to meet their long-term goals.

Many of today’s PAs are accepting positions in fiscal operations such as budget planning, accounting, financial reporting, and authorizing expenditures. Others are choosing to oversee the recruiting, hiring, and training of the personnel in various branches of an organization. The option to establish and lead assignments and coordinate schedules of staff and managers also exist.

Additionally, some public administrators are held responsible for ensuring that companies meet regulatory standards. They can act as a liaison between various governing bodies and maintain direct communication between departments to ensure they are functioning efficiently. They are even, sometimes, the link between a company or the government and the people, tasked with disseminating information to society’s stakeholders to convince them of the merits of the program they are trying to execute.

In other words, public administrators in senior positions maintain and oversee the efficient and satisfactory functioning of their department. Their day-to-day activities are various, challenging, and rewarding, but require the ability to think at high levels of specificity and abstraction.

Identifying Specialized Areas and Career Opportunities

Public administrators are in such high demand because of the broad range of skills they bring to bear and their ability to coordinate at high levels of companies, organizations, and government to ensure efficiency. Therefore, a job for someone with a master’s in public administration could comprise a wide swath of opportunities. A public administrator might work as a systems analyst or a consumer safety inspector, a private investigator, or a labor-management relations specialist. Public administrators can also work in numerous types of government agencies.

A wide variety of positions and salaries are available to MPA recipients. Many who earn an MPA go on to become executive directors in the private sector, with a median salary of $79,092. Executive directors design and implement strategic plans for their companies and organizations so that they can operate efficiently. Some go into non-profit work, rising in the ranks to program manager or director of development, who earn average salaries of $52,009 and $74,530, respectively.

Another option is the public sector, where—again, because of the huge variety of roles and responsibilities, ranging from administrative assistant to chief executive officer (CEO) to entry-level positions in governmental departments—one can earn a salary as high as $135,000 and as low as $38,000, depending on experience.

The governmental agencies for which a public administrator might work include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and even the US Postal Service, among others. This huge range of operations comprises a vast array of interests and skills, and students who seek this kind of work should develop expertise and find their niche.

Additionally, the public administration consulting field in growing. Management consultants make an average of $87,540 per year. They must be able to go into a new company or organization, synthesize a large amount of data, and come up with a strategy to improve the organization or company’s efficiency.

Essential Skills and Education

Generally, public administration jobs require a master’s degree in public administration or in public policy and administration. Because of high competition, even entry-level positions often require a master’s degree. Upon graduation, students are prepared for positions in leadership or management in the public policy field or in private and nonprofit organizations.

The following are a few essential skills necessary to work in the field:

  1. Leadership: Training in public administration is ultimately oriented towards action. Public administrators, no matter their status within an organization’s hierarchy, must be effective leaders to influence action. A master’s degree can train students to effectively synthesize information, form a strategy, and effectively communicate to their teams and employees in a manner that is both clear and inspiring.
  2. Project and time management: Project management requires assigning roles and deadlines, creating budgets, and scheduling meetings. In other words, all the concrete planning and organization necessary to carry projects through to completion. A master’s program is the ideal way to refine these skills.
  3. Public speaking: Public administrators need to be effective and inspiring communicators to rally their personnel around the correct information and analyses. This requires rhetorical flair, not just analytical acumen. The coursework of a master’s program in public administration works to refine a student’s ability to communicate and convince stakeholders of the validity and importance of their programs.
  4. Budgeting and finance: The availability of revenue constricts what a public administrator can do. It is crucial to understand the complex workings of finance to carry through the projects that public administrators must complete. This is why budgeting is always an important aspect of education in management: a master’s program in public administration prepares students for the budgeting challenges that they may face in their professional careers through classes on the theory and practice of budgeting and financial management.
  5. Critical thinking: This is perhaps the most important, and yet most indeterminate skill that a public administrator needs. Skills in critical thinking are acquired through rigorous training and experience, in and out of the classroom. Through quantitative analysis and by learning to write and argue more effectively, students in a master’s program for public administration can refine their critical thinking skills, which positively impact every other skill they will need in their careers.

The Importance of Internships and How to Get Them

Internships are important for those who want to enter the field of public administration because they provide experience and knowledge of the field. If a student is thinking about entering this kind of work, an internship can provide useful training, as well as demonstrate to the student whether it is actually the job they want.

A wealth of resources is available on the internet for finding public administration internships. However, a master’s program in public administration provides excellent opportunities to network with other students who might have connections, with professors who research in your areas of interest, and with others who might be in the school’s larger network of professionals and graduates.

Learn More in Ohio University’s Master of Public Administration Program

Our online Master of Public Administration at Ohio University can help you build the skills to address public needs in effective, efficient, and imaginative ways. We want you to take the big ideas in your head and put them into action by helping you develop as a project manager, communicator, policy analyst, and financial specialist. When you have an expert understanding of public administration and the professional tools to back it up, you can lead a career of significance for your constituents.

Recommended Readings:

10 Traits of a Successful Public Administrator
A Day in the Life of a Public Administrator
Public Administration vs. Public Management: What’s the Difference?
Top 3 Reasons to Consider a Career in Public Administration


AdministrationJobs.com, “The Best Public Administration Careers for 2020”
USA jobs.gov, Health System Administrator (Chief Operations Officer)
Payscale.com, Average Executive Director Salary
Payscale.com, Average Director of Development Salary
Payscale.com, Average Program Manager, Non-Profit Organization Salary
Payscale.com, Master of Public Administration (MPA) Degree
Masters in Public Administration.com, “Everything You Need to Know About a Career in Public Administration”
CollegeRecruiter.com, How to Land Your Dream Job in Public Administration