What do I need to get into a public administration master’s program?

Each school establishes its own process and requirements for accepting applications and making admissions decisions. Most graduate-level programs require documentation of prior education and related work experience, as well as standardized test scores.

Tests or Certifications

The GRE is typically required by master’s in public administration programs, but can be waived in some cases if the applicant has significant public service experience. The GMAT may also be accepted, particularly by public administration programs offered through business schools.

Experience

The need for prior experience in public administration varies by program. Some are designed for students with 1 to 3 years relevant work experience, while others are designed for students new to the field.

Education

Applicants must provide official transcripts from their undergraduate degrees earned at accredited institutions. Political science is a popular major for public administration students, but most programs accept students with a wide range of undergraduate majors, including the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

Additional Materials

Many public administration programs also require 2 or 3 letters of recommendation. Make sure you follow the instructions for each school, which can also include submission of a goal statement, writing sample, resume and other documents.

What can I do to improve my chances of getting accepted?

  • Refresh yourself on statistics, economics and American government. These courses are usually prerequisites for public administration programs, so you’ll be building on these subjects throughout your master’s.
  • Gain work experience in the public sector. Consider taking on a part-time job, contract opportunity or volunteer role with a community service or government office in your area. Many schools are interested in students with relevant experience, and these activities can help you fine-tune your career goals.
  • Improve your undergraduate GPA. If you are still in school, do what you can to earn the best grades possible. The more competitive public administration programs set minimum application requirements of 3.0 or higher. In some cases, a higher GPA allows you to waive the GRE.

Application Process Timeline

  • Review program requirements
  • Take standardized tests, as required
  • Order undergraduate transcripts
  • Prepare application documentation (i.e. write essay, request recommendation letters)
  • Submit completed applications before the program’s posted deadline

What are the degree options available at the master’s level?

The primary degree in this field is the Master of Public Administration (MPA). Similar options include the Master of Public Policy (MPP) and Master of Public Affairs (MPAff). According to the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) these programs often overlap in terms of the courses and concentrations offered. Some schools offer separate degrees, while others have a combined curriculum. Joint or dual degree options allow students to complete the MPA and a second degree (e.g., MBA, JD) at the same time.

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

  • Program Length: The MPA can typically be completed in 18 to 36 months, depending on the student’s enrollment status (i.e., part- or full-time) and the number of courses required. Most programs include 36 to 48 academic credit hours of coursework.
  • Program Goals: MPA programs emphasize preparation for work in public service at all levels of government, as well as in other settings ranging from nonprofit organizations to private industry. Program curriculums typically includes policy analysis, management and leadership, and program implementation topics. Students can often choose to focus on a specific aspect of public service offered through multiple academic concentrations. These vary by program, but can include topics such as nonprofit management, community development, health care management, environmental policy, emergency management, city planning, public health, urban affairs and financial management.

What do the major concepts and coursework look like?

Public administration master’s students can expect to develop advanced knowledge and skills in the following areas:

  • Quantitative and qualitative data collection, analysis and reporting
  • Data-driven problem identification and solution development
  • Strategic planning
  • Establishing collaborative community-based relationships and initiatives
  • Public policy research and analysis
  • Developing and implementing public programs
  • Economic, political and societal factors of public service decision-making

What classes will you be taking as an MPA student? Many programs require students to complete prerequisite courses in statistics, economics and the U.S. government if these subjects were not covered in previous academic work. The main curriculum typically includes core courses in public administration and policy, as well as a sequence of courses focusing on a specific aspect of the field. Examples of classes offered in these two categories are listed below:

Core Courses

  • Applied Research Methods and Statistics
  • Leadership Ethics
  • Managing Public Networks
  • Organization Theory
  • Public Financial Management
  • Microeconomics for Public Policy

Concentrations

  • Financial Reporting and Assurance
  • Federal Policies and Institutions
  • Grant Writing and Evaluation
  • Urban Housing Policy
  • Diversity, Ethics and Leading Pubic Change
  • Labor Relations in Government

Many MPA programs also require a practicum course or internship experience, especially for students new to public administration work. Comprehensive exams and/or capstone classes taken at the completion of all other coursework are also typical in MPA programs.


What about program costs?

Getting In

Applying to graduate school typically includes the following costs:

  • Application Fee: The admissions process includes a non-refundable fee ranging from approximately $50 to $70.
  • Interviews: Students who are invited to an interview as part of a program’s admissions process are usually responsible for related costs (e.g., travel, lodging).
  • Standardized Tests: The GRE test administration fee is $195 and the GMAT exam is $250. Additional fees apply for special handling requests for scores and preparation materials.

Tuition and Fees

Tuition estimates can be presented in multiple formats, including total costs, annual rates and cost per course or credit hour. Use the following to guide your research of tuition-related expenses:

  • Online vs. Offline: Each school establishes its tuition rates, including, in some cases, different tuition rates for online and on-campus courses. The cost to attend online, campus-based and blended programs varies widely across schools.
  • Average Costs: The average cost for full-time graduate tuition in 2011 was $14,993, as determined by the National Center for Education Statistics. Total tuition estimates for MPA programs range from approximately $20,000 to $70,000.
  • Financial Aid: Students pursuing a graduate degree can get funding assistance from multiple sources, including federal financial aid, scholarships, grants and loans. Our financial aid and scholarship guide provides more information.

Why is accreditation important?

NASPAA, the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration, is the accrediting agency for academic programs focused on public service education, including MPA and M.P.P. programs.

For schools and programs, accreditation is the external review of academic and administrative processes. The NASPAA accreditation process evaluates program curricula and resources against multiple standards, including public service values, faculty performance, student services and student learning. Accreditation is an important factor in:

  • Eligibility for Financial Aid: Many funding sources, including the U.S. Department of Education, will only support students enrolled in accredited schools and programs.
  • Opportunities After Education: Some employers expect applicants to have earned their degrees from accredited institutions. Accreditation is also important for master’s students who are interested in pursuing doctoral degrees.
  • Transfer Credit: Most schools will not accept credits that were earned at a school or program that was not accredited.

How do I go about evaluating and selecting a program?

As you begin your research of public administration master’s programs, use the following factors to compare multiple options:

  • Accreditation: Does the institution have national or regional accreditation? Is the MPA program currently accredited by NASPAA?
  • Costs: What are the estimated total expenses? Consider tuition as well as other fees and costs presented by each program.
  • Admissions: Are you a competitive applicant? Make sure you review the program’s requirements carefully and comply with all related instructions and deadlines.
  • Career Goals: Will the program help you reach your professional goals? Review our Career Guide for more information about the career opportunities for MPA graduates.

What are the keys to success once I’ve begun my program?

  • Ask questions. Though you’re pursuing an advanced degree, you are still learning. If there’s a concept you don’t understand; if you’re struggling with an assignment; if you want more information on a topic: ask. Speaking up during a lecture or on a class’s discussion board to ask for clarification may help others who are also confused. If you feel nervous about speaking in class.
  • Reach out to your professors. They have office hours for a reason, and most will encourage you to email them with your questions and concerns. Your professors want you to succeed, and they often have resources to help you with your research, or they are willing to discuss concepts with you until you understand them. They may also be resources for research or internship opportunities, and if you find one whose work interests you, they may allow you to work on their research with them.
  • Create study groups with your classmates. Not only does this allow you to build relationships among your cohort, but you’ll have the opportunity to get new perspectives on the same ideas. No two people look at a problem the same way; when you work with your classmates in study groups, you’ll see it through their eyes. Having more than one perspective will give you a bigger picture and help your coursework.
  • Take time for yourself. There is no denying that your coursework and the time you spend in class is important; you need to make the grades in order to earn the degree. However, if you don’t some time off to unwind, rest and recharge, you run the risk of burning out. Sleep is as important to your success as studying for an exam; a well-rested mind is able to focus better and retain more information. You should also take time to take your mind off of your schoolwork. Focusing on a hobby, a stupid movie or a book for pleasure uses different parts of your brain.