MPP vs MPA: Career Options O Plenty

Any professional who wants to have a rewarding career in government service has two options for their graduate level education: a Master of Public Administration (MPA) or a Master of Public Policy (MPP). Educators, graduate students and government workers have debated the advantages of both degrees for years. The degrees are quite similar with some subtle differences, but both lead to excellent career options in government and nonprofit work.

As this article describes, you may be surprised to learn that some of the best career opportunities for MPA and MPP graduates are in areas not always directly related to public administration or policy.

MPA vs. MPP – What’s the Difference?

An MPA prepares professionals for important management roles in both the public and nonprofit worlds. Typical subjects that are covered in an MPA program include management, implementation of policy, budgeting and finance, how legislation and management are connected, professional ethics and management of civil workers. An MPA tends to stress program implementation and management more than an MPP.

An MPP prepares professionals for analytical policy roles in both the public and nonprofit sectors. Some of the most common subjects for an MPP degree include micro and macroeconomics, research methodology, public finance, statistics, policy process politics, research ethics and management of public groups. Many of these areas are covered in an MPA program too, but the focus with an MPP is more on policy analysis and design, statistical analysis and data analysis.

Myriad Career Options for MPAs and MPPs

Whichever degree you choose, you will find many growing career options in government and nonprofit employment with one of these master’s degrees. Keep in mind that whether you get an MPA or an MPP, most jobs are not going to involve writing policy memos all day long. While it is possible that you could land a traditional policy position, you are more likely to find good work in other fields that relate to policy and public administration.

Here are some of the most job growth areas for MPAs and MPPs:

  • Program Analyst: This is a great job for people with an MPA/MPP. It involves a great deal of reading, writing, and analysis. Many federal agencies hire program analysts, and the starting salary is around $44,000.

  • Budget/Financial Analyst: If you are interested in statistics or numbers, this career option will involve you helping the department plan/execute a budget. Plan on starting at about $47,000, and note that this type of job has great promotion potential.

  • Human Resources: HR is moving generally towards more of a talent management focus and less on paperwork. There are many opportunities for people with MPA/MPP skills. Note that the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that HR specialist jobs will increase by 22% in the next 10 years, with a median salary of $52,000.

  • Information Technology: There are many openings for IT workers in government and nonprofits. And according to BLS, great salary potential: You can earn up to $115,000 per year as an IT manager in government. Job growth is expected to be 18% by 2020.

  • Acquisitions: Otherwise known as purchasing. The government has to purchase a lot of goods and services. Anyone interested in a career in public service would do well to become skilled in the field of acquisitions/purchasing. BLS states that this field will grow by 7% by 2020, and the median salary is $58,200

Some of the specific job titles for MPA and MPP graduates that are in the most demand are:

  • Economic Development Director: You will oversee programs that boost growth and development of the economic growth of a city or county. Expect a median starting salary of $38,000-$98,000.

  • Human Resources Director: Plan and direct HR activities for a government organization or nonprofit group. You also could work for a private company. Salaries range from $44,000 to $140,000.

  • Public Affairs Director: Oversee programs that help government organizations and nonprofits improve their public image. Expect to write press releases, fund raise and direct outreach programs. Salaries range from $34,000 to $133,000.

  • Public Relations Consultant: Provide strategic advice on media and community relations. You may write press releases, manage news conferences and work with marketing to create popular PR campaigns. Salaries range from $35,000 to $195,000.

  • Executive Nonprofit Director: Manage the operations of a nonprofit organization. Typical starting salary: $60,000.

  • Research Director: Manage the research operations of many government departments or nonprofit organizations. Starting salary is around $58,000.

If you are interested in public administration or public policy career, you should really consider some of the career options listed above. All of these areas and job titles are experiencing strong growth, good salaries, and also afford you the chance to make a significant difference in the public welfare.


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An MPA or MPP would be important if hiring managers understood its value. My experience suggests that they don’t. When all that is needed is a master’s degree for a GS 09 position then these degrees are one out of many options on the menu.

Bryce Bender

From my experience as an MPP candidate, most HR people do realize the importance and expertise that my degree offers. I’ve gotten lots of feedback on how to portray my degree and skills in a positive light to show my value to companies.

In my program, I generally took the same classes with MPA/MPP students in the first year and in the 2nd we split off a little more with myself focusing more on analytical/data analysis while MPAs focus more on implementation and management.

Kim Truong

Thanks for the great post! I’m in the middle of an MPP/MPA dual degree program and I think both are enriching generalist degrees that also enable specialization in a policy area, professional realm, region, etc.