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Is a Master of Public Administration (MPA) Worth It?

Is a Master's in Public Administration Worth It?
Rebecca Safier
Rebecca SafierUpdated May 31, 2023
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Pursuing your Master of Public Administration (MPA), a Master’s degree in public policy, can open the doors to a fulfilling career in public administration, whether in the public or private sector. Individuals with MPA degrees work in a variety of settings, including government agencies, private companies, and nonprofit organizations. At the same time, an MPA program isn’t free, so it’s worth asking yourself, “Is an MPA worth it?” before you enroll. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of Master’s degrees like MPAs is $72,770. You may find lower prices at in-state public schools or higher costs at private institutions. MPA graduates who go on to work in public service, though, may qualify for loan forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program after 10 years. 

What Is a Master of Public Administration?

A Master of Public Administration is an advanced degree that you earn from a certified public administration program. This program may be a good fit for someone who wants to work in public service or nonprofit management. It often spans two years and includes classes in law, sociology, economics, anthropology, and political science. From this program, you’ll gain skills and knowledge in various subject areas, including law, policy, business, finance, and management.MPA graduates often develop management skills and go on to work in government, nonprofit organizations, or private enterprise. 

Why Should I Get an MPA?

Earning your MPA may be worthwhile if it will equip you with the skills, knowledge, and credentials you need to achieve your career objectives. You can often choose to focus in a particular area, such as leadership, community development, health policy, or nonprofit administration. You don't necessarily need to have a specific undergraduate degree to gain admission into an MPA program. However, you may need to provide graduate exam scores, as well as personal statements, recommendation letters, and a college transcript. 

Continued Education for MPA Graduates

If you’re passionate about public administration, your education doesn’t have to end with your master’s degree. You could continue to develop your expertise by applying to a doctoral program, such as a PhD in public administration or public policy: 
  • PhD in Public Administration: This doctoral program will dive even deeper into public administration with courses on organizational theory, policy analysis, public management, and more. You’ll likely have to conduct research and write a dissertation. PhD graduates may go on to work in academia or research. 
  • PhD in Public Policy: This program has a strong focus on the creation and research process around policy. Similar to the public administration doctorate program, this program will likely require a dissertation and could lead to a career in academia or research. 

The Benefits of Getting an MPA

There are a variety of benefits to earning your MPA. Some of these include: 
  • Opens the door to various positions. Earning your MPA can give you access to a wide range of career paths, as well as qualify you to step into a leadership or managerial position. 
  • Helps you develop specialized knowledge and skills. This program will teach you about policy development and implementation and give you knowledge about law, policy, business, finance, management, and related subjects. 
  • Increases your earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Master’s degree holders earn a median weekly salary of $1,661, while those with only a bachelor’s degree earn a lower median weekly salary of $1,432. 

The Risks of Getting an MPA

Along with the benefits that come with earning your MPA, there may be some risks to consider, as well: 
  • Program could be expensive. You’ll have to cover the costs of your degree and may have to take out student loans to pay for tuition, fees, and living expenses. 
  • Two additional years in school. An MPA program typically takes two years, so you’ll need to be comfortable with this additional time in school. 
  • Admission and jobs may be competitive. There’s no guarantee of gaining admission to your program of choice or landing your target job. You’ll likely need to work hard to stand out in this competitive field. 

Popular Jobs for MPA Graduates

MPA graduates can move into a wide variety of roles, often (but not always) in the world of government or nonprofit organizations. Here are a few examples of popular jobs for MPA graduates. 

Human Resources (HR) Manager

Median Annual Salary: $126,230HR managers work in organizations to maintain employee morale and oversee the hiring process. They coordinate and direct the administrative functions of a company. 

Policy Analyst

Median Annual Salary: $122,510As a policy analyst, you might work in a government agency or other organization to research political systems, forecast social changes, and evaluate public opinions. 

City Manager

Average Annual Salary: $77,825 City managers oversee a city’s government, including its budget and overall operations. 

Management Analyst

Median Annual Salary: $93,000As a management analyst, you might consult organizations on how to improve their efficiency and profitability. You’ll conduct research, analyze data, and identify areas of improvement. 

Project Manager

Median Annual Salary: $94,500Project managers oversee various aspects of a project from start to finish. They monitor the budget, track progress, deal with staffing and schedules, and evaluate outcomes.

Budget Analyst

Median Annual Salary: $79,940In this important role, you might work with government agencies or private companies to create and monitor budgets and help organizations meet their financial goals. 

Healthcare Administrator

Median Annual Salary: $101,340Healthcare administrators oversee the operations of hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities. You might manage finances or review procedures to ensure they comply with laws and regulations. 

Urban or Regional Planner

Median Annual Salary: $78,500These planners research and help develop public spaces and housing plans and work with officials and contractors on development projects. 

Nonprofit Director

Average Salary: $61,455Nonprofit directors act as the CEO of nonprofit organizations, providing leadership and collaborating with others to guide the organization as a whole and achieve its big-picture objectives. 

Salary Potential for MPA Graduates

The salary potential for MPA graduates can vary widely depending on the position, industry, and location. HR managers make a median annual salary of $126,230, for example, whereas nonprofit directors average less than half that at $61,455. The average MPA graduate salary falls around $72,600. Before enrolling in your program, it’s worth considering your financial goals and obligations and making sure your target career will help you meet them. 

The Takeaway

An MPA program can be a fulfilling and enriching experience for students who are interested in public administration. It can open the doors to leadership positions in a variety of settings, including nonprofit organizations and government agencies. At the same time, earning your MPA is both a time and financial commitment, so weigh the pros and cons before you commit. Make sure that the degree aligns with your career goals, and try to avoid taking on a burdensome amount of student debt in the process. If you decide to borrow loans to cover your master’s program, find out whether you qualify for any federal or state-based or state-based student loan forgiveness programs

Student Loan Tips

1. Once the pandemic-related pause on federal student loan payments ends, going back to making payments may be hard on budgets. One solution is to refinance to a lower interest rate, longer loan term, or both, depending on your situation. (The tradeoff is that you’ll be forfeiting federal benefits such as repayment programs.) Find and compare your student loan refinance options.2. Traditionally, lenders like to see a business that’s at least two years old when considering a small business loan.3. If you need to borrow money to cover seasonal cash flow fluctuations, a business line of credit, rather than a term loan, provides the flexibility you likely need.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are MPA degrees in demand?
Can you make money with an MPA?
What jobs can a graduate of an MPA find?
Is an MPA or MBA better?
Photo credit: iStock/miniseries

About the Author

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier has nearly a decade of experience writing about personal finance. Formerly a senior writer with LendingTree and Student Loan Hero, she specializes in student loans, financial aid, and personal loans. She is certified as a student loan counselor with the National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC).
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