Study Public Administration: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

About this article
What will you learn in a public administration degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an master's and PhD and potential careers.
View available schools

Public Administration MPAs and PhDs: Degrees at a Glance

There are several areas of study available in Master of Public Administration (MPA) and PhD in Public Administration programs; graduates will be prepared to work in non-profit organizations, universities and government agencies. Experience is key to obtaining management positions, and those interested in pursuing a graduate degree may already have experience in the field.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), community and social service management positions are projected to have an employment increase of 27% from 2010-2020. A PhD may open up opportunities in higher education, including teaching, administration and research.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals new to public administration and those with experience who are seeking advancement People who want to become university professors or researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Social and community service manager ($59,000)*
- Medical and health services manager (86,000)*
Urban and regional planner ($64,000)*
- Postsecondary teacher (all other) ($64,000)*
- Postsecondary education administrator ($84,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years (full-time), 3 years (part-time) About 4-6 years (full-time)
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 12-14 graduate level courses
- Internship/practicum
- Capstone/final paper
- Roughly 24-30 graduate level courses
- Comprehensive exam
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree
-Bachelor's degree and experience or master's degree in a related field
Online Availability Yes Yes, but mostly through for-profit schools

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master in Public Administration (MPA)

Whether you're new to public administration or are currently employed in the field and want to advance your career, an MPA can help increase your knowledge in several aspects of public administration, including management, budgeting and analysis. Expect to take courses that combine topics related to business, the social sciences and law. If you decide to earn an MPA, you'll probably have to choose a concentration or area of emphasis for your degree. Many programs offer concentrations in non-profit management, local or state government and public service management.

Pros and Cons


  • The degree is very flexible and can be focused to fit many different occupational fields depending on your concentration
  • Earning an MPA could make you more competitive
  • An MPA qualifies you to teach public administration courses in a community or junior college


  • Working in a management position can be stressful
  • You won't be able to teach in a 4-year university or college
  • Some positions in your field may require experience in addition to a master's degree

Common Courses and Requirements

Though the courses required in an MPA program will vary depending on your degree concentration, you can expect to take classes in a variety of subject areas. Typical course topics in an MPA program include:

  • Grant writing
  • Quantitative methods
  • Financial management
  • Urban planning
  • Organizational analysis
  • Personnel management

Rather than a thesis requirement, many MPA programs have a capstone project. A capstone project, which is completed at the conclusion of the program, usually requires students to apply material learned over the course of their degree program to a paper or project. The exact requirements for the capstone vary depending on the school.

Online Degree Options

Online degree programs awarding the MPA degree are widely available. Many of these programs are designed for students who are working full-time in the field. Online programs cover the same content as campus-based programs. In place of an internship, online programs may allow you to substitute your current job for credit.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

The field of public administration is becoming more dependent on computer applications. Make a point of learning how to use and develop popular database systems in your field to help you stand out in the job market. Make the most of your internship or practicum; it will enable you to gain valuable work experience and make connections in your field.

PhD in Public Administration

By deciding to pursue a PhD in Public Administration, you'll be taking an important step in achieving the qualifications necessary for top-level employment in research and academia. A PhD in Public Administration provides the extensive theoretical coursework and research background necessary for a career in a college or university. If you don't plan to work in an academic environment, a PhD can also prepare you for employment as a high-level public administration professional.

Pros and Cons


  • A PhD will enable you to be employed in research or as a faculty member at a college or university
  • In many PhD programs in public administration, you'll get to choose a course of study based on your particular research interests
  • Many PhD programs include generous financial support, such as waived tuition, a stipend to cover living costs and a paid teaching or research assistantship


  • Postsecondary teaching and administrative positions may be vulnerable to budget cuts
  • Competition for tenure-track teaching positions is likely to be very competitive
  • Many PhD programs require full-time on-campus attendance, which can be difficult for those who are working

Common Courses and Requirements

The courses in a PhD program in public administration are very individualized. As a PhD student, you'll frequently have the opportunity to design a program of study that fits your career interest. However, certain types of courses will be required as either part of your concentration or as core requirements within the PhD department. For example, you may have to take statistics or another type of quantitative research course, a qualitative research seminar, plus classes in public policy analysis, the history of public administration and program evaluation.

Online Degree Options

Online study is available in some programs leading to a PhD in Public Administration, but may be more commonly offered through for-profit schools. Programs offered online are identical in terms of courses and graduation requirements when compared to their on-site counterparts at the same university. Although some schools may offer various individual courses online, most PhD programs at public or private universities are campus-based, expect full-time attendance and encourage students to work on their research interests in collaboration with faculty members.

Stand Out with This Degree

One way to stand out is to become knowledgeable regarding the ways technology is used in public administration research and data collection, such as designing Internet surveys. It's also important to be comfortable with technological research methods; this could give you an edge when competing for tenure-track teaching positions.

In addition to taking the opportunity to collaborate with faculty members in research and writing, getting published will be an asset if you're trying to get hired for a teaching position at a university. Attending conferences in your area of interest or specialization will also be beneficial.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Regent University

    Program Options

      • Master of Public Administration
      • Master of Public Administration - Public Leadership and Management
      • Master of Public Administration - General Public Administration
      • Master of Public Administration - Servant Leadership
      • Master of Arts in Government
      • Master of Arts in Government - American Government
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

      • Master of Public Admin
  • Campus and Online Programs
    3. Pacific Oaks College

    Program Options

      • M.A. in Advocacy and Social Justice
  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of Pennsylvania

  • Online Programs Available
    5. Seton Hall University

    Program Options

      • Master of Public Administration in Non-Profit Management
  • Notre Dame, IN

    University of Notre Dame

  • Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University

  • Ithaca, NY

    Cornell University

Featured Schools

Regent University

  • Master of Public Administration
  • Master of Public Administration - Public Leadership and Management
  • Master of Public Administration - General Public Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Purdue University Global

  • Master of Public Admin

Which subject are you interested in?

Pacific Oaks College

  • M.A. in Advocacy and Social Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

Seton Hall University

  • Master of Public Administration in Non-Profit Management

What is your highest level of education?