Is an MPP or MPA for you?

Photo by: Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan

A Master of Public Policy and a Master of Public Administration can equip graduates with the tools and skills to tackle complex situations and create solutions for real world problems. MPP and MPA studies deal with the systematic analysis of issues related to public policy and the decision-making process, while considering economic and political factors. Some programs also look at public policy and administration specific to the context of international development.

Want to see how different degree programs stack up against each other? Use this interactive chart to compare 10 top degree programs for a global development career and see how graduates rate them on everything from compensation to work-life balance.

A survey carried out by Devex revealed that 89 percent of MPP/MPA graduates felt that the degree had been a worthwhile investment of their time and money. Additionally, 74 percent of the same group said that from their experience, pursuing an advanced degree was very important to their career. These graduate also shared their thoughts on job prospects and salary. Here is what they said.

Career opportunities

After graduating, 75 percent of MPP/ MPA graduates felt “satisfied” or “strongly satisfied” with the job opportunities available to them. This group also felt encouraged that their degree would lead to long-term career advancement options — 92 percent said they were “strongly satisfied” in this area.

In the global development context, a master’s in public policy or public administration can lead to roles in policy advisory, program analysis, management, or research, among others.

Osman Siddiqi, who completed the MPA in international development at Harvard Kennedy School, landed his role as country director not long after he graduated. For the past two years, he has led and overseen all projects in Sierra Leone for the U.S. based nonprofit Innovations for Poverty Action.

Siddiqi says that the master’s does open doors and positions you well in the job market, but also makes you choosier when it comes to job opportunities.


When it came to compensation levels immediately after graduation, 68 percent of respondents were “satisfied” or “very satisfied.” Meanwhile 90 percent of MPP graduates were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the long-term compensation potential of their degree.

A master’s in public policy or public administration can lead to roles in policy advisory, program analysis, management, or research, among others.

Job happiness

This group of professionals felt good about their opportunities to make a positive societal contribution since obtaining their degree — 93 percent felt “satisfied” or “very satisfied” that this had been the case. When asked about their work-life balance, 89 percent of respondents were “satisfied” or “very satisfied.”

What to expect

Siddiqi, who came from a background in economics, didn’t pursue the master’s degree to help advance his career. For him, it was about enhancing his skill set and broadening his horizons by learning what others were doing. “I wanted to figure out a rigorous or smart way to contribute,” he says, to “figure out clever plans, smart ideas, or even simple ideas that would have more salience.” This is what attracted Siddiqi to international development work in the first place and after doing some “soul searching” he decided the MPA made sense for him.

“You want to be challenged, you want to move fast, learn fast, fail fast, pick yourself up and try again.”

—  Osman Siddiqi, MPA in international development at Harvard Kennedy School

MPP/ MPA programs cover a wide range of topics, including economics, ethics, management, leadership, political analysis, and microeconomics. For Siddiqi, the master’s began with math camp where students completed a refresher in multivariable calculus, probability, and statistic-based work. Following this, the range of subjects available and the network of professionals and academics surrounding him forced Siddiqi to “explore a whole bunch of options and consideration to think about what to do next.”

And while the master’s opened up doors and helped him figure out what exactly he wanted to do, it also allowed him to be a little more picky in his next steps. “You want to be challenged, you want to move fast, learn fast, fail fast, pick yourself up and try again,” he explains.

You know you need a postgraduate degree to advance in a global development career, but deciding on a program, degree, and specialization can be overwhelming. In partnership with the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA), Duke Center for International Development (DCID) at Duke University, Duke Kunshan University, the Online Master of Public Health (MPH) at George Washington University, and the MPA/ID Program at Harvard Kennedy School, we are digging into all things graduate school and global development in a weeklong series called Grad School Week. Join online events and read more advice on pursuing a postgraduate education here.

About the author

  • Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a Reporter at Devex. She covers all things related to careers and hiring in the global development community as well as mental health within the sector — from tips on supporting humanitarian staff to designing mental health programs for refugees. Emma has reported from key development hubs in Europe and co-produced Devex’s DevProWomen2030 podcast series. She holds a degree in journalism from Glasgow Caledonian University and a master's in media and international conflict. In addition to writing for regional news publications, she has worked with organizations focused on child and women’s rights.

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