Master's programs for a career in public policy or administration

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A master’s degree in public administration or the closely-related master’s of public policy can lead to career opportunities in governance, diplomacy, policymaking, the public sector, or NGOs.

Figures including Ban Ki-moon, former United Nations secretary-general; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia; Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum; and Ann Margaret Veneman, former executive director of UNICEF, all studied for an MPA or MPP before going on to play high-profile roles in the world of global development.

The University of California, Berkeley, in partnership with edX, runs a free online course on analyzing and addressing public policy problems. If, however, you are looking to gain a deeper understanding of the topic, or develop key public administration skills such as budgeting and resource management, check out these master’s programs.

This list highlights just some of the well-recognized MPA or MPP programs available. Note that international students applying to these programs may have to demonstrate proficiency in English through the IELTS or TOEFL tests.

United States

Master of Public Administration, Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona
The program aims to prepare students for roles at local, state, and national levels of government, management, and leadership positions in the public sector, or working with NGOs.

Delivered: Most core courses are offered online, although some concentrations may only be available in-person.
Duration: 42 hours of graduate credits, students have six years to complete the degree.
Entry requirements: Demonstratable competency in statistics, proved by a B grade or higher in relevant courses.
Areas of study: Eight core courses with a choice of a specialization in one of the following public administration concentrations: emergency management; nonprofit administration; public finance; or urban management. In addition, the school offers concurrent programs in planning, sustainability, criminology and criminal justice, and social work. Finally, students must complete a capstone course in public affairs or public policy.
Did you know? Of the 2017-18 class, 21% of graduates went on to work in the public sector or with nonprofits.

Is an MPP or MPA for you?

We speak with graduates from both degrees to hear how they feel about their education and subsequent careers.

Master of Public Administration, University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia
Designed to develop professionals for work across all levels of public sector management as well as in research.

Delivered: On-campus.
Duration: Designed to be a two-year (four-semester) program but some students take up to three years to graduate.
Entry requirements: BA degree and demonstrate potential for excellence in the field of public administration.
Areas of study:
A mandatory socialization sequence and core courses in: public administration and democracy; public personnel administration; public financial administration; economic foundations of policy analysis; and public management. In addition to two required courses in research methods as well as a public service internship.
Did you know? Of the 2017-18 graduates, 56% went into public service employment and 13% went on to work in the nonprofit sector.

Master of Public Affairs in Public Financial Administration, O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana
The program covers the theory and practice of raising public revenue, allocating resources through the budgeting process, and managing fiscal assets.

Delivered: On-campus.
Duration: Four semesters of on-campus coursework and an experiential component.
Entry requirements: Students must provide the required documents, including college transcripts, but sharing GRE or GMAT scores is optional.
Areas of study: Students must complete the following four courses: revenue theory and administration; seminar in government budget and program analysis; seminar in public capital and debt theory; and public program evaluation. They must also complete a course in governmental financial accounting and reporting or benefit-cost analysis. They can then pursue specific interests through elective courses, such as data analysis and modeling for public affairs.
Did you know? The O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs is the largest school of public administration and public policy in the U.S. and has an alumni network of more than 34,000.

Master of Public Service and Administration, Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
The program provides students with general knowledge and analytical skills in management, leadership, policy analysis, and research methods.

Delivered: On-campus with a few elective courses offered online.
Duration: Two years full-time.
Entry requirements: Applicants must provide GRE scores but the school does not have minimum admissions score.
Areas of study: The program consists of 10 required courses and a capstone project where students apply their general knowledge to a “real world” problem. Students choose a track in either public management, nonprofit management, or public policy analysis and then select an elective concentration, such as education policy and management or international NGOs.
Did you know? All students pay in-state tuition and the school provides some level of financial support to all.

Europe

Master of Science in Economics and Management, Aarhus University
Aarhus, Denmark
The program provides students with an in-depth knowledge of a range of economics and management disciplines. Public policy is one of the academic tracks that students can choose.

Delivered: On-campus.
Duration: Two years full-time.
Entry requirements: Bachelor’s degree in economics and management; math and economics; or public policy from a list of approved universities. Applicants from other universities may still apply as long as their bachelor’s degree program covered the following areas: microeconomy, macroeconomy, statistics and econometrics, finance and investment, and mathematics.
Areas of study: The public policy track involves courses on: microeconomics; the economics of the welfare state; economics of competition and regulation; and applied public policy. This specialization is primarily designed for those with a bachelor's degree in public policy. It focuses on the connection between economic issues and political science, and building strong analytical skills.
Did you know? More than one-third of faculty members and Ph.D. students have an international background.

Master of Science in Politics and Public Policy, Cardiff University
Cardiff, Wales
The course aims to equip students with the skills to critically evaluate politics and public policy at multiple levels of governance.

Delivered: On-campus.
Duration: One year full-time, two years part-time.
Entry requirements: Applicants should have graduated with upper-class honors in a relevant subject area.
Areas of study: Still to be reviewed for the 2019-20 academic year but examples of core modules are: public policy; governing and policymaking in Britain; themes and debates in contemporary comparative politics; research methods; and approaches to knowledge. Students must also complete a dissertation. Optional modules include European Union law and governance, and public international law.
Did you know? Earlier this year, Cardiff was named the most affordable U.K. city for students.

Advice from alumni: It's not what you learn, but how you learn

Jinu Koola, U.S. Treasury Financial attaché to India, says the most valuable lesson she learned at Harvard Kennedy School's master's in public administration in international development program wasn't specific coursework per se, but a way of thinking.

Master of Science in Research in Public Affairs and Organizational Science, Utrecht University
Utrecht, the Netherlands
This program offers an in-depth investigation of societal problems and critical challenges faced by organizations such as government agencies and nonprofits.

Delivered: On-campus.
Duration: Two years full-time.
Entry requirements: Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in public administration from a Dutch university, or an international bachelor's degree, or one year master’s degree in a related discipline. Those without a bachelor’s degree in public administration should have completed at least one minor in this area, as well as a basic introduction to research methods.
Areas of study: Compulsory courses include: philosophy of science; public organizations and professionals; designing research questions; workshop survey designs; and transforming public governance. During specific semesters students also take electives.
Did you know? Students can participate in the Young Innovator honors program (worth 15 ECTS). Designed to be taken in addition to any master’s, the program involves work to tackle societal challenges.

Asia

Master of Public Policy and Management, City University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Students will develop the practical skills and understanding of public policy and management processes in both local and international contexts.

Delivered: On-campus.
Duration: One year full-time, two years part-time.
Entry requirements: Bachelor's degree from a Hong Kong university or from a recognized overseas institution, or hold equivalent qualifications that are deemed acceptable by the university.
Areas of study: Students are required to take six common courses, consisting of public management, public policy evaluation, and research method and evidence. They can then pick to specialize in public policy or public management, both streams include a course in public budgeting and the management of financial resources. Finally, students must complete group work on a capstone project that focuses on selected public management, policy or environmental management issues.
Did you know? Classes take place on weekday afternoons and Saturday afternoons.

Africa

Executive Master of Public Policy and Administration, University of Cape Town
Cape Town, South Africa
The PPA is designed to help students think objectively and analytically about the policy process, and develop a strong understanding of comparative and South African public administration.

Delivered: On-campus.
Duration: Two years full-time.
Entry requirements: Bachelor's degree with a background in one of the following: economics, public administration, politics, African studies, law, gender studies, philosophy or social sciences.
Areas of study: The four core courses cover public policy, administration, management, and policy evaluation and implementation. Students can choose electives including: public culture in Africa; development economics; public sector reform; political ethics; democratization; and public administration thought.
Did you know? The PPA program maintains an active portfolio of applied research that often creates opportunities for postgraduate students to participate through research assistantships.

Devex, with financial support from our partner 2U, is exploring the skills and education development sector professionals will need for the future. Visit the Focus on: DevPros 2030 page for more.

About the author

  • Emma smith

    Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a Senior Careers Reporter at Devex, based in Barcelona. She focuses on bringing the latest career and hiring trends, tips, and insights to our global development community. Emma has a background in journalism and, in addition to writing for news publications, has worked with organizations focusing on child rights and women’s rights in sustainable development.