Public Administration & Public Policy Graduate Programs: PhD & Master's

Public Administration and Public Policy Graduate Programs: Overview

Students turn to Public Administration and Public Policy Graduate Programs to gain the skills and knowledge to make a difference in the world. Whether one wants to study ways to serve the community through ethical and responsible leadership, or is drawn to careful analysis and research in domestic policy or international affairs, there are many avenues to consider in the areas of public policy, public administration, and government.

Public Administration and Public Policy Graduate Programs are offered at all levels. From postgraduate certificates to Masters programs such as the MPA and MPP degrees, all the way to Public Policy and Public Administration PhD and DPA Programs.

Public Administration & Public Policy Graduate Programs: PhD & Master's infographic written by Rana Waxman

Graduate public administration and policy students are often able to pair a concentration with core compulsory courses to tailor their graduate degree to their own career trajectory. Or, work towards a dual degree to meld with professional goals.

A graduate degree in public administration and policy could ready students with both academic and practical opportunities that may form the base of a strong foundation for a variety of career paths. Graduates might pursue or jumpstart a career search in the public, nonprofit and private sectors as well as careers in teaching or research. But just what is the difference between public policy and public administration?

Popular Schools with Public Administration & Policy Programs – Degrees

ProgramInstitutionDegree Awarded
Master of Public Policy and AdministrationUniversity of St. ThomasMS
Public AdministrationCalifornia State University, ChicoMPA
Public ManagementUniversity of GlamorganMPM
Public AdministrationSeattle UniversityMPA
Master of Public AdministrationPurdue University GlobalMPA
Doctor of Public AdministrationNorthcentral UniversityDPA
MBA w/conc in Public AdministrationSouthern New Hampshire UniversityN/A
Doctor of Public Administration (D.P.A.)Walden UniversityN/A
Master of Public AdministrationUniversity of DelawareMPA
Master of Public Administration and PolicyAmerican UniversityMS
Master of Public Administration in Non-Profit ManagementSeton Hall UniversityMS
Master of Public Administration: Business & GovernmentLiberty University OnlineN/A

Public Policy vs Public Administration

The expression “it takes a village” is an accurate description when it comes to public service and is reflected in the diverse degrees found in both public administration graduate programs (PA) and public policy graduate programs (PP). With some possible overlap in curricula within Public Administration and Public Policy Graduate Programs, there is a difference between public policy and public administration.

  • Public Policy Graduate programs focus on policy analysis. They go deeper into an evaluation of social problems and data to create plans of action. Classes may emphasize research methodology, economics, statistics and policy analysis and design
  • Public Administration Graduate programs ready students to implement programs and public policy. The focus is on how to manage people, projects and budgets in government agencies, nonprofits and other organizations in the public sector
  • Government Graduate programs could take a more analytical (PP) or administrative (PA) tone. Some of the main fields of instruction are international relations, homeland security, comparative government, democracy, national politics, campaigns and elections

Read about some of the types of Public Administration and Public Policy Graduate Programs, and thoroughly examine course lists to assess whether a program could be perfect for you.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Political scientists often complete a master of public administration (MPA), master of public policy (MPP), or master of public affairs degree though some complete a PhD.

Types of Public Policy and Public Administration Graduate Programs

Public Policy and Public Administration Graduate Programs are available in levels (masters, PhD, certificate) and formats (online, on campus). Within these programs, participants could choose a path of academia and research, or study to gain any competencies that may be required by practitioners.

Online graduate programs in public administration and policy make use of web-based courses to add an element of flexibility and convenience for at-work students. Campus-based programs could offer structured schedules, in-person interaction and direct contact with material and faculty.

Students may also be able to self-design their course plan with an advisor or choose from their grad school’s list of concentrations. These areas of emphasis may be determined by faculty and any active research projects or niche topics, so make sure to explore this information when possible.

Masters in Public Administration and Policy Programs

A Masters degree in Public Administration and Policy could ready students with acumen in both policy analysis and management. Most programs entail from 36 to 39 credits and could take a full-time student about two years to complete. However, there are many variables and each program come with its own degree requirements. For instance, mid-career or executive tracks might allow eligible students to take fewer courses or replace a practicum with their own work history.

Two of the main degrees at this stage of education are the:

  1. Master of Public Administration (MPA degree)
  2. and Master of Public Policy (MPP)

We provide some general information on these programs and others below. Since each program has its own requirements make sure to read through the information provided by the schools you are considering.

MPA (Master of Public Administration)

An MPA degree, which stands for Masters in Public Administration is a practice-focused graduate program. It focuses on the application of business administration skills to the public, private, or non-profit sectors.

Often interdisciplinary, an MPA course plan may focus on the theories and foundations of public administration, including quantitative analysis, management and professional skills. Students who strive to earn a masters degree in public administration might learn to lead, manage and create meaningful societal changes. Usually there is a focus on government and nonprofit organizations, as well as contemporary public policy issues.

A robust set of core course topics might lay the groundwork for students to gain key public administration skills such as executive organization, budget planning, strategic management of human capital and public policy. In tandem, some students might tack on several courses in one theme to build a body of insight that could be applied to a specific sector. Some examples follow.

  • Emergency Management
  • Criminal Justice
  • Fire and Emergency Services
  • Health Care Administration
  • Homeland Security
  • Nonprofit Management
  • Governance and Policy

Applicants to MPA schools need a bachelors degree with a school-set minimum GPA. Some universities may ask for GRE or GMAT scores, but there are many that don’t. A professional CV, letters and personal essay are common documents that get submitted with a completed form and fee.

A dual JD/MPA program intends to foster integration between the fields of law, public administration and public policy. It may allow students to earn both degrees in four years of full-time study, rather than the usual five.

Erica Wyatt; public administration graduate programs

Dr. Erica Wyatt
Life Coach | Author | Educator

Expert Insight

Public Administration Graduate Programs: Professional Insight

My Masters in Public Administration solidified my understanding of; how I could utilize my gifts and talents to assist other organizations in achieving their mission and vision to serve others. Additionally, I gained the knowledge and understanding needed to launch my own non-profit organization serving underprivileged and under served youth in my community.



Both a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) and Masters of Public Administration (MPA) focus on organizational management but there are key differences between the degrees. Ultimately an MBA is all about private sector management and profitability. An MPA program usually hones business skills as they apply to nonprofit and public-sector organizations where the mission is service (community, humanity) and to improve the social condition.

MPP (Master of Public Policy)

An MPP degree, which stands for Master of Public Policy, is an academic graduate program. It focuses on an analysis of current problems and could equip students with the readiness to convert data into well-crafted policies and programs for the public sector.

The main goal of many MPP programs is to prepare students to pursue careers in policy analysis, politics, and public affairs within public, non-profit, or private sectors. Participants might therefore acquire the knowhow to design and manage projects, present information, write grants and implement programs.

At the center of an MPP degree program, students may find they need to take courses about public finance, research methodology, statistics, microeconomics, macroeconomics, management of public organizations and research ethics. Some MPP schools offer a choice between a comprehensive exam or a thesis track.

On top of core topics, students are usually asked to structure a series of electives into a substantive policy area. A few examples are listed below.

  • Social Justice and Advocacy
  • Budget and Finance
  • Women’s Issues
  • Urban Policy and Community Development
  • Environmental Policy

Prospective students might apply directly from their bachelors degree or with a few years of work experience.

Top States for Employment for Political Scientists
StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
District of Columbia3,670$123,070
New York110$117,450

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Political Scientists
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV$123,2304,570
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA$122,50090
Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC$118,43030
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ$97,17090
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX$85,9900

Bureau of Labor Statistics

MPAP (Master of Public Administration and Policy)

A Master of Public Administration and Policy (MPAP) program usually blends key courses from MPA and MPP programs and may ready students with a balanced set of managerial and policy analysis skills.

On the MPA side, participants might learn to analyze administrative problems and craft solutions based on a deeper grasp of organizational behavior and leadership. Courses might also cover organizational structure and culture, human resource systems, as well as the political and legal contexts of modern public service organizations.

On the MPP side, students might learn to form, evaluate and communicate public policies and programs. Courses could cover a slew of analytical methods like statistics, economics, and politics.

A final policy practicum might help students gain first-hand exposure to the institutional, legal, and ethical facets of policy analysis in organizational settings. Students may perform a policy analysis project for a client.

MA in Government

In a Master of Arts (MA) in Government program, students might learn theory and practices with which to look deeply at governmental and social institutions in American society, explore areas of reform, and possibly, work to bring about change. Graduates might take away the skills necessary to solve governmental, political, and policymaking problems of today.

Public Policy and Public Administration PhD Programs

Public Policy and Public Administration PhD programs are terminal, and research focused. These are frequently full-time programs that may aim to ready students with the skills in analysis and/or pedagogy to pursue career paths such as policy research and teaching.

Other paths, such as the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) may highlight managerial and practitioner skills.

PhD in Public Administration and Policy

A PhD in Public Administration and Policy might ready graduates to shape the direction of research on areas such as the management of public and non-profit organizations, and the formation of public policy. Students may learn to think systematically as they try to develop new insight or strategy to drive some type of organizational change.

In addition to core courses in areas such as pubic finance, leadership, governance and public policy, PhD students could learn how to test a hypothesis using statistical concepts and reasoning. Then, try to develop solutions for problems related to public policy and public administration using theory and independent research.

The final dissertation asks students to examine, critique, and fuse knowledge and experience in an interest area. For instance, one may earn a PhD in the following areas. Look for more choices as you review schools.

  • Health Policy
  • Nonprofit Management
  • Local Government Management
  • Law and Public Policy
  • Emergency Management

Applicants to most Public Policy and Public Administration PhD programs may need to have earned an MPA, MPP or MS degree.

DPA (Doctor of Public Administration)

A DPA, which stands for Doctor of Public Administration is a terminal applied research doctorate grounded in leadership. Course topics might help students learn to use effective management skills and solve practical problems in government and governance.

DPA students might take courses in areas such as public-sector policy analysis, strategic management, finance and ethics for the public sector. Students may also become familiar with current theories and practices that are used to advocate on behalf of a group, or social justice.

Courses in analysis and strategy could help graduates gain an ability to make decisions that add value in diverse communities or public-sector organizations. Much like the MPA, students who work towards a DPA degree often select a focal area, and some of these are listed below.

  • Homeland Security
  • Global Leadership
  • Policy Analysis
  • Criminal Justice
  • International Nongovernmental Organizations

Students could also develop a research project, learn how to write their findings, and make use of evidence to improve outcomes or resolve a challenge in the field. effective management skills and solve practical problems in government and governance. Applicants typically have a Master of Public Administration, Master of Public Policy, or Master in Nonprofit.

Graduate Certificates in Public Administration and Policy

A Graduate Certificate in Public Administration and Policy a post master’s credential. Certificates may be completed as stand-alone credentials. Or by those who aim to achieve enhanced technical skill and depth in a field associated with their master’s degree study.

Essentially, they provide individuals with the opportunity to take postgraduate public administration courses without the time frame, research and dissertation requirements of a full degree. Look for Graduate Certificate Programs in Government Analytics, Public Service Communication and more. Admission most often requires applicants to have a bachelor’s degree.

Top 413 Graduate Schools with Public Administration and Policy Graduate Programs

  • Purdue University Global

  • Northcentral University

  • Southern New Hampshire University

  • Loyola University Chicago

  • Walden University

  • University of Delaware

  • American University

  • Seton Hall University

  • Liberty University Online

  • Drake University

  • Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College

  • New Mexico Highlands University