Public Administration & Policy Graduate Programs
Public Policy and Public Administration Graduate programs teach how to support public and non-profit agencies, and understand and evaluate public policies and government systems. Students may explore areas as diverse as budgeting, government relations, politics, and the drafting and implemention of governmental and public policy. Many public administration programs also focus on developing leadership and administrative abilites, to help graduates manage public resources effectively and lead teams and organizations in government, politics, and public affairs.
Public policy and public administration graduate programs have many similarities as the two subjects are both concerned with the public sector. In fact, some people view them as interchangeable and programs could even combine them. However there is a difference between public administration and public policy.
The diversity of Public Policy and Public Administration graduate programs reflects the vast nature of the public sector. They may be general in nature, or designed to focus on an area of public administration and policy. This could be a specific level of government (local, state, federal) or a sector (criminal justice, non-profits, healthcare etc). Many public policy and public administration graduate programs offer students the opportunity to choose among several concentrations. What holds them all together is a devotion to contributing to the public good.
Public Policy and Public Administration graduate programs are typically offered at one of three levels: masters, doctorate and certificate. Each have different requirements and goals. For that reason, you may want to carefully consider your objectives before beginning your search.
Political scientists and others with an interest in policy and administration typically pursue one of two kinds of master’s degrees: the MPP – Master of Public Policy, or the MPA – Masters in Public Administration. There may also be MBA programs with a focus on public administration for those looking to explore the topic from a business perspective. MPP programs tend to be more academic in nature, focusing on research. MPAs and MBAs are professional degree programs, meaning they focus on putting theory into practice and taking action in the field.
While each type of program may focus on a different area (policy vs. administration), the curriculum of both typically includes several disciplines and may even allow candidates to choose an area of concentration, such as government and policy, or public sector services. Areas of study may include research methodology, statistics, policy formation, and more. Masters of Public Administration programs also emphasize leadership and management and may touch on topics such as team building, assessment and analysis of quantitative information, and strategic thinking.
Typically Public Policy and Public Administration masters programs require the completion of 35-48 credits. These may be divided between core classes and electives or a specialization. At the end of their Masters in Public Administration program, students may be asked to complete a capstone practicum project or a research seminar. This is typically an opportunity to explore a real world challenge and develop practical skills by making a plan of action. MPP programs often require a thesis. Internships may also be available for further hands on experience. Programs vary.
It should be noted, there may be Public Policy and Public Administration masters programs that award MS or MA degrees. This may simply be a naming convention or apply to programs that are more concentrated on a related area. For this reason, it's best to follow up with schools directly before applying.
Typically Masters in Public Administration and Masters of Public Policy programs require applicants to have a bachelors degree, with some relevant coursework. It may be helpful to have studied writing, political, science, and statistics as an undergraduate student. Other requirements may include a minimum GPA, test scores and recommendations. Masters in Public Administration programs may also place a heavier emphasis on professional experience. Programs vary, so contact an admission advisor to learn about the specific requirements.
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 underserved youth in my community.”
-Dr. Erica Wyatt, Life Coach | Author | Educator
Public Administration Doctoral programs can typically be divided into two groups: professional doctorates and academic degrees. Some candidates may decide to pursue academic doctor of public policy or doctor of public administration programs if they are interested in research and teaching at the postsecondary level. Earning a doctorate, such as a PhD, may require several years of study, in addition to conducting independent research for a dissertation. PhD Public Administration programs may allow students to explore areas such as ongoing civil service issues and concerns, administrative leadership, government and intergovernmental relations, or political systems in depth. Candidates may also be able to select a concentration or subfield, like national politics, comparative politics, international relations, or political theory.
DBAs with a focus on public administration programs may also be available. These are typically more practical in nature and may be designed for working professionals. They are similar to the MBA but with a heavier emphasis on research. While both types of doctorate programs focus on independent inquiry, professional doctorates place a heavier emphasis on applied research and using these practices to solve real world challenges. They may also focus on leadership. Contact individual Doctor of Public Administration programs to learn more.
In some cases, earning a graduate certificate may be the way to go. You might be interested in pursuing a public administration certificate program if you are hoping to prepare for a potential new opportunity, or brush up your knowledge for an existing professional role. These are more focused programs, typically allowing students to graduate in a shorter period of time. You could potentially study an area like nonprofit management, public sector service, etc.
Certificates in Public Administration may act as stand alone credentials or be added as a specialization to a masters programs. Credits in some programs may also be transferable to a later Masters in Public Administration program. This could allow you to get a taste of masters level study and potentially shorten your time to a full degree later. The acceptance of credits varies, so talk to prospective programs if this is important to you.
Have you decided whether to pursue an MPP, MPA, public administration certificate, or doctorate degree? Next, you may need to choose your program format. Keep in mind that not all public adminstration graduate programs are available in every format. However, you may be able to find a program that offers what you’re looking for!
Public Administration Schools – Learning on campus may be what most students envision when they think of graduate school. Pursuing a master of public policy degree or another graduate program on campus could potentially be a way to develop personal and professional connections, while getting involved in student activities and the local community. You may even be able to attend courses on evenings and weekends.
Additionally, many of the top public administration schools have connections with local organizations and agencies. This may create opportunities for internships and other practical experiences. Contact your preferred program to see what might be available.
Online Public Administration Graduate Program – These days, it may be possible to earn your degree entirely from home. Online public administration programs harness the power of technology to bring the classroom to you. You could potentially earn an online masters in public administration while continuing to juggle your busy schedule, or pursue a PhD in public policy online from a faraway university without relocating. Courses, assignments, lectures and discussions may be available 24/7. Or your online public administration program may integrate live, streaming lectures to more closely mirror the classroom experience..
It is important to note that some online programs may have in person requirements. This could involve a brief campus visit or visiting a location nearby. Other programs may utilize a hybrid format to allow you to combine campus and online coursework. Programs vary.
Identifying a great public administration program may depend on many factors, and a school that’s perfect for one student may not be the best fit for another candidate. It’s natural to wonder about the best public policy graduate schools in the country…but perhaps a better question to ask is what program could potentially be the perfect fit for you. Here are just a few of the criteria you may want to keep in mind during your search:
Curriculum and Concentrations – Does your prospective school offer the program you are looking for (such as an MPA or MPP) and/or the potential concentration you’re interested in? Does the curriculum interest you and make you excited to start learning?
Reputation – Pay attention to word of mouth about prospective public policy graduate programs, as well as hard data like graduation rates. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau, your state’s higher education agency, or even prospective employers in your field.ii
Resources and Amenities – Does your prospective graduate public administration program offer the potential resources, support, and opportunities you are looking for? Possible examples may range from a student organization to labs and libraries for research.
Accreditation – Accreditation by an independent agency that is approved by the U.S. Department of Education may be an indicator of quality of education a school offers. There may also be program specific accreditations available. Check the U.S. Department of Education’s website for a list of recognized accrediting agencies.iii
Ready to begin exploring public policy and administration graduate programs that may be a good fit? You can begin by browsing the options on this page. Or customize your list using the menu to search by degree type (master’s, doctorate, certificate) or format (campus, online, hybrid). When you're ready, click on a program name to read more and contact the school directly. Congrats! You're one step further in your Public Administration Gradute Programs search.
Sources: [i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm#tab-4 | [ii] studentaid.ed.gov/sa/prepare-for-college/choosing-schools/consider#complaints-reputation | [iii] studentaid.ed.gov/sa/prepare-for-college/choosing-schools/consider#accreditation
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