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Types of Careers for a Master's in Public Administration

by Karen S. Johnson, studioD

Many who graduate with a master’s degree in public administration -- or MPA -- work in government, and for good reason: The examination of liberal arts, sciences and economics skillfully prepares graduates to value and navigate the bureaucracies associated with government work. This combination of disciplines is what makes this degree so versatile -- understanding administrations, combined with analytical and problem-solving skills, widens your options and increases the odds that you can wed your degree to a fulfilling public, non-profit, or private sector career. Talk to your academic adviser or career center about an internship to increase your employability and identify your interests.


Through an MPA program, you examine organizational structure, behavior and culture -- all factors important to management of any organization. If you know before entering the degree program that this area interests you, look for a university that offers a specialty in management. You are still not limiting yourself to either the private or public sector, and in fact, by understanding the dynamics of both, you potentially strengthen your capabilities at either. For example, by understanding how corporations are accountable to shareholders or directors, you -- as a non-profit manager -- can bridge differences between your organization and a private business that historically seemed insurmountable, such as between a labor union and a clothing manufacturer.


If you’re interests are centered on lawmaking or problem-solving, an MPA is ideal for launching a career in policy setting. Your employers can still span the entire gamut of options, whether private or public. For example, you might work for a think-tank that explores whether private companies and governmental agencies should work together on environmental issues, or you might help secure funding for social or educational programs. Working on policy issues can also help launch a political career, as you have to work with others in an open arena, and negotiate and debate while analyzing possible outcomes. Some university programs offer specializations in policy, but all MPA programs are appropriate for this work.


If you’ve always been interested in finance but struggled for something more rewarding than a typical accounting or corporate finance job, an MPA can open up opportunities in both private financial management and public finance. Employment examples include working for a bond rating agency or as a bond consultant for school districts or cities; writing and managing grants for organizations; working as a hospital administrator, and analyzing budgets for governmental agencies.

Global Work

An MPA, and any specialization you might get within it, translates ideally into international work. There are myriad international agencies and non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, that need adept managerial leadership to solve problems, budget and allocate international aid, and work with competing and cooperating organizations. Many agencies look for short- and long-term consultants to guide indigenous personnel in private companies and embassies on issues from urban planning, to management training. For example, the United States Agency for International Development funds programs in developing countries that need private sector experts to serve as consultants and train staff in those countries.

About the Author

Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.

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