Are you considering a career in public policy, but aren’t sure which degree is the best fit for you? Choosing between an MPP vs MPA can be tough; both degrees offer professional development opportunities and pave the way to impactful public service.

We know it’s confusing out there with so many options, that’s why we’ve created this blog post – to give students who want to pursue a degree in government or politics an all-encompassing guide on what each of these acronyms stands for, and ultimately help them decide if they should apply for an MPP vs MPA program. Keep reading to get your wheels turning as you determine where your passion lies!

What is a Master of Public Policy?

A Master of Public Policy (MPP) is a professional degree program that provides students with the skills and knowledge necessary to make informed policy decisions in a variety of contexts. The MPP degree gives students the ability to analyze complex issues from the perspectives of economics, law, politics, sociology. and other fields. With this in-depth knowledge base, graduates of Master of Public Policy programs are well-equipped to address the most pressing problems of today. They can help design and implement public policies that reflect the needs of their communities, with an appreciation for the complexities involved. With these skills, MPP graduates become agents of change in creating a better tomorrow.

What does the curriculum of an MPP look like?

Core courses in the MPP curriculum typically include economics, research design, statistics, law and government, quantitative methods for policy analysis, fiscal management, personnel systems, and structure of government organizations. Students may also take courses in public finance, public organizations, policy analysis, ethics, and social justice. An MPP program typically culminates in a capstone project or thesis where students apply the skills they have acquired to a real-world problem or issue.

Although conventional courses are insufficient to meet the demands of today’s world, leading universities have embraced modern technology and bolstered their curriculum with additional classes in Big Data analytics, data visualization, programming languages, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications, and artificial intelligence.

As of today, public policy master’s courses involve multiple disciplines—from sociology and politics to ethics and anthropology. Not only does this shape graduates with a much broader understanding of the field, but it also gives them the tools they need to craft more complete solutions for complex issues.

What are the Career Outcomes for MPP Graduates?

Graduates often find positions in government and non-profit organizations, as well as policy think tanks and lobbying firms. Individuals can work on a wide range of issues including healthcare reform, environmental protection, education equity, and economic development. These positions may also involve developing and analyzing policy initiatives, researching and writing reports, organizing public forums and hearings, or advocating for change through media campaigns.

What is a Master of Public Administration?

A Master of Public Administration (MPA) is a professional degree designed to prepare students for management and leadership roles in the public sector. It combines elements of public policy, economics, law, and administration to provide students with the skills necessary for successful careers in government or nonprofit organizations. The MPA focuses on providing students with knowledge related to managing public resources, analyzing public policy, conducting research, understanding law and policymaking processes, and mastering financial management methods.

Public administrators don’t just design policies, they also coordinate their implementation and management. Through the art of communication, leadership, and extensive data analysis, an administrator is responsible for adjusting any policy that may not meet existing regulations or operational standards. This often requires a great degree of flexibility to ensure successful execution.

If you are an MPA student, you’ll also become adept at building partnerships across various networks so that implementations can go off without a hitch. This is something that public administrators have to do all too often compared with policymakers who don’t usually find themselves in similar positions.

(If you are wondering about what to look for when selecting graduate schools, watch this quick video where I break it down for you.)

What does the curriculum of an MPA look like?

A Master of Public Administration degree is designed to prepare students for successful careers in public service. The curriculum includes courses in economics, management, policy analysis, financial and budgeting systems, public law, ethics, and human resources management. Students learn important concepts such as strategic planning, conflict resolution, risk assessment, communication strategies, organizational development, and more.

If you’re pursuing a college degree, you may have the opportunity to add concentrations or certifications in specialized fields such as healthcare management, nonprofit development, gender, and sexuality.

What are Career Outcomes for MPA Graduates?

An MPA can lead to job titles such as Chief Operating Officer, Executive Director, Policy Analyst, Program Manager, and Director of Human Resources. MPA holders also have the potential to work in international organizations and engage in policy research. Those with an MPA have strong analytical skills and the ability to think critically about social problems, as well as understand public administration tools such as budgeting and data analysis. With an MPA, professionals are well-positioned to face the challenges of public administration and lead organizations in a meaningful way. In addition, individuals may choose to pursue higher education opportunities such as a Doctorate in Public Administration or Law School to further advance their career.

MPP vs MPA: Which One Is The Perfect Fit for You?

If you are passionate about making an impact in your community, then earning either an MPA or MPP degree is the perfect way to start. Both programs offer distinct paths towards similar goals and which one works best for you depends on your aspirations and strengths. With whichever path you choose, you will be well-equipped with the skills needed to shape a better future for yourself and those around you.

MPA vs. MPP Degrees: Main Differences

Here are the major differences between the two degrees:

  • The scope of each degree: An MPA is broader in its scope, focusing on the management and administration of public service organizations, whereas an MPP is narrower in its focus, concentrating on analyzing policy issues and designing solutions for them.
  • Coursework: An MPA typically requires a greater amount of coursework in management and administrative areas, such as budgeting, personnel management, and public law. An MPP requires courses that focus more on policy analysis, political theory, and research methods.
  • Professional Opportunities: With an MPA degree you have the potential to work in a variety of different positions within the government or with nonprofits, while with an MPP degree, you are more likely to be hired in a policy-focused role.
  • Post-Graduate Programs: An MPA degree is often the entry point for a variety of postgraduate programs such as law school or public health administration, whereas an MPP does not typically open up as many opportunities for further study.
  • Cost: An MPA is typically the more expensive option of the two programs, as it requires additional coursework and can take longer to complete.
  • Masters in Public Policy means focusing more on the research of public policies than their implementation. People with an MPP will conduct a comprehensive analysis to craft programs and guidelines for use within the public sector, while those with MPA degrees are responsible for ensuring that these regulations are followed and enforced.
  • The MPP requires an immense amount of academic study and knowledge. Not only must one have the skills to analyze data, but one must also understand basic microeconomics principles and be able to project potential results that may arise if certain policies are implemented or utilized.
  • The MPA prepares people to work with diverse groups of individuals to become exceptional supervisors that can lead and manage others, and possess the capacity for discretion and control. Achieving success at an executive level requires interaction between multiple parties, making these qualities particularly advantageous.
  • The Masters of Public Administration and the Masters of Public Policy degrees demonstrate a stark contrast: whereas an MPA focuses on developing necessary leadership skills to effectively operate over large groups, the MPP curriculum is designed with emphasis placed upon policy analysis. In comparison, a Master’s in Public Policy concentrates more on data analysis and interpretation, requiring fewer efforts toward building leadership skills.

Overall, while there are merely minor variations between a Master in Public Policy (MPP) and a Master of Public Administration (MPA), the distinctions lie in their approaches. An MPP degree focuses on critiquing data to create strategies, whereas an MPA is responsible for utilizing these findings to develop programs that will benefit the public sector.

MPP vs MPA: What Are The Differences in The Application Process?

MPP and MPA programs may have different application requirements, depending on the institution that is offering them. Generally, MPP programs are more heavily weighted towards quantitative skills such as economics and statistics whereas MPA programs place greater emphasis on policy-oriented courses. The admissions process for either program also typically involves a review of academic credentials (transcripts, GPA), a writing sample, letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and sometimes an interview.

MPA programs typically have more specialized requirements in terms of policy courses and may require courses that focus on public management or policy analysis. MPP programs usually emphasize quantitative skills along with a more general approach to policy-making. In some cases, applicants must demonstrate proficiency in specific quantitative disciplines, such as economics, finance, or statistics.

MPP vs MPA programs: which one is more difficult to get admitted to?

MPA and MPP programs can be quite different in terms of their admission requirements and difficulty level. Generally, MPA programs are more competitive than MPP programs, as they require applicants to have a higher GPA and more relevant work experience. Additionally, the admissions process for MPA programs may involve an additional step such as personal interviews, whereas MPP programs may not require an interview. Furthermore, MPA programs often require essay writing and other forms of assessment to determine the applicant’s suitability for the program.

In terms of course content, MPA programs tend to focus more on public-sector management and policy analysis than MPP programs, which usually have a stronger emphasis on economic theory and quantitative methods. MPA programs typically require a greater degree of the practical application of knowledge and skills, as well as more engagement with the public sector than MPP programs. Therefore, applicants who are interested in working in the public sector may find it easier to gain admission into an MPA program than an MPP program.

In conclusion, when considering the best educational fit for you in government and politics, knowing the major differences between an MPA and MPP program is critical. An MPP program can prepare you for an executive role with public policy implications down the line, while an MPA program equips you to be one of the public administrators implementing those policies. The decision comes down to what kind of career path you want—will it be predominantly in research or operations?

Lastly, if you need data-backed evidence that The Admit Lab can help you achieve your goals, don’t forget to check out testimonials from prospective students who got admitted to their MPP and MPA dream programs! Got questions? Sign up for a consultation. It’s FREE!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Dr. Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Dr. Barr spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Dr. Barr has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

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“I worked with Philippe on my application to Harvard University and I got accepted in the Master in Public Administration. Philippe was extremely helpful in providing relevant comments on all aspects of the application including statement of purpose, essays, resume. He provided me with proper guidance and valuable feedback in a timely manner. He was punctual, dependable, easy to work with and very friendly. I also appreciated the constructive criticism, valuable advice, and honesty in his approach. It was a wonderful experience working with Philippe, it paid off and I couldn’t be happier. Thanks Philippe for your guidance and professionalism throughout this process.”

“While working with Philippe he gave me continuous support and advice from the start to the end of the application process. Since I mainly struggled with how to phrase my SOPs and other essays, Philippe’s advice on these essays was extremely helpful in making me receive 5 admission offers. Also, he was always quick to respond to my emails and provide feedback that was prompt and helpful. I feel the process was made much easier and also made me less worried about the outcome since I had the help of Philippe throughout the process to ensure that the essays I wrote reflected a meaning that could enhance my application. “—Master of Public Administration, Columbia University

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