2022 Guide to Online Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) Programs

If you’re interested in contributing to changes in the political, socio-economic or educational landscape by implementing policies and developing programs, then a career in public administration might be for you. A Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree prepares students for public service, nonprofit management and executive roles on the local, state and federal levels. This includes government service, education, community management and more. 

Known as an MPA degree, this educational qualification is common among mid-career professionals—and it’s possible to obtain one online. Enrolling in an online degree in public administration may allow individuals to continue earning an income while preparing for future professional plans. Some MPA programs may require you to participate in field internships to hone your administrative, policy-making, communication and research skills.

Jumpstart Your Career in the Public Sector, Explore Online MPA Programs:

Earn an EMPA online from Syracuse University's Maxwell School

Syracuse’s online MPA for Executives program prepares mid-career professionals for leadership and management roles in public service. The program can be completed in as few as 15 months. No GRE required.

  • No GRE required 
  • An Executive MPA for mid- career professionals  
  • Complete in as few as 15 months


Online MPA from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government

Lead in government, lead for communities. Earn your MPA online from UNC-Chapel Hill’s nationally ranked program in as few as 18 months.

  • Complete in as few as 18 months
  • Accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA)
  • Five concentrations available


Online MPA Degree Admissions Requirements

Before you apply to online MPA programs, make sure you contact the institutions you’re interested in for information about any prerequisites. You’ll also want to start thinking about ways to finance your education, with options like MPA scholarship opportunities

Depending on the requirements of each school, online MPA programs may ask you to submit some or all of the following:

  1. Application. The application can be found on the website of your chosen institution. 
  2. Bachelor’s degree. You should obtain a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent from an accredited institution prior to applying to any graduate program in public administration. 
  3. Transcripts. Be sure to request transcripts before the application deadline. Upload an official copy from any postsecondary schools you have attended. 
  4. Experience. Include relevant work experience in public administration. 
  5. Personal statement. A personal statement details your academic and personal interests, the experiences in school/work that have prepared you for your chosen course of study, why you are interested in the degree program and the university, and your plans after you have earned the degree. 
  6. Resume/CV. Upload a copy of your most recent resume or curriculum vitae. 
  7. Letters of recommendation. Number requirements vary at each university, so be sure to check the fine print—and request these letters well in advance of the deadline. 
  8. Test scores. Mail in copies of your test scores. Some schools require GRE scores or TOEFL/IELTS scores for international students; however, others don’t require test scores at all.

Online MPA Programs, No GRE Required

Not all online MPA programs require GRE test scores for admission. In recent years, a number of institutions have dropped the GRE requirement because they don’t see a big enough correlation between test results and a student’s ability to succeed in their program. 

While several universities don’t require GRE test scores from online MPA program applicants, others make the GRE optional or waive the requirement for students with professional experience or a high GPA. 

Public Administration Master’s Degree Online Curriculum

Now you know the answer to the question, “What is an MPA?” But what MPA courses can you expect in a graduate program? The curriculum and number of credits required to earn a master’s degree vary widely depending on the school and specialization. An online MPA program prepares graduates to tackle challenges facing the public and provide policy recommendations that foster change. An online MPA program may include courses in: 

  • Microeconomics. A branch of economics that studies the behavior of individual units like households, individuals and enterprises within the economy, microeconomics helps students understand how markets affect global relationships and how professionals can respond to various economic conditions.
  • Policy Process and Policy Analysis. A course in policy-making examines governments at the local, state and federal levels. Course objectives could include describing the role of policy analysis in the decision-making process and learning strategies for balancing policy objectives and organizational politics. 
  • Ethics. Courses in ethics expose students to contrasting ethical opinions and provide an opportunity to understand the reasons behind those differences. 
  • Public Management. Building on the public administration definition, public management courses teach students how to analyze the impact of ethical practices in public administration and assess theories and techniques related to public organizational management. 
  • Leadership. Leadership courses help students gain the experience, skills and knowledge most relevant to the public service sector. 

Master’s Degree in Public Administration Specializations

A master’s degree in public administration doesn’t limit professionals to one sector. Aside from the core courses required at universities, there are several common specializations or concentrations including:

  • Public Management. This MPA specialization prepares students for managerial or management-track positions in public sector organizations. Students will learn a variety of managerial, analytical, fiscal and technological skills. 
  • Nonprofit Management. This MPA concentration prepares students for leadership roles in institutions working in community or human services, as well as for roles in nonprofit organizational management—teaching skills surrounding advocacy, board governance, fundraising/development and financial or personnel management. 
  • Health Care Management. This MPA specialization provides students with an array of analytical and managerial tools to lead and manage teams and decision-making in public and nonprofit health care organizations and related institutions. 
  • Emergency Management. This MPA concentration prepares students to serve as disaster preparedness professionals, supporting governments, communities and public organizations in the preparation, response, recovery and mitigation of emergency situations. 
  • Public Policy Analysis. This MPA specialization prepares students for analytical positions in the public sector, or in firms and think tanks that evaluate public programs and estimate the impacts of public policies. 

Online Public Administration Degree Program Structure

Online MPA programs can take different forms, but typically require the same coursework. Core courses typically emphasize policy research, economics and statistical analysis—and programs also offer students the opportunity for specialization. 

Aspiring public administration professionals have a variety of government degrees to choose from. Other options are executive programs, which are designed for mid-career professionals, and dual degree programs, which may simultaneously focus on public administration and public health. 

Wondering whether another type of graduate degree, such as a Master of Public Policy or a Master of Business Administration (MBA), is right for you? Here’s a breakdown of how the degrees compare:

MPA vs Executive MPA (EMPA)

An executive MPA, or EMPA, might be a good option for working professionals who have years of experience in their chosen field and want to take an accelerated path to obtain an MPA. While MPA students might be fresh out of undergraduate school, EMPA students typically have prior leadership experience in public administration. An EMPA requires around 27 to 33 credits and takes up to two years to complete, while an MPA typically requires more than 30 credits and can take up to four years to complete. Both require a bachelor’s degree. 


One of the main differences between a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Public Policy is that an MPA degree allows you to manage programs that serve the public, while an MPP focuses on creating policies that drive those programs. 

MPA vs Master of Urban Planning (MUP)

One of the main differences between a Master of Public Administration and a master’s in urban planning is that an MPA program may provide you with a broad understanding of political systems, while a MUP degree focuses on designing cities and regions. 


One of the main differences between a master’s in public administration and a master’s in business administration is that an MPA degree holder will use their expertise to drive change in government and nonprofits, while an MBA graduate will usually utilize their business and management skills in the private sector, across industries. Both require knowledge of balancing budgets and managing people. 


One of the main differences between a JD and MPA is that the JD, or Juris Doctor, is a professional degree in law and an MPA equips graduates with skills to oversee and implement government-funded programs. Those who earn a JD can take the state bar examinations and practice as lawyers in a wide range of industries. 


The focus of a master’s in public administration and a master’s in international relations (IR) differ in a number of ways. While both programs are designed to prepare professionals for leadership roles in government, an MPA tends to be domestic in focus. In contrast, the IR degree is designed for practice transcending borders, aiming for a greater understanding of how international events are affected by domestic policy decisions. 


A primary difference between an MPH and MPA is that a master’s in public administration focuses on governance, while a master’s in public health focuses on health, specifically the health of populations. 

Master of Public Administration Jobs

After completing an online MPA program, there are a number of MPA careers you can pursue, some with licensing requirements. If applicable, confirm the licensing requirements for your desired role with your state board. Aspiring MPA professionals can study to work in diverse sectors, like nonprofits, government, education, health care or the private sector. Learn more about some options below:

  • Nonprofit Management. If you’re interested in a career where you will influence the welfare of others, nonprofit program management, community development or fundraising management programs may be good places to start. 
  • Local, State and Federal Government Work. Candidates pursuing a public administration master’s degree typically have political aspirations or a desire to participate in government work in some capacity. The work can take on different roles, so it’s important to narrow down what you are most interested in. 
  • Education. An MPA can jumpstart your career in education administration. If you already have a background in education, a public administration master’s degree can provide the skills needed to work as a principal, superintendent or post-secondary educational administrator.
  • Health Care. With above-average job growth projected from 2020 to 2030, careers in the health care field may appeal to a variety of professionals. But those with a background in public administration leverage a special skill set, enabling them to manage the complexities of health care administration. MPA graduates may find work in a government agency or public health organization that seeks to improve health standards across the country. 
  • Private Sector. MPA graduates are equipped with a variety of skills that other programs may not emphasize. Careers in the private sector may be an option as post-MPA since graduates are taught to become skilled researchers who are highly knowledgeable about government operations and adept at handling conflict. 

Online MPA Degree Program FAQ

After you’ve chosen the best online MPA program for you, you may still have some unanswered questions. Here are some frequently asked questions about online MPA degrees:

How long does it take to complete an MPA online?

You’ve decided to study public administration, but how long does an MPA take to complete? Some students are busy with professional commitments, internship requirements and other responsibilities—so many schools offer flexibility in the amount of time it takes to complete graduate programs in public administration. While MPA programs vary, on average, full-time students can earn their MPA in two years. Some programs may offer accelerated options that allow students to earn their degree at a faster rate. 

Why should you earn an accredited MPA online?

Accreditation status is an important consideration for prospective students, both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Colleges and universities receive accreditation from agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education in a process that involves an extensive review of a school’s educational programs and student services. A school’s or program’s accreditation generally ensures high-quality course material and qualified teachers. Apart from what’s included in the curriculum, potential employers may prefer to hire candidates with degrees accredited by a credible agency like the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA)

Why study public administration online?

If you choose to earn an MPA online, the program will usually cover the same material as the in-person option, no matter the school. However, the platform and method of communication functions differently to accommodate remote learning. Some factors to consider before enrolling in an online MPA program include: 

Demand. Individuals studying public administration and management may look forward to joining growing career fields. For example, employment of education administrators is projected to grow 8% from 2020 to 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Work/life balance. Earning an online MPA allows students to balance work, class and other responsibilities. 

Learning environment. Many students find the option of taking classes remotely to be favorable, as they may be more comfortable learning in the intimate setting that online classrooms provide.

Discover the Best Online MPA Program for You

While each online MPA program is different, they all expose students to the laws and regulations that directly and indirectly impact the financing of public programs, the intricacies of government relations and political leadership. It’s up to you to decide what kind of program fits you best based on your educational and financial needs. 

Explore Online MPA Degree Program Options

Teach.com has compiled a comprehensive list of all the online Master of Public Administration programs in the United States along with GRE requirement information, degree type and credit requirements. In searching for the online MPA program that best fits your needs, carefully consider the structure of the coursework and the admissions requirements to make your decision. Find a school that interests you and learn about what it takes to graduate with an online Master of Public Administration.

Last updated April 2022.