Masters in Business Administration (MBA) vs Masters of Public Administration (MPA)

Recent college graduates and experienced professionals typically earn master's degrees to advance their careers and salary potential. A master's program in either business administration (MBA) or master's of public administration (MPA) can help equip students with the tools to pave that path.

Learn more about online MBA & MPA degree options:

Although there’s overlap between MBA and MPA programs, they mostly prepare students for separate career tracks. It’s important to select a career path before choosing the program in which you are going to enroll. In this article, you can learn how the degrees differ, potential careers, and how students customize their education for each program. As you review the following information, keep in mind that the program you choose might have different specializations, graduation requirements, and career outcomes.

MBA vs MPA: At a Glance

The following table breaks down some similarities and differences between MBA and MPA programs. The two degrees take approximately the same time to earn. The main difference between these degrees is that MBA students often plan to work in the private sector, while MPA students typically aspire to work in the public sector. Here are some common specializations and careers as well as an overall comparison of the two programs:

MBA vs MPA
  MBA MPA
Overview MBA programs prepare students for managerial positions at private companies and organizations. MPA programs prepare students for managerial positions in government agencies and organizations that receive government funding.
Average Time to Complete 1-2 years 1-2 years
Common Specializations -General Management
-International Management
-Finance Leadership
-Marketing
-Healthcare Policy
-Education Policy
-International Development
-Nonprofit Administration
Common Careers -Top Executive
-Consultant
-Product Manager
-Financial Manager
-City Manager
-County Executive
-Research Analyst
-Parks and Recreations Director

What is an MBA?

Recents college graduates and seasoned professionals who earn an MBA gain in-demand managerial and analytical skills. Typical MBA programs include the following coursework:

  • The manager's role in the corporation
  • Business fundamentals
  • How to recognize and implement business opportunities
  • Managing in and outside of the firm
  • Leadership in business environments
  • Accounting and finance

In class, students analyze how business managers develop and implement strategic decisions. Comprehensive MBA programs, in today's highly international business climate, emphasize globalization and how managers help multinational corporations succeed.

Nearly all MBA programs have core courses to help students build up their basic business skills such as financial reporting, business analytics, and accounting. Like MPA programs, some MBA programs use a cohort learning model where students enter the program at the same time and take all courses together. In cohort programs, students can forge meaningful relationships with their peers.n.

Most MBA programs offer optional concentrations or specializations. You can learn more about these academic opportunities in a later section.

What is an MPA?

MPA programs share some similarities with MBA programs and graduates with either degree are equipped to succeed in managerial positions. However, instead of corporations and global trade, MPA programs focus on how to help government agencies and government-run programs succeed. Additionally, an MPA is different from a master of public policy (MPP) that would focus more on creating the policies that public administrators manage. Typical MPA programs emphasize the following:

  • How the public interacts with government agencies
  • Fiscal management
  • Organizational behavior
  • Policy evaluation
  • Administrative research and analysis

Many MPA programs either require one or more years’ work experience or completing a semester-long internship during the program. Some programs allow students to complete internships at their job sites. Internships help students apply their new knowledge and skills under experienced public administrators' guidance. Internships are also an excellent way for students to network with potential employers and improve their resumes.

MPA programs also offer specializations or concentrations so that students can customize their education to fit their interests and goals.

MBA Salary and Careers

Some MBA graduates pursue managerial-level business careers within corporations, while others pursue more concentrated careers within corporations such as business analyst or finance manager. On the job, they apply their educations to lead teams, plan initiatives, and mentor less-experienced employees.

  • Top Executive - median annual salary of $104,980. Top Executives lead companies' departments. Typical job duties include hiring staff, developing financial plans, and saving their organizations’ money. Top executive positions also exist in the public sector (e.g., mayor, city manager), but these positions appeal more to candidates with MPA degrees.
  • Financial Manager - median annual salary of $127,990. Financial Managers create budgets and plan business forecasts. They also stay on top of the latest business trends to remain relevant in their industries. In addition to an MBA, financial managers may need additional certification (e.g., Certified Public Accountant) to apply to the most lucrative positions.
  • Human Resources Manager - median annual salary of $113,300. Human Resources Managers work in the public and private sectors, making this position an excellent career option for both MBA and MPA graduates. On the job, they hire staff, ensure that employees understand benefits packages, and resolve disciplinary issues, among other responsibilities.

MPA Salary and Careers

Like their MBA peers, graduates with MPA degrees can apply to a variety of lucrative careers. Here are three careers MPA graduates might consider pursuing:

  • Social and Community Service Manager - median annual salary of $65,320. In government agencies and nonprofits, Social and Community Service Managers develop new programs and determine whether or not the program serves the public effectively. These managers often specialize in helping a specific group (e.g., teenagers, adults with mental disabilities). Other job duties include mentoring less-experienced staff and managing relationships within the organization.
  • Postsecondary Education Administrator - median annual salary of $94,340. Postsecondary Education Administrators oversee departments within colleges and universities. Their duties vary among specific positions, but often include hiring staff, admitting students, and developing department- or school-wide initiatives. An MPA provides essential skills and knowledge necessary for this role, especially at public colleges and universities.
  • Management Analyst - median annual salary of $83,610. Management Analysts study problems and develop solutions. They survey staff, perform research, and make recommendations to senior management. These in-demand professionals often work as independent consultants and some work for large consulting companies.

MBA Specialties

The best online MBA programs allow students to concentrate or specialize in a business subfield.

  • Technology Management: Professionals with a background in IT or programming usually select this concentration because they want to oversee IT departments and manage tech-focused staff.
  • Strategic Management: This concentration emphasizes advanced analytical skills and the ability to think critically about a company's success and how to achieve its mission.
  • Entrepreneurship: Students in entrepreneurship concentrations plan to start new businesses or work as consultants. Entrepreneurship courses emphasize networking as well as other skills self-employed professionals need.
  • Finance: Most MBA programs' teach the fundamentals of finance, but an additional concentration can prepare students for careers as Finance Managers or Financial Analysts.
  • Economics: A concentration in economics consists of economics' theories and practical applications.
  • General business: This broad concentration appeals to students who have not yet decided on their specific career plans. This track provides a comprehensive overview of many topics on this list.

Programs may offer additional or fewer options than those this article describes. If you have questions about a program's concentrations, contact the program directly to learn more about how the concentration can help you advance or launch your business career.

MPA Specialties

Like MBA programs, many MPA programs offer specializations or concentrations. The following list represents just a few options:

  • Managing Local Governments: This specialization prepares graduates to work as city managers or senior-level officials within city and county governments. Graduates may need professional experience before attaining these positions.
  • Managing Nonprofits: Nonprofits serve the public good by providing services to individuals and communities in need. Students in this concentration learn how to coordinate nonprofits' efforts with local government agencies, among other skills.
  • Health: Like nonprofits, healthcare services provide care to people without traditional health insurance. Coursework includes how to fundraise and collaborate with medical professionals.
  • Public Finance: Public finance students analyze how governments' actions influence the economy. In class, they learn about macroeconomics topics.
  • Leadership in the Arts: Leadership in the Arts students prepare for careers managing public arts programs (e.g., a city museum or public theatre).

Within a concentration, students either take a sequence of courses or select 2-3 from a list of electives, which help personalize their educations.