MPA Salary and Careers Guide

Graduates of Master of Public Administration (MPA) programs have the opportunity to make an impact in numerous career fields across a variety of sectors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), careers in administration can include nonprofit management, government work, administrative jobs and various careers in the private sector. But this only scratches the surface as careers in outlying fields may also be available to MPA degree holders.

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What Can You Do with a Public Administration Degree

The question of what can you do with a public administration degree is difficult to answer because a master’s in public administration can prepare you for so many different careers. The MPA is a graduate-level degree in the study of implementing government policies. Because such policies touch on nearly every facet of society, there are many sectors that a Master of Public Administration (MPA) can equip you to enter besides government such as nonprofits, education, healthcare or the private sector, as per the specializations recognized by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration. So the question really is what do you want to do with an MPA? Which industries, roles and benefits most attract you?

Some components to consider in choosing a career path within public administration are interest areas, salary, job availability and potential for upward mobility.

These areas will differ from:

To provide you with a look at the career options available for MPA graduates, has compiled an outline of some of the sectors you can enter as well as examples of MPA careers within those sectors.

What Does a Public Administrator Do?

The most straightforward description of a public administrator role is an administrative services and facilities manager, which involves planning, directing and coordinating activities that help an organization run efficiently, as per the BLS. The organization could be in the healthcare, education, professional, government or financial sectors. That said, a Master in Public Administration may prepare graduates for roles in government other than public administrator, such as compensation and benefits manager, political scientist or urban and regional planner, according to the specializations recognized by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration. In fact, MPA program specializations may allow students to apply the essential skills of a public administrator to sectors outside of government like nonprofits, education, healthcare or even the private sector.

Learn more about how to become a public administrator.

What Can Impact MPA Salary?

Is an MPA worth it? First, remember that a Master of Public Administration degree does not necessarily prepare graduates for only one career. One job for an MPA graduate is public administrator, sometimes known as an administrative services manager, which drew a median annual salary of $96,940 in 2019, according to the BLS. But an MPA may also prepare you for a career as a compensation and benefits manager, whom the BLS estimates earns a median annual salary of $122,270 — or an occupation outside of government altogether, such as an executive, earning $104,690 annually, according to the BLS median salary.

Salaries in the field of public administration, similarly to most other occupations, vary widely based on what subsect of the field you choose to enter and your years of experience in the profession. For example, entry-level salaries in the nonprofit field might not compare with the entry-level salaries for consulting firms, and a seasoned professional working for a government agency will make more than a recent graduate at that same agency. It may be important to enter into an MPA career with the right mentality about the salary outlook the field holds.

Two more factors to consider in determining your career outlook and salary potential are geographic location and level of education. Locations that cover large metropolitan areas and have higher populations, such as New York City and Washington, D.C., will likely offer higher salaries than small towns and cities, but it’s important to keep in mind that cost of living will also be higher in these areas. Finally, there is an income disparity based on the highest degree one has earned in their chosen field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in 2019, the average master’s degree holder earned $249 more per week than their bachelor’s degree counterparts. It’s important to note that this is across all career fields—and in many areas, the wage premium is much higher. Education administrators, for example, may make more money after earning a master’s degree.

Learn more about why you should earn an MPA degree.

Master’s in Public Administration Salary Outlook

The master’s in public administration salary outlook is complicated by the particular careers that MPA graduates choose to pursue. The median salary for an administrative services manager, for example, is $96,940 per year, according to the BLS. The BLS estimates that the median salary for management analysts, on the other hand, is $85,260 annually. Industry, role and experience all influence MPA salaries. For more information about MPA salaries for particular occupations, please see below.

MPA Careers and Job Outlook

As with master’s in public administration salaries, MPA careers and job outlook are complicated by the specific roles that graduates choose to fill. Demand for MPA graduates varies by title. Two examples are an administrative services manager, which is projected at 6% from 2019 to 2029, and a management analyst, which is projected to grow 11% during the same period, according to the BLS. Regardless of the particulars, MPA jobs could see relative professional stability with master’s degree holders facing unemployment rates of just 2%, as per a BLS report.

What Jobs Can You Get with a Master’s in Public Administration?

The jobs that you can get with a Master’s in Public Administration vary according to industry, specialization, and interest. According to the specializations recognized by the Network of School of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration, MPA graduates can study to work in diverse sectors, such as nonprofits, government, education, healthcare or the private sector. Prior education and professional experience combined with elective MPA coursework can further specialize your employment in emergency management, the natural sciences, construction or other fields, as per the specializations recognized by the Network of School of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration. Ultimately, your particular interests might dictate the job you get with your master’s in public administration. Well-paying careers for MPA graduates could include:

Nonprofit Management

For those driven to leverage their MPA degree toward a career in influencing the welfare of others, a great place to start your search may be nonprofit program management, community development or fundraising management. It’s common for MPA programs to include coursework on the world of nonprofits, and some programs even offer a specialized track to focus your studies even further on nonprofit management.

Some examples of MPA careers in the nonprofit world and their salaries include:

Public Relations and Fundraising Managers – median annual salary of $116,180

  • Direct the creation of materials that will enhance the public image of their employer or client

Emergency Management Directors – median annual salary of $74,590

  • Prepare plans and procedures for responding to natural disasters or other emergencies

Social and Community Service Managers – median annual salary of $67,150

  • Coordinate and supervise programs and organizations that support public well-being

Local, State and Federal Government Work

Many times, those pursuing a master’s degree in public administration have political aspirations or a strong desire to participate in government work. That can take different forms, so it’s important to narrow down your search by determining which aspect appeals to you the most. Administrative work in a department within your local government, a career as an information or records clerk and even roles influencing national policy are just a few of the wide-scaling career opportunities for MPA degree holders.

Some examples of MPA careers in the government and their salaries include:

Compensation and Benefits Manager – median annual salary of $122,270

  • Plan, develop, and oversee programs to pay employees

Political Scientists – median annual salary of $122,220

  • Study the origin, development, and operation of political systems

Administrative Service Managers – median annual salary of $96,940

  • Plan, direct, and coordinate activities that help an organization run efficiently

Urban and Regional Planners – median annual salary of $74,350

  • Develop land-use plans and programs that help create communities, accommodate population growth and revitalize physical facilities

Education Jobs for Public Administrators

Gaining an MPA can be a great way to start a career under the vast umbrella of education administration. For those who already have a background in education, teaching or otherwise, a degree in public administration can provide necessary skills to succeed in careers as a principal, superintendent or post-secondary educational administrator. MPA graduates could also combine a love of politics and education by seeking out jobs in government or private agencies that examine educational policy or lobby for particular causes and laws.

Some examples of MPA careers in the field of education and their salaries:

Education Administrators, Kindergarten through Secondary – median annual salary of $100,340

  • Plan, direct or coordinate the academic, administrative or auxiliary activities of kindergarten, elementary or secondary schools

Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals – median annual salary of $96,400

  • Oversee all school operations, including daily school activities

Postsecondary Education Administrators – median annual salary of $95,410

  • Oversee student services, academics, and faculty research at colleges and universities

Preschool and Childcare Center Directors – median annual salary $48,210

  • Supervise and lead their staffs, design program plans, oversee daily activities and prepare budgets

Careers for MPAs in the Private Sector

Graduates of MPA programs come equipped with a variety of skills that traditional business programs don’t necessarily emphasize. Public administration students are often research-skilled, highly knowledgeable of government operations and adept at handling conflict. For these reasons, careers in the private sector may be an option as a post-MPA career. From becoming a consultant or management analyst to taking your skills to the field of human resources and helping companies optimize their operations, there are a variety of options to consider.

Some examples of MPA careers in the private sector and their salaries include:

Sales Manager – median annual salary of $126,640

  • Direct organizations’ sales teams

Top Executives – median annual salary of $104,690

  • Plan strategies and policies to ensure that an organization meets its goals

Management Analysts – median annual salary of $85,260

  • Recommend ways to improve an organization’s efficiency

Property, Real Estate, and Community Association Managers – median annual salary of $58,760

  • Take care of the many aspects of residential, commercial or industrial properties

MPA Jobs in Healthcare

Careers in the health field are appealing to professionals from a variety of backgrounds because of the availability of jobs and field-wide projected growth going forward. Entering the field of healthcare is a stable and wise choice, especially for MPA graduates who have the skills necessary to manage the complexities of healthcare administration. It also might be possible to enter a government agency or public health organization that works to improve health standards across the United States.

Examples of MPA careers in the health field and their salaries:

Computer and Information Systems Managers – median annual salary of $146,360

  • Plan, coordinate and direct computer-related activities in an organization

Human Resources Manager – median annual salary of $116,720

  • Plan, coordinate and direct the administrative functions of an organization

Training and Development Managers – median annual salary of $113,350

  • Plan, coordinate and direct skills- and knowledge-enhancement programs for an organization’s staff

Medical and Health Services Manager – median annual salary of $100,980

  • Plan, direct and coordinate the business activities of healthcare providers

Alternative Careers for MPAs

The public administration industry stretches into many alternative career opportunities. Examples of alternative MPA careers within this broader industry:

Architectural and Engineering Managers

  • Plan, direct, and coordinate activities in architectural and engineering companies

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers

  • Plan programs to generate interest in products or services

Financial Managers

  • Create financial reports, direct investment activities and develop plans for the long-term financial goals of their organization

Industrial Production Managers

  • Oversee the daily operations of manufacturing and related plants

Construction Managers 

  • Plan, coordinate, budget and supervise construction projects from start to finish

Farmers, Ranchers and Other Agricultural Managers

  • Run establishments that produce crops, livestock and dairy products

Food Service Managers

  • Responsible for the daily operation of restaurants or other establishments that prepare and serve food and beverages

Lodging Managers

  • Ensure that traveling guests have a pleasant experience at their establishment with accommodations

Top Cities Where MPA Jobs are in Demand

The top cities where MPA jobs are in demand differ according to the particular profession. In the most straightforward sense, the demand for MPAs could be considered highest in the metropolitan areas employing administrative services and facilities managers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that would include the cities listed below. But keep in mind that an MPA degree may qualify graduates for many other positions, which may be in greater demand elsewhere.

Metropolitan AreasEmployment
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX

Top States Where Public Administration Jobs are in Demand

The top states where public administration related jobs are in demand will vary according to the particular job being considered. Taking public administration jobs in a general sense, the states where administrative services and facilities managers are most in demand are listed below, as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That said, public administration jobs can come in many other forms, and employment in those careers may be greater elsewhere. Demand for public administration jobs can also vary from one part of a state to another.

New York

MPA Career FAQ

Frequently asked questions about Master of Public Administration careers abound. Below, we answer some common questions regarding MPAs, such as how much the degree program costs, whether it pays better than a Master of Business Administration, how online MPA programs can be reviewed and more.

How Much Does a Master of Public Administration Cost?

The question of how much does a Master of Public Administration cost depends on the particular degree program. While it’s difficult to generalize MPA tuition figures, a recent report from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration estimates that students’ remaining debt from an MPA program ranged between $33,000 and $38,000 after financial aid, including MPA scholarships (PPT, 342 KB). That said, NASPAA also reports that most graduates earn $55,001 to $65,000 a year.

What Pays More, an MBA or MPA?

When considering what pays more, an MBA or MPA, it’s important to acknowledge that both degree programs prepare graduates for a variety of different careers. Both degrees can prepare you for more advanced roles in your field based on your interests. A true apples-to-apples comparison between MBA salary and MPA salary would need to account for other factors including industry, role, experience and degree specifics, such as whether it was a traditional or executive MPA.

Are MPA Degrees in Demand?

The demand for an MPA varies according to the specific career pursued by the graduate. Administrative services managers, for example, can expect their employment to grow 6% between 2019 and 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That said, all MPA graduates should see relatively secure employment, as master’s degree holders face unemployment rates of only 2%, as per a recent BLS report.

Is an Online MPA Worth it?

When deciding to pursue your master’s in public administration online, there are many question to consider two are: Is the online MPA accredited, and does it meet your needs? MPA degree programs, whether offered in-person or online, should be accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration. If the online MPA you’re considering is accredited, then ask yourself if the flexibility of online education will help you meet your other personal and professional obligations. Ultimately, the answer to why get an MPA online is that it offers you the same instruction as an in-person program while meeting the demands of your life.

Last Updated January 2021