MPP vs. MPA: What’s the Difference?

Both a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree allow students to pursue careers in the fields of local, state, or federal government. Most MPP and MPA programs include some overlapping content, but MPP programs tend to focus more on quantitative aspects of public policy while MPA programs tend to focus more on qualitative side.

Choosing between an MPP and MPA typically comes down to your career aspirations in the public policy field. An MPP is a better fit for a student comfortable compiling and analyzing data in an effort to create solutions to complex problems. MPP-holders are sought after for their abilities to combine financial, economic, and statistical information to both analyze and design public policy.

An MPA is a strong match for students that are more interested in the management and implementation of public programs than designing them from the ground up. While some understanding of statistical analysis and financial systems is still required, MPA programs are geared more toward preparing students for positions focused on institutional management and human resources.

MPP vs MPA at a Glance

Completing either an MPP or MPA degree takes about the same amount of time and includes much of the same introductory coursework. However, as students progress deeper into their respective programs, the differences in specialization and, ultimately, career preparedness begin to surface.

Overview

MPP

A master of public policy prepares students to assess and craft public policy through the study of economics, statistical analysis, and data-driven research

MPA

A master of public administration prepares students to implement public policy effectively through the study of management skills, human resources, administrative skills, and public policy implementation

Average Time to Complete

Both require approximately 1-2 years of full-time study. Part-time degree programs exist as well, but take longer to complete.

Common Specializations

MPP

  • Public policy research
  • Economic policy
  • Social policy
  • Healthcare policy
  • Environmental policy
  • Energy policy

MPA

  • Education policy
  • Nonprofit administration
  • Healthcare policy
  • Environmental policy
  • International development

Common Careers

MPP

  • Public policy analyst
  • Legislative analyst
  • Grant writer
  • Superintendent of schools
  • Environmental analyst
  • Policy consultant
  • Research associate
  • Intelligence analyst
  • Elected official
  • Political news editor

MPA

  • Leadership roles in nonprofit organizations (NPOs) or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)
  • Human resources manager
  • City or town manager
  • Operations manager
  • Budget manager

MPP Curriculum and Skill Sets

MPP students are groomed for public policy positions that are heavily reliant upon economics, research, data analysis, and quantitative reasoning. As such, the curriculum of an MPP program tends to include mathematically rigorous coursework in areas such as:

  • Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Advanced statistics
  • Data analysis
  • Decision analysis
  • Public policy analysis
  • Quantitative modeling
  • Experimental design

These types of courses help foster skills needed in MPP-related professions – most of which rely upon finding, compiling, and analyzing data to create effective and ethical public policy.

A student pursuing an MPP degree should have a strong mathematical background as well as a keen interest in economics. This pathway produces professionals that are expected to construct policies and plans that are quantifiably feasible to execute.

While carrying out these plans tends to fall under the management jurisdiction of those with MPA degrees, an MPP-holder could quite feasibly be called upon to help with the implementation of a plan he or she has created. For this reason, both MPP and MPA programs often include overlapping introductory coursework pertaining to larger public policy concepts, procedures, themes, and historical precedents.

MPA Curriculum and Skill Sets

MPA students require experience in the implementation side of public policies. They must be equipped with the ability to comprehend the nuances of public policy plans (plans that are often created by MPP-holders) to the extent that they can carry them out. This includes understanding data and statistical analysis, creating and managing teams, managing budgets and costs, as well as a host of other essential leadership skills.

Most MPA programs have coursework that reflects these professional demands. An MPA curriculum would generally include such courses as:

  • Public ethics
  • Public policy law
  • Grant writing
  • Organization theory
  • Management and leadership
  • Human resources
  • Governmental structures and interrelations
  • Economics
  • Quantitative analysis

MPA degrees can also include fieldwork requirements and/or capstone projects designed to help students gain both practical experience and professional connections. This hands-on learning is often the key to securing employment after graduation.

Popular MPP Career Options

MPP degrees are the ideal training for a number of different types of careers. Below are some of the most common:

  • Public policy analysts focus on creating and assessing programs that deal with social issues like crime, poverty, crime, employment.
  • Budget analysts help develop and evaluate the effectiveness of the financial aspects of an organization and/or public programs.
  • Grant writers work on behalf of either public, private, or nonprofit organizations to create proposals seeking support – usually financial – from the government.
  • Superintendents of schools work as one of (if not the) highest ranking figures within a school district and are responsible for decisions including personnel, curriculum, and spending.
  • Environmental analysts draw upon environmental samples and data to support the protection, preservation, and remediation of the natural world. These specialists are hired in both public and private capacities to assess the potential impacts of products, policies, and other factors on the environment.
  • Policy consultants organize public policy initiatives on behalf of either elected officials, private companies, non-governmental organizations, charities, or other types of public advocates. Ultimately, these professionals are called upon to build coalitions to promote specific policy goals.
  • Research associates gather and compile data for their clients. The type of information provided is often specific to the agendas of the agencies, politicians, corporations, or other entities hiring the researchers.
  • Intelligence analysts synthesize information from a variety of law enforcement and governmental sources to predict, mitigate, and respond to security threats.
  • Elected officials with MPP backgrounds are able to leverage their educational background to create and promote sound social and fiscal policies at either the local, state, or federal level.
  • Political news editors analyze and critique the facts and figures supporting public policy decisions and other governmental actions.

It should be noted that while most of these career paths are in the public sector, there are a fair number of private sector opportunities for MPP-holders as well - particularly working with businesses that are directly impacted by public policy.

Popular MPA Career Options

An MPA degree may open up several different career paths, all with their own scopes and work environments.

  • Leadership roles in nonprofit organizations (NPOs) or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) require meticulous record-keeping and adherence to an array of rules and statutes. MPA-holders are often particularly valuable in these roles due to their backgrounds in administrative multi-tasking.
  • Human resources managers are responsible for the hiring, placement, and development of employees in either a public or private organization. Additional responsibilities including labor relations, benefits, payment, and training could also fall within a human resources manager’s purview.
  • City or town managers implement and oversee the administrative tasks required to keep a local municipality running smoothly.
  • Operations managers work to assess and improve the overall efficiency of organizations’ structures, policies, workflows, and practices.
  • Budget managers monitor the funding, expenditures, and overall fiscal stability of their respective organizations.

It is worth mentioning that given the qualitative nature of the work, it can often be more challenging to find work as a fresh MPA graduate without relevant experience in and references from the public policy field. Thus, when searching for an MPA program, be sure to look for those that include internship or practicum experiences that can add to both your first-hand knowledge and your resume.

Other Degrees Worth Considering

If the work of an MPA or MPP sounds interesting, but you are not interested in working either in the public sector or for a nonprofit, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is a strong alternative.

MBA students must take many of the same courses and must gain many of the same skills as MPA students and MPP students must. However, MBA programs are tailored for students seeking to work in the private sector as accountants, business administrators, human resource managers, or in other upper-level management positions. There is nothing to say that an MPA or MPP can’t open the same doors to lucrative private sector employment, but an MBA is a more direct route in most cases.

For more on the differences between MBA and MPA programs, check out our guide, Masters in Business Administration (MBA) vs Masters of Public Administration (MPA).