Considering an MPP or MPA? Questions to Ask Before Applying

If you want to be president, you run for office. But what if you want to work FOR the president – or elsewhere in the government or nonprofit worlds?

Increasingly, a master’s level public policy degree can make the difference. Usually, that means either an MPP (Master of Public Policy) or MPA (Master of Public Administration).

What’s an MPP?

An MPP trains students in policy analysis and program evaluation. In other words, students learn to think about how public policy is designed and implemented, whether it’s working, and how it might be changed.

This is messy stuff, and it requires familiarity with a wide range of disciplines. Economics is particularly important – especially microeconomics, macroeconomics, cost-benefit analysis, and statistics. Increasingly, MPP programs also draw on political science, sociology, and other social sciences.

What’s an MPA?

MPA programs are similar to MPP programs in many ways; the primary difference is that they focus less on the policy process and more on training students to administer programs or lead organizations – everything from UN agencies to advocacy groups and nonprofits.

Which One is Right for Me?

Given the degree of overlap between MPP and MPA programs, you probably can’t go too far wrong in either direction. Some schools even offer combined MPAP or MPPA degrees! Regardless of which program you choose, you’ll learn a great deal of economics, political analysis, data and statistics, ethics, and management and leadership.

That said, it can be helpful to ask yourself where your own inclinations lie: do you prefer thinking about policy itself – or about leading people/organizations toward specific policy goals?

Concentrating in a Policy Area

MPP students can also concentrate in particular areas – urban planning, social policy, business and government, health, energy and environmental issues, international affairs, and many more. In fact, some schools require you to choose a concentration. Don’t worry, though – there’s plenty of time to take courses in other areas as well.

So Where Should I Go?

MPP and MPA degrees are offered around the world. In the US, there are prominent programs at Cal-Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Michigan, Duke, Chicago, Syracuse, Carnegie Mellon, Indiana-Bloomington, Wisconsin-Madison, and more.

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