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Should You Pursue an MBA or an MPA?

You want to be a manager of an organization. However, you aren’t sure whether to pursue an MBA or an MPA (Master of Public Administration degree).

Ilana Kowarski, a reporter at US News, recently spoke to experts on how applicants can choose between an MBA or an MPA.

How They Differ

One of the main differentiators between an MBA and an MPA is what sectors they tend to focus on.

According to, an MPA will “focus more on public sector and nonprofit management and administration.”

“Many people who earn their MPA end up working as policy analysts, county officials, city managers and some type of bureaucratic manager,” according to “They also often work as managers of nonprofit organizations, including charities or activist organizations as managers of finance or operations. These MPA professionals play a major role in these operations working efficiently and effectively.”

On the other hand, an MBA is more geared towards aspiring business executives.

“MPA programs are far more focused on preparing students for government positions in the public sector,” Michal Ann Strahilevitz, a professor of behavioral economics at the University of Wollongong in Australia who has taught both MBA and MPA students, tells US News. “In contrast, MBAs have a broader focus that includes course work relevant to both for-profit and nonprofit positions.”

What You’ll Learn

Experts say an MBA will tend to focus on teaching you cost-efficiency, whereas an MPA will emphasize social impact.

“When you work in business you learn how to maximize the bottom line,” David Campbell, an associate professor of public administration at Binghamton University—SUNY, tells US News. “It’s about increasing shareholder value and generating profit while delivering value for customers. The skills you learn in an MBA program make it possible for you to do those things. In public service, however, the primary goal is … creating public good. That means you learn what it takes for governments to be responsive to the interests of communities or for nonprofit organizations to deliver on their mission.”

On the other hand, Campbell says, an MPA is much more focused on teaching individuals how to serve the public.

“The skills you learn in an MPA program, therefore, emphasize what it takes to use government and nonprofit organizations to serve the public: how to get input from a wide range of stakeholders, how to use evidence to make decisions that will serve the public interest, and how to lead people around a shared cause or mission to strengthen communities,” Campbell tells US News.

Your Career

Experts say an MBA can offer a “broader array” of job opportunities when compared to an MPA.

“If a student is not sure if they want to pursue a career in government or in the private sector, I advise they go for an MBA degree,” Strahilevitz tells US News. “The skill set is relevant to a wider range of positions focusing on marketing, management, finance, HR, consulting and/or strategy. Therefore, an MBA program gives more options of where they can go and what they can do after graduating. It is also still the case that MBA degrees are more globally recognized, as fewer people are familiar with what an MPA degree involves.”

For those more interested in making a difference in their community or serving the public, an MPA may be more helpful.

“Your main motivation to be an MPA graduate is because it’s kind of like an altruistic calling,” Luisa Diaz-Kope, the Master of Public Administration program coordinator and an assistant professor of political science at the University of North Georgia, tells US News. “It’s not because you want to make lots and lots of money.”

Sources: US News,

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