So you’ve decided to pursue a career in government, or perhaps a career working for a non-profit. Maybe you’ve just graduated college with your Bachelor’s, or maybe you’re looking to return to school and open yourself up for new career opportunities. Whatever your situation may be, if you’ve done even the most cursory research into Master’s programs in these public service fields, then you know there are two primary degrees you could potentially pursue: a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) or Master’s in Public Policy (MPP).

What are the Differences between Public Policy and Public Administration?

Even though it’s great to have options, you might be finding it difficult to determine what exactly the difference between Public Administration and Public Policy is.  When you factor in the reality of graduate program expenses, it’s simply indispensable to have as much information as possible before making any decision regarding your education. Below you’ll find a quick overview of some key differences between pursuing Public Administration careers (PA) and Public Policy careers (PP) to help you choose which route seems best for your future.

The Things You’ll Learn:

PA: Those enrolled in MPA programs are essentially learning to become a professional “people-person.”  There may be some overlap with MPP curriculum for introductory courses, however as a student advances in the programs the emphasis becomes ‘putting policy to work.’

You’ll learn how to communicate with others to establish public programs, and willdevelop leadership, management and organizational skills. The MPA curriculum is generally considered to be oriented towards the qualitative aspects of implementing and evaluating public policy and programs.

PP: On the other side, those pursing a MPP are usually more interested in the quantitative aspects of examination. Analyticalpeople, many of whom are considered to be “a numbers-person,” are attracted to public policy.

The course of study in MPP programs is research intensive. Statistical and economic data analysis will be a major part of the curriculum. Rather than learning to implement policy, students instead learn to collect information in the effort to create policy. Through primarily mathematical analysis and cost benefit analysis students are taught how to consider whether a prospective policy program will be successful.

The Things You’re Able to Do:

PA: Once a degree program is completed, an MPA graduate should ideally be ready to fill leadership and management positions in the public or nonprofit sector. They are able to efficiently approach issues of public service from budgeting, organizational, and human resource perspectives. They have the practical skills to both put a program into action and operate it effectively once it’s up and running.

PP: Those who have their MPP degree are prepared for careers in which they can analyze or create public policy. Many graduates pursue careers in advocacy, through which they collect data on an organization’s performance that they can then present to other organizations. They may also work in positions that require the development of complex systems of analysis that will address the more technical components of public service programs and policies.

Choosing the Right Path:

If you’re the type of person that loves to hit the books and parse out the nitty-gritty details, then Public Policy is the best direction for you. If you’re more into interacting with others and taking a hands-on approach to problem solving, then you’ll excel in Public Administration. Both are equally as challenging and equally as necessary; each with excellent career potentials. Deciding whether to enter the public service field by way of Public Administration or Public Policy essentially comes down to your own personal preferences and abilities.


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