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MPA vs MBA: Which Degree Best Fits Your Career Path?
As a public sector or nonprofit employee, you’re driven by creating positive change in the world. To increase your impact and act as a leader in government or a nonprofit—or transition into a private sector career—a master’s degree can be key to advancing your job prospects and salary expectations.
When choosing a master’s degree, most public service employees consider pursuing a Master of Public Administration (MPA) or a Master of Business Administration (MBA). While both promote expertise in managing people and budgets, deciding which to pursue hinges greatly on where you want to take your career.
But how do you directly compare the benefits of these two degrees? We’re here to help. We’ll show you what each degree offers, what types of jobs are the best fit, and why you would choose one degree over the other.
Why Choose a Master of Public Administration (MPA) Degree?
Do you want to devote your career to public or community service? An MPA degree may be right for you.
What matters most when choosing a master’s program? Compare features, benefits and cost to find the right school for you.
What is a Master of Public Administration (MPA) Degree?
An MPA degree is geared toward empowering the next generation of leaders with the specific knowledge and skills they need to transform mission-oriented institutions and address pressing societal issues. To achieve this goal, an MPA instills a deep knowledge of public affairs and nonprofit management and administration.
What is the Focus of an MPA Program’s Curriculum?
The curriculum of an MPA is specifically designed to increase knowledge of the political system, instill public service values, and promote complex decision making skills. The focus of the program and courses vary by institution.
There are three common types of MPA programs, each designed for a different career focus:
- Political Science: Most programs have a political science focus and emphasize the political system, government institutions, and national and/or international relations. This type of program is best for people who want to work in politics or international relations.
- Policy Analysis: These programs are typically more academic and research-focused, teaching students to do work like cost-benefit analysis to evaluate different public policies. This degree is ideal for people who want to be policy analysts (which is a niche career) or academics.
- Management and Leadership: These programs are designed to prepare students to lead and manage nonprofit organizations and public institutions at all levels. This type of degree is best for professionals looking to advance their career to a management or executive level within the public or nonprofit sector.
What are Top-Demand Jobs for MPA Graduates?
Paired with your professional experience, an MPA degree can help you advance your career at all levels of the government and nonprofit sector. The following jobs are a sample of careers an MPA graduate might pursue.
Average Salary: $88,599 (Payscale)
A city manager oversees the running of a city's municipal government, including departments like accounting, budgeting and purchasing. Financial management skills are crucial because the manager directly oversees the city’s budget.
Nonprofit Executive Director
Average Salary: $65,278 (Payscale)
An executive director is the equivalent of a CEO at a nonprofit. The executive director helps guide the vision and direction of the organization, manage operations and work closely with the board of directors.
Average Salary: $72,652 (Payscale)
A legislative director leads a team of policy experts to develop and implement public policies. The legislative director establishes financial goals and oversees timing and budget of these programs, as well as builds relationships to advance a legislative agenda.
Nonprofit Director of Development
Average Salary: $63,816 (Payscale)
The lead fundraiser of a nonprofit, the director of development ensures an organization has the funds necessary to operate and accomplish its goals. The development director creates strategic plans for how to raise money and build relationships with high-value donors.
Average Salary: $100,635 (Payscale)
A county administrator is a non-elected government official who supervises the day-to-day operations of a county government. County administrators oversee the departments that deliver services to the community, helps develop budgets and attends government meetings.
Why Choose a Master of Business Administration (MBA) Degree?
Do you want to broaden your business acumen or have the flexibility to work at both nonprofit and for-profit organizations? An MBA might be right for you.
What is a Master of Business Administration (MBA) Degree?
An MBA is considered one of the most flexible advanced degrees because of its broad-based business curriculum. An MBA prepares you with the critical thinking and leadership skills to navigate change, create business opportunities and develop a competitive advantage for your organization.
What is the Focus of an MBA Program’s Curriculum?
In an MBA program you will gain expertise in foundational business management and leadership practices with a focus on increasing profitability of an organization. You can choose to specialize in a specific area of business or become well-rounded in all aspects of managing the finances and personnel of a company or organization.
Typical MBA curriculum includes courses in:
- Accounting: Understand sophisticated accounting principles to control and manage costs of an organization.
- Finance: Read and understand corporate financial statements to assess the value of an organization and its investments.
- Human Resources: Manage your organization's personnel, including recruiting, hiring, retaining and firing employees.
- Marketing: Analyze consumer behavior and develop product promotion and pricing strategies.
- Operations: Gain insight into effectively managing operational aspects of the company like supply chain, inventory management and quality control.
- Economics: Understand the effect of supply and demand on your organization and industry.
- Leadership and Ethics: Create a vision and strategy for your organization, as well as a plan for implementing it in a responsible way.
These core topics are supported by electives that allow you to delve into more advanced topics in these and related areas.
What are Top-Demand Jobs for MBA Graduates?
Most MBA graduates work in private sector companies, however an MBA can also prepare you for similar roles in the nonprofit world.
Average Salary: $95,041 (Payscale)
Investment managers develop investment strategies based on current market trends and manage investment portfolios to increase returns. At a nonprofit, these types of roles typically manage endowments.
Economic Development Director
Average Salary: $69,925 (Payscale)
These professionals are responsible for developing innovative policies that will facilitate growth, while working with members of the community to accomplish these goals.
Business Operations Manager
Average Salary: $73,767 (Payscale)
A business operations manager identifies, plans and creates strategies and processes for daily business operations to ensure the financial needs and goals of an organization are met.
Senior Budget Analyst
Average Salary: $77,475 (Payscale)
A budget analyst helps both private and public organizations effectively manage their finances, prepare budget reports, evaluate budget proposals and monitor institutional spending.
Human Resources Director
Average Salary: $86,855 (Payscale)
Both for-profit and nonprofit organizations need HR directors to lead hiring, training, and coaching employees, while managing salary and benefits, promoting team building, and furthering leadership skills among management.
4 Big Differences between an MPA and MBA
While both MPA and MBA degrees instill leadership and management skills, choosing the better fit for you depends on your desired educational focus and career aspirations.
Choose The Degree That Best Fits Your Career Goals
Whether you want to work in government, nonprofit or private organizations, an advanced degree is a powerful way to advance your career.