MPA Degree Admissions: What to Know — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
12 min readApr 13, 2023


Are you considering applying to an MPA degree program? Well, if your dream is to shape the future and drive innovative solutions in today’s public service arena, then pursuing an MPA degree is likely for you.

It not only provides an excellent foundation for those seeking professional growth but also offers unique career paths and opportunities. However, getting admitted into an MPA program can be quite tricky given that there are so many criteria in play when it comes to securing admission. But don’t worry-we’ve got all the answers! In this blog post, we’ll provide insight into administrative processes and important points to consider when thinking about admissions requirements — read on!

What Is a Master of Public Administration?

A Master of Public Administration (MPA) is a graduate degree program focused on public sector leadership and management. It typically covers topics such as public policy, budgeting, human resources, organizational development, communications, and operations. MPA graduates are prepared to assume top-level positions in city or state government departments, nonprofit agencies, and international development organizations. An MPA can also help you move into the private sector where you can apply skills such as strategic analysis and effective communication to job roles in consulting firms and corporations. With an MPA, you learn valuable skills that will make you a competitive candidate for these positions. In short, a Master of Public Administration is a valuable degree if you are interested in making an impact on the public sector. It can provide you with the knowledge and skills to help shape policy, lead organizations, and improve communities.

What Professional Skills and Knowledge Can You Get from an MPA?

An MPA degree provides students with the advanced skills and knowledge to work effectively in public administration. As such, graduates of an MPA program will have many professional skills, including but not limited to problem-solving, policy analysis, budgeting and financial management, communication, research skills, and project management. They will also gain knowledge of public sector organizations and policies, politics in government systems, and organizational structures. In addition to these practical skills, gaining an MPA can help enhance your professional network through internships or other learning opportunities throughout your studies.

Core courses of an MPA degree include areas like public policy, public administration, and organizational behavior. Electives provide the opportunity to broaden your knowledge in a specialized area and explore related topics such as economic development, health care management, or non-profit management. Internships also provide valuable hands-on experience in the field by allowing you to develop professional skills through working with government agencies or community organizations. These experiences can often be of tremendous help when you enter the workforce after graduation. Overall, the MPA degree equips students with the skills necessary to effectively manage public resources and serve their communities in a variety of roles within the public sector.

What Is the difference between an MBA, an MPA, and an MPP?

An MBA (Master of Business Administration) is a professional degree that provides students with the essential business knowledge and skills needed to pursue a successful career in business. The curriculum focuses on developing essential management, finance, and strategy skills. An MPA (Master of Public Administration) is an interdisciplinary degree focused on preparing graduates for public sector management careers. It typically includes courses in economics, organizational behavior, public policy analysis, finance, budgeting, and more. An MPP ( Master of Public Policy) is a graduate-level degree program designed to equip students with the tools necessary to craft effective public policies while considering both the legal and ethical implications of their decisions. The curriculum focuses on topics such as political science, economics, quantitative methods, data analysis, and public policy history.

What Will You Learn As an MPA Student?

Note that MPA programs may differ depending on the institution offering them. To ensure that an MPA program aligns with your career goals, it is important to look for a program that offers a curriculum tailored to your needs. The best program will not only teach you the basics but will also equip you with practical skills that can be put into practice right away.

By earning an MPA degree, you will develop strategic thinking skills to lead organizations in a competitive political environment that requires collaboration to achieve the organizational mission. You will have the opportunity to learn fundamental concepts and tools for budgeting, accounting, and financial management which are necessary for leading and managing government and nonprofit organizations.

The MPA degree will also teach you techniques to analyze common administrative problems and use project management tools to manage administrative projects effectively.

During your studies, you may learn about the essential public service principles that distinguish government and non-profit organizations from private, for-profit organizations. You will also develop skills in systematic thinking to enhance program delivery and organizational performance.

What type of work experience do admissions committees look for in applicants to MPA programs?

Admissions committees for MPA programs are looking for applicants with a variety of work experience, including both professional and volunteer experiences. Professional work experience should demonstrate an applicant’s understanding of their chosen field, as well as the ability to apply this knowledge in a practical setting. Additionally, admissions committees will also look favorably at applicants who have volunteered in positions related to public administration or policy-making. This type of work shows that the applicant is familiar with the responsibilities and competencies required for successful management in a public sector environment. Additionally, it demonstrates a commitment to public service, which is an important quality for any potential MPA graduate. Applicants who do not have relevant professional experience can make up for this by showcasing their academic accomplishments and extra-curricular activities that demonstrate their leadership and management potential.

Regardless of your background, having a competitive degree from a reputable university, along with relevant professional or volunteer experience, will significantly increase your chances of being admitted into an MPA program. Demonstrating knowledge and aptitude in policy-making, problem-solving, and other managerial skills can also help you stand out amongst a crowded pool of candidates. Admissions committees look for individuals who have not only developed the technical skills necessary for public service but who are also passionate and committed to making a difference in their communities.

What Is the Ideal Background of an MPA Applicant?

The path to earning an MPA is not fixed. However, students with a bachelor’s degree in related fields such as political science, human services, sociology, criminal justice, or communications may have an advantage as they might have previously expressed interest in working in those fields and an MPA can be a natural progression for them.

If you pursue an MPA degree, you may encounter classmates who have relevant jobs or volunteering experience and are seeking professional advancement. Your classmates’ backgrounds are likely to consist of diverse professions, such as case workers, nurses, veterans, data analysts, city council members, publicists, firefighters, consultants, and budget managers. Your past professional experiences could be a strong basis for pursuing a career in the nonprofit or public sector.

How difficult is it to get admitted into an MPA Program?

Getting admitted into an MPA degree program can be a difficult process, as the expectations for potential students are often very high. The acceptance rate for MPA programs varies from year to year but generally hovers around 40%. The most competitive schools may have an acceptance rate of 10–20%, while other less selective programs can be as high as 75–85%. Each program has different criteria that they use to evaluate applicants, so the exact numbers will vary. Prospective students should do their research and ensure that they are meeting the requirements to increase their chances of getting admitted.

Many programs require applicants to have years of prior work experience in the public sector or related fields, as well as a strong academic record. Additionally, many schools also factor in personal qualities such as leadership and interpersonal skills when admitting students into their MPA programs. Therefore, having a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter and demonstrating motivation and commitment to the degree is essential for gaining admission into an MPA degree program. All these requirements mean that getting admitted into an MPA degree program can be competitive and time-consuming; however, with hard work and dedication, it is possible to become part of this prestigious group of professionals.

What are the career prospects for recent graduates of an MPA program?

Recent graduates from an MPA program often find themselves in high-level positions within government, nonprofit organizations, and private sectors. These individuals may work in positions such as city managers, budget analysts, policy analysts, or research assistants. They can also be found leading planning and development initiatives for public or private agencies working with local communities. Many graduates of MPA programs also become chief executive officers for nonprofit organizations, helping to define the organization’s mission and vision while overseeing its day-to-day operations. Additionally, those who have earned an MPA may pursue higher positions in government, such as presidential advisors or cabinet members.

What Are the Admissions Requirements to Get Admitted into a Master of Public Administration Program?

To be admitted into a Master of Public Administration program, applicants must meet the admissions standards set by the institution they are applying to. Generally, these requirements include:

1) A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in any field.

2) Satisfactory scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

3) Completion of coursework related to public administration, including topics such as management and leadership theory, areas of public policy and law, research methods, economics, budgeting, and finance.

4) Submission of letters of recommendation from past employers or professors who can attest to your skills and abilities.

5) Statement of purpose, which includes your career goals and a discussion of why you are qualified for admission into the program.

6) Resume or curriculum vitae that outlines past work experience, professional accomplishments, and other relevant activities.

Once all of these requirements are met, institutions may require an interview or additional essays before making a final decision on admissions. If you are interested in obtaining a Master of Public Administration degree, it is important to research potential programs thoroughly and make sure that your qualifications meet or exceed the program’s requirements. Applying for admission into an MPA program can be competitive, so being prepared with a strong application package is essential.

What Do Admissions Committees of MPA Programs Look for in Applicants?

Admissions committees typically look for individuals who demonstrate an understanding of the public administration field, have a commitment to public service, and can articulate their goals. They also emphasize strong academic performance, especially in courses relevant to public administration such as economics, political science, sociology, and statistics. Other factors that may be considered include the quality of letters of recommendation, work experience or volunteerism related to public administration issues and interests, professional certifications, or other related qualifications. Additionally, they often assess applicants on leadership skills such as the ability to communicate effectively, possess problem-solving abilities, and demonstrate creativity in dealing with complex decisions. Finally, admissions committees may take into account personal qualities such as maturity, dedication, and enthusiasm for the field. Each school has its own specific criteria for admission, so it’s important to carefully review the requirements of each program you are considering. Additionally, you should be prepared to discuss your background and experiences in the admissions process and provide evidence that you possess the skills and qualities necessary for success in a graduate public administration program.

What Are The Top MPA Programs in The U.S.?

2023 marks an exciting period for the study of Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) across the United States. The top MPA programs of 2023 offer students a broad range of educational opportunities, from international public policy research to specialized training in fields like law, budgeting, and healthcare management. Each program is tailored to meet the needs of its specific student body with courses designed to teach the foundations of public administration and provide career-focused skills. According to US News & World Report, and in no particular order, some of the most highly ranked programs include Harvard Kennedy School, the University of Pennsylvania Fels Institute, New York University Wagner School, Columbia University SIPA, Carnegie Mellon Heinz College, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, George Washington University Trachtenberg School, Rutgers University School of Public Affairs, Stanford Graduate School of Business and the USC Price School of Public Policy. Each program provides its students with an array of courses in public policy, research methods, grant writing, and more to provide them with a comprehensive understanding of the field. As the profession evolves over time, each school is committed to staying at the forefront of innovation in MPA education. With this combination of top-tier academics and cutting-edge training, these schools are sure to continue producing world-class public administrators for years to come.

Is Earning an MPA Degree Worth It in 2023?

Earning an MPA degree in 2023 will likely be a worthwhile investment for the long term. An MPA will provide you with an understanding of public administration, policy analysis, and budgeting-all essential skills for successful careers in government and nonprofit organizations. Additionally, many employers are increasingly seeking out candidates who have a broad range of knowledge across multiple disciplines. The multidisciplinary nature of the MPA program ensures that graduates possess valuable skill sets like these that make them attractive to potential employers. In addition, the degree also offers access to prestigious professional networks and positions, which can open up new opportunities for career growth and development. All things considered, if you are looking to build a successful career in the public sector you should strongly consider pursuing an MPA degree.

In Conclusion

As you have learned in this blog post, the admission requirements for the MPA degree can vary depending on the institution and program. It is important to research your options and make sure that they match up with your academic goals and interests. MPA programs not only provide a well-rounded education, but they can also be incredibly useful when it comes to furthering one’s professional development. Because of this, it is essential to understand what you are looking for and assess if the MPA degree aligns with those goals. Finally, don’t forget to check out our master’s application services for more information about how to ensure success during admissions season! Over the years, we have successfully helped many students get admitted into their dream MPA program. Don’t wait any longer, take the next step toward completing your master’s degree today! Investigate what programs are out there and find the one that best fits your needs. With hard work, dedication and focus you will soon be accredited as an MPA — a valuable designation that opens up plenty of career possibilities.

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Philippe spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Philippe has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

“I worked with Philippe on my application to Harvard University and I got accepted in the Master in Public Administration. Philippe was extremely helpful in providing relevant comments on all aspects of the application including statement of purpose, essays, resume. He provided me with proper guidance and valuable feedback in a timely manner. He was punctual, dependable, easy to work with and very friendly. I also appreciated the constructive criticism, valuable advice, and honesty in his approach. It was a wonderful experience working with Philippe, it paid off and I couldn’t be happier. Thanks Philippe for your guidance and professionalism throughout this process.” -MPA, Harvard

“While working with Philippe he gave me continuous support and advice from the start to the end of the application process. Since I mainly struggled with how to phrase my SOPs and other essays, Philippe’s advice on these essays was extremely helpful in making me receive 5 admission offers. Also, he was always quick to respond to my emails and provide feedback that was prompt and helpful. I feel the process was made much easier and also made me less worried about the outcome since I had the help of Philippe throughout the process to ensure that the essays I wrote reflected a meaning that could enhance my application. “ -Master of Public Administration, Columbia University Read more.

Originally published at on April 13, 2023.



Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: