Accredited Online Public Administration Degree Guide for 2018

Public administration is the implementation of government policy in the daily lives of citizens. If you study public administration, you will learn how to manage organizations, to analyze the effects of government policies, and to use business and statistical tools to solve organizational problems. If your career goals are to help run government agencies or nonprofit organizations, you may consider studying public administration. It can be fulfilling to contribute to society through a public administration career. However, if you are not motivated by public service, this may not be the right field for you. Even so, a public administration degree will help you to develop career skills like managing, budgeting and conducting research, which you can use in other fields like business. If you choose to study public administration, your curriculum will draw from related disciplines including political science, business management and administrative law.

Check the Guide to Accreditation in Higher Education to learn more about accreditation and how to determine if the program you select meets the necessary standards.

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It takes at least four years of school in order to become a public administrator, but it could take up to eight years. To obtain an advanced position in public administration, you generally will need to earn a bachelor’s degree, which takes about four years, and a master’s degree, which takes two to three more years of graduate school. In addition, you may need at least one year of professional experience to be admitted into a public administration graduate program.

Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration

A Bachelor of Arts (BA) focuses more on liberal arts, so you can explore other academic areas in addition to public administration. The BA is preferable if you want to go on to graduate school in the future.

A Bachelor of Science (BS) has more science and mathematics courses, which will give you a technical background. The BS is preferable if you want to get an entry-level job in public administration.

  • Length of study: 4 years (120-130 hours)
  • Coursework: economics, government, leadership, law, research design, environmental planning, nonprofit management, public health policy
  • Employment prospects: Most careers in public administration require a graduate degree. But a bachelor’s degree can qualify you for entry-level positions as a policy research associate or administrative assistant at a government agency.

Master’s Degree in Public Administration

A master’s degree in public administration is a graduate-level degree that will greatly increase your job prospects in the field. For most public administration careers, you will not need to continue your education beyond a masters degree.

Master of Public Administration (MPA) programs focus on developing organizational management skills. This option is the best choice if you want to manage a government or a nonprofit organization.

Master of Public Policy (MPP) programs train students to research, analyze data and make policy recommendations. This option is best if you want to research for nonprofit or government organizations.

Master of Public Affairs (MPAFF) programs are similar to the MPA and MPP programs. Some programs focus more on management while others are more research-oriented.

Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs train students in business skills such as finance, accounting, management and human resources. This option is best if you want to pursue a business career in the private sector.

  • Length of study:2-3 years (48-72 credit hours)
  • Coursework:management, leadership, statistics, economics, finance; some programs require an internship with a government agency or nonprofit organization
  • Employment prospects:legislator, executive director of a nonprofit, government consultant, human resources manager

Doctoral Degree in Public Administration

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs in public administration focus heavily on developing research and teaching skills. A PhD is preferable if you plan to enter academia or to work in an advanced research position.

Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) programs are less common than PhD programs. They train students in the practical application of theory and research. If you plan to pursue a management career, a DPA is the best option.

  • Length of study: 4-7 years (72-90 credit hours)
  • Coursework:public policy, management, economics, research methods, statistics; some specialization in public policy, management or related fields like environment or healthcare
  • Employment prospects:professor, nonprofit executive director, high-level policy researcher, elected government official


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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups public administrators under the job field of political science for the purposes of documenting national job statistics. According to the BLS, overall employment of political scientists is expected to increase by about 8 percent through 2020, which is slower than the projected growth for all occupations.

Organizational Managers oversee government agencies and nonprofit organizations. In this role, they make sure that their organization’s goals are met by organizing their workforce effectively as they manage employees and their projects. They also negotiate employee’s hiring contracts and create and review budgets.

Researchers use the information that they seek to help design fair and useful public policies. For instance, they research how new laws may affect certain communities based on statistical analysis. They may specialize in specific areas such as environmental or criminal policy. Some public policy researchers work for the government, but there are also research positions available in academia, nonprofit organizations and the private sector.

Other jobs available to public administration degree-holders:

  • Public Administrator Director
  • Legislator
  • Regulatory Affairs Specialist
  • Human Resources Specialist
  • Management Consultant
  • Policy Analyst
  • Nonprofit Director

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