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Students seeking advanced careers in public service will benefit from an online master’s degree in public administration. At a public university, the cost of a master’s degree averages $12,394, and at a private university, $26,621. The degree can have an excellent return on the investment, however.

The median annual salary for a political scientist in 2021 was $122,510, while the median for fundraising managers was $107,390. This degree can also lead to top executive positions in government, such as city managers and mayors, who earn a median annual salary of $98,980.

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Public Administration Program

Choose your area of study

Universities offer different concentrations for an online master’s in public administration. Some popular areas include management and leadership in government, profit, nonprofit, healthcare, and educational organizations.

Students must also decide what type of master’s they want, such as one of the following:

  • Master of Public Administration (MPA)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master’s in Public Policy (MPP)

MPA degrees typically prepare students to manage or direct agencies at a high level. MPP degrees teach students how to analyze and make changes to policies. Both are similar to MBA degrees, which prepare students for business leadership roles, focusing on analysis skills.

Research schools and programs

Accreditation is the first thing to research about a school when searching for the best online master’s in public administration. Being accredited means the school and the master’s program meet quality standards. Students can confirm institutional accreditation by visiting the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, while the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) is the leading accreditation agency for public administration programs.

Other ways to search for the best master’s in public administration program include the following:

  • Take an online tour of the program
  • Request a video conference with program staff
  • Ask for references from former students
  • Check out the course curriculum, including internships, thesis requirements, and final projects
  • Review faculty biographies
  • Ask about student services available

Prepare for tests and applications

All potential students must complete the admissions requirements of a university and a specific program. One school’s requirements may differ significantly from another’s. Many MPAs use entrance exams, such as the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Some schools may waive the GRE for students with years of work experience in public administration. Some waive the GRE for students with GPAs over 3.0.

Other than the GRE, standard application requirements include the following:

  • Application and fees
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Transcripts showing proof of a bachelor’s degree and GPA
  • Personal statement
  • Resume

Select your program

Applying to numerous schools at once can be tempting, but students should be aware that application fees can add up. Students can narrow their list with the following parameters:

  • How many credit hours qualify a student for graduation?
  • Is an internship or practicum required?
  • Is a thesis or final project required?
  • What are the hidden fees, such as online library and technology, student services, etc.?
  • What are the deadlines?
  • What is available to online students needing extra help?

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Unless students save up enough money to cover the costs of the best online master’s in public administration, they will need to find other ways to pay. Contacting the financial aid department is a must. Their staff can help students access resources they may not find independently. Students can also learn more about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Other resources include university and community scholarships, fellowships, work-study jobs, government grants, payment plans, and loans. Those already working full-time jobs may check with employers regarding tuition assistance and reimbursement plans.

The Top 53 Online Master’s in Public Administration Programs

Best Master's of Public Administration Programs

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of Southern California

University of Central Florida

Villanova University

Florida International University

Northwestern School of Professional Studies

Penn State World Campus

Texas A&M University

American University

San Diego State University

Liberty University

Texas A&M International University

University of Illinois Springfield

University of Colorado

Arkansas State University

Johns Hopkins University

Texas Tech University

Golden Gate University

University of Louisiana at Monroe

University of Nebraska

Rutgers University

Valdosta State University

Southern Utah University

Georgia College & State University

California State University, Northridge

University of North Dakota

The University of West Florida

University of South Dakota

California State University, Long Beach

University of Missouri

Eastern Kentucky University

Nova Southeastern University

Indiana State University

Jacksonville State University

Indiana University Bloomington

Marist College

Kent State University

Clemson University

The University of Texas at Arlington

DePaul University

Indiana Wesleyan University

Sul Ross State University

University of San Francisco

National University

Arizona State University

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Old Dominion University

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How We Rank Schools

This list features some of the best online Master’s in Public Administration programs at top colleges across the country. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions. Many of the schools on our list have been accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration, which assesses the objectives, quality, and overall effectiveness of public policy-related programs.

We evaluated each school’s program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, and reputation as well as the student resources provided for online students. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of online Master’s in Public Administration programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications, including U.S. News & World Report, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

What Can You Expect from an Online Master’s in Public Administration Program?

Students in an online master’s in public administration program will learn leadership skills that focus on all aspects of an organization, like needs assessment, budgeting, communications, and data analysis. Other focus areas may include statistics, political policies, governance, human resources, and public relations.

Most programs take two years to complete based on a 30-credit curriculum of core and elective courses. However, based on factors like full-time or part-time enrollment and accelerated courses, the time it takes to finish a master’s in public administration degree will vary for each student.

Graduation requirements typically include internship hours, a thesis project, and sometimes both. Meeting with the internship or thesis coordinator will give students insight into the guidelines. Ask questions like:

  • Can it be a paid internship?
  • What are expectations for reporting internship hours, duties, location, etc.?
  • How can students access the program’s internship handbook?
  • How will students be evaluated during their internship?

Potential courses you’ll take in an online master’s in public administration program

  • Administrative Theories. Students will learn the foundations of executive positions working for the community, government, and public or private organizations. Students learn the management and leadership skills necessary for success and how to apply them in various settings. Real-world case studies and interviews with local leaders are effective tools.
  • Legal Aspects of Public Administration. Students learn the laws and regulations that apply to public administration and how the legal system has shaped public administration, policy initiatives, and reforms. Legal courses are typically broad, covering information that may apply to various concentrations of public administration.
  • Organizational Culture and Dynamics. Students learn how to analyze the behaviors within an organization and make necessary changes so the company can be more successful. They examine the environments within a business to improve how it functions.
  • Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. Leaders must know how to resolve conflicts, whether it is among employees or between countries. In this course, students review real-life cases requiring negation and conflict resolution and learn techniques to apply in their career fields.
  • Technology and Public Administration. Students learn how to use technology to their advantage in their chosen field. Topics may include artificial intelligence (AI), social media, tools and platforms, and digital marketing.

Online Master’s in Public Administration Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online master's in public administration degree program?

Contact the school’s admissions department to speak to an admissions counselor for the most accurate information. The admissions counselor can tell prospective students the application requirements and share the deadlines for each step of the process. Typically, master’s degree programs ask for the following:

  • GRE scores or proof of work experience
  • Transcripts showing completion of a bachelor’s degree and overall GPA
  • Letters of recommendation from people who can attest to your abilities in the field
  • Completed application and fees
  • Resume or curriculum vitae

How much does an online master's in public administration degree cost?

Online master’s in public administration programs will vary in cost based on many individualized factors. When calculating potential expenses, students should include the following:

  • Base tuition fees
  • Textbooks or digital media required for the class
  • Laboratory fees, technology fees, and other university fees
  • Childcare, supplies, computer, internet, and other expenses
  • Time away from being able to earn money

There could be additional charges if the university is in a different state. However, online master’s degree programs cost less than on-campus programs for transportation, food and groceries, housing, and supplies.

How long does it take to earn an online master's in public administration degree?

The time it takes to earn an online master’s in public administration primarily depends on how many credits the program is. A program with more required credits tends to take longer to finish (unless students are enrolled in an accelerated program).

Additional factors that can affect how long it takes to complete an online master’s in public administration include:

  • Full-time status versus part-time status
  • Personal or professional obligations
  • Unexpected life changes
  • Deployment

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