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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 graduate degree averages $12,596, and at a private university, $28,017. The degree can have an excellent return on the investment, however.

The median annual salary for a political scientist is $128,020, while the median for a fundraising manager is $107,390. This degree can also lead to top executive positions in government, such as city manager or mayor, who earn a median annual salary of $124,090.

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, nonprofit, healthcare, or 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 of 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.

Do you already have specific plans for your career after you graduate? If so, choose the type of degree and concentration that best matches your professional goals.

Research schools and programs

You should only consider institutions that have been approved by a DOE-recognized regional accrediting organization, such as the New England Commission of Higher Education or Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. These organizations evaluate schools to ensure they provide students with a high-quality education. Those who attend a school that isn’t regionally accredited may be unable to access financial aid or transfer credits to another institution if needed.

Ideally, your master’s in public administration program will also be accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). This organization has particularly high standards for public sector education.

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

  • Visit school and program websites
  • Attend in-person or virtual open houses or information sessions
  • Follow schools and programs on social media
  • Ask for references from former students
  • Check out the course curriculum, including internships, thesis requirements, and final projects
  • Review faculty biographies

Contact an admissions counselor or program representative to get the answers to any questions you weren’t able to find through your own research.

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

Before submitting an application, always contact an admissions counselor to ensure you have the most accurate information regarding requirements and deadlines.

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 by ruling out options that are too expensive — in addition to tuition, look out for hidden costs such as technology fees, student services fees, etc. And if you want to graduate as quickly as possible, you should probably avoid programs that have an internship or thesis requirement.

Before making your final decision, review your needs and goals again (especially any logistical concerns). Do you plan to attend school full-time or part-time? Are you only interested in 100% online programs, or are you fine with a hybrid program that has a few in-person requirements? Some programs offer asynchronous courses, which can be completed at your own pace, while others only offer synchronous courses, which involve remotely attending lectures and completing assignments at the same time as other students — which of these two online learning formats do you prefer? Your program should accommodate your scheduling needs and learning preferences.

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). Completing the FAFSA is a necessary step for accessing federal grants and loans, as well as many other financial aid programs.

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 at Omaha

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, regionally accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary education. Many of the schools on our list also have programmatic accreditation from 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 admission, retention, and graduation rates as well as tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and the 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 the 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 often included in this course.
  • 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 negotiation and conflict resolution and learn techniques to apply in their career.
  • 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.

What Can You Do With an Online Master’s in Public Administration?

Career outlook

The career outlook for individuals with an online master’s degree in public administration (MPA) is promising, reflecting the increasing demand for skilled professionals in public service. Many of the occupations in this field are growing quickly, and some have particularly high salaries.

Earning a master’s degree in public administration equips individuals with the knowledge and skills to lead and drive positive change in the public sector. This advanced degree blends elements of public policy, organizational management, and ethical leadership, positioning graduates for impactful careers in government, nonprofits, and beyond. Here’s a glimpse into potential career paths that open up with an MPA, offering diverse opportunities to contribute to the betterment of communities and society:

  • Top executive — Coordinate the work of an organization by establishing goals, overseeing activities, and appointing department heads and managers.
    • Median annual salary: $100,090
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 3%
    • New job openings projected: 311,600 annually
  • Emergency management director — Prepare plans and coordinate responses for emergencies and natural disasters.
    • Median annual salary: $79,180
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 3%
    • New job openings projected: 900 annually
  • Human resources manager — Oversee employee relations, payroll administration, and talent acquisition and development.
    • Median annual salary: $130,000
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 5%
    • New job openings projected: 15,500 annually

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

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

Is an online master's in public administration worth it?

Earning an online master’s in public administration is highly valuable for individuals aspiring to lead and make a difference in public service.

The earning potential for individuals with an online MPA degree is competitive. Salaries can range from $60,000 to $150,000 or more annually, depending on factors such as experience, specialization, and the specific career path chosen. MPA graduates are well-positioned for leadership roles in government, nonprofits, and the private sector.

One of the key advantages of earning an online MPA degree is the flexibility it offers. Online programs allow students to balance their education with work or other commitments, providing access to quality education without geographical constraints. This flexibility enhances opportunities for career growth and advancement.

An online master’s in public administration imparts knowledge about public policy and administration and cultivates critical skills applicable in various professional settings. Graduates are prepared to lead with integrity, drive organizational effectiveness, and contribute to positive societal outcomes.

Read More about Online Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) Degrees

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