The choice between a Masters in Public Administration and a Masters in Public Policy may seem daunting or stressful, but it shouldn’t be. Both degrees offer students an opportunity to advance careers in public policy, so the stakes are not high. The distinction between an MPA and an MPP is primarily a way for students to direct the focus of their public policy studies, and to signal their potential career aspirations to employers. Deciding between the two degrees empowers students to take control of their futures in public policy. Here are some important factors to consider:
Are you some who enjoys working with numbers, or with people? Do you enjoy quantitative or qualitative analysis? MPA programs focus more on leadership-related topics such as management training and organizational decision-making, while MPP programs examine the statistical and economic cost-benefit analyses that go into the actual creation of public policies. The good news is that this is not an all-or-nothing divide between the two programs. Schools that offer both MPP and MPA programs often require students in both programs to enroll in the same introductory courses, with the expectation that MPP students will enroll in more quantitatively-focused advanced-level courses, while MPA students will complete more advanced work in qualitative assessments of policy implementation. If you enjoying studying public policy, either program should be fine for you; however, if you want a more mathematical approach, an MPP is a better choice. If you’re more interested in the managerial decisions that put a policy into effect, you should consider going with an MPA.
The differences between an MPA and an MPP are in many ways analogous to the differences between an MBA and a graduate degree in economics. Admissions officers for MPA programs often look for prospective students who have already gained professional experience in public policy and have displayed potential for leadership in the field. A higher percentage of students enrolled in MPP students apply soon after completion of an undergraduate program.
In the end, any graduate degree is a tool to increase your knowledge and advance your career. While there may be many positions for which both MPA and MPP graduates can apply, the degrees generally signal different career paths. A potential employer may assume that someone with an MPA is looking to enter a career dedicated to policy implementation and personnel management, and that someone with an MPP is looking to work on policy analysis and design. Think of a given public policy area as a cyclical process with both MPA- and MPP-types working together. A team of policy designers (MPP) pour over empirical data, and come up with a policy proposal. The MPA graduates then take that proposal and put it into practice by coordinating between available personnel and resources. Once the policy has been in effect for a certain amount of time, the MPP graduates analyze the new empirical data generated by the policy and make new recommendations. While this description is in many ways oversimplified, it gets to the heart of the distinction between the two degrees. Both degrees focus on public policy, and involve considerable overlap in content, but if you want to focus more on the substance of policies, consider an MPP, and if you want to focus more on the implementation of policies, apply to an MPA program.