MBA Vs. MPA: What's the Difference?

Students should understand the differences between an MPA degree and an MBA degree and consider their interests and career goals when choosing. Here we discuss an MPA vs. MBA, career options, and even some salary differences. View article »

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  • 0:04 MBA vs. MPA
  • 0:56 Curriculum Comparison
  • 2:13 Program Format Comparison
  • 2:47 Career Options

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Video Transcript


Students wondering 'what is an MPA?' or 'what is an MBA?' should know that MPA stands for a Master of Public Administration degree, while MBA stands for a Master of Business Administration degree. While both these degrees are administration related and have other similarities, such as available formats and program length, they are quite different.

In general, the biggest difference between the two degrees is that an MPA degree is more concerned with public affairs, while an MBA is focused on business management. Other key differences come in the curriculum and the ability to specialize, as an MBA more commonly offers several additional areas of concentration within business. Here we discuss each program in depth, as well as some possible career outcomes.

Master's in Public Administration

An MPA degree traditionally takes 2 years to complete, but 1-year programs are available in on-campus and online formats. Students may also pursue full-time and part-time formats, as well as programs that are available in the evenings for flexibility. There are also Executive MPA programs available for professionals already working in the field.

MPA programs may require around 30 to 64 credits and may include a capstone course. Some programs allow students to earn dual degrees in areas like law, business, or medicine and although it is not as common, there are some programs that may offer various concentration areas, such as education policy, health policy, economic development, policy analysis, or public financial management. Other programs just offer electives in place of a concentration. Core coursework in an MPA program may discuss topics in:

  • Public administration theory
  • Public budgeting
  • Decision analysis
  • Public policy ethics
  • Economics for public policy
  • Program evaluation

MPA Jobs

Graduates with their MPA can work government jobs, non-governmental jobs, and for non-profit organizations and usually pursue administrative or managerial positions. Some common career options for those with an MPA include:

  • Law enforcement administrator
  • Emergency management director
  • Administrative services manager
  • Community development director
  • City manager

Master's in Business Administration

An MBA degree also traditionally takes 2 years to complete, but accelerated, 1-year programs are available. MBA programs are also available in on-campus and online formats with flexible schedules, like availability in the evenings and part-time formats. Executive MBA programs are also available for those with professional work experience.

Some MBA programs may require around 36 credits and/or a capstone course. These programs may allow students to earn dual degrees, such as an MBA and MA in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and most programs offer a range of concentration areas. Concentration areas for these programs may include an MBA in Leadership, marketing, accounting, finance, business analytics, human resources, and more. Core MBA courses may include subjects like:

  • Ethics in management
  • Organizational behavior
  • Finance
  • Accounting for managers
  • Innovation
  • Management

MBA Jobs

Graduates with an MBA can also work in the public or private sectors and typically take on a managerial role. Graduates may also pursue careers within their particular concentration area of business. Some specific job titles for those with an MBA include:

  • Marketing manager
  • Financial manager
  • Human resources manager
  • Nonprofit director
  • Operations manager

Salary Differences

Salary ranges for those with an MPA or MBA vary greatly based on a number of factors, such as specific position, location, experience, and skill set. However, in general, reported that graduates with an MPA degree made a median salary of $66,000 in September 2019, while those with an MBA made a median salary of $86,000 for the same year.

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