Best Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) Online Programs

Browse the best MPA online programs in the U.S., see what you’ll learn, explore prospective careers and income potential, and much more.

An online public administration master’s degree is perfect for anyone working in management or human resources looking to move up in their career. This degree can open several options in both the public and private sectors while expanding your knowledge and marketability. However, there is a lot you need to know to get started.

When choosing an online MPA program there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. Which school should I go to? How much will it cost? How long will it take to complete? Which school would be best to attend? We are here to help you make the best possible decision by breaking down the important information you will need.

College Spotlights: Best Online MPA Programs in 2021

We’ve listed the top three universities for earning a master’s degree in public administration online. These schools were selected based on their accreditation, affordability, and flexibility. These schools are just a preview of our full list of rankings that will be published later in 2021. Come back soon for to see even more great online MPA programs.

University of North Carolina

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The University of North Carolina (UNC) offers a 45-credit master of public administration online. This degree has comprehensive coverage of public financial management, human resource management, and organization theory. UNC also partners with other institutions, allowing students to complete their online courses through the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health or the American University School of International Service. This degree offers core courses and electives with five different concentrations to choose from, including international relations, public health, and local government.

Admission requires students to have a strong knowledge of U.S. government functions, as well as a bachelor’s degree. Transcripts, a resume, a letter of purpose, letters of recommendation, and a GRE, LSAT, or GMAT score. Students enrolled in the program can plan on paying at least $54,000 for the entire program, regardless of residency, with financial assistance options available.

Northwestern University

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Northwestern University offers an online master’s in public policy and administration degree. The entire program can be completed online with four starting dates each year. This program offers two options: a part-time option that takes roughly two years to complete or an accelerated, full-time option that can be completed in one year.

Its core classes provide comprehensive coverage of budgeting, ethics, statistics and research, and public management. Northwestern University also offers five specializations, including global health and public administration, and offers relevant internships for ambitious students looking for marketable experience. Students are taught that policies are fluid and interconnected, which gives students the perspective needed to advance in their careers and strive for change in the world. Prospective students must have a bachelor’s degree, a resume, letters of recommendation, a writing sample, a letter of purpose, and transcripts from all previous colleges.

John Hopkins University

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John Hopkins University is a private, nonprofit university dedicated to helping working professionals. Its MA in public management degree online takes approximately two years to complete and consists of five core courses and six electives. These can range in topics from economics for public decision making and financial management to human resources and human relations.

To be admitted, prospective students need to have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0, two recommendation letters, official transcripts, a resume, and a letter stating their desire and purpose of obtaining an MPA online degree. Financial assistance is available to over 30% of students, and any student who can obtain at least an A- in all courses has the opportunity to graduate with honors. John Hopkins University offers three start dates for this degree to meet the needs of working students.

Advantages of Earning a Master’s in Public Administration Online

There are many advantages to getting a master’s in public administration, and even more advantages to getting one online. Whether you’re interested in the flexibility of the schedule, the affordability, or the improved salary and career prospects, here are three key advantages to getting an online master’s in public administration.

  1. Career Boost

    Obtaining a master’s degree in public administration can lead to a considerable career boost. You will learn specific skills and knowledge to become an expert in public sector subjects. This will make you marketable as an employee and help you begin a new career, or advance in the career you already have. Jobs that weren’t available to you before, like those in nonprofit and government leadership, will be opened up and your network and experience will vastly expand.

  2. Convenience

    You don’t have to move to another state to go to the school of your choice, or be in a specific place at a specific time. Flexibility is essential, especially to those with other obligations. An online program allows you to study where you want, when you want, and how you want. That could mean studying around a career, family life, or social life.

  3. Reduced Cost

    A degree that’s available 100% online wipes out the necessity of traveling to campus day after day, which will save you the cost of gas or public transportation. Other fees like for the use of on-campus facilities may also be waived.

What You’ll Learn in Online MPA Programs

Learning to communicate professionally and analyze your strengths and weaknesses as a leader are both core objectives of an MPA online program. Other topics typically studied include current policy problems, human resource management, public finance management (including the budgetary process), and legal challenges relevant to public administration. Students expand their abilities to conduct research and develop critical public administration skills, such as data collection, program evaluation, and analytical reporting.

Many graduate programs require a thesis or dissertation, but that’s not common in public administration. Most MPA online programs require students to complete projects for clients, a policy analysis for example, or perform a public service internship to help them gain real-life experience.

Popular Courses in Master’s in Public Administration Online Programs

  • Leadership in a Changing Workplace

    This course will help students recognize their strengths and weaknesses as a leader and help them develop their personal leadership style. It will cover group dynamics, communication skills, the art of supervision, employee development, diversity, and conflict resolution.

  • Public Administration Institutions and Values

    This course is the basic introductory course most online MPA programs require. Students explore historical contexts (social, economic, political, technical) of public administration to better understand policy issues today. They also learn about the evolution of public administration as a profession, discipline, and career.

  • Budgeting and Financial Management

    This class allows students to explore the politics of budgeting and how it’s used as a policy tool in government. Other important finance topics include cost-benefit analysis, basic accounting, capital financing, debt management, and cost estimation.

  • Legal Issues in Public Administration

    This course introduces students to the legal challenges relevant to public administration officials and focuses on cases where public administrators are most likely to become involved. Students learn how legal processes authorize, yet limit, executive action. They also learn about the delegation of legislative power, judicial review, rule-making, and administrative appeals.

  • Final Project or Internship

    The final project may be a public-service project, a policy review for a company, or an internship in the public administration sector. The project often requires students to evaluate their experiences and growth as a leader throughout the course. Students may put together a portfolio of their experience in public administration or write a final paper.

Specialization Options for Your Online MPA Program

When obtaining a master’s in public administration, you have the option of choosing a concentration, which is a specialized, more in-depth focus within the degree. This can help you develop specific skills for a focused career path. It also makes you more marketable since you’ll have skills other candidates won’t learn through general education classes. Some of the concentrations you’ll come across in an online MPA are applied politics, public policies, international affairs, public management, public financial management, state and local administration, and nonprofit management.

  • Nonprofit Management

    A significant fraction of public services are nonprofit and need specialized education to manage them. This concentration teaches students how to define organizational missions, acquire resources, interact with other policy providers and regulators, and face the challenges of an organization that is collaborating and competing with others.

  • International Management

    America is a hub for interdependent trade and communications, and as such, this field is constantly growing. This concentration prepares students for undertaking the responsibilities that come with managing international affairs, social development, foreign relations, cultural differences, and economic development.

  • Applied Politics

    There are politics in every business, which means this concentration can be instrumental to anyone. This concentration encourages students to think and act strategically, address public policies, lobby, and manage campaigns. It’s suited for any student wanting to influence the government through political processes.

  • Public Management

    This concentration is especially effective for administrative staff and line managers. With a focus on human resources or management consulting, students learn the skills needed to manage employer and employee relationships, motivate and manage the workforce, reform organizations through consultation, and audit.

  • Applied Politics

    There are politics in every business, which means this concentration can be instrumental to anyone. This concentration encourages students to think and act strategically, address public policies, lobby, and manage campaigns. It’s suited for any student wanting to influence the government through political processes.

Accreditation for Master’s in Public Administration Online Programs

Accreditation is a sure sign that a program is of the highest quality. Also, to obtain a license from a program, it must be accredited. Each accreditation institution has a different specialty, institution level, or field, and each is valued by different employers. Each program should state specifically if and where it has received accreditation.

Some of the typical accreditation institutions are the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration, Council on Education for Public Health, Middle States Commissions on Higher Education, Higher Learning Commission, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and New England Association of Schools and Colleges. These institutions oversee the coursework provided by the accredited university to assure quality education standards are met.

What You Can Do with a Master’s in Public Administration

Almost every company needs at least one public administration position so the career prospects are optimistic. Whether you’re interested in private, public, or non-profit services, there are many potential employers for students obtaining a master’s in public administration online. This means your career will always be in high demand no matter which direction you choose. A master’s degree provides opportunities for growth within a company, higher salaries than a regular bachelor’s degree, and a variety of prospects for new careers within the public administration sector. The salaries are typically between $70,000-$110,000, and the jobs are always in high demand.

Human Resource Manager

A human resource manager is the link between the top position within a company and the employees, and as such, is key to a functioning business. An MPA gives students the training they need to consult and plan hiring strategies with the top executives and typically oversees all hiring, interviewing, and recruitment programs within the company.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$68,300 $116,720 $205,720

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Executive

Many of the executive duties change depending on the size of the company, but there are some things they all have in common. Executives find ways to improve performance, cut costs, create policies, manage the company’s budget, and are involved with all contracts and agreements within the company.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$62,290 $104,690 $208,00

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Fundraising Manager

Fundraising Managers are typically hired by non-profit communities to help generate public donations. Their tasks can range anywhere from applying and securing grants, communicating with potential donors, and organizing fundraising events for their employers.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$64,790 $116,180 $208,000

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Auditor

Money and numbers are the bread and butter of an auditor or accountant. They are integral for managing finances to keep the business running smoothly and can advise employers on cost-saving strategies and potential risks. Their tasks can include reviewing wages, preparing financial reports, safeguarding assets, and analyzing risks.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$44,480 $71,550 $124,450

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Medical and Health Services Manager

Medical and Health Service Managers are responsible for managing the operations of an entire facility or specific departments within a facility. Their tasks vary from employee advocacy to keeping medical records. They can also be in charge of the hiring process and be responsible for budget planning.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$58,820 $100,980 $189,000

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degrees in Public Administration

Higher education does not come cheap, especially when you’re looking into some of the highest-rated schools available. It is important to understand the financial commitment of earning a master’s in public administration online before you enroll, and making a plan to pay for it would also be helpful. There are several types of financial aids available. Approach your employer about tuition assistance programs, apply for federal student loans (FAFSA), check out work-study opportunities, apply for federal education grants, and always check the school for any scholarships it may be offering. For more information, head on over to our financial aid page for good ideas.

What Your Online Master’s in Public Administration Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Est. Total Tuition Cost

John Hopkins University

12 classes

$4,234

$50,808

University of North Carolina

45

$1,209

$54,405

Northwestern University

13 classes

$3,590

$46,670

Q&A with a Professor of Public Administration and Government

Kim Nelson joined the School of Government at UNC in August 2013. She was named Albert and Gladys Hall Coates Distinguished Term Associate Professor for 2017-2019. Her research on the form of government, corruption, and innovation has been published in Public Administration Review, The American Review of Public Administration, State and Local Government Review, and other journals. As a member of the Center for Public Leadership, she conducts training and advice on leadership and management topics. She serves on the editorial boards of The American Review of Public Administration and State and Local Government Review.

Q. How do students know if pursuing an MPA is right for them? Is the program for a certain kind of person?

I believe the most important indicator that an MPA degree is right for an individual is whether that person has a motivation to serve the public. Work in the government and nonprofit sectors is not necessarily the most lucrative career choice. So, prospective students need to be motivated by something other than salary. The desire to improve the community and make people’s lives better is at the heart of public service motivation.

Q. Many MPA programs require their students to complete a project or internship to help them gain real-world experience. What advice do you have for students looking to get the most out of their practicum experience?

It is important to seek out opportunities for learning during the internship or practicum experience. Students who get the most out of their internship ask for additional ways to engage—whether that is presenting to the board, council, or commission or rotating through different departments. I also believe students should be conscientious about always behaving in a way that models professionalism, humility, and respect for others.

Q. What are the best ways students can prepare to pursue an MPA?

Prospective students should research different MPA programs to find the best fit for their future goals. It is alright to not be entirely certain about a career path. Look for programs with good professional development, well-known faculty, strong alumni relationships, and excellent post-graduation placement rates. After creating a list of programs that interest them, it is a good idea to reach out to them and find out if they have any outreach programs for prospective students. For the programs that make the final cut, understand their prerequisites and what they prioritize as characteristics for admission.

Frequently Asked Questions About Earning Your Master’s in Public Administration Online

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in public administration?

Each school has slightly different requirements when it comes to admission, but there are many requirements that you’ll see across the board. When applying, make sure you have everything you need ready and accessible or you may have to delay or defer to another semester. Here are a few universal requirements needed to apply for admission for an MPA online.

  • GRE/GMAT/LSAT test scores
  • Letter of purpose
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Minimum GPA (varies with school)
  • Official transcripts from all previous schools
  • Resume
  • Work experience
  • Writing sample

How long will it take to finish my master’s in public administration online?

Traditionally, a master’s in public administration online takes approximately two years or four semesters. If you are attending part-time, it takes longer. Sometimes there’s an option for an accelerated degree, which can take approximately one year to complete. The timetable shouldn’t change dramatically from online to on-campus learning, but ultimately two years is the minimum for obtaining an MPA online.

Can I earn a master’s in public administration 100% online or do I need to visit campus?

It is possible to earn a master’s in public administration 100% online, though it depends heavily on each school’s program because some schools only offer hybrid classes or degrees. When applying to a school, be sure to check for an MPA online option to make sure the program is the right fit for you.