How does an MBA compare to an MPA?


If you are trying to decide between an MBA and an MPA, the most important factor to consider is what type of work you want to do upon graduation. Both MBAs and MPAs deal with management and finance, and the biggest difference between these 2 masters degrees is the area of employment. Students who graduate with an MBA usually work in the private sector, while students with MPAs work in the public sector.

The purpose of an MBA

An MBA, or Master of Business Administration, prepares students to work in management at various private businesses. MBA students learn to manage successful businesses in order to make a profit. All MBA students take basic courses in finance, accounting and marketing and many choose MBA specializations such as human resources or operations management in their second year of study. The specific classes you take will depend on your professional ambitions.

Most MBA programs are 2 years long, or about 30 to 50 credit hours depending on the specific program, but you do have the option of enrolling in an accelerated program to finish the degree faster or going part time if you are already a working professional. The best MBA schools usually encourage students to pursue a summer internship between the first and second year to gain hands-on experience. Many schools divide students into cohorts to emphasize group learning and leadership. Work is often done in groups and students take turns leading different projects to gain experience directing a team.

The purpose of an MPA

A Master of Public Administration (MPA) also teaches students management and administration skills, but this degree focuses on the public and nonprofit sectors. MPA programs usually emphasize public service over profit. Like students pursuing MBAs, MPA students study finance but focus mostly on budgeting and public financing. Other common courses include urban planning and development, administrative law and government policy. Students may also choose a specialization such as health policy or international relations.

An MPA takes about 2 years to complete, or 36 to 50 credit hours. Students can also attend school part time or on the weekends if they have already begun a professional career. MPA students usually complete an internship in their area of concentration in their second year of study. These internships are usually 1 year long and offer a small stipend.

Deciding on the right degree for you

There are several career opportunities for graduates with MBAs and MPAs. Determining which degree is right for you depends on your career goals. You must decide where you want to work and what sort of job you would like to do. Essentially, you must choose between working to make a business profitable and working in some aspect of public service.

Students who graduate with an MBA usually work at the executive level within a private business. Your specific job would be determined by your MBA specialization. For instance, if you decide to specialize in marketing, you may be able to secure a position as a marketing or advertising manager. Marketing managers work with a team to promote a product or service and create a lasting relationship between a business and its customers. Most businesses would prefer a student with an MBA because MBA programs focus on profit-making and risk management related to the private sector.

MPA graduates often go on to work in leadership and management positions in various areas of local and federal government as well as in the nonprofit sector. Jobs dealing with community service and finance usually require an MPA rather than an MBA. With an MPA, you can become an urban or regional planner. Urban planners are heavily involved in the community and develop programs in public spaces. Urban planning involves a lot of financial preparation and must be done within budget while working with the local community to ensure that the residents also benefit.