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7 Careers for Master of Public Administration Graduates

Pursuing a Master of Public Administration (MPA) is a strong career choice for professionals looking to find fulfillment by serving the public or private sectors in administrative positions. The coursework of an MPA degree combines multiple disciplines, drawing on knowledge from economics, sociology, law, anthropology, political science, and public planning. By touching on these topics and diving deeply into several others, a public administration professional can gain knowledge that can help prepare them for positions in urban planning, public interest law, nonprofit management, law enforcement, local government management, budget and management analysis.

Urban & Regional Planning

Urban and regional planners are responsible for the continual expansion and progression of towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas. For example, as population growth in large cities presents an ongoing challenge, planning professionals work to ensure that the public doesn’t suffer under the pressure of overpopulation. To address such an issue, urban and regional planners can spend much of their time planning and developing the facilities that a growing city needs to thrive. To be effective in this role, urban and regional planning professionals will need foundational knowledge of area-specific zoning, codes, ordinances, and other public regulations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for urban and regional planners is approximately $68,222, and the employment rate is projected to grow by 6% between 2014 and 2024.

Public Interest Law

Public interest law is a field of public administration that aims to further the interests of the public, covering a number of issues that often includes housing discrimination, bankruptcy, and immigration. The National Association for Law Placement has stated that the entry-level salary of public interest lawyers is approximately $43,000. Public interest lawyers generally focus on cases concerning illegal discrimination, environmental protection, child welfare, and domestic violence. Unlike public defender organizations, who represent criminal cases, public interest law organizations get involved with the legal representation of organizations that seek to protect public interests. To maintain a career in public interest law, it is important that professionals develop strong public relations skills, the ability to negotiate, and a talent for speaking in front of small or large groups.

Nonprofit Management

A nonprofit manager is responsible for managing the finances and personnel of a nonprofit organization, normally by planning fundraisers and supervising teams of volunteers. Additionally, nonprofit management frequently involves interacting with a board of directors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wage of a nonprofit manager is estimated to be $64,000, with a predicted employment growth of 10% between 2014 and 2024. To be competitive in this profession, academic training becomes a major component of acquiring the analytical and critical thinking skills that a nonprofit management professional needs to operate effectively.

Law Enforcement

As of 2017, the largest employers of law enforcement officials in the United States were the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Federal Bureau of Prisons. Each of these organizations employs upwards of 10,000 officers who hold responsibility for a wide range of tasks that are vital to public security. Other career options in law enforcement are at the state and local level where law enforcement officers patrol communities and investigate local crimes. A strong educational background tends to be needed for advancing within the profession to higher paying positions, such as FBI agents who can make over $100,000 per year. Additional law enforcement salaries include:

  • Sheriff – $61,270
  • Detective – $60,270
  • Police Officer – $60,000
  • Private Detective – $45,610

For hardworking law enforcement professionals, an MPA degree can open the door to positions within federal agencies and government organizations. The foundational knowledge of finance, ethics, and policy writing earned while pursuing an MPA can aid individuals in securing a stable management position in a variety of law enforcement agencies.

Local Government Management

Local government management involves the governance of smaller bodies of citizens, including towns, cities, counties, and districts. This form of public administration generally requires an entire team of professionals to develop and maintain municipal autonomy through thoughtful and planned public administration. A local government manager will usually have a high number of responsibilities that fluctuate with the needs of the municipality that they serve, including oversight of law enforcement and other emergency response operations and ensuring the integrity of the water supply and efficiency of other public utilities. The pressure that comes with this career is well compensated, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes a $90,670 median annual wage for a local government manager. Completing an internship or fellowship within a city, town, or county is a great starting point for pursuing this career, which can be further enhanced by earning an MPA degree. An MPA degree can help in developing the needed delegation, critical thinking, and resource management skills a local government manager needs to be successful.

Budget Analysis

The primary goal of a budget analysis is to assist companies and organizations in keeping their finances in order and limit them from the risk of unexpected costs or misjudged expense projections. By analyzing the trends of previous spending, current economic trends, and the growth of the organization, budget analysis can provide the data needed to create forecasts that are designed to predict stability and promote long-term growth. Any finance professional with an interest in budget analysis can benefit from an MPA degree, for outside of analytics and numbers, professionals that conduct budget analysis must also work cooperatively with project managers, stakeholders, program representatives, and government officials. Though the budget analysis is equally common in the private sector, an experienced and educated professional managing budget analysis can find a place working for government organizations, schools, health care institutions, and public financial firms. Though the entry level of this field pays a median wage of $47,550, the average pay for experienced budget analysis professionals is $71,590.

Management Analysis

Professionals that provide management analysis, also commonly referred to as management consulting, are responsible for imagining new ways to improve the efficiency of an organization, such as nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Management analysis typically involves gathering new information to solve recurring issues, developing strategies to improve set procedures, recommending new systems to management, and following up with management to certify that suggested changes are having a measurable effect. Management analysis is a job that is primarily done on a contractual basis, meaning professionals often work as self-employed consultants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for professionals conducting management analysis is currently $81,320. With fast-growing organizations becoming more common, management analysis employment rates are expected to grow by 14% from 2014 to 2024. By earning an MPA degree, professionals in this field can develop the skills needed to communicate effectively with employers and team members.

Acquiring a Master of Public Administration may require a substantial commitment of time and effort, but there is a wide range of potential opportunities for degree holders. Whether its law enforcement or management analysis, the career choices for MPA graduates are aligned to fulfill their desire for public service and management.

Learn More

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Public Administration program is a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary program that helps produce graduates with the skills needed to effectively manage a demanding and evolving industry. Our rigorous curriculum helps provide you with an all-inclusive study of organizational management concepts, decision-making processes, strategic planning, and fiscal management.

Recommended Readings 
5 Books for Students Obtaining a Master’s Degree in Public Administration
7 Key Differences Between Nonprofit and For-profit Organizations


Urban and Regional Planners, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Are Public Interest, Public Sector Careers Worth Law School Costs? NALP Sees ‘Economic Disincentives’, ABA Journal

Police and Detectives, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Local Government Management: A Career Overview, International City Management Association (ICMA)

Public Interest Salaries, National Association for Law Placement (NALP)

Private Detectives and Investigators, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Average Federal Bureau of Investigation Salary, PayScale

Budget Analyst, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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