Three business professionals working together and analyzing documents and charts on a computer.

MBA vs MPA: Which Career Track Fits You

Business Administration

People interested in advancing their business careers through a master’s degree may ask whether a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Master of Public Administration (MPA) is the right choice. Both MPA and MBA programs cultivate leadership, critical thinking, and communication competencies. However, while the two graduate degrees are similar in terms of the core curriculum, each will support different professional goals.

An MPA is often recommended for individuals looking to work in positions within the public sector, perhaps in leading a nonprofit or philanthropic organization or crafting policy at the federal or state levels. An MPA is a more interdisciplinary degree, often drawing students with a wider variety of academic backgrounds and interests. An MBA is widely regarded as the more traditional pathway toward an advanced business career. The degree helps graduates find work in the private sector in roles related to marketing, finance, sales, and management.

Other differences exist between the two degrees in terms of academic focus, hands-on training, and potential jobs. Prospective students can learn more about the key factors that differentiate an MBA vs. MPA to determine which one will best support their personal and professional goals.

MBA Degree Overview

An MBA is a graduate degree earned after attaining an undergraduate degree. MBA programs help graduates improve their understanding of general business management functions. Typically, MBA programs include core classes in finance, accounting, management, marketing, and business law. Management training forms the basis of the curriculum, with an emphasis on planning, leadership, business strategy, and organizational behavior.

MBA programs teach students networking tactics, analytical proficiencies, strategic thinking, and the skills to work efficiently and collaboratively with others. Norwich University’s online Master of Business Administration program has concentrations in finance, construction management, project management, energy management, organizational leadership, supply chain management, and technology management. Students can refine skills in business management by learning how to apply creative, critical thinking, analytical, and project management skills to identify problems and solutions in line with business goals.

An MBA program can equip students to pursue top-level business roles. MBA courses focus on business operations and cost efficiency. Students develop the necessary skills to generate profit and increase shareholder value along with delivering value for customers. Strategic planning, ethics, financial management, and data analysis are crucial elements. By developing leadership abilities, students learn how to become inspiring team members to make meaningful contributions. They gain entrepreneurial skills to evaluate markets, set and attain ambitious goals, and think creatively. Developed communication skills help them to effectively convey core values.

MPA Degree Overview

When it comes to choosing between an MBA vs. MPA, an MPA is a master’s degree in public affairs that gives graduates the skills to serve in executive positions at the federal, state, and municipal levels of government and nongovernmental organizations. MPA programs emphasize principles of policy development and management, public administration, and policy implementation. An MPA is widely considered a public sector degree, while an MBA is considered a private sector degree.

An MPA program prepares students for executive careers in government or public roles, and MPA courses focus on social impact. An MPA program focuses on the public good through governmental response to community interests. MPA programs include lessons on how to judge which policies have the most positive social impact. Graduates learn how to strengthen communities by leading people through shared missions or causes and how to glean input from a wide range of stakeholders. MPA programs focus on problem-solving skills required for innovative leadership in the public sector. Norwich University’s online Master of Public Administration offers concentrations in criminal justice and public safety; municipal governance; public administration leadership and crisis management; fiscal management; nonprofit management; policy analysis and analytics; and procurement and government contract management.

MBA vs MPA: Career Opportunities

Both MPA and MBA degrees can help graduates become candidates for a wide variety of career opportunities. MPA roles often relate to policy, while MBA roles may involve operations or management.

MPA Job Opportunities

An MPA degree can help graduates qualify for roles such as policy manager, public affairs director, and foreign service officer.

Policy Manager

A policy manager typically works to ensure that an organization achieves its strategic objectives. Policy managers often work in advocacy, human rights, health care, or other nonprofit institutions. A policy manager’s responsibilities include policy analysis, lobbying, marketing communications, legislative policy, community outreach, and activism. The skills necessary for this job, which MPA coursework can enhance, include oral and written communication, time management, project management, and marketing. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for a policy and advocacy manager is around $62,100.  

Public Affairs Director              

A public affairs director is responsible for maintaining an organization’s public image and protecting its reputation by working with the media, writing or editing news releases, organizing public events, creating and distributing media kits, organizing fundraising campaigns, and developing branding initiatives. MPA graduates can gain an edge in skills needed for this role, such as strategic planning and financial management. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for a public affairs director is around $85,800. 

Foreign Service Officer        

A foreign service officer is responsible for advancing U.S. interests abroad, promoting peace, and supporting prosperity. Foreign service officers serve at embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic missions all over the world. According to PayScale, the average annual salary for a foreign service officer is around $88,500. 

MBA Job Opportunities

Graduates of MBA vs. MPA programs may find career opportunities such as operations officer, finance director, or CEO.

Operations Officer        

A CIA operations officer identifies, assesses, recruits, and works with persons who aren’t U.S. citizens but have access to important foreign intelligence affecting U.S. interests. Starting salaries for operations officers range from $59,426 to $90,461, according to the agency. All CIA operations officers train as a team. In the first one or two years, they learn the basics of clandestine operational tradecraft via practical exercises, classroom training, and on-the-job experience. Advanced training activities prepare them for an occupational specialty. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for an operations officer is around $94,500.

Director of Finance         

Finance directors guide teams in creating the company’s strategic financial plans. They may develop financial analyses and projections as well as oversee accounting duties. Finance directors prepare budgets and forecasts. They also oversee staff operations, budget compliance, and business planning. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for a finance director is around $113,800. 

Chief Executive Officer            

Often the face of a business, the CEO guides a business with clear goals and strong leadership. CEOs define and formulate the company’s policies and overall direction, adhering to the guidelines that the founders, board of directors, or other governing bodies have set. CEOs are responsible for communicating with investors and shareholders. Occasionally, they serve on a trade association board or committee. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for a CEO is around $155,900.

Get Started on Your Graduate Degree with Norwich’s MBA or MPA Program

For graduates seeking to improve their understanding of general business management functions, MBA programs can provide a strong foundation. A program such as Norwich University’s online Master of Business Administration can equip students to pursue top-level business roles. The online MBA curriculum emphasizes planning, leadership, business strategy, and organizational behavior and can prepare students to succeed in areas such as operations, finance, and executive management.

The university also offers an online Master of Public Administration for those looking to work in the public sector. In the online MPA program, students focus on the leadership and innovation skills that can enable them to thrive in the government and not-for-profit sectors.

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has maintained a leadership position in innovative education since 1819. Norwich’s MPA and MBA degree programs help graduates become candidates for a wide variety of careers. Learn more about how an MBA vs. MPA can help you with your specific professional goals.


Recommended Readings

Looking for a Position in Crisis Management? Consider These Important Jobs
What Can You Do with an MBA? 7 Career Paths in the Business World
5 Key Tactics of Successful Project Managers


Operations Officer, Central Intelligence Agency
“Master of Public Administration (MPA)”, Investopedia
Average Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Salary, PayScale
Average Director of Public Affairs Salary, PayScale
Average Finance Director Salary, PayScale
Average Foreign Service Officer Salary, PayScale
Average Policy & Advocacy Manager Salary, PayScale
Average Senior Operations Officer Salary, PayScale
Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State

Learn More Today

Complete the form on the next page to request more information about our online programs.

Request Info