calendar_today 18 July, 2023


In the realm of public service, the pursuit of graduate-level degrees plays a pivotal role in preparing individuals for impactful careers in governance and societal change. For those aspiring to make a difference in the public sector, the decision to pursue a Master in Public Administration (MPA) or a Master in Public Policy (MPP) can make a significant impact on a developing or long-standing career.

In this article, we will cover the overarching differences between a Master of Public Administration (MPA) and a Master of Public Policy (MPP), including their curricula, possible career outcomes and salary information, to help you determine the right degree for your future.

MPP vs MPA: Quick Facts

Topic Master of Public Policy (MPP) Master of Public Administration (MPA)
Summary Focused on the design and impact of policy Focused on the implementation and management of policy
Skills Required
  • Research design
  • Data analysis
  • Statistics
  • Economics
  • Management
  • Leadership
  • Budgeting
  • Contract negotiation
Average Salary $78,000 $75,000
Possible Job Titles
  • Policy Analyst
  • Director of Analytics
  • Director of Government Affairs
  • Government Program Manager
  • City Manager
  • Chief of Staff

Source: PayScale

Career Outcomes for MPP Graduates

The average salary for MPP graduates is $78,000, according to PayScale. Possible job titles for MPP graduates include:

Job Title Job Description Average Salary
Policy Analyst Collects and analyzes data to draft new public policies or adjust existing ones. Job duties may include project management. $92,997
Director of Government Affairs Determines how new and proposed public policies will affect a business’s affairs and suggests ways to manage related changes in business practices. Often employed in the private sector. $125,778
Director of Analytics Supervises a team of analysts and coordinates project assignments. Occasionally conducts analysis and drafts reports. $135,034

Source: Lightcast

Career Outcomes for MPA Graduates

PayScale lists the average salary for MPA graduates at $75,000. Job titles include:

Job Title Job Description Average Salary
Government Program Manager Oversees numerous projects and programs, manages performance, and tracks outcomes. Works across multiple teams. $74,006
City Manager Oversees a city government’s different departments. Involves direct oversight of the budget, so accounting, budgeting, and purchasing are vital skills. $179,525
Chief of Staff In government settings, acts as the eyes and ears of a high-ranking official, using their top-level oversight to direct various projects and departments. Involves coordination across employees and departments. $126,235

Source: Lightcast

What Is a Master of Public Policy (MPP)?

Public policy professionals are involved in the design and impact of policy, says Dr. Alicia Sasser Modestino, an associate professor of public policy and urban affairs and economics at Northeastern University. Primarily, public policy work involves research, analysis, and evaluation, and professionals use their findings to draft policies that will have the greatest possibility of achieving a certain outcome.


Public policy master’s degree programs are designed to develop your abilities and expertise in research design, data analysis, statistics, and economics. As an MPP student, you can expect to study:

  • Research methodology
  • Sampling design
  • Data analysis
  • Policy analysis
  • Statistics

However, such courses alone aren’t enough to satisfy the demands of the contemporary world, nor do they utilize all the capabilities of modern technology. As such, top-tier universities supplement this standard curriculum with courses or concentrations in areas like Big Data analytics, data visualization, programming languages, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications, and artificial intelligence.

Public policy master’s programs have also become increasingly interdisciplinary over time, incorporating courses on ethics, sociology, anthropology, and politics. Such programs allow for a well-rounded graduate to tackle complex problems with comprehensive strategies.

What Is a Master of Public Administration (MPA)?

Public administration is concerned with implementing and managing policies rather than designing them, says Modestino. A public administrator takes what policymakers create, adjusting it if necessary to fit the policy within existing regulations or operational standards, and puts it into action. Much of an administrator’s job involves communication, management, and leadership rather than data analysis.

Compared to policymakers, public administrators are more likely to work across departments or between organizations, building partnerships to ensure implementations go smoothly. As an a Master of Public Administration student, you will learn to lead and manage people, projects, and resources in ways that suit a variety of settings, including nonprofit organizations, government agencies, social enterprises, and the private sector.


The core curriculum of a public administration master’s degree program is often more interdisciplinary than that of a public policy program. As an MPA student, you’ll study:

  • Policy and economic analysis
  • Financial management
  • Budgeting for public projects and service
  • Institutional leadership and management

Depending on your college of choice, you may have the option to supplement your education with concentrations or certifications in specialized fields such as healthcare management, nonprofit development, gender and sexuality, or other such areas.

Which Degree Is the Right Choice?

An MPA and an MPP are two excellent degree options for civic-minded individuals looking to shape their communities in meaningful ways. Neither is better than the other; the programs approach similar objectives using different pathways. The right choice for you depends on your unique aspirations and talents.

Two questions to ask yourself when considering an MPA or an MPP are:

  • Where is my career focus?
  • What skills do I want to improve?

MPP vs. MPA Self-Survey

Question MPP MPA
Where is my career focus? I’m a strategist who wants to design actionable, impactful guidelines. I’m a leader or manager skilled at collaboration and keeping projects on target.
What am I looking for in a master’s degree? I want to improve my research methodology and data analysis skills. I’m also interested in how technological innovations like Big Data and AI can lead to better policy. I want to improve my managerial, communication, and networking skills. I’m also interested in the nuanced operations of governments or nonprofits.

About the Master of Public Administration and Master of Public Policy Programs at Northeastern University

Northeastern University, a top-50, R1 research institution, offers two interdisciplinary, community-focused degree options for professionals ready to make their mark in the world of public service. Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs offers these two degree programs. Our Master of Public Administration option is a career-oriented program designed to shape leaders who are ethical, efficient, and effective. Meanwhile, our Master of Public Policy (MPP) program equips future policymakers with the comprehensive research and analysis skills they’ll need to best support the public good. Students in each program benefit from the world-class education, research opportunities, and expert faculty provided by Northeastern’s College of Social Sciences and Humanities. Students may take classes online, in person, or in a mixed modality format. MPP classes are offered on our Boston and Arlington campuses. MPA classes are available on our Boston campus and will also be offered on our Oakland and Arlington campuses beginning in Fall 2024.


Get Started Now

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