MPA vs. MBA: Which Graduate Program Is Right for You?

If you have a bachelor’s degree under your belt and are looking to take your education to the next level, then a master’s degree can be a practical next step. For many, a master’s degree is also a logical step toward career advancement because it can mean promotion or even a career pivot altogether.

When it comes to master’s degrees, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is one of the most popular out there. Before deciding on an MBA to pursue your career goals, though, there’s another type of graduate degree you won’t want to overlook: the MPA.

By understanding the similarities and differences between an MPA and MBA, you can ultimately decide which degree option is best suited to your needs and aspirations.

What Is an MPA Degree?

MPA stands for Master of Public Administration. This type of degree focuses specifically on the nonprofit and public sector, preparing students for leadership positions within nonprofits, government organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and more.

What You Will Learn in an MPA Program

What you can expect to take away from an MPA program depends on the program in which you are enrolled as well as the curriculum and specializations or concentrations you may pursue. In general, an MPA is designed to prepare students to work in leadership positions as managers, executives, and directors of government and nonprofit organizations.

As part of an MPA program, courses usually cover topics like leadership, project management, public policy, ethics, communication, and data-driven decision-making.

How Long Is an MPA Program?

The length of an MPA program may vary from one school to the next. As an advanced degree, however, these programs typically consist of 30 credit hours. Depending on your enrollment status, this means you could complete such a program in one to two years. If you have any transfer credits, you might even be able to complete it in a year or less.

Is an MPA Degree Worth It?

If you’re interested in working in the public sector and could see yourself in a leadership or management role, an MPA can be a great way to learn the foundational skills needed for this type of work. Likewise, many people find working in public administration to be highly rewarding because you can help a nonprofit organization work toward an important mission or cause. This type of degree also appeals to those wanting to work in public policy within a governmental or nongovernmental organization.

What Is an MBA?

If you envision yourself working in the private sector more than the public sector, then a Master of Business Administration may be more ideal. Like an MPA, an MBA is a graduate-level degree program that prepares students for leadership opportunities. Rather than focusing on leadership in the public sector, though, an MBA is more related to leading and managing private businesses.

People who graduate with their MBAs often go on to qualify for any number of jobs, ranging from team supervisors and department managers to business operations managers and CEOs.

What You Will Learn in an MBA Program

When you enroll in an MBA program, you can expect to learn a lot about what it takes to manage, lead, and grow a successful business. Some common topics covered in MBA courses may relate to business ethics, professional communication, organizational management, and strategic planning.

How Many Years Does It Take to Earn an MBA?

An MBA typically takes around the same time to complete as an MPA, though some MBA programs are slightly more extensive and may require an additional course or two. Most MBA programs consist of 33 credit hour requirements and can be completed in less than two years. Of course, how long it will take you to complete an MBA depends on whether you’re enrolled part time or full time, in addition to whether or not you take courses year-round.

MPA vs. MBA: Key Differences

Still not sure if an MPA or MBA is the better option for your graduate degree? It may be helpful to consider the main differences between these two programs. After all, while they are quite similar in some ways, there are key distinctions to keep in mind.

Areas of Study and Specializations

Although MPA and MBA programs intend to prepare students for leadership and management positions, they differ greatly in terms of areas of study and specializations or concentrations.

For example, an MBA program may offer specializations in private sector areas such as health care management, human resource management, and accounting and finance. An MPA is more likely to focus on politics, public management, public budgeting, and nonprofit management.

Career Paths

The career paths people pursue after completing an MBA or MPA can also differ. Those with MPAs often move into roles involving:

  • Public policy
  • Health policy
  • Urban planning
  • Government affairs
  • Other public service leadership areas

Conversely, graduates with MBAs are more likely to take on leadership roles within the private sector. Some potential job titles for MBA graduates include:

  • Chief executive officer (CEO)
  • Chief financial officer (CFO)
  • Financial analyst
  • Marketing manager

Skills Acquired

Both MBA and MPA programs focus on providing students with the skills they need to become effective leaders—including professional communication, data analysis, and decision-making skills. However, certain skills are more relevant to those working in the public sector than the private sector, such as:

  • Knowledge of public policy
  • Public administration and management
  • Public budgeting and financial management
  • Nonprofit organization finances and budgeting

Those working in the private sector may need to acquire other specialized skills that include:

  • Corporate financial reporting and disclosure
  • Risk assessment
  • Industry regulations and compliance

Salary and Job Outlook

There is a healthy demand for leaders in both the public and private sectors. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment for top executives in the private sector to grow by 3%  between 2022 and 2032 alone. Meanwhile, the growth for public sector roles like urban and regional planners is expected to grow by 4% between 2022 and 2032. Ultimately, demand and growth projections can vary depending on the specific position you’re looking at, but graduates of both MPA and MBA programs generally have strong job prospects.

The salary for MPAs and MBAs can also vary based on the given job and geographic region. For instance, according to the BLS, urban planners earn an average of $79,540 annually. Top executives make a median salary of $100,090 per year, as of 2022.

What to Consider When Choosing an MBA or MPA

As you can see, MPA and MBA programs each have their merits. Either one can be an ideal choice for anyone serious about pursuing an advanced degree that will pay off many times over down the road. However, if you’re interested in working for a nonprofit or in the public sector, an MPA may be better suited for your goals. Alternatively, if you would prefer working in the private sector as a CEO or in another leadership role, then you can’t go wrong with an MBA.

Regardless of which type of program you decide upon, selecting an accredited program from a reputable school is a must. Dedicate the time to research how long it would take to complete your degree, how much it would cost, and whether any financial aid is available.

At Excelsior University, we’re proud to offer both MBA and MPA programs to meet your needs, and each one can be completed 100% online for your convenience. Likewise, these programs are designed to be completed in less than two years, so you can graduate with your advanced degree and start applying for jobs in the field right away. Get in touch with our team to learn more about these excellent programs. You also have the option to begin your online application and get things started today.