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Master of Public Administration Guide: Career Paths

In the new public sector, Master of Public Administration (MPA) career options span a wide range of job titles and positions in a variety of public service organizations. The federal government is one of the top employers of MPA graduates. With a workforce of nearly 3 million people, it is the largest employer in the nation. Salaries for federal employees are very competitive, with the average annual salary for full-time federal employees exceeding $81,000. In addition to job security, benefits include annual pay increases within a well-defined salary grade system, health and life insurance, retirement benefits and paid holidays, vacation and sick days. Federal jobs for MPA graduates are available in Washington, D.C., as well as in every U.S. state and 140 countries overseas.

Career Benefits of an MPA

The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) reports that graduates of MPA/MPP programs can expect to receive a higher salary than non-graduates when they are initially hired by the federal government. Degree holders with relevant work experience can expect to start at GS-9 or GS-11 of the graded General Schedule (GS) pay scale. In 2017, the salary for GS-9 employees started at $43,251 and GS-11s started at $52,329. Federal employees are typically promoted one or two steps within their grade each year (there are 10 steps per grade with a total of 15 grades).



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Finding a Federal MPA Job

To find positions with the vast ranks of the federal government, MPA graduates can search through job titles and descriptions in the online version of the Handbook of Occupational Groups and Families. When employment opportunities in the federal government become available, they must be posted on USAJOBS. On this website, available jobs are categorized by college major. Job seekers can also search for positions by location, agency or keyword and create customized job searches that generate automatic emails when positions that match become available. In addition to providing job listings, USAJOBS provides job application information as well as a resume builder tool that helps job seekers create resumes that conforms to federal government standards.

Special MPA Programs

Students and recent college graduates who are seeking government employment can take advantage of the federal government's Pathways Program. This program streamlines the process of finding and applying for jobs in the federal government and provides additional training and career development opportunities for employees who are embarking on a new government career. MPA graduates who completed their degree in the previous two years are qualified for Pathways' Recent Graduates Program. In addition to salary and benefits, this program provides 40 hours of additional training and mentorship in exchange for an agreement on the part of the employee to remain in the job for one year. The Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program is another Pathways component that should be of special interest to recent MPA graduates. The goal of this program is to create future government leaders. Qualifying individuals who have earned an advanced degree within the preceding two years can apply for a two-year appointment as a PMF. While receiving a salary and benefits, PMF participants attend classroom sessions that focus on leadership, management, policy and other government topics, and complete challenging work assignments. Completion of the programs qualifies participants for immediate appointment to a leadership position in the federal government. Admission to the PMF Program is based in the results of an online assessment followed by an in-person interview.

Finding a State-Level MPA Job

MPA graduates who are interested in public administration jobs at the state and local level will find a wealth of resources and job leads at CareerOneStop. The U.S. Department of Labor sponsors this job search site, which provides links to state-by-state listings of government jobs.

Getting Your MPA

With over 80,000 local, state and federal government agencies in the U.S. and more than 1.5 million non-profit organizations, there are myriad possibilities for public service careers. Individuals with MPA degrees are equipped with an understanding of government and administration that makes them uniquely qualified for many different public service positions. Traditional MPA degree programs usually require two years of full-time course work and a summer internship. Working professionals who want to increase their career options without sacrificing their current commitments have had the option of taking longer to earn the degree in executive or part-time programs. Internet technology has led to the advent of online MPA programs that allow professionals to schedule their coursework around their other responsibilities. Some of the nation's top universities now offer online Master of Public Administration programs that offer the same degree and curriculum offered to on-campus students.

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