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What Can I Do With a Master's in Public Administration?

A woman with a master's in public health working with a colleague in a conference room.

Public administration workers play an important role in many aspects of our everyday lives, advocating for and implementing change for the public good. If you’re considering a career in this rewarding field, you may be wondering “what can I do with a master's in public administration?”

The opportunities are virtually endless, said Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) adjunct professor Karen Versuk, and are growing and evolving all the time.

“Public administration is a dynamic discipline, and touches everyone in the world,” said Versuk. “Change is a constant for public administration, (but) service and working for the common good are the other two constants.”

With a career in public administration, you could help manage the government services that citizens rely on or lead the economic development of a community. You could work to grow a nonprofit organization or help businesses comply with state and federal laws and regulations to do more public good.

No matter what your public administration career goals, earning a master's degree in public administration can help you get the job you’ve been dreaming about.

What is a Master's in Public Administration?

A public administration master's degree will prepare you for a variety of roles in government agencies, nonprofits and private businesses. 

In a public administration degree program, you’ll explore the relationship between government and business, learn key research and analysis skills to help make data-driven decisions, and dig deep into the latest theories of public policy and management.

Earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Public Administration will expand on industry learning, give you a strong business foundation and provide leadership training that will serve you well across a variety of public administration roles.

The field of public administration changes all the time as a community’s needs and regulations change, Versuk said. A public administration master's degree program will help you prepare to navigate these changes and set you up for success in an evolving field by applying your course learning directly to real world examples and current events that are shaping public policy.

“I see our field growing exponentially in the coming years as people become more and more educated in the importance of civic involvement,” Versuk said. “That means many more jobs on the horizon... I see the sky as the limit for the future of this discipline.”

What Can I Do With a Master's in Public Administration?

Public administration plays a key role in improving the lives of everyday citizens and ensuring the successful management and cooperation of government bodies, businesses and nonprofit organizations that make up a community. 

After earning a master's in public administration, careers can open up across many different industries and types of organizations. With a master's in public administration, salary potential throughout your career can also grow.

In fact, master’s degree holders’ median weekly earnings were nearly 20% higher than bachelor’s degree holders and 67% higher than associate degree holders, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

“Having a master's degree does make a difference in earning potential and job qualifications,” Versuk said. “Having both the business knowledge and the public administration knowledge is the best of both worlds. It doesn’t pigeon-hole you into government services, but actually gives you a broader base of opportunities.”

With a master's in public administration, jobs across many fields may be available. Some of these careers include:

  • Political Scientist or Analyst: As a political scientist, you could collect and analyze data from surveys and studies to help develop and test political theories and evaluate the effects of public policy and laws on government, businesses and people. Political scientist jobs are expected to grow 5% through 2028 and had a median annual wage of $117,570 in 2018, according to BLS data.
  • Urban or Regional Planner: With an urban planning job, you could work with a city’s government to analyze the community’s economic, social and environmental needs and develop solutions that revitalize the community through economic development, infrastructure projects and more. Urban planners earned a median annual wage of $73,050 in 2018, with job opportunities expected to grow 11% through 2028, according to BLS data.
  • Health Services Managers: As a health services manager, you could work within a public health department or medical facility to educate a community about health resources, help residents get better access to healthcare and navigate changes in healthcare laws and regulations. Health services managers earned an annual median wage of $99,730 in 2018. Jobs in health service management are expected to grow 18% through 2028 as the population ages and more healthcare services are needed, according to BLS data.
  • Social Services Administrators: With a job as a social services administrator, you could oversee social service programs and work with community organizations and leaders to determine the effectiveness of and make improvements to these programs to better serve the public. Social services administrators earned a median annual wage of $65,320 in 2018. Jobs in this field are expected to grow 13% through 2028, according to BLS data.
  • Budget Analyst: As a budget analyst, you could analyze data, evaluate budget proposals and help governments, nonprofit organizations and private businesses organize their finances. Budget analysts earned a median annual wage of $76,220 in 2018 and jobs for budget analysts are expected to grow 4% through 2028, according to BLS data.
  • Policy Analyst: With a job as a policy analyst, you could work for government agencies and officials, community organizations, research institutions and even lobbying groups to research, evaluate and shape public policy. Public policy analysts earn an average salary of $67,691, according to Glassdoor.
  • Economist: As an economist, you could study the economic impact of public policy on a community, advise businesses and governments on economic topics and recommend solutions to economic problems. Economists earned a median annual wage of $104,340 in 2018. Jobs for economists are expected to grow 8% through 2028, according to BLS data.
  • Compliance Officer: With a job as a compliance officer, you could help a government agency or business examine and evaluate their compliance with laws and regulations. Compliance officers earned a median annual wage of $72,520 in 2018, according to BLS data, with jobs available across many government agencies and business industries.
  • Nonprofit Executive: As a nonprofit manager or director, you could lead a nonprofit organization to improve the lives of people in a community and offer public services that government agencies and businesses don’t provide. Jobs in nonprofit fundraising and public relations are expected to grow 8% through 2028, according to BLS data. Nonprofit directors earn an average salary of $113,722, according to Glassdoor.
  • Consultant: As a consultant, you could use your knowledge of public policy to help businesses navigate local, state and federal laws and industry regulations and assist them in advocating for policy change. Demand for consultants is expected to grow as changing regulations and economic policies force private companies to evolve. Management consultant jobs, for example, are expected to grow 14% through 2028. Management consultants earned a median annual wage of $83,610 in 2018, according to BLS data.

Accelerating Your Public Administration Career 

In addition to earning a master's in public administration, there are plenty of ways to enhance your current career and set yourself apart from other candidates looking for public administration jobs.

Anything you can do to get real world experience and improve soft skills like communication, problem solving and customer service, will be key to getting the most out of a master's in public administration and setting you up for career success, Versuk said.

“Everything kind of boils down to psychology,” she said. “Whether you’re dealing with an upset resident or a victim of gun violence advocating for policy change, your ability to relate to others is so important.”

Joining a professional organization for public administration workers, like the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA), can help you set yourself apart from other job seekers and begin networking within the public administration field.

Volunteering with local nonprofits and community organizations or running for public office in your town or county is a great way to enhance your resume, practice key soft skills and start working toward the common good right away, Versuk said.

No matter what public administration career you end up working in, you’ll be doing your part to improve the community you work in and elevate the common good.

“There’s something for everyone in this field,” Versuk said. “It requires one to learn so much in so many areas and you can know that you're making a difference in your community.”

Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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