Choosing Your Path:
MBA vs. MPA
From course focus and education outcomes to career opportunities and earning potential, compare and contrast an MBA and an MPA, gather useful resources, and pick your path to a career in organizational administration
Shannon Lee has been a freelance writer, editor, and novelist for over 25 years. Her work has appeared on Fox Business, Forbes, MSN, Bob Vila, Modernize, Nashville Scene, MoneyGeek, MVP Parent, and many other outlets; her writing on home improvement led to an editorial position with The Spruce in 2021. She's written extensively on higher education, relationships, and the intersection of technology, health, and medicine. When she's not freelancing, Shannon also writes fiction novels.
You’ve earned your bachelor’s degree, and you know you want a career in management. But how do you pick the right master’s for your future career goals? A Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) share a number of similarities and both degrees can lead to fulfilling and lucrative careers; however, there are defining features that set these two paths apart. While both degrees focus on organizational management, one prepares students for high-level careers in the private sector while the other readies students for work in the public, or non-profit, sector. If you have an idea of your career goals, but aren’t exactly sure which path you should take to get there, keep reading to learn how to align your passion and philosophy with a degree that works for you.
The Basics: MBAs & MPAs
MBA and MPA degrees might have quite similar acronyms, but they are intended for two very different career paths. However, there might be situations where a prospective graduate student will have a tough time choosing one over the other. Let’s learn what makes these two degrees unique.
Weighing Your Options: MBA vs. MPA
Now that you have a good overview of the difference between MPA and MBA degrees, it’s time to take a closer look at how these differences can affect your career choices and goals.
There are a few classroom similarities between MPA and MBA programs, especially when students choose a particular concentration. But much of the curriculum will be different, in both subject matter and method used to learn the concepts, theories, and skills. Here’s what you need to know.
Functional, primary skills are those that a person can put to work right away in their new career. The MPA and the MBA each teach similar yet different skills. Here’s what to expect.
Even though there is some overlap between MBA and MPA programs, they each offer advantages for those interested in careers in certain organizations. Let’s look at why one degree is generally going to be a better suited for students who have specific occupational goals.
Salary & Career Growth
No matter which degree you choose, it’s reasonable to expect to have a noticeably larger paycheck after you graduate in a position that takes advantage of your MBA or MPA degree. Check out the management and finical positions below.
|Job Growth Rate (2018-2028)
|Top executives prepare, develop, and execute the strategic decisions for an organization. Responsibilities may include management of lower level executives, supervision of organization programs, and improvement of operations efficiency.
|Human Resource Manager
|The mission of a human resource manager revolves around the management of an organization’s personnel. Duties may include monitoring hiring activities, resolving employee disputes, and improving workforce efficiency.
|Accountant and Auditor
|The primary task of accountants and auditors is to create and review financial data and records. They may also ensure the accuracy and reliability of financial information and identify potential tax implications of business decisions.
|Job Growth Rate (2018-2028)
|Political scientists examine political theories, systems, and concepts through the creation of research, collection of information, and analysis of data.
|Social and Community Service Manager
|Social and community service managers work in community and social service organizations to oversee and coordinate program objectives and administrative goals.
|Urban and Regional Planner
|The primary goal of an urban and regional planner is to work with government officials and private companies to develop land use programs and strategies.
Personal Philosophies & Career Goals
Before you choose the path you’re going to pursue, it’s important to understand the factors that important to you. From philosophy to career goals, let’s breakdown the considerations you should keep in mind.
Philosophy: MPA vs. MBA
Profitability vs. Social Good
What’s your passion? If you are interested in organizational growth and increasing shareholder value, then an MBA might be the right choice. In contrast, if a social cause or political belief is what drives you, consider getting an MPA. This isn’t to say that someone earning an MPA doesn’t care about financial numbers or someone studying for an MBA only cares about money. But not everyone will have the same level of interest in all organizational missions, so carefully weigh what’s most important to you.
Government vs. Private Industry
In many cases, the government workplace can be very different than that of a private employer. From the pace of work to employer philosophy and organizational culture, there’s a different dynamic between working for a private corporation and working for the government. No work environment is inherently better than the other, just different. Which do you prefer?
Numbers vs. Ideas
Because public sector organizations aren’t primarily motivated by money, they have other ways of measuring success. Some people might prefer looking at financial statements or some other concrete measure of accomplishment. While these individuals can certainly find fulfilling work outside private business, they may not appreciate less tangible forms of goal measuring often associated with beliefs or ideas.
Career Goals: MPA vs. MBA
Private Sector vs. Public Sector
The organization choice may be one of the biggest reasons to opt for one degree over the other. While there is much overlap in where an MBA or MPA graduate can work, getting an MBA makes it more likely someone will end up in the private sector, and an MPA means there’s a greater chance someone will work in the public sector.
Salary vs. Benefits
There are many exceptions, but there is a general trend for higher salaries in the private sector, but more generous benefits in the public sector, especially with state and federal government jobs. For those who prefer higher cash compensation, an MBA might make more sense than someone who appreciates better insurance and retirement benefits or more paid leave.
Theory vs. Practice
The missions and goals of many public sector organizations are often hard to measure and fully achieve. For instance, an organization may exist to change a certain law or way of thinking in society. While there is plenty of practice necessary in achieving this goal, there will be more work relating to developing an idea. This may require research or a new way of examining an existing issue. In contrast, many for-profit companies focus on tangible outcomes. This means there is greater emphasis placed on results and what needs to be done to get those results.
1American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM): AAHAM works on behalf of various healthcare professionals in an advocacy and professional development role.
2American Society for Public Administration (ASPA): The mission of the ASPA is to advance various public and non-profit organizations and causes. They offer a number of resources including networking opportunities for students and professionals.
3Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM): With its mission focused on advancing the field of public policy, the APPAM works by promoting research and assisting in public policy education, including the operation of a mentor matching program for students.
4Forté: Even though Forté is tailored to helping women succeed in business, it has plenty of information that can help anyone make a more informed decision about getting an MBA degree.
5Grammarly: This is a free resource (although paying will provide additional features) to help improve the quality of your writing by finding grammar mistakes or offering tips to make good writing better.
6Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA): The NASPAA creates standards of public service academics, including accrediting master’s level public administration and related programs.
7O*NET OnLine: O*NET is a comprehensive occupational resource where users can learn more about almost any career or industry, including its skill, knowledge, and education requirements.
8Stacy Blackman Consulting – Blog: Stacy Blackman Consulting is an MBA admissions consultant, but they offer a very informative blog with MBA advice that’s updated several times each week.
9U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook: This is one of the best resources for learning about potential careers and professions. Users can learn about what it takes to launch a career, income data, job growth data, and where to get more information.
10U.S. News and World Report (USNWR) Best Graduate Schools: USNWR is best known for its rankings of schools, but they also offer academic information to make comparing schools much easier.