Studying Public Administration

I’m interested in studying public administration. What can you tell me?

Public administration is the implementation of government policy in the daily lives of citizens. If you study public administration, you will learn how to manage organizations, to analyze the effects of government policies, and to use business and statistical tools to solve organizational problems. If your career goals are to help run government agencies or nonprofit organizations, you may consider studying public administration. It can be fulfilling to contribute to society through a public administration career. However, if you are not motivated by public service, this may not be the right field for you. Even so, a public administration degree will help you to develop career skills like managing, budgeting and conducting research, which you can use in other fields like business. If you choose to study public administration, your curriculum will draw from related disciplines including political science, business management and administrative law. Because these subjects are complex, you can only study public administration at the bachelors, masters and doctoral levels. In fact, most jobs in public administration will require you to earn a graduate degree.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Brenda Villanueva

Brenda Villanueva

Student, Master of Public Administration,University of Phoenix

“In an online program, having discipline means doing the assignments, responding throughout the week to online discussions and putting in the effort on team projects without being pressured or reminded.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with James Le

James Le

Student, Master of Arts in Social Work with Concentration in Administration and Policy,University of Washington

“Social work is a broad field, ranging from community-centered practice to administration and policy. A social worker can serve as a liasion to neighborhoods and government officials, or provide therapy and counseling for patients in a supervised clinical setting.”Read the Full Interview

Public Administrator Overview

COO,Mary Wideman-WilliamsWatch Her Story
video

What exactly is a public administrator?

Public administrators design and carry out public policies, which are the laws, regulations and priorities that govern an organization’s actions. Although there are many different positions that you can hold in this field, public administrators can be grouped into 2 main categories:

Organizational Managers

Organizational managers oversee government agencies and nonprofit organizations. In this role, they make sure that their organization’s goals are met by organizing their workforce effectively as they manage employees and their projects. They also negotiate employee’s hiring contracts and create and review budgets.

Researchers

Professional researchers use the information that they seek to help design fair and useful public policies. For instance, they research how new laws may affect certain communities based on statistical analysis. They may specialize in specific areas such as environmental or criminal policy. Some public policy researchers work for the government, but there are also research positions available in academia, nonprofit organizations and the private sector.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Rod Gould

Rod Gould

City Manager,Santa Monica

“If you want to improve the safety and quality of life for thousands of people who you will never meet, if you are willing to take some risks, have a thick skin, and can work in a fast-paced and challenging environment, then you might make a very good city manager.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Nathaniel Trives

Nathaniel Trives

Public Administrator,California Commission on Judicial Performance

“The most important trait of a successful public administrator is discipline. As a public administrator, you must focus on goals and commitments, even if that focus demands sacrifice.”Read the Full Interview

Personality Quiz

How do I know if public administration would be a good fit for me?

Here is a quick quiz to help you decide if you have the personality it takes to succeed as a public administrator. Rate, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well each of the following statements describes you.

I care about improving my community and working for the general good of other people.

Public administrators try to create policies that benefit the public. If you want a career that allows you to make a positive impact in people’s lives, you have a key trait of public administrators.

I make careful decisions after considering all of the facts.

The ability to make decisions based only on relevant factors is a valuable skill for any administrator. If you tend to make hasty decisions, you will not be a successful public administrator.

I tend to take on a leadership role when I work in groups.

Public administrators need the ability to lead groups of people to make sure that tasks are completed on time. It is essential that you are willing to lead others if you want to succeed as a public administrator.

I work well under stressful conditions.

The responsibility of meeting policy goals or research deadlines can create significant stress. You will need to find a way to deal with pressure in a healthy way if you want to work in public administration.

I like to solve problems and puzzles.

Public administrators attempt to find solutions to complicated problems. If you like to think about ways to fix problems, you may be well suited for a career in this field.

I can accept suggestions and criticism from others.

It is unlikely that any public policy will be able to meet governmental goals and satisfy all citizens. You will need the ability to accept relevant criticism of your policies in order to succeed as a public administrator.

I am comfortable speaking in public to large groups of people.

As a public administrator, you will need to speak in front of groups to present research findings or hold public meetings. If you are not afraid of public speaking, you will have 1 less challenge to face as a public administrator.

I can read well and easily comprehend what I have read.

Many public administrators are required to read and understand complex legal and technical materials. You should be able to grasp ideas quickly when you read in order to be a public administrator.

I am an organized person and I can keep track of many things at the same time.

Because public administrators manage complex projects and lengthy research studies, they need to be structured and stay on task. If you struggle with multitasking and organization, you will not perform well as a public administrator.

I am persistent and I do not give up easily.

Public administrators are responsible for implementing plans that take a long time to complete. If you have trouble finishing what you set out to do, you will not be a good public administrator.

Get My Score

*Note that this is not a scientific quiz. The result is simply my rough estimate of how well I believe your personality matches that of a successful public administrator.

By my assessment, a career in public administration is probably not a good fit for your personality. Please go to the Admissions Advisor homepage for a listing of other careers you may want to consider.

By my assessment, although a career in public administration may not be an ideal fit for your personality, if you are willing to adapt in a few areas, you can still find success in the field. Please see the list to the right for information on the areas that you may need to work on.

By my assessment, your personality is a good fit for a career in public administration. Scroll through our site to gain valuable insight into what it will take you to earn the necessary credentials.

Making the Right Choice

Is there anything else I should consider in deciding if public administration is the right choice for me?

In addition to personality, you should consider whether you are willing to commit to graduate school, since most public administration careers require graduate degrees. In addition, remember that public administration degrees can lead to opportunities outside of the public sector.

Educational Requirements

Most advanced positions in public administration require masters degrees, which typically require 2 to 3 years of graduate-level education. If you want to begin a career as a public administrator, you should seriously consider whether you are willing to commit to the time and expense of a graduate education. In addition, most masters degree programs in public administration prefer to admit students who have at least 1 year of professional experience working with a government agency or nonprofit. Therefore, you should expect to work before entering a graduate program.

Diverse Career Opportunities

Academic programs in public administration are tailored for students who want to work for the government or nonprofit organizations, but not everyone who studies public administration ends up working in those areas. The research, analysis and management skills that you gain through the study of public administration can also apply to careers in the private sector, such as becoming a business executive or a corporate human resources director.

Public Administration Professions

What public administration professions can I choose from?

Some public administration professions that you can choose from are:

Education Required:

Masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school)

Average Salary:

$69,000

Work Environment:

Government agencies, nonprofit organizations

Job Description:

Public administrator directors are in charge of organizations that affect and benefit the general population, like public works and safety organizations. Directors develop their organization’s public policies and design plans for implementing those policies. They may also help cultivate relationships with other government or nonprofit organizations and the media.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years); masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school) recommended

Average Salary:

$38,860 (Lowest 10% earned less than $16,300; highest 10% earned more than $86,000)

Work Environment:

Government

Job Description:

Legislators develop laws and statutes at the local, state and federal levels. Some of their responsibilities include drafting new laws, analyzing the potential impacts of proposed legislation and negotiating with other legislators. In addition, legislators must listen to the opinions of citizens who may be affected by changes to the law.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years)

Average Salary:

$63,000

Work Environment:

Government agencies

Job Description:

Regulatory affairs specialists investigate whether corporate businesses are complying with the specific laws and regulations that govern their type of business. For example, they are responsible for documenting business processes like audits and relevant inspections, and ensuring that business license renewals have been conducted appropriately.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years)

Average Salary:

$52,700

Work Environment:

Government agencies, corporate businesses, nonprofit organizations

Job Description:

Human resources specialists regulate all of the hiring and employment matters in an organization. Some of their responsibilities include recruiting and hiring new employees, conducting performance reviews and managing employee relationships. They also handle payroll and all duties that are related to compensation.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years); masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school) recommended

Average Salary:

$78,200

Work Environment:

Government agencies, corporate businesses

Job Description:

Management consultants help to resolve organizational and management issues. Consultants are often hired to analyze the structure of organizations and make suggestions about how to increase efficiency and reduce the costs of operation. They may work for a single employer on a permanent basis or they may be hired as contractors for a short time.

Education Required:

Masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school)

Average Salary:

$79,000

Work Environment:

Government agencies, nonprofit organizations

Job Description:

Policy analysts examine the ways that public policies affect real people and communities. They research the effects of policies by gathering data and analyzing it by using statistical methods. Based on their research and analysis, policy analysts make recommendations about how public policies can be improved to better benefit other people.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years); masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school) recommended

Average Salary:

$68,000

Work Environment:

Nonprofit organizations

Job Description:

Nonprofit directors are responsible for managing employees and volunteers in order to make sure that their organizations meet project goals and fundraising milestones. They also perform some public relations duties in order to maintain their organization’s relationship with the media and the government.

Job Outlook

What is the job outlook for public administrators?

State and Local Government Administrators

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups public administrators under the job field of political science for the purposes of documenting national job statistics. According to the BLS, in 2010, there were approximately 5,600 political scientists in the United States. Overall employment of political scientists is expected to increase by about 8% through 2020, which is slower than the projected growth for all occupations.
Profession Employment 2010 Projected 2020 Average Growth
General Or Operations Manager 1767100 1848600 5%
Economist 15400 16400 6%
Education Administrator 32500 36900 14%
Office Manager 1424400 1627800 14%
Legislator 67700 67900 0%
Medical Or Health Services Manager 303000 371000 22%
Administrative Services Manager 254300 291200 15%
Political Scientist 5600 6000 8%

Average Salary Growth 2006 - 2011

Profession 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
General Or Operations Manager 99280 103780 107970 110550 113100 114490
Economist 83500 86700 90830 96320 99350 100270
Education Administrator 71520 74230 77220 80140 81870 82070
Office Manager 46530 47620 48700 49990 50770 52330
Legislator 32730 33880 37980 37530 38470 38860
Medical Or Health Services Manager 81160 84980 88750 90970 93670 96030
Administrative Services Manager 72840 76370 79500 81530 84390 86720
Political Scientist 86370 90050 99320 101050 107930 105040

Salary By Percentile

Profession 10th 25th 50th 75th 90th
General Or Operations Manager $47580 $65980 $95150 $144050 $187200
Economist $50120 $65850 $90550 $122980 $155490
Education Administrator $41040 $55180 $76730 $102070 $128040
Office Manager $30290 $38060 $48810 $63080 $78420
Legislator $16280 $17660 $19630 $56200 $85920
Medical Or Health Services Manager $52730 $67450 $86400 $112260 $147890
Administrative Services Manager $43120 $58540 $79540 $106030 $139170
Political Scientist $47420 $67090 $103860 $136760 $155490

Education Requirements

How long would it take me to become a public administrator?

It takes at least 4 years of school in order to become a public administrator, but it could take up to 8 years. To obtain an advanced position in public administration, you generally will need to earn a bachelors degree, which takes about 4 years, and a masters degree, which takes 2 to 3 more years of graduate school. In addition, you may need at least 1 year of professional experience to be admitted into a public administration graduate program.

Areas of Study

What can I expect to learn while pursuing public administration?

As a public administration student, you can expect to gain both knowledge and skills.

KNOWLEDGE

Organizations

The study of organizations is centered on how and why people organize and assemble into groups and organizations, and how to run these groups successfully. Discussion topics include decision making, leadership, organizational structure and psychology. Specialty courses focus on particular types of organizations such as nonprofits or corporations.

Policy Development

Policy development is about the process of creating important ideals and principles that guide organizations and governments. Students will examine a variety of historical and contemporary groups that have shaped national policy. In addition, this subject addresses how groups of people adopt and implement useful public policy.

Political Process

The political process focuses on the procedures that allow proposed policies to become laws. This subject discusses U.S. legislative processes and the ways that public administrators contribute to them. This area of study closely relates to certain legal areas like administrative law, constitutional law and legal research.

Economics

Economics is the study of the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. It is commonly divided between microeconomics and macroeconomics. Microeconomics focuses on markets and agents within an economy, such as manufacturers and vendors. Macroeconomics deals with issues that affect the whole economy, like unemployment and inflation.

Finance

Finance is the study of money management. Financial knowledge is necessary for public administrators to determine how much money is needed to complete projects and how much money organizations need to pay in taxes. Special topics in this subject area include budgeting and financial analysis.

SKILLS

Leadership

As you study public administration, you will learn leadership techniques. Your courses will teach you how to lead teams of employees and volunteers in order to motivate them to meet specific organizational goals. You will learn to model positive behavior and you will gain a deeper understanding of how people behave under strong leadership.

Problem Solving

As you proceed through your public administration courses, you will learn to solve problems in creative ways. You will be able to identify problems and to look at them from many different angles so that you can determine the best solution as you keep in mind the goals of your organization.

Research and Statistical Analysis

As a public administration student, you will be trained to design research experiments, gather data and compile results for statistical analysis. You will learn the best methods of collecting data and organizing it into useful categories that can be mathematically analyzed. You will also practice scientific tools that can be used to extract information from raw data.

Management

While studying public administration, you will gain management skills that can help you to run an organization. For instance, you will learn about the best hiring practices, how to negotiate employee contracts and how to manage long-term projects. You will also develop an understanding of how to make tough management decisions while sticking to your budget.

Communication

Studying public administration will help you to gain valuable communication tools like negotiation and mediation. You will be trained in ways to effectively solve disputes. For instance, you will learn to mediate disagreements by helping 2 or more parties to compromise on complex issues that they have vested interests in.

Academic Degrees

What academic levels are available in the field of public administration?

You can earn degrees in public administration at the bachelors, masters and doctoral level. You will likely need a masters degree to advance in a public administration career. But a bachelors degree is sufficient for many entry-level government positions.

Select the degree level you are interested in:

  • Bachelor’s
  • Master’s
  • Doctorate

Bachelors Degree

A bachelors degree in public administration will help you to secure an entry-level job with the government, but the majority of advanced positions require a masters degree. Although few schools offer bachelors degrees in public administration, many schools allow undergraduates to major in closely related fields like public affairs and public policy.

What are the different types of bachelors degrees that I can earn in public administration?

Bachelor of Arts BA

A BA focuses more on liberal arts, so you can explore other academic areas in addition to public administration. The BA is preferable if you want to go on to graduate school in the future.

Bachelor of Science BS

A BS has more science and mathematics courses, which will give you a technical background. The BS is preferable if you want to get an entry-level job in public administration.

How long will I have to study to earn my bachelors degree in public administration?

Bachelors degrees in public administration and related fields usually require students to complete 120 to 130 credit hours. Most students are able to complete bachelors degree programs in about 4 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my bachelors degree in public administration?

The exact course requirements will vary depending on your program. However, most undergraduate public administration programs require you to take courses in economics, government, leadership, law and research design. You can also choose to take elective classes, which could include courses like environmental planning, nonprofit management and public health policy.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a bachelors degree in public administration?

Most careers in public administration require a graduate degree. But a bachelors degree can qualify you for entry-level positions as a policy research associate or administrative assistant at a government agency. In addition, the skills that you develop while pursuing a BA or BS in public administration will also help you find entry-level positions with private businesses. For instance, you may be qualified to work in human resources or as a regulatory affairs specialist.

What should I consider when deciding upon a school to earn my bachelors degree in public administration?

Very few schools offer bachelors degree programs in public administration, so you should look for related programs in public affairs and public policy. Then you should choose a program that has a focus that matches your career goals. For example, if you are interested in managing government programs, make sure that your bachelors degree program includes courses on leadership, management and finance. On the other hand, if you are interested in a research career, you should find a program that offers courses in statistics, economics and research design.

What about getting an online bachelors degree in public administration?

An online public administration bachelors degree is a viable option, especially if you do not plan to attend graduate school. Most bachelors degree programs in this field focus on theory, which is possible to learn through an online public administration school. But if you decide to pursue your public administration bachelors degree online, you should look for schools that offer internships. Internships will enhance your resume by proving that you have work experience in your field, which is even more important if you attend an online public administration program.

Masters Degree

A masters degree in public administration is a graduate-level degree that will greatly increase your job prospects in the field. For most public administration careers, you will not need to continue your education beyond a masters degree.

What are the different types of masters degrees that I can earn in public administration?

Master of Public Administration MPA

The MPA program focuses on developing organizational management skills. This option is the best choice if you want to manage a government or a nonprofit organization.

Master of Public Policy MPP

The MPP program trains students to research, analyze data and make policy recommendations. This option is best if you want to research for nonprofit or government organizations.

Master of Public Affairs MPAff

The Master of Public Affairs program is similar to the MPA and MPP programs. Some programs focus more on management while others are more research-oriented.

Master of Business Administration MBA

The MBA program trains students in business skills such as finance, accounting, management and human resources. This option is best if you want to pursue a business career in the private sector.

How long will I have to study to earn my masters degree in public administration?

Most masters degree programs that are related to public administration require students to complete 48 to 72 credit hours. Students are usually able to complete their degrees in about 2 to 3 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my masters degree in public administration?

Your course requirements will depend on your specific area of specialty. Some of the common courses in public administration masters degree programs are management, leadership, statistics, economics and finance. Additionally, many programs require you to complete an internship with a government agency or nonprofit organization.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a masters degree in public administration?

A masters degree opens up most of the careers paths in public administration. You can work as a legislator, executive director of a nonprofit, government consultant or human resources manager. A masters degree is also sufficient for many research positions, although academic research and teaching positions at colleges and universities require a doctorate.

What should I consider when deciding upon a school to earn my masters degree in public administration?

Choosing a school for your masters degree depends on your career plans. You should consider the following factors when deciding upon a school:

Course Offerings

Many schools that offer MPA, MPP or Master of Public Affairs programs only offer 1 of the degrees, but not all 3. So, you will need to look at the curriculum of each program to determine if its focus matches your interests. If the core courses focus on management and leadership, the program will prepare you for a career managing public organizations. On the other hand, if the coursework is centered on research methods and analysis, that program is better if you are interested in a policy research career.

Accreditation

You should also check to see whether the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) accredits the programs that you are considering. The NASPAA accredits masters degree programs in public administration after reviewing them to make sure that they are high quality. Although most employers do not require that you attend a NASPAA-accredited program, accreditation is a convenient way to know that a program will provide you with a solid education that is respected in the field.

What are the requirements for admission into a masters degree program in public administration?

Most public administration masters degree programs admit students who have bachelors degrees in a wide variety of fields, including political science, English, public health, economics and engineering. You should take courses in statistics and algebra, which are prerequisites for some masters programs. Some programs also require that students have at least 1 year of relevant professional work experience with a government agency, policy group or other organization.

What about getting an online masters degree in public administration?

An online public administration masters degree is a good choice for some students. But if you are considering earning your public administration masters degree online, you should keep in mind that you will miss out on some of the practical experience that you would gain in a traditional program. That may not matter to you if you are already established in your career, because an online public administration program will help improve your management and research skills without requiring you to take time off of work. On the other hand, if you are just starting out in the field, it may not be a good decision to attend an online public administration school. If you only study online, you will not benefit from in-person training in skills like negotiation and mediation, which are difficult to learn without practical experience.

Doctorate

Doctorates in public administration are less common than masters degrees. A doctorate is necessary for university and college teaching positions as well as some senior research careers.

What are the different types of doctorates that I can earn in public administration?

Doctor of Philosophy PhD

A PhD in public administration focuses heavily on developing research and teaching skills. A PhD is preferable if you plan to enter academia or to work in an advanced research position.

Doctor of Public Administration DPA

DPA programs are less common than PhD programs. They train students in the practical application of theory and research. If you plan to pursue a management career, a DPA is the best option.

How long will I have to study to earn my doctorate in public administration?

Doctoral programs in public administration typically require students to earn 72 to 90 credit hours. Most students can finish their doctoral degree programs in 4 to 7 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my doctorate in public administration?

Your courses may vary according to your school. But typically, about half of the course requirements for doctoral students focus on core public administration subjects including public policy, management, economics, research methods and statistics. You will select the rest of your courses from your area of specialization. Doctoral students can specialize in broad areas like public policy, management or related fields like the environment or healthcare.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a doctorate in public administration?

A doctorate in public administration qualifies you to be a professor at colleges or universities. You can also secure a position as a nonprofit executive director, high-level policy researcher or elected government official.

What should I consider when deciding upon a school to earn my doctorate in public administration?

When you are looking for a doctorate-level public administration program, you should look for schools that will allow you to specialize in the area that interests you. For instance, some people choose to concentrate their studies on certain areas, like management or environmental policy. But not all programs offer courses in every possible concentration. Therefore, you should check the curriculum of the schools that you are considering before you commit to a program so that you can be sure that you will be able to study what interests you.

What are the requirements for admission into a doctorate program in public administration?

Most doctoral programs in public administration do not require you to have a masters degree, but you do need to hold a bachelors degree. If you do not have a masters degree, your chances of admission will be better if you have established a career in public administration.

What about getting an online doctorate in public administration?

There are a number of online public administration doctorate programs available. However, you should not attempt to earn your public administration doctorate online. Online public administration degrees are not recommended at this level of education because it is very difficult to conduct research and form a relationship with your faculty advisors over the computer. Also, since the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration does not accredit any online public administration doctorate programs, it will be difficult for you to determine whether specific online programs are reliable.

Questions & Answers

Select a category to find answers to your questions

Resources

What are some other resources that can help me learn more about pursuing a degree in public administration?

Alliance for Nonprofit Management

The American Society for Public Administration

The Association for Public Policy and Management

National Academy of Public Administration

National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration

Phi Alpha Alpha Public Affairs and Administration Honors Society

Public Administration Theory Network

PublicServiceCareers.org

United Nations Public Administration Network

International Journal of Public Administration