Which Topics Do MPA Curricula Address?

MPA students can expect to spend anywhere from two to three years completing the coursework necessary to acquire their degree, though time constraints may differ for individuals depending on where they are in their respective career paths. Offered at many schools, each MPA program offers a slightly different curriculum. Most programs, however, share some common components. Core Subjects & Topics

Core subjects covered by many MPA programs include Introductory Public Administration, a basic overview of the skills needed to successfully engage with a community or public organization. Public Law, Finance, and Policy branch naturally from this starting point to create a detailed overview of the many arenas in which an MPA graduate is expected to be prepared. Most curricula handle these subjects as separate parts under the umbrella of Public Administration, an MPA student’s central focus.

Statistics and Quantitative Research Methods constitute another arm of many MPA curricula. Knowledge of statistical procedures and standard quantitative processes is essential to operating effectively as a public administrator. The ability to proceed systematically and empirically in the study of social phenomena, especially when combined with statistical or computational techniques, is also a key for any MPA graduate hoping to enter the workforce, whether in the public or private sector.

The final course grouping centers on Human Resources Management and Ethics. These topics serve to educate an MPA student on the inner workings of the types of organizations for which they are likely to work while also providing a framework in which to structure community outreach and interactions. Human Resources Management in particular readies MPA students for precisely the sort of streamlining and assessment necessary to succeed as a public administrator.

Concentrations & Specializations

Following completion of the majority of a core curriculum like those detailed above, MPA students will choose an area of specialization or concentration, depending on their program, to further refine their skills. A specialization or concentration is typically a series or grouping of courses focused closely on a distinct area of Public Administration. Ranging from Healthcare Administration to International Relations, these concentrations help to define the future career of each MPA student. Some examples include:

  • Health Care Administration
  • Criminal Justice
  • Government Information Systems
  • Human Resources Management
  • International Relations
  • Finance
  • Urban Planning
  • Economic development
  • Local Government
  • Environmental Management

Internships & Theses

Most MPA programs require that their participants complete both an internship and a thesis. Internships serve to provide workplace experience to MPA students, cementing their skills in a practical foundation and teaching application in addition to analysis. An internship is an essential component in the curriculum of many MPA programs. Thesis requirements help to codify MPA students’ goals and experiences as well as allow them to focus their attention on a particular area of interest. The thesis also serves as a tool for evaluation by peers and faculty.

These requirements encompass the standard procedures for most MPA programs at American and European schools and universities. Some variations do occur, but the general model holds true across the board. Knowledge of MPA program curriculum requirements is an essential component for acquiring one’s MPA.

  1. Michael Roberts, GovCareers.com MPA Curriculum, 2010. Harvard MPA Curriculum, 2012. Sol Price School of Public Policy MPA Curriculum, 2012.
  2. McComb’s School of Business Internship Requirements, 2012.


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