Everything You Need to Know About a Career in Public Administration

The field of public administration — or administrative services — focuses on the formation and management of public agencies. Public administration studies focus on issues such as public resources, accountability, and the description, analysis, solutions and synthesis of contemporary management problems in criminal justice agencies. Public administration careers also exist at every level of government.

Also, a “new” public sector is defined as: government, Nonprofits/NGOs, international, consulting and education. Many people today move from one sector to another as they tackle the challenging issues that define the public agenda. Some of the major issues include:

  • Climate change and underlying causes
  • Food and water supplies in underdeveloped nations
  • Securing the U.S. and other countries against terrorism
  • Helping to transition incarcerated individuals back into society
  • Tackling the global HIV/AIDS issue
  • Providing paths for quality education and health care to children in poverty
  • Providing new economic resources to urban areas in transition

These issues are just a small piece of the entire picture, as public administrators seek to implement programs without raising taxes. Further, public administration should be politically neutral, as jobs within this sector may cross over the lifespan of several government administrations. Finally, public administration might value people over productivity.

What This Job Entails

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people in public administration jobs analyze information, oversee expenditures, draft and implement governmental and public policy, manage people and resources, conduct safety inspections, investigate suspected criminal activity, serve as consultants, and in general act as stewards of the public interest.

Since public administrator positions vary from state to state, a person with a degree in public administration might look at city or state employment job lists or government records to find more accurate job descriptions. For instance, in Nevada, a job listing [PDF] for public administrator combines those skills with that of an estate investigator. The job listing is specific about the skills and education required for this position, although it does not list a salary.

Other specific public administration job titles include Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Inspector, auditor, city manager, consumer safety inspector, county manager, criminal investigator, customs inspector, industrial relations specialist, internal security inspector, labor management relations specialist, mediator, private investigator and systems analyst.

Many graduates work for government agencies and nonprofit groups, but there are also positions available in private business, schools and think tanks. Graduates of a degree program in Public Administration might be found working as human health care managers or administrators, human resources managers or in executive governmental positions such as city manager. Some public administrator jobs combine skill sets, as noted above.

The American Society for Public Administration, in partnership with the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) and the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM), recently unveiled a new career web site, PublicServiceCareers.org. This site offers plenty of career advice and articles, personal profiles on accomplished public servants, information on graduate degrees (MPA & MPP) as well as information on key events in the world of public service.

Educational Requirements

While public service careers span a wide range of organizations and jobs, most public service education includes learning about public policy, organizational theory, economics, political science, management, accounting, sociology and psychology.

The number of bachelor’s degrees in public administration/public policy has been increasing over the past two decades, as has the number of available minors in the field. The advantage of an undergraduate program is the ability to take a sequence of courses related to a specific issue. Also, if students want to pursue further education, a gap between practice at the bachelor’s degree level and a graduate degree may provide a bridge between theory and practice.

The master’s programs in public administration include the Master of Public Administration (MPA) and the Master of Public Policy (MPP). Other well-known professional degrees of similar status are the MBA (business), JD (law), MD (medicine), MSW (social work) and MPH (public health). International, non-U.S. versions of the MPA often contain a business component, making the degree more similar to an MBA. MPA/MPP degrees usually require four semesters of course work and a summer internship.

If you wish to pursue further education, the PhD is a terminal degree but one that often leads to a very different career track than would an MPA/MPP. Most PhD programs in public administration do not require prospective students to first earn a master’s degree. There are certain career tracks outside of higher education that expect the persons in those positions to have earned the PhD, which are much more competitive than for an MPA/MPP.


According to the BLS, administrative service managers’ wages vary greatly depending upon the employer, the specialty, and the geographic area. In general, however, median annual wages of salaried administrative services managers in May 2008 were $73,520. If you follow the BLS link, you’ll see that — despite the heavy emphasis on public administration jobs within the government — administrators who work for private companies may earn more money.

While the BLS link goes into great details about monies earned by administrative services managers, this material does not specifically address public service managers. Additionally, PayScale offers little information for individuals who hold an MPA degree. They do state that, while job opportunities at NGOs may have diminished recently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a greater increase in jobs in government than the private sector over the next five years.

Simply Hired, a job search site, takes public administrator positions logged in its database to create an average salary for this position. Currently, this job site shows that public administrators earn an average of $55,000 per year.


Individuals who seek jobs in public administration might think ahead about where they want to work and search for job opportunities in that area before pursuing higher education. The skill sets involved in these jobs vary widely, and a person who has a firm education in administration and a background in public service has a higher chance of obtaining those positions. However, looking ahead at job requirements can put anyone in the position of achieving that dream job with confidence.

Schools with online MPA Programs

University of Southern California Master of Public Admin University of Southern California – A nation-wide leader in education, USC gives students an opportunity to obtain an accredited Masters degree in Public Admin. This degree is available in both online and campus courses, giving students the choice that best fits their situation and schedule. This program is designed for students who want to become public administrators or other high level leadership positions.
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Purdue University Master of Public Admin Master of Public Health Purdue University – Purdue University’s accredited online Masters in Public Administration degrees are designed for those that want to become a public administrator, while the other for those that want to enter governmental management or public health. Both are fully online degrees that can be completed relatively quickly and on your own schedule. These positions are centered in an industry always seeking highly-skilled individuals.
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George Washington University MPS Political Management George Washington University – The MPS in Political Management degree at George Washington University is available through accredited online and campus classes. The online courses can be completed at a pace that is comfortable to you and in an environment of your choosing. Moreover, the assignments can be worked on any computer - no special software needed - at home, at school, or even on the go.
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Northcentral University MBA Public Admin DBA Public Admin Northcentral University – Northcentral University has a Masters of Nonprofit Management that focuses on teaching students the core competencies needed for leadership and administration positions, like communication, task prioritization, project management and organization, planning, and human interaction skills. This degree, through online programs, can be completed in only 18 months and can be worked on from any computer, no special software required.
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Syracuse University Executive Master of Public Administration Syracuse University – Syracuse University offers multiple online masters in public administration programs that are fast-paced and convenient. Their online programs are designed for those who want to pursue high level public administration positions like a governmental administrator, enter emergency preparedness and response, or join homeland security. Students will learn and develop core skills necessary to become the leaders of the future.
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Seton Hall University Master of Public Administration Seton Hall University – Seton Hall University offers two online masters in public administration degrees. The first is designed for those that want to become a public administrator, whereas the second is designed for those that want to influence public policy. The curriculum in both degrees is created to reflect the current environment in order to give students key qualifications needed to take on positions in the field.
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Achieve Test Prep Master of Public Administration Achieve Test Prep – We can help you earn your business administration or management degree online in 1/2 the time and cost of traditional schools. With our Live, teacher led-online classes and our test-out program, we’ll prepare you to pass just 1 exam and earn credit for a full semester-long college course! No big boring-expensive textbooks or college papers, or busywork or group projects. Improve knowledge in subjects such as management, business communication, psychology, and finance. The degree covers fundamental business skills you need to get a better job.
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