Degrees for Public Service Careers

B.A., MPA/MPP, Ph.D: Degrees for Public Service

Public service careers span a wide range of organizations and jobs, including frontline positions in government, senior positions in nonprofit management, and faculty positions in universities. Today’s schools of public administration and public policy offer a range of degree programs to prepare you for launching and sustaining a desirable career in the field. The schools also offer mid-career and executive education programs designed specifically for the ongoing education needs of the working professional.

Master’s Degrees: MPA/MPP

The two most common degrees for professional public service are the Master of Public Administration (MPA) and the Master of Public Policy (MPP), though some schools offer a Master of Public Affairs (MPAff) or a number of similar degrees (MPPM, MPSA, etc). These are terminal degrees, meaning that they are intended for careers that will not require further degrees. Earning an MPA/MPP opens doors to a wide variety of career options.  An MPA/MPP usually requires two years of full-time study, though there are some programs that can be completed in one calendar year.  See the MPA/MPP page for more information and links to school directories.

Ph.D. Degrees

The Ph.D. (or, at some schools, a D.P.A.) focuses on training persons to conduct sophisticated research. Persons earning a doctorate might seek employment in universities, consulting firms and think tanks, or perhaps other job opportunities in public service that require such skills. A Ph.D. is a terminal degree but one that often leads to a very different career track than would an MPA/MPP. Most Ph.D. programs in public administration/public policy do not require prospective students to first earn a Master’s degree.

Bachelor’s Degrees

Many schools of public administration and public affairs also offer undergraduate degrees in public policy or public administration.  A bachelor’s degree alone generally does not qualify a graduate for a professional-level position. Rather, it provides a basic understanding of the field. Click here for a list of undergraduate degree programs offered by NASPAA member schools.


Schools of public affairs, and nine areas program concentrations, are ranked every four years by U.S. News and World Report. The nonprofit associations that sponsor do not endorse or validate these rankings. Those interested in earning a degree in public affairs should consider a wide variety of factors including program focus, cost, and connections to career options.