Skip to Content
Resource Articles //

What's the Difference Between an MPA and an MBA?

To choose between Master's in Public Administration and a Master's in Business Administration degree, you need to understand how they’re different.

You may know that you want to go into organizational management, but do you know how to get there? For many, a management career begins with an advanced management degree. Two popular ones are the Master of Public Administration (MPA) and the Master of Business Administration (MBA). Which one is right for you? Here’s how they differ:

Different Focus

When comparing degrees, step one is to look at each degree’s focus of study. While both the MPA and MBA degree are designed to teach organizational management, administration, and upper-level problem-solving, they are fundamentally different at their core.

What's the Difference Between an MPA and an MBA?

If you enter a master’s in public administration program, much of the focus will be on learning how best to manage government and not-for-profit organizations. In a master’s in business administration program, a great deal of your focus will be on profit-driven organizations. This is no minor point. Public administration managers do sometimes work in the private sector, but most work at government and nonprofit organizations where the primary goal is to serve the public. Business managers with an MBA, on the other hand, can sometimes find themselves working for a nonprofit, but for the most part you’ll find them working at companies where the primary goal is to make as much profit as possible. As such, an MPA degree focuses on the ins-and-outs of effectively and efficiently providing a public service, while an MBA degree focuses on the ins-and-outs of effectively and efficiently running a business.

Different Learning Outcomes

Because the general focus of a public administration degree program is so different from a business administration degree program, the courses and eventual learning outcomes are different as well.

In an MPA degree program, you can learn how to:

  • Describe key leadership concepts and theories that can be used to effectively lead and manage in the public sector.
  • Determine appropriate skills needed for participating in and contributing to public and nonprofit policy processes.
  • Critically evaluate strategies for resolving public policy and administration problems in a global economic and political environment.
  • Develop ethical solutions to advance and improve the lives of citizens and organizations.
  • Apply models that represent best practices in utilizing diverse perspectives in local, state, national, and international public agencies.

In an MBA degree program, you can learn how to:

  • Apply an extensive and practical knowledge-base of business theory, tools, skills, practices, and research to the problems and opportunities that are encountered in the 21st-century business environment.
  • Demonstrate effective professional and interpersonal practices essential in business.
  • Develop a range of professional strategies that promote their effectiveness in a business environment.
  • Demonstrate ethical, legal, and responsible behavior and explain the broader role that business has in society and their own responsibilities as a member of the business community and citizens in society.

Additionally, the two degree programs offer quite different specializations. In a top-flight public administration master’s program, you can specialize in such areas as law and public policy, nonprofit management and leadershipemergency management, and policy analysis, among others.

In a business administration master’s program at one of the best business schools, the specialization options will be noticeably different. For example, the areas of focus at top MBA programs often include project management, healthcare management, or human resource management

Different Job Opportunities

Common public administration jobs held by those with an MPA include:

  • City manager
  • Department head
  • Government relations officer
  • Public health administrator
  • Health department manager
  • Budget manager
  • Operations manager
  • Head of a nongovernmental organization (NGO)
  • Human services agency manager

Common business jobs held by those with an MBA include:

  • Project Manager
  • Operations Manager
  • Sales manager
  • IT director
  • Human resources manager
  • Health services manager
  • Entrepreneur
  • Management consultant

How to Earn Your Master’s Degree

While an MPA and MBA are quite different, there’s one thing they share in common: you can earn either from an online university. Why is this important? Because online learning has made it more possible than ever for working professionals to earn an advanced degree.

When you choose an online MPA program or an online MBA program, you’re choosing convenience and flexibility. In an online graduate degree program, you don’t have to drive to a campus or even live near one. Instead, you can complete your coursework from home. Plus, online education allows you to choose when in the day you attend class, giving you the freedom to manage your schedule in whatever way works best for your job and your life.

An online MPA or an online MBA program can make it possible for you to earn the degree you need to become the organizational leader you want to be.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Business Administration degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,