MBA vs. MPA Programs - Similarities and Differences

Those who want to lead have to be willing to go the extra mile. That is one reason why so many aspiring leaders pursue graduate-level degrees, such as a master’s of business administration (MBA) or a master’s of public administration (MPA). While both degree options offer advanced education in how to run an organization, the two have distinctly separate areas of focus: the private versus public sectors.

An MBA is a versatile degree that spans all facets of the private sector. Students gain a firm understanding of business fundamentals, such as management, economics, finance, and marketing. And depending on one’s concentration, the MBA curriculum may include instruction in healthcare administration, technology, project management, hospitality, or other disciplines to help students understand the core of what makes specific industries run and learn how to lead them best.

MBA graduates use their education to operationalize efficiencies in budget, time, labor, and other resources, usually in the interests of the bottom line and boosted sales. Those with an MBA may go on to be middle and upper management executives at corporations across all industries, as well as investment banks.

An MPA is a more targeted degree. It focuses on the intricate and often labyrinthine operations of the public sector. MPA programs are similar to MBA programs in that they include a background education on management and financial operations, especially as they relate to budget planning, human resources, and funding opportunities. However, most MPA curriculums are heavily focused on social sciences, such as public policy, government, ethics, and law.

MPA graduates use their skills to lead governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and nonprofits. They often go on to work in national, state, or local governments; direct nonprofits and NGOs; or coordinate between intergovernmental offices for social change.

Both MBA and MPA programs prepare students to be leaders, but the differences are more nuanced than the private or public sector differentiation. Admissions requirements, salary potential, and course curriculum can all differ dramatically between the two.

Read on to learn some key similarities and differences between MBA vs. MPA programs.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about how new and aspiring business school students can best plan their education and careers. In the Two Views series, he conducts detailed interviews with recent business school alumni, with a particular focus on the choice between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models. His Femme-BA series highlights business schools that not only excel academically but also take unique and robust steps to support a diverse and inclusive learning environment for women.