Public Administration Education and Career Guide

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Learn How to Become a Public Administrator in 5 Steps

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What is Public Administration?

Public administrators work in government or nonprofit organizations to manage and implement programs that serve the public good. People with a degree in public administration work as managers, administrators, inspectors, fundraisers, investigators, auditors, and analysts.

In this Article

Steps to Become a Public Administrator

Do some research.

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Learn about the jobs you can get in the field—they can be found in both the public and private sector working as budget analysts, urban planners, or even city managers. You can look at job listings at government departments and nonprofit organizations to see what types of careers might interest you. If possible, talk with a public administrator in your local community.

Make sure you meet the requirements of the program you wish to enter.

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Before you decide on a degree program, make sure you've completed any necessary prerequisites. Each college or university has its own admission requirements, but all require a high school diploma or its equivalent. Some require test scores from the ACT or SAT, while others require references or an application essay.

Earn your degree.

row of mortar boards in hands of graduates

Public administration is considered an interdisciplinary degree, meaning it encompasses knowledge and skills from a variety of fields. A bachelor's degree program in public administration may include courses in fields such as sociology, political science, economics, public policy, business management, ethics, communications, and psychology.

Opportunities for internships may also be available for qualified students or graduates. In addition, volunteer work with a nonprofit group or a part-time job with a local government office, such as a parks and recreations department, will help build your qualifications when you begin looking for work.

Start working in the field.

four people at desk listening to man talking

A person with a bachelor's degree in public administration may find a job in a local or state government or in a support role in a governmental department, such as a department of justice, public health, or human rights. Many public administrators work in federal agencies and departments located in Washington D.C. or in branch offices across the country. Nonprofit organizations and private sector businesses also hire people educated in public administration.

Consider furthering your education.

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Many management positions in public administration require a master's degree. The Master of Public Administration (MPA), builds upon your previous education and experience and may allow you to focus on a chosen career path. This postgraduate program can specialize in fields such as health administration, nonprofit management, communication, or criminal justice. An advanced degree may also potentially open doors to a higher salary.

Many colleges and universities offer graduate certificate programs in certain areas such as public health or public policy. A certificate program is for people already working in public administration jobs but want more specialized education. Certified Public Manager is one of the most popular certificates.

How Long is a Public Administration Program?

A bachelor's degree in public administration generally takes four years to complete, but can range anywhere from 18 months to five years, depending on the program and university you choose and whether you are attending part-time or full-time. Online programs tend to take less time because they have accelerated curriculums and year-round schedules. An MPA degree generally takes two to four years to complete.

Bachelor's Degree—Four years

Master of Public Administration (MPA)—Two to four years in addition to a bachelor's degree

Is This Job Right for Me?

Public administrators need good skills in interpersonal communication, organization, and analysis, including statistics, economic analysis, and policy analysis. You should be able to handle many responsibilities and work well with others.

"The ability to work with a team and network is probably the most important skill for a public administrator to have," says Holder. "Being able to build relationships across teams, departments, and agencies makes everything run more effectively."

karen hanson

Written and reported by:

Karen S. Hanson

Contributing Writer

joshua holder

With professional insights from:

Joshua Holder

Marketing and Communications Specialist, School of Public Administration, University of Central Florida

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