Can’t decide whether you should get an MPA or MBA? Before you make your final decision — and drop the cash — consider these factors first.
Stuck deciding between a Master in Public Administration (MPA) and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) is a hard place to be. Although it depends on what you want out of the degree, here are some factors that could help you make the choice to invest upwards of $120K and two years of your life in the hopes of a career-catapulting move. (Click here to tweet this list.)
Research the true return on your investment
It takes anywhere from three to six months to explore your options, take the GRE and finish applications. You pay to up your pedigree, and make no mistake: a university name is something you brand yourself with. It isn’t like the purchase of a car that may last 10 years. The college you choose will be your alma mater for life.
A strong alumni network should be taken into consideration and can be an added value. Universities are seen as their own tribes — in becoming part of one, you’re instantly part of a network of thousands with similar goals, aspirations and outlooks on the world.
The first steps to deciding on an MPA or MBA
- Check into colleges that specialize in your interests and desired networks.
- Attend university info sessions and don’t limit yourself to area colleges. Many great programs are 100 percent online, and that may even — ideally — allow you to work full time while going to school to lessen your debt load.
- Look for grants and scholarships. These are rarer for professional degrees, but if you can find a college that’ll pay your way, go with that.
- Keep your eye on the bottom line. The ROI, whether it be salary or your empowerment to save the world. You don’t need a degree for either of those, but a master’s degree may increase your chances, especially with a career change.
Decide whether you’re mission driven, profit driven or both
Let’s simplify the process with some definitions and uses of these two professional degrees.
Investopedia defines an MPA as a professional “degree in public affairs that prepares recipients of the degree to serve in executive positions in municipal, state, federal levels of government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)” and an MBA as a “graduate degree […] that provides theoretical and practical training to help graduates gain a better understanding of general business management functions.”
Both degrees focus in the management of organizations. But each has pros and cons that could influence your choice.
With MBAs, you’ll pay a prettier penny than an MPA. If you’re more motivated by profit and growth, and if you’re fascinated by the inner workings of economies, finance, operations and customer development of corporations, an MBA may be more in line with what you want.
If you want to step out into the world of entrepreneurship, but would like the formal business background, an MBA may be your best bet to becoming your own boss and creating your own company while minimizing risks. You even have options to customize your program with concentrations in the emerging social enterprise sector and entrepreneurship.
An MPA can be easily described as an MBA for nonprofit and government work. The curriculum tends to cover similar ground, but with a focus in the way these methods apply to the public service sector. This could pigeonhole you if you’d like to go corporate again, but the degrees offer so many of the same courses you can move between the two.
Your MPA may even be preferred in companies with big government contracts. Folks who veer towards MPAs tend to have a stronger interest in politics and public policy — both in creating and executing it.
If you’re mission motivated and want to learn about the way local, state and the federal-level work and use that knowledge to contribute to making government work better, an MPA could be your ticket.
The emerging new economy
It’s important to highlight the emergence of the fourth sector when considering an MPA or an MBA. The new economy predicts that the nonprofit, government and business sectors will collaborate to tackle economic and social problems.
Either an MPA or an MBA can open your mind to these emerging models in the new economy and the doors will follow. You can even do a double masters and get the best of both worlds.
Jillian Jordan is a content developer and brand manager in higher education with a bachelor’s in journalism and a master’s in public administration. She’s a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, has completed a solo trip around the world, wants to crowdfund climate change — and doesn’t find that a lofty goal at all. Find her on Twitter: @Jillisin or @hubandspokecc