MBA vs. MPA: Choosing Your Professional Path

Published on: June 24, 2024

Pursuing leadership positions in business requires you to invest a certain amount of time and energy into your career. For many, a graduate degree can provide the competitive advantage when it comes to securing these senior-level roles. If you are trying to decide if a graduate degree is right for you, then you may find yourself considering a business administration degree or a public administration degree.

By comparing the MBA vs. MPA, you will be able to select the graduate degree program that aligns with your personal strengths, passions and career goals, ultimately allowing you to prepare for the specialized positions that you are most interested in.

Understanding the MBA Program

A Master of Business Administration degree, or MBA, is one of the most sought-after graduate degree programs around the world. According to Investopedia, this graduate degree program provides aspiring business leaders with the practical and theoretical training needed to pursue management-level positions in their chosen industry. It’s a broad-spectrum degree program that covers a wide range of advanced business topics, including marketing, finance, human resources, business theory and more. Depending on the university that you attend, you may be able to specialize your MBA degree and focus on a specific concentration.

Understanding the MPA Program

A Master of Public Administration degree, or MPA, is a graduate degree program ideal for business professionals interested in elevating their career in public affairs. It is primarily sought after by those considering municipal positions or nonprofit management positions. This degree program is considered to have the same prestige in the public sector as the MBA has in the private sector. The degree program focuses on policy development and program implementation, and there are opportunities available to specialize within this graduate degree program as well.

Key Differences Between MBA and MPA

As you consider the various leadership careers in the private sector vs. public sector, you will want to understand the key differences between the MBA and MPA. Both graduate degree programs will provide you with a rigorous academic curriculum as well as leadership skill development, but the focus of each program is distinctly different, making it important to choose the right one for your desired career path.

MBA Curriculum Focus Areas

The MBA curriculum focuses primarily on advanced business topics, such as:

  • Business Analytics
  • Finance
  • Human Resource Management
  • Innovation
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Project Management
  • Information Systems

In addition to covering in-depth and intuitive business strategies, the MBA degree program also focuses on soft skill development. The goal of the program is to develop future business leaders, which is why there is an emphasis on strategic thinking skills, conflict resolution in the workplace, organizational structure, communication and collaboration.

MPA Curriculum Focus Areas

The MPA curriculum, on the other hand, focuses less on business topics and more on policy development, analysis and program implementation. Coursework within the MPA curriculum is likely to focus on:

  • Political Science
  • Policy Analysis
  • Leadership and Management

In addition to these topics, which are particularly relevant in public sector careers, the MPA program also emphasizes soft skill development, similar to the MBA. Graduates from this program will leave with well-developed set of strategic thinking skills, conflict resolution strategies, communication and collaboration skills.

Career Opportunities and Trajectories

Due to the distinct differences in the MBA vs. MPA degree programs, most graduates pursue career paths that are independent of one another. For the most part, those who earn an MBA will go on to pursue leadership positions in the private sector, whereas those who earn an MPA will focus on public sector careers, such as those in nonprofit management.

MBA Career Paths

Common careers with an MBA include:

  • Business Operations Manager — The scope of the MBA degree program uniquely prepares graduates for business management positions, allowing them to have an in-depth understanding of organizational structure that makes them well-suited to these career opportunities.
  • Financial Analyst — An individual who earns an MBA with a finance focus may pursue a position as a financial analyst. This position requires candidates to provide financial advice and guidance, and to rely heavily on financial data to make strategic predictions about the best possible investments for their clients.
  • Project Manager — Project managers are professionals responsible for overseeing a project from start until finish, often creating the timeline, budget and tasks that need to be performed. The broad scope of the MBA curriculum combined with the skill development that takes place throughout the program makes it a particularly valuable degree for those interested in project management.

MPA Career Opportunities

Some of the common careers with an MPA include:

  • Urban Planner — MPA graduates interested in developing and growing their local communities may pursue an opportunity as an urban planner. Urban planners work to strategically design plans for communities, which may include growing and expanding a community or revitalizing spaces for public use.
  • Nonprofit Executive Director — An executive director of a nonprofit organization is responsible for providing high-level oversight that ensures that the nonprofit raises the funding necessary to provide its designated services.
  • Public Affairs Specialist – A public affairs specialist is a professional who works in the public sector and designs programming, media events and communications materials to promote the work of a particular individual or organization. Their goal is to increase exposure while also raising awareness.

Financial Considerations and ROI

Pursing any kind of graduate degree is an investment of your time and financial resources, but most students find that their investment pays off significantly. Not only will an MPA or an MBA degree provide you with an opportunity to earn a higher salary over the course of your career, but it will also give you the ability to seek management-level positions that will be more personally and professionally rewarding.

Who Should Pursue an MBA?

An MBA is an educational qualification desired by many of the top business organizations around the world, making this the ideal graduate degree for any professional looking to advance their career and pursue leadership positions in business.

You should pursue an MBA if:

  • You currently work in the private sector and are interested in leadership in business.
  • You would like to specialize in a particular area and focus on a business niche.
  • You want to build on your existing skills and develop the most critical leadership skills for business professionals.

Who Should Pursue an MPA?

An MPA is an educational qualification that, within the public sector, is the equivalent of an MBA. Government organizations, municipalities and nonprofit organizations prefer to hire candidates with an MPA for their high-level, leadership positions.

You should pursue an MPA if:

  • You currently work in the public sector and are interested in pursuing leadership positions in government or nonprofit management.
  • You would like to specialize in a particular area, such as economic development, policy or nonprofit management.
  • You want to build on your existing skills and develop the core competencies required of skilled public sector leaders.

Decision-Making Factors: MBA vs. MPA

In addition to comparing your private sector vs. public sector career options, you will want to consider the following factors before deciding on a graduate degree program:

Benefits of an MBA

An MBA is a dynamic degree program that offers graduates many benefits. After completing your MBA degree, you may be eligible for a number of high-level positions in business, including executive positions. In most cases, you will be able to pursue a management position that offers a higher salary or better benefits package, allowing you to increase your earning potential over the course of your career. In addition, it allows you to explore niche areas of business and personalize your career path.

MBA Admission Requirements

MBA admission requirements will vary based on the individual university, but you will need to have a bachelor’s degree in a business-related field as well as some professional experience before pursuing your MBA degree. The university that you are applying to may also have minimum GPA requirements in place.

Benefits of an MPA

An MPA is an engaging degree program ideal for professionals who work in the public sector and who want to elevate their career. By offering opportunities for specialization, this degree program allows candidates to customize their career path and prepare for niche opportunities in the public sector. Many graduates find that the MPA degree allows them to pursue higher-level positions that offer an increased salary, making it a worthwhile investment in their career.

MPA Admission Requirements

Similar to the MBA, the MPA admission requirements will vary based on the individual university. However, most applicants will need to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field as well as some professional experience. There may be minimum GPA requirements in place as well, depending on the university.

Expedite Your Path Toward Leadership in Business at Park University

At Park University, we provide our students with opportunities to take control over their careers and maximize their investment in their education. Not only do we offer an online MBA degree program and an online MPA program, but we also offer an innovative 4+1 pathway that allows bachelor’s-seeking students to expedite their path toward a master’s degree. With an unparalleled level of support and state-of-the-art resources available to all our students, we can provide you on the path to leadership in business.

Request more information about our online degree programs today.

Park University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Park University is a private, non-profit, institution of higher learning since 1875.