How to Enter the Growing Field of Public Administration

Take a look at some interesting degree programs and career paths in this increasingly important profession

By Greg Scott Neuman
Posted 2012

Public Administration Degrees and Careers
Public Administration Degrees and Careers

The field of public administration (PA) – also called public policy or public affairs – deals with implementing programs for various organizations that operate in the public sector. The vast majority of PA professionals are civil servants who work at the local, state or federal level. However, some are employed by nonprofit groups unconnected to government.

Careers in public administration generally require a public administration degree. Credentials in other fields, such as business administration or human resources, are appropriate starting points for some PA jobs, but majoring in public administration gives you a skill set specifically designed for the profession. So which degree should you pursue, and what type of employment should you look for after graduation?

Public Administration Degrees

To enter the field, a Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration (BPA) is recommended. BPA programs are interdisciplinary, drawing from disciplines as diverse as anthropology, economics and political science. Coursework typically includes classes in ethics, leadership, macroeconomics, microeconomics, public finance, public management, and research methods and statistics. Earning your BPA usually takes about four years of full-time study.

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If you want to advance into high-level management or policy-making PA positions, completing a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) program is often necessary. Coursework is rigorous and specialized, allowing you to concentrate on a specific aspect of public administration like community development, education, environmental policy, public health or transportation. Your MPA will require about two years of post-baccalaureate study to finish.

Public Administration Careers

Employment in this field is widely varied, encompassing many human resources, human services and administrative positions in government bodies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofit groups. Some positions available to PA professionals include auditor, city manager, consumer safety inspector, customs inspector, industrial relations specialist, labor relations specialist and mediator.

Here’s a look at a few specific PA jobs:

1. Public relations managers and specialists. In the PA sector, public relations professionals help governments, NGOs and nonprofits protect and strengthen their public image. This can include writing press releases, directing outreach programs and raising funds. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data indicates that public relations managers and specialists had a median annual salary of $57,550 in 2010 and estimates 21% growth in those professions through 2020.

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2. Social workers. PA social workers often pursue a double major (social work and public administration) or earn a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work (BSW) followed by an MPA. They are generally direct-service social workers, helping people deal with problems like financial difficulty, family strife and lack of work or housing. According to the BLS, social workers earned a median annual salary of $42,480 in 2010 and can expect a 25% increase in available jobs through 2020.

3. Urban and regional planners. These professionals create plans and programs that detail how land is used. This includes designing communities, preparing for future growth and revitalizing areas suffering from economic and social decline. The BLS reports that urban and regional planners earned a median annual salary of $63,040 in 2010, and expects to see about 16% growth in the field through 2020.

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