A public administration degree is more than just a stepping stone to government roles. Instead, it’s an opportunity for those interested in shaping the future through policy-making and finding creative solutions to society’s intricate problems. Being a public service employee may sound unexciting, making the program boring in the eyes of many. But it can be lucrative because there are career paths outside of public service. Indeed, graduates can venture into corporate leadership or put up their own consultancies.
But if you are unsure whether public administration degrees are popular among postsecondary students, consider this: in the academic year 2018-19, 35,177 graduates were conferred the degree (NCES, 2020). Moreover, it is expected that the number of public administration degree graduates will increase by 3.36% in the coming years.
To succeed in the field, you need to have special skills, such as budgeting, business administration, and staff management. You can find out more about this, as well as career paths, cost of education, and prerequisites, below.
Public administration is a field where leaders serve the public for the common good and implement positive changes in communities. Public administration definition covers specializations or niches, such as public policy management, legislative relations and functions, and budget-related roles and tasks (Florida National University, 2021; [email protected], 2021).
Coursework will touch on the different bodies of the government, such as congress, organizational communication, and public sector management. You can expect to learn about torts and contracts and conflict management as well. And depending on the course of your study, you may have discussions in program planning, policy research, and fiscal and accounting management.
Once you graduate with a public administration degree, you can take your studies further and go to law school or graduate and post-graduate studies. But if you want to work, you can become an urban or regional planner, city manager or administrator, budget manager, and more. You can even go into public service as a city or town official.
The cost of college has been rising in the past two decades. This is why it is best to be prepared early by knowing public administration degree tuition. This can help you decide as well whether you will be studying in-state or out-of-state or in a private or public institution.
This table shows the average cost of undergraduate and graduate degrees. You can make a comparison of how much it will cost to go to a private or public school for an associate or bachelor’s degree. The table will also inform you of the potential costs of graduate and post-graduate education.
|Public In-State||Public Out-of-State||Private|
|Associate Degree||$3,570 - $9,289||$13,585 - $20,602||$14,587 - $24,602|
|Bachelor's Degree||$13,770 -$27,218||$18,073 - $34,719||$26,649 - $47,749|
|Master's Degree||$10,552 - $15,900||$18-810 - $23,280||$22,482 - $54,120|
|Doctoral Degree||$13,928 - $41,942||$47,476 - $50,703||$35,766 - $44,990|
|*Values are estimates.|
Yes, a degree in public administration is worth it. There are numerous sectors where you can put your degree into use. In the public service sphere alone, you have plenty of choices. If you decide at a later time that being a public servant is not for you, you can look to other fields, such as news and entertainment. Moreover, careers in public administration have decent starting salaries.
Despite its name, public administration degree programs are not just for people who want to work in the public sector. It is a great starting point as well for students who want to go into the news or entertainment industries, even in law, finance, and other fields. This is because education in public administration allows one to be informed about public policies and the inner workings of the government.
The government is always in need of capable individuals in offices—this does not only mean the mayor’s office and the like. There are seats like those of city administrators, urban planners, budget managers, emergency services administrators, and more. And in the private sector, there are lawyers, conservation scientists, environmental specialists, news anchors, news writers, liaisons, and many others.
Among these roles, urban and regional planners are one of the most in-demand. The occupation is projected to grow by 8% or higher, faster than the national average. Legislators are in demand as well, albeit with a lower job outlook growth of 5% to 7%. Such is the case for environmental compliance inspectors as well (O*NET OnLine, 2021).
Source: BLS, 2021
The position of a chief executive is one of the most lucrative public administration degree jobs. In 2023, the posted median annual wage for the role is $159,144. Urban planners have decent yearly earnings, too: $60,880. The annual take-home pay of environmental compliance officers is not that far behind at $65,556. And entry-level roles like those of court, municipal, and license clerks have a median annual salary of $43,146.
Source: BLS, 2021
There are four public administration degree types. For most jobs in the public and private sectors requiring education in public administration, a bachelor’s degree will suffice. There are, however, high-level positions where a master’s or doctorate are not necessary but are beneficial.
Average time to complete: 2 years
An associate degree in public administration will give students essential skills and knowledge for entry-level positions. With this degree, they can get into local, state, and federal agencies. They can work with community agencies and non-profit organizations, too.
For two years, students will learn about public sector management, human resources management, and budgeting. They will acquire knowledge in government procedures, public service methodologies, and more. To complete their proficiency, they may or may not have a practicum, depending on the institution.
Entry-level jobs: administrative services coordinator, communications supervisor, assessor
Average time to complete: 4 years
Earning a bachelor’s degree in public administration takes an average of four years. The study delves deeper into policy-making and the enforcement of programs in communities. This program will also help you know and understand administrative management, politics, public policy, fiscal budgeting, community dynamics, and government structure. You will also learn how these may interact and affect each other.
A public administration degree curriculum will also introduce you to data and how to analyze both quantitative and qualitative data. Proper communication tactics for information dissemination and negotiation will come up as well. This is especially important when you are convincing your constituents of the advantages of programs your office may implement.
Entry-level jobs: clerical and administrative staff supervisor, budget analyst, social and community service manager
Average time to complete: 2 years
When you get to graduate level, you will gain specialized skills needed to make you more successful in public administration. Thus, a master’s degree program will have you delve deeper into economics, particularly in microeconomics and macroeconomics. You will gain in-depth knowledge of policy design and delivery as well. You can have your choice among public ethics and political institutions, too.
High-level positions: policy manager, budget director, city manager
Average time to complete: 3 years
Getting a doctorate in public administration will have you developing a thorough knowledge of things you may have touched on when you undertook your master’s degree. This program will enable you to have a deeper understanding of the administrative functions of various government agencies. It should also help you in becoming an expert in your area of focus, be it program administration, program evaluation, healthcare systems administration, or administration of justice.
A higher degree in public administration would also come in handy in unprecedented cases, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In the case of Japanese administrators, they crafted the National Resilience Plans for local governments to adopt. Researchers DeWit, Shaw, and Djalante (2020) in their paper “An integrated approach to sustainable development, National Resilience, and COVID-19 responses: The case of Japan” noted how 1,472 cities, wards, and towns adjusted the NRPs to their communities.
“Japan’s integrated solutions show that pandemic response can include accelerated decarbonization and resilient, sustainable development,” the authors noted. Such an unprecedented case makes a doctorate degree valuable in crafting new-frontier policy planning and implementation that can aid your community or constituents in facing critical situations.
High-level positions: education administrator, government researcher, public policy consultant
Average time to complete: 3 months to 1 semester
A certificate in public administration is usually reserved for public employees. This program helps them acquire or polish fundamental skills in public administration. If you undertake a certificate program, you will encounter short classes in organization theory, public administration, budgeting, and human resource management. In the end, you can expect to enhance your skills and knowledge in these areas for you to perform better in your role.
High-level positions: compliance officer, public relations officer, administrative services officer
Public administration degree prerequisites are not as strict as science and maths or other highly specialized majors. But you may still encounter stringent selection processes, so it is best to be prepared with the necessary documentation.
Postsecondary institutions require proof of graduation from a high school for students who want to be admitted to a degree program. Normally, this would be a diploma from an accredited school. Students may also present their official GED certificate. If they do not have either, they can show official documentation of passing a State High School Equivalency exam. But if students are homeschooled, then a certificate is acceptable.
Most universities accept for admission students with a GPA of at least 2.0. Proof of this is required in the form of transcripts. Similarly, if you are a transferee or a graduate of another bachelor’s program, or a holder of an associate degree, then you must present the transcripts from your previous institutions.
Application for admission to a public administration program does not have prerequisite coursework. Intensive classes in English, writing, and maths may have a positive impact on a student’s application, though. Therefore, it will always be at the advantage of a student to take advanced courses in high school that would be in line with a public administration major.
The College Board no longer offers SAT Subject Tests or SAT with Essay (College Board, 2021). However, if the student applicant already has scores from the test, then they should still submit the proper documentation. It will be at the discretion of the college or university whether they will consider the SAT scores.
International students are required to present their TOEFL or IELTS scores. They should have a score of 490 (paper-based) or 163 (computer-based) for the former or 6.5 for the latter. This may vary depending on the higher education institution you want to enroll in, as some may have higher or lower score requirements.
Being good with numbers is a necessary skill for public administration. That is because there are numerous roles where you will be working with accounts and budgets. It may fall into your hands to ensure that everything is balanced. You need to know how to work with paper and electronic spreadsheets and have some familiarity with accounting software, too. While it is not necessary to take up accounting as a second major, it can be beneficial to have an accounting certification online.
You will be in charge of planning and executing projects or policies at some point in your public administration career. To make sure that these are successful, you have to be organized from start to finish. This will entail being aware of the strengths and skills of people in your team so you can assign tasks to the person most suited to handle them. You can further your skills in this area even when you are busy with project management online master’s degree.
Government agencies these days have digital systems for different kinds of work. You have to be adept at cloud computing to be efficient in any task thrown at you and especially when you are serving members of the public. This will also be beneficial to you in case of security threats—familiarity with cloud computing can help you avoid those.
Not all public administration degrees are designed the same way. At their cores, they may have similarities. But they could differ in things like specializations or courses on offer. Because of that, you need to have a set of criteria when making your final selection of institutions.
Public administration covers organization and management, policymaking, and spatial information management. It also has under its umbrella fiscal management, public personnel administration, and public enterprise management. If you intend to focus on one or more areas in your study, it is best to make sure that they are available in the college or university you are considering. You can also look at whether the institution enables you to take courses offered by other departments to complete your major.
The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) is the global accreditor of master’s degrees in public administration and similar areas. If you intend to pursue a master’s degree, then you have to look out for this accreditation.
In the case of bachelor’s and associate degrees, there is no accrediting body. However, you have to be certain that your chosen institution is regionally accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). You can check the school’s status on the CHEA website.
Student-teacher ratio has an effect on the instruction and on the relationships of students with their professors. A low student-to-faculty ratio would allow students to approach their instructors easily. This is because they do not have a great deal of competition for the attention of their professors. With that said, the current average student-teacher ratio is 14:1. This is already acceptable, although lower is still better.
Universities and colleges offer selective financial aid to deserving students. If you meet the criteria, then you should apply for aid as early as possible. However, if this is not the case, then you could still apply for Federal student financial aid. Thus, you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at the soonest possible time.
Basing on the word “public” alone, you might think that this degree’s career pathways only lead to public service. That is not the case, however, as this degree can also be helpful even if you go into the private sector. But if you indeed take the public path, then you can do a lot of good—local, state, and federal government agencies are regularly looking for individuals who have initiative and can institute changes. On the other hand, this degree can be helpful to your private sector career, as it helps inform decisions related to public policies.
Before you jump into it, though, consider whether it is the right degree for you. When you enroll in a public administration program, you will encounter topics such as financial management, policy design and implementation, human resource management, law, and public budgeting. You will deal with numerous kinds of people from all sectors as well. Further, public administration requires confidence in public speaking and grit in negotiation.
You can do further research on other degrees, too, before you make a final decision. For example, there are popular majors that guarantee high salaries right off the bat. That list includes political economy, business analytics, and operations research. These are fields that are somewhat related to public administration, too.