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Master of Public Administration (On-Campus)

Portia Polk, SPA/MPA '18
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Leading with Integrity and Distinction

The mission of the nationally-ranked Master of Public Administration (MPA) at the AU School of Public Affairs is to prepare students to lead with distinction in programs that serve the public good, both in the U.S. and abroad. Accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), our program delves into the prime components of leadership in public and nonprofit organizations, the realm of public policy, and the analysis of issues critical to public administration today.

Tailored to Your Goals

AU’s MPA program offers a flexible learning environment that allows you to align your degree with your interests. Some of our eight concentrations offer optional focus fields that allow for even further specialization. These personalized toolkits build upon and showcase areas of expertise on your resume, online portfolios, LinkedIn, and other social media profiles.

Access Powerful Networks

You’ll learn from world-renowned scholars whose expertise spans public administration, management, and policy. Our students master contemporary administrative, management, and leadership best. They hone their analytical, decision-making, and communication skills, and learn to navigate organizational, human resource, and budgetary challenges while managing complex programs. What’s more, AU’s prime location in the nation’s capital offers students singular access to internship opportunities and policy makers. These direct connections to the nation’s change-makers, along with our extensive alumni network, will quickly open doors.

Get Ready to Lead

Ranked 3rd in Public Management and Leadership by U.S. News and World Report, the MPA program positions you for leadership and executive roles in public agencies, national and international nonprofit organizations, and private firms. If you want a degree that will equip you to drive change and craft solutions to today’s most pressing challenges in public administration, AU’s MPA is the one for you.


Nonprofit organizations play a substantial role in the formulation and delivery of public services. This concentration introduces students to a variety of general management practices used in the nonprofit sector: defining organizational missions; building effective governance structures; acquiring resources; maintaining high standards of fiscal, legal, and professional accountability; managing human resources; and thinking strategically. More broadly, this concentration educates you in the many administrative challenges faced by small community-based or large professionalized organizations in today's "networked economy," where organizations increasingly interact, compete, and collaborate with other service providers, policymakers, and regulators.

  • Arts Management Focus
    This focus, a joint effort of the School of Public Affairs and the Department of Performing Arts, prepares students for the administrative work associated with the presentation of music, theater, and other arts.

Washington, DC is at the center of an increasingly interdependent global network of trade, communication, and security. This concentration helps you understand the nature of management responsibilities that bridge different cultures, including those involving foreign relations, international organizations (including NGOs), and social and economic development. Students interested in this concentration may also take courses offered in AU’s highly-regarded School of International Service (SIS).

This concentration strengthens the knowledge and skills of people called upon to work as line managers or administrative support staff in public service organizations.

  • Management Consulting Focus
    People with expertise in public administration are often asked to analyze and reform organizations as external consultants, internal auditors, or members of special task forces. This focus helps students exercise the responsibilities associated with management consulting and institutional change.
  • Human Resources Focus
    Developing human capital is critical to promoting organizational effectiveness—successful leaders recognize the importance of managing and motivating their workforces. This focus helps you understand the strategic role of human resource planning, develop skills that prepare employees for change, and improve management and employee relationships.

This concentration prepares you for the political and administrative intricacies of delivering public services in an increasingly intergovernmental context. Students are encouraged to include at least one relevant policy course and as many budgeting and finance courses as possible.

Program analysts, financial officers, budget officers, and financial analysts are found at all levels of national, state, and local governments. They administer and design programs, prepare and analyze budget proposals, evaluate programs, forecast revenues, collect taxes, allocate monies, advise legislators, inspect programs, and prepare financial statements. This concentration equips you to handle the many responsibilities involved with the management of public programs, operations, and funds.

More and more people are performing policy analysis, evaluating public programs, or conducting research on behalf of the public at large. By merging required MPA management courses with selected courses from our Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree, this concentration combines knowledge about the administrative functions essential to policy analysis with the skills necessary to conduct the actual studies.

This concentration combines the management and leadership strengths of the MPA program with policy courses for students interested in general policy or a particular policy area.

  • Social Policy Focus
    This focus teaches you how to utilize governmental and nongovernmental tools to address challenges imposed by poverty, hunger, educational deficiencies, unemployment, and discrimination.
  • Health Policy Focus
    This focus gives you the skills to tackle the issues confronting policymakers and analysts working on health and related topics in the U.S. and around the world.
  • Environmental Policy Focus
    This focus equips you to work with policymakers and analysts on environmental challenges across the globe and here in the U.S.
  • Science & Technology Focus
    This focus gives you the knowledge and competencies to handle scientific and technological issues confronting policymakers and analysts.
  • Education Policy Focus
    The education policy focus teaches students how to utilize governmental and nongovernmental tools to address challenges imposed by poverty, hunger, educational deficiencies, unemployment, and discrimination.

The Applied Politics concentration incorporates two fields offered through the School of Public Affairs. The first field covers politics, campaign management, and lobbying, and serves students who want to influence the course of government through the electoral or political process. It draws upon the educational programs offered by the SPA’s Campaign Management Institute and Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies. The second field encourages students to think strategically about the challenges confronted by policymakers concerned with women’s issues. It addresses women, public policy, and political leadership, and draws upon courses offered through the school’s nationally-renowned Women & Politics Institute.

The Master of Public Administration (MPA) requires 39 credit hours of approved graduate work for students entering the program with a bachelor's degree. 12 credit hours are electives that can comprise an area of concentration. Required core courses comprise 27 credit hours, including a Public Administration Capstone class. A minimum grade point average of 3.0 in all coursework is required to remain in good standing and to earn the degree. Full-time status is considered to be 9 credit hours per semester. Students are expected to complete the degree within two years, including one summer.

The Public Administration Capstone tests students' abilities to integrate and synthesize MPA coursework and apply it to significant public management challenges. The course requires students to apply curriculum content, critical thinking, research, and writing skills through a substantial management analysis project. The Capstone is taken in the final semester of study, and is offered in fall and spring semesters only.


Students without significant professional work background participate in either a for-credit or non-credit internship. Students electing the internship for credit register for the course as part of a concentration. Students electing the non-credit internship are required to complete a survey about the experience.

More information about course requirements can be found here.

For more information, please contact the SPA Graduate Admissions Office at 202-885-6230 or

The School of Public Affairs operates on a rolling admissions basis for our graduate programs. Applications are reviewed on an ongoing basis until programs reach capacity.

While previous academic or professional work in public administration is not required, SPA values applicants who have acquired practical experience before beginning their degree program. Your personal statement about your background, career interests, and reasons for pursuing graduate study in the program will be essential, along with the other required application materials.

Under certain circumstances, you may be able to substitute test scores from similar tests, such as the GMAT or LSAT, for the GRE. If you received your undergraduate degree more than five years before applying to the program, you may be able to waive the requirement for test scores altogether.

For more information, please contact the SPA Graduate Admissions Office at 202-885-6230 or

The Master of Public Administration (MPA) is a 39-credit-hour program. To estimate the cost of tuition, please see the current cost per credit hour for graduate students.

The School of Public Affairs offers graduate students both merit-based and need-based financial aid. Merit awards and named scholarships are administered by the SPA Graduate Admissions Office, while need-based awards are administered by the American University Office of Financial Aid. Additional financial support is available for veterans.

All merit awards are based on your academic merit and professional experience, specifically your undergraduate grades and leadership activities as well as career-related accomplishments. Merit awards are valid for one year-they vary in amount, are typically divided evenly between the fall and spring semesters, and are not typically renewable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Our Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree delves into leadership in public and nonprofit organizations, the organizational environment, and the analysis of public management issues. Our Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree emphasizes evidence-based ideas and approaches and the use of data and research methodologies to find solutions to policy challenges. As an example, the Social Policy focus area in the MPA program and the Social Policy concentration in the MPP program may cover similar topics and may even offer some of the same courses and faculty, but the courses will have different emphases depending on the program you’re pursuing.

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We Know Success

% of Graduates are now Working, Grad School, or Both

number 4 for Public Management and Leadership

by U.S. News & World Report's 2021 Public Affairs Graduate Schools Rankings

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