MPA vs. MBA: What’s the Difference?

two business individuals who have an mba and mpa at a meeting table

Graduate degrees are gaining popularity as more and more businesses are seeking experienced, specialized workers to fill the holes in their ranks.

With the lack of information made easily available about these degrees, how do you know which one is right for your specific needs? Let’s look at two of them in order to clear up some confusion.


The first step to determining whether you should put your energy toward a Master of Public Administration (MPA) or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is to truly examine where your interests lie. Typically speaking, MBA students end up working in the private business sector, whereas MPA students are far more likely to accept leadership roles in public industry.

For these reasons, private businesses look for MBA candidates and nonprofit organizations are more drawn toward those professionals who have an MPA degree. So, you must ask yourself the age-old interview question: Where do you see yourself in five years? In 10 years?


An MBA is defined as a “graduate degree […] that provides theoretical and practical training to help graduates gain a better understanding of general business management functions.” An MPA is 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).”

This goes back to what we discussed earlier: whether you are more interested in business or public affairs. MBA students will pay more for their degree upfront, but they will also see a much more rapid monetary return on their investment. Each degree takes about two years to complete.

Testing Requirements

Generally, MBA programs require applicants to take the GMAT before entering the program and MPA programs ask for the GRE. However, each program has its own requirements and not all of them follow this pattern. If you have the time and the resources, it can only help you to take both exams. Like with any other graduate program, it’s important to stand out from the other applicants in any way possible.


MBA students engage in a program much more rooted in business. Their classes include economics, personal finance, and marketing, teaching students the tools and secrets of the industry. MPA programs are more oriented to teaching students how to manage a group of individuals. These courses can be anything from administration to community engagement, depending on the school and on the student’s specific interests.

Average Salaries

MBA students typically take home a larger paycheck than their public administration counterparts. The average starting salary for MBA graduates falls between $90,000 and $100,000 per year, whereas MPA graduates typically start will a salary around $60,000.