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An Educational Guide for Future Leaders in
Public Affairs


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What Does an MPA Stand For? Master of Public Administration — Defined

A Master of Public Administration (MPA) is a rigorous, professional, post-graduate degree that prepares students for interdisciplinary careers working in the public interest. An MPA prepares individuals for management and leadership careers across the field of public affairs—in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

Graduates work in a wide range of federal, state, and local government agencies, nonprofits, private firms that interface with the public and nonprofit sectors, and international organizations, where they serve as executives, managers, analysts, and planners.


An MPA program values diversity of thought and experience. Relative to other professional degrees, the MPA is far more interdisciplinary, drawing on the fields of economics, finance, management, political science, and psychology.

By promoting this interdisciplinary perspective, the MPA provides students with the tools required to improve people’s lives.

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The Benefits of an MPA in Today's World

The term “public administration” is a misnomer. In reality, solutions to our world’s most pressing public affairs challenges are implemented via a complex network of public, private, and nonprofit organizations. Getting an MPA provides graduates with the hard and soft skills required to forge these solutions across sectors in a strategic, mission-oriented, and equitable manner.

We foster the development of innovative ideas and tools that really matter for improving the political, economic, environmental, and social climate of our world.

Public Administration in a Volatile World Climate: What Can You Do With a Master’s in Public Administration?

Work in public affairs is for service-oriented professionals looking to make a real, tangible difference in people’s lives. Professionals serving in the field of public affairs work as leaders across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors on a variety of pressing and most challenging issues, including: 

  • Addressing climate change, and how climate change affects related spaces (disaster management, economic development, food security).
  • Improving infrastructure policy in underdeveloped countries.
  • Contributing to the field of sustainable business development. 
  • Transitioning incarcerated individuals back into society.
  • Combatting the nationwide opioid epidemic.
  • Advocating for social justice and at-risk communities.
  • Initiating policy that improves access to healthcare for all.
  • Improving the management and delivery of public and private education around the world.


Those who pursue an MPA pursue management roles in the public interest, where the standards of accountability, transparency, and equity demand a unique mix of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Those pursuing an MPA do so after careful introspection, and upon determining that their goals, values, and focus lie in improving people’s lives.

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MPA vs. MPP vs. MBA

While there are several professional degree options that can enhance your knowledge, skills, and abilities and allow you to make a valuable contribution to the world, it is important to distinguish between these degrees and the opportunities they will lead to.

The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) is the professional organization that oversees education in the field of public affairs, public policy, and public administration. NASPAA defines a Master of Public Administration as “the core professional degree for a management career in public service. The curriculum is designed to aid students in developing the skills and techniques used by leaders and managers to implement policies, projects, and programs that resolve important societal problems.

NASPAA also notes that graduates of an MPA program “work in all levels of government (federal, state, and local), in nonprofits, in international organizations, consulting firms, and in the private sector.”

So, how does the MPA differ from a Master of Public Policy (MPP) or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree? Let’s dive a little deeper.

What’s the Difference Between an MPA and an MBA?-508964-edited

Master of Public Administration (MPA) vs. Master of Public Policy (MPP)

A Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree focuses on analysis. MPP students use the tools of economic analysis to forecast the consequences of public policy. MPP graduates typically assume roles as analysts in the public or private sectors. The MPA, on the other hand, is a general management degree that builds leadership, planning, management, and evaluation skills.

Master of Public Administration (MPA) vs. Master of Business Administration (MBA)

An MPA is often referred to as a “Master of Business Administration/MBA for the Public and Nonprofit Sectors.” While this is the case in many respects, the two degrees are not interchangeable. Both the MPA and MBA degrees are interdisciplinary, merging perspectives from management, economics, and organizational behavior.

The MPA degree provides insight into the intricacies of how these disciplines apply in the context of public service, however, whereas the MBA is focused on profit-driven results.

Those who pursue an MPA pursue management roles in the public interest, where the standards of accountability, transparency, and equity demand a unique mix of knowledge, skills and abilities. Those pursuing an MPA do so after careful introspection, and upon determining that their goals, values, and focus lie in improving people’s lives.

The MPA allows graduates to accelerate the “business of public affairs” and unravel challenges in federal, state, or local government; nonprofit organizations, and in international public organizations.


Download the Cornell MPA Internships & Externships Guide

The Guide to Internships & Externships in the Cornell MPA Program is your go-to resource for understanding the value of learning-by-doing as a way of sharpening your competitive edge and cultivating marketable skills.

Download the Internship Guide

The Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy: MPA Program

“The Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy brings together scholars across disciplines to tackle the biggest public policy challenges we face as a society, both in the U.S. and globally. Our mission is to make positive change in the world.” – Colleen Barry, Inaugural Dean 

Cornell University is located in Ithaca, New York, a vibrant town that offers the perfect backdrop for two years of concentrated graduate study. Ithaca is also just a short drive or bus ride from many major metropolitan areas (four hours to NYC, Philadelphia and Toronto; six hours to Washington, DC). 

Cornell University’s Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy is home to a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs, all dedicated to preparing students to improve human’s lives by exploring and shaping human connections to natural, social, and built environments.

The Brooks School trains future leaders in the field of public affairs to address the world’s most complex public policy challenges with a two-year program of study leading to the Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree. Cornell’s MPA program prepares individuals for management and leadership careers in public service. The MPA offers a solid foundation of core coursework in management, economics and finance, and quantitative analysis.

Cornell’s MPA places a strong emphasis on experiential learning. Real-world consulting opportunities, internships, off-campus study, and Capstone experiences help you develop the skill set you need to be successful in your future careers, and provide relevant material for inclusion in résumés and job interviews.

Cornell’s interdisciplinary curriculum also affords you the opportunity to work with renowned faculty across many different departments, schools, and colleges at Cornell, which is among the largest and most diverse of the Ivy League universities.


The Cornell Brooks School allows you to choose from eight options and pursue specialized courses to develop expertise in your selected area. Within each of these concentrations, you have the flexibility to formulate a personalized study plan. With the guidance of your advisor, you select a set of five courses that offer you the specialized knowledge you need to achieve your personal goals within a concentration.

There is no one correct or "best" set of courses for any given concentration because students' backgrounds vary as do their goals. It is important that you give serious thought to crafting a set of classes that are complementary and that provides you with a base of knowledge and skills from which you can further improve your professional and personal capabilities.

The goal is for you to leave the MPA program prepared to compete as one of the best-of-the-best in your respective field, recognizing that in the course of your career you may make several changes in focus and direction. The MPA Program curriculum is designed to balance generalizable knowledge and skills with more specific applications to particular areas of public affairs. 

We invite you to explore our eight concentrations and featured graduates below:

Economic and Financial Policy


Brettany Tucker, MPA 2018 | Mayor's Fund for Los Angeles

Concentration Details

How an MPA Can Help You Shape Economic and Financial Policy →


Environmental Policy


Allison Springer, MPA 2016 | Marketing & Research Associate of Outdoors America, Open Space Institute

Concentration Details

Want to Address Climate Change? Study Environmental Policy →

Government, Politics, and Policy Studies


Daniel Arukwe Johansen, MPA 2015 | Team Leader, WFP Operations Center, UN World Food Programme Division of Emergencies

Concentration Details

Getting an MPA Can Help You Build a Career in Government Policy →

Human Rights and Social Justice


Tiffany Jordan, MPA 2016 | Recruitment and Retention Coordinator, Roanoke (VA) Public Schools

Concentration Details

Start Your Career in Social Justice Advocacy with an MPA →

International Development Studies

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Vanisha Sharma, MPA 2018 | PhD Candidate in Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University

Concentration Details

What You Need to Know About International Development Studies →

Public and Nonprofit Management

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Clare O'Brien, MPA 2017 | Management Associate, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

Concentration Details

How Getting an MPA Will Prepare You for a Career in Nonprofit Management →

Science, Technology, and Infrastructure Policy


Michael W. Foley, MPA 2017 | Consultant – Business & Finance, Landrum & Brown

Concentration Details

What is Science, Technology and Infrastructure Policy? →

Social Policy

Zachary German

Zachary German, MPA 2018 | Officer in Charge (OIC) of Administration Department, Health Services Administration, United States Air Force Medical Service Corps

Concentration Details

From Cornell’s MPA to Medical School – Zachary’s Story →


The Cornell Brooks School offers three graduate certificate programs, which are open to current graduate students in good academic standing:

  • Environmental Finance and Impact Investing: Working with their academic advisor and Brooks School Professor of Practice in Corporate Responsibility, EFII students design a program of study that meets the certification requirements. Brooks School students pursuing this certification typically (but not exclusively) are working towards a concentration in one of the following areas: Economic and Financial Policy, Public and Nonprofit Management, or Environmental Policy.
  • Infrastructure Project Management and Finance: Working with their academic advisor and the IPMF faculty coordinator, students pursuing an IPMF certificate will design a program of study that meets the academic requirements. Brooks School students pursuing this certification are typically working toward a concentration in the area of Science, Technology, and Infrastructure.
  • Systems Thinking and Leadership (STML) Certificate: Working with their academic advisor and the MPA Program's STML program faculty, students design a program of study that meets the certification requirements. Students pursuing any concentration can work toward a concentration in the area of Systems Thinking and Leadership.

These certificate programs provide you with specific knowledge and tools for working in the respective area of study. The additional credentials that these certificates provide may offer you a competitive edge in your future careers. Courses that apply to your certification also apply toward your MPA degree requirements.


The Cornell Brooks School offers a complementary degree option and a dual degree option for competitive, driven students looking to augment their MPA with an additional degree.

Complementary Degree

Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Public Health (MPH), and Juris Doctor (JD): Applicants who wish to pursue a Cornell MBA, MPH, or JD along with their MPA degree may work out a complementary program of study if they apply to and are accepted by both programs. Fellows may then apply up to twelve credits of the complementary professional degree program (MBA, MPH, or JD) toward their MPA.  Applicants to the MPA program who have already completed a Cornell MBA, MPH, or JD may apply up to twelve credits from their other degree program toward the MPA degree if these are appropriate for an MPA course of study.

Pursuing these options may reduce the time toward degree completion by approximately one semester. Applicants should plan on meeting with the Director of Graduate Studies to discuss which credits from the MBA, MPH, or JD would be transferable to the MPA program.  Please contact the the Brooks School MPA Program at 607-255-8018 or to set up an appointment.

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Read About 5 Reasons to Pursue a Dual Degree - Getting an MPA and an MBA!

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Dual Degree

Master of Public Administration (MPA)/Master of Health Administration (MHA): A dual MPA/MHA program is available for students enrolled at the Brooks School and the Sloan Program in Health Administration. This option enables students to complete both degrees in three years while eliminating duplicate coursework. Students must apply and be accepted to both programs (admission to one program does not guarantee admission to the other).

The goal of this dual degree program is to enable students to combine training in public administration with training and management tools and their applications to health administration and of the organization of the health care sector, health policy, and the tools of public health.



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As a Brooks School student, you’ll receive a rich combination of coursework and practical experience. Our flexible, interdisciplinary curriculum gives you the opportunity to work with renowned faculty across many different departments at Cornell to build your expertise. 

Professional Development Coursework

At the Cornell Brooks School, we’re dedicated to teaching the “nuts and bolts” of professional development and career advancement — in fact, career management is woven throughout our MPA curriculum.

Brooks MPA students are required to take two semester-long courses (or equivalent) that focus on strengthening professional preparation, which may include statistical, analytical, or mathematical skills, professional writing or speaking, leadership or management, or additional skills or knowledge needed for a fellow’s selected concentration.

Brooks MPA students may also want to consider including a course from the list of General Concentration courses or from the list of Public and Nonprofit Management courses as one of their two specialized/professional development courses.

The Capstone

To earn the MPA degree, Brooks School students must complete a “Professional Writing” requirement. Of the options available, most students choose to participate in the Cornell MPA Capstone. A semester-long program for second-year students, the Capstone engages participants in rigorous consultancy projects for either domestic or international clients. 

Students work on teams conducting research on well-defined policy or management problems posed by their clients, and develop proposals for relevant and actionable solutions. Read more about Capstone Projects.

Check out our case study clients, below:


We place significant emphasis on professional development and career management — before, during, and after your time at Cornell University. See what career management and professional development at the Cornell Brooks School is like. 

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The Capstone

To earn the MPA degree, Brooks School students must complete a “Professional Writing” requirement. Of the options available, most students choose to participate in the Cornell MPA Capstone. A semester-long program for second-year students, the Capstone engages participants in rigorous consultancy projects for either domestic or international clients. Students work on teams conducting research on well-defined policy or management problems posed by their clients, and develop proposals for relevant and actionable solutions. Check out our case study clients, below:

  • Inter-American Development Bank
  • Global Livingston Institute
  • Agricultural Association of Growers and Exporters of the Copiapo Valley
  • Dr. T.S. Wilkinson Memorial School, Nav Jeevan Sanstha
  • The Volcker Alliance
  • U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Ithaca Health Alliance
  • American Civic Association


Unlock the MPA Career Report


The MPA Program Office of Career Management works one-on-one with graduate students to integrate real-world experience into their program of study. This is revealed in the internship and externship opportunities for Cornell's MPA students.


Students who choose to spend a semester in one of the Cornell Brooks School’s off-campus study programs earn academic credit while completing an externship.

Here are our Current Externship Locations:


Washington, DC


New York, NY


To fulfill the Practical Experience component of the degree, most students choose to complete an internship in the summer between the first and second year of study or to do an externship while enrolled in one of the Cornell Brooks School’s off-campus semester programs. The Office of Career Management will assist you through each phase of your internship search.

Recent Internship Opportunities Include:

  •, Inc.
  • Angora Partnerships, Nicaragua
  • Boston Redevelopment Authority
  • Brookings Institute
  • City of New York, Office of Management and Budget
  • Chicago Mayor’s Office Fellowship Program
  • Council on Foreign Relations
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Habitat for Humanity International
  • Inter-American Development Bank
  • International Labour Organization, Zimbabwe
  • New York City Department of Education
  • UN Development Program
  • U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • U.S. Embassy, Australia
  • World Bank
  • World Wildlife Fund

Uncover the Real Value of Our MPA

At Cornell University, we have measurable data that shows the real, marketable value of our MPA degree.

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Career Outcomes for MPA Graduates

MPA graduates are found in a wide variety of workplaces. The career paths that require professionals with public affairs education often influence major decisions that affect the community around you—at the public, nonprofit, and in some instances, the private sector.

Graduates of Cornell's MPA program have gone on to work in the following positions/organizations:


  • Community Solutions, Inc., Director of Operations
  • Catholic Relief Services, Technical Advisor
  • World Affairs Council, Program Officer
  • Partnership for a Healthier America, Chief of Staff
  • Microsoft Philanthropies, Program Officer


  • Deloitte Tax, LLP, Consultant
  • NextEra Energy Resources, Regulatory Affairs Analyst
  • Success Academy Charter Schools, Manager
  • BitTiger, Public Relations Specialist
  • CCS, Executive Director


  • U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer
  • World Bank, Consultant, Young Professional
  • Inter-American Development Bank, Consultant
  • New York City Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, Analyst
  • USAID, Desk Officer

Public Administration Employment Trends

Given the diversity of interests and career objectives represented at Cornell, postgraduate activities are regularly distributed across three primary sectors: public, private, and non-profit.

MPA graduates often pursue careers with purpose. See where Cornell MPA graduates are working today. 


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Cornell Brooks MPA Student Story

Amber Ingwell, an MPA student with a concentration in Government, Politics, and Policy, shares her experience studying an MPA, why she chose the MPA Program in particular, and how her graduate education is preparing her for a meaningful career.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s your name, age, location, and educational background?

My name is Amber Ingwell. I am 30 years old and currently living in Ithaca while I’m obtaining my Master of Public Administration degree at Cornell University. I grew up in Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for a BA in Political Science and Legal Studies.

What What drew you to Cornell’s MPA program?

Cornell’s MPA was a good fit for me for several reasons. For one, a two-year program seemed like the appropriate choice (over a one-year program) to give me enough time to gain the necessary skills and allow for a true immersion in the breadth of material required to be a professional in the field.

Second, Cornell’s MPA concentration areas give an opportunity to hone your interests and signal some commitment to a specific area.

Third, Cornell’s principle of “any person, any study” also applies to the MPA program. There is great flexibility to shape the degree to your specific needs and interests. The ability to take classes across campus means exposure to many different areas.

Fourth, the program puts emphasis not only on technical skills but also on leadership and management

principles. There is ample opportunity to translate leadership skills exercised in the military to future roles in the civilian sector.

Finally, Cornell’s faculty and staff are committed to your success in your field. There are a lot of opportunities for practical experiences to prepare you for future jobs and build a network of colleagues.

Cornell also offered the best academic experience in a beautiful location — Ithaca, NY!

What advice would you give to someone thinking about choosing Cornell’s MPA program?

Do not sell yourself short. Your experiences will serve you well both in the program and as a future leader in public affairs. Also, do not stress if you do not know exactly where you want to go after the program.

The flexibility of Cornell’s program allows you to change your mind, explore interests, and obtain excellent foundational knowledge.

You can be confident that the Master of Public Administration offered at the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, an Ivy League MPA program, will be helpful as you pursue a career in the public, nonprofit, or private sectors.

Read Amber's Full Story

Financing an Ivy League MPA Program

Because Cornell is the only Ivy League school with land-grant status, the Cornell Brooks MPA program is more affordable than some other schools offering the same degree, including Columbia, New York University, and Georgetown. Combined tuition, fees, and overall living expenses range from $20,000 to $40,000 less than our competitors.

Note: For professionals seeking a way to finance an Ivy League education, this blog is a must-read!

In addition to the Brooks School’s affordable costs, a variety of funding opportunities are available to pay for your MPA, including merit-based fellowships, part-time campus employment, federal loans, Brooks School-supported fellowships, and external funding.

Merit-Based Fellowships

About 50 percent of our students receive merit-based fellowships from a number of sources. These fellowships, based on previous academic performance, partially cover tuition. If you are admitted to Cornell Brooks School, you will receive notification of your award in your admission letter.

Fellowships Supported by the Brooks School:

Part-Time Employment

Cornell’s Student Employment website is the source for information and policies about student jobs on campus. The site maintains a jobs database open to Cornell graduate students.

Federal Loans

Cornell currently participates in two federally funded programs: the William D. Ford Direct Loan and the Federal Graduate PLUS loan. These programs are available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are matriculated toward the degree.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

If you work for a nonprofit organization, you may be eligible for the federal loan forgiveness program. The program forgives loans on the balance of your student loan after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments while working full-time for a qualifying employer. Qualified employers include government organizations, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations and other nonprofits that provide qualifying service.

Whatever your financial standing, Cornell University is dedicated to helping high-achieving and competitive students to fund their graduate education. If you have questions about financing your graduate degree at Cornell, don’t hesitate to contact us today.



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To receive optimum consideration for funding opportunities, however, we encourage you to submit your application as soon as possible.

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Application Process and Requirements

The Application
  • Complete Cornell’s Online Graduate School Application. For questions pertaining to any technical issues or errors, contact the Graduate School office at 607-255-4884.
  • Submit unofficial copies of your college and university transcripts. An official paper transcript is required for all admitted students before matriculating.
  • There is NO GRE requirement.
  • Submit your résumé and three letters of recommendation.
  • Applicants for whom English is a second language will need to meet minimum scores on either the TOEFL or IELTS exams. Required minimum scores on the TOEFL exam are: writing 20, listening 15, reading 20, speaking 22, as well as an overall combined score of at least 100. Our field requirements for the IELTS exam are: 7.0 in each section as well as an overall score of at least 7.5.
  • Submit both a Statement of Purpose and an Essay. See detailed information below for completing these submissions.
  • You will be sent email instructions to participate in an online interview to complete your application.
The Statement of Purpose
  • 500 words maximum
  • Detail why you are applying to the program.
  • Include personal and/or professional experiences that have led to your interest in Cornell's MPA program.
  • Describe your future goals and explain how you would put an MPA graduate education to use.
  • Include examples of volunteer work, positions of responsibility, and any other life experiences that have contributed to your interest in public affairs.
The Essay
  • 1,000 words maximum
  • Briefly describe an area of public affairs to which you would like to make a contribution.
  • Discuss what you would like to see accomplished in this area.
  • Explain how you would go about initiating, supporting and sustaining changes in this area so as to enhance public well-being and public services.
About the Online Interview
  • Once Cornell receives your application, you will receive an email with information about completing an online interview. It will include login information and detailed instructions.

Calling All Future Leaders in Public Service - Connect With Us

Ready to take on some of the world’s most complex policy challenges? You’re in the right place. We are looking for students of exceptional quality who have the analytical, leadership, and communication skills necessary to succeed in a career serving the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Let’s get started.

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