Why I chose the MPA program

This week, a few of us are writing about our experiences in our respective degree programs. To kick things off, I’ll share my insights into the Master of Public Administration, a.k.a. MPA, which is one of SIPA’s most demanded programs.

The MPA curriculum was built to give public affairs professionals the analytical and managerial skills to solve increasingly, complex real-world situations and shape local- and national-level policies and projects. One of the program’s biggest advantages is its focus on local and national projects based on a global perspective, which comes in handy when you consider that more than 50 percent of the student body is constituted by international students like myself. I believe this is what makes this program truly unique: being able to discuss with my classmates how policies related to similar areas may have completely different implementations and results based on the geographical location.

I can still recall my amusement while listening to one classmate describe maternity leave in Egypt and another one talking about the same policy in Japan. Also, my Chinese colleagues are always surprised when I describe how corruption is such a big issue in Latin America and how different it is from their home country.

While we learn anecdotally about ground-level policy from one another, we’re learning a lot in the classroom as well. To build quantitative foundations is something that will consume most of the first year at SIPA. However, it certainly pays back when you start applying your knowledge in more practical classes during your second year. The high-level discussion that students have about various issues—such as rebound effects or energy demand elasticity in my Economics of Energy class—are only possible because we had such a strong preparation in our first-year Econ classes.

That is something that really surprised me at SIPA: how the school systematically balances the curricula between theoretical classes and more practical ones that give students the hands-on practice required to prepare them to be the leaders in the major fields of public affairs. The curriculum also draws on the international strengths of SIPA to ensure that these public affairs officials are prepared for the rapidly globalizing context of local and national policy issues.

One recurrent question received at the Admissions Office regards the difference between the MIA and the MPA. The MPA and MIA have some overlap, especially regarding basic classes such as economics and statistics. Nonetheless, they are essentially different programs. While the MIA curriculum develops international affairs professionals who understand complex transnational issues and can manage real-world organizations, the MPA curriculum focus on training public affairs professionals to understand the complex issues shaping local, national and global policies, and to lead the change inside and outside governmental institutions. In addition, the MPA does not require students to fulfill the foreign language proficiency, as the MIA does.

Moreover, both master’s degrees have different core classes. For example, while the MIA program requires students to take Conceptual Foundations of International Politics, MPA students have to take Politics of Policymaking. In this sense, my past experience working for the government in Brazil and my desire to be better prepared to take a leading role in the government were fundamental in my decision to choose the MPA over the MIA program.

It is really important to analyze each program’s curriculum and decide which one will best fit your educational objectives. This is also valued for the choice of concentration and specialization. Since SIPA offers such a huge variety of classes, it is important to have a good idea of the tools you will need to fulfill your professional dreams, so you can best choose your track at SIPA.

If you’d like to speak with a current MPA student (like myself!) to learn more about its advantages, submit the Connect With A Current Student form and we’ll be happy to talk with you.

[Top photo courtesy of Eloy Oliveira]