What Is a Public Administration Degree in the US?

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By Sakina Taher
Last updated on August 11, 2023

A degree in public administration provides a wide range of skills you can use to explore careers in public service. Learn more about the opportunities available for international students!

Four administrators at a table meeting.

Embark on a career in policy, politics, and public service by studying public administration at a US university. Public administration curriculum is designed to develop versatile skills in leadership, financial management, and analytics to prepare graduates for roles in government, nonprofit, and private organizations around the world.

Read on to learn more about what a public administration degree offers, which universities to consider, and potential career pathways.

What Is a Public Administration Degree?

A public administration degree provides the knowledge and skills that government and/or nonprofit professionals require to draft and/or implement policy changes, manage stakeholders, consider ethical and sociological community impacts, run for office, and much more. Public administration degree programs at US universities provide key skills for students aiming for careers that drive important policy and/or business decisions and social change.

When you choose to pursue a public administration degree, you will learn interdisciplinary skills such as communication, finance, management, and planning. Learning these skills prepares you for multiple roles in various industries along with specialized knowledge in the following areas:

  • Culture

  • Democratic, political, and administrative systems

  • Global public service 

  • International politics

  • Law 

  • Markets and economic policies

  • Nonprofit organizations and community governance

  • Public finance and budgeting 

  • Strategic planning 

The public administration curriculum is designed to enhance your skills in leadership, communication, diplomacy, critical thinking, deductive reasoning, analytics, and fundraising — skills that are necessary to excel in a civil service career. Pursuing your degree in the US also gives you access to unique learning opportunities (such as internships and co-ops) where you can develop practical skills.

Why Choose the US to Study Public Administration?

Public administration is growing in popularity — it is currently ranked #58 among the most popular qualifications in the US (College Factual). As a result, there are more than 17,250 undergraduate and graduate public administration programs offered in the US that provide international students a wide range of opportunities, including:

  • Expert knowledge and resources — The US is home to some of the world’s top-ranked universities offering public administration degrees. The high standard of education offers well-rounded technical skills, along with a supportive environment for international students to thrive and make the most of available opportunities.

  • Diverse classroom experiences — Studying among students from around the world provides insight into different cultures, lifestyles, and politics. With diverse student populations, US universities enable international students to share ideas and firsthand experiences with classmates, friends, and professors. For the many public administration students who are motivated to learn from others and/or work for positive policy changes, these connections may be a main motivator for studying in the US, alongside the many opportunities to apply their knowledge to real-world situations.

  • Increasing job opportunities — As the demand for public administrative roles increases, state and local government employment in the US is expected to grow 12% between 2020 and 2030, offering strong prospects after graduation.

Let’s take a closer look at Shorelight universities with public administration degree programs uniquely tailored for international students.

Shorelight Universities with Top Public Administration Programs

Want to study public administration in the US? Here are just a few possibilities from internationally friendly universities.

American University 

U.S. News & World Report gives American University’s master’s in public administration (MPA) a top-five ranking. Curriculum provides a broad understanding of public administration, public management, and public policy. Students can choose a concentration in international management or state and local administration, and learn from expert faculty.

American University is recognized for their advanced coursework, student diversity, and internship opportunities: 95% of American University master’s students land jobs or pursue doctoral education within six months after graduation. 

*Note — The MPA program is only offered via the International Accelerator Program at the graduate level.

Auburn University

U.S. News & World Report ranks Auburn number one in the state of Alabama and has also ranked the university among the top 50 public universities in the nation (2020). The school’s strong campus culture, with vibrant school spirit, engaged alumni, and hands-on learning approaches, creates a welcoming environment for international students.

Through Auburn Global, students can complete their bachelor’s and master’s in public administration within five years through the Accelerated Bachelor’s to Master’s (ABM) program. You can also enroll for a graduate certification program in either election administration, nonprofit organizations and community governance, or global public service. 

Florida International University

The bachelor in public administration program at FIU’s Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA) offers a five-course minor in public administration focusing on finance and budgeting, urban development, personnel management, and more. FIU’s SIPA is the first school in Florida to receive full membership to the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs, and is among only 25 US universities and 40 worldwide to earn this distinction.

Career Pathways with a Public Administration Degree

A public administration degree provides a diverse skillset that students can use across a variety of roles. Here are just a few career possibilities and their average entry-level salaries:

Starting salary in the US

Budget analyst


City administrator


City official


Emergency management coordinator


Urban and regional planner


Starting salary in China

Budget analyst


City administrator


City official


Emergency management coordinator


Urban and regional planner


Starting salary in India

Budget analyst


City administrator


City official


Emergency management coordinator


Urban and regional planner


Starting salary in Brazil

Budget analyst

R$ 82.586

City administrator

R$ 29.236

City official

R$ 39.995

Emergency management coordinator

R$ 156.601

Urban and regional planner

R$ 82.145

Source: Salary Expert, 2022

Become a Global-Minded Leader

Through studying public administration in the US, the skills and knowledge you develop will be sharpened further with in-class global perspectives and instruction from industry professionals. Individually or collectively, these skills can also be highly valuable to organizations across a wide variety of industries, helping you stand out to employers and access many career paths. 

A career in public administration can give you the opportunity to work toward creating real change in workplaces, cities, and regions in the US, or anywhere in the world. If you are ready to get started, speak with a Shorelight advisor today to learn more about your options! Your advisor is ready to help you choose the right university for your goals, support you with obtaining your student visa, help you transition to life in the US, and much more.

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