Master of Public Administration

Meet today’s challenges with real-world solutions

The Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree delivers the analytical tools, practical experience, and valuable connections you need to achieve your career goals in just one year. This 9-course, 9 c.u.* fully on-campus program, which includes a capstone project and summer internship, is designed for early career professionals and individuals looking to advance in the public sector or pivot into the public administration or nonprofit sectors. Our curriculum takes the theory beyond the classroom and prepares you to make an immediate impact. As a Fels student, you are admitted into a small cohort of emerging public leaders who work closely with Penn faculty and leading policy practitioners to translate your classroom experiences into real-world results.

Pauline Alvarado

"At Fels, there are about 30 people in my cohort, so I’m able to really make substantial relationships and get guidance not only from the administration and faculty, but also from my classmates. Fels is producing socially-minded public servants that can get things done."

Pauline Alvarado, MPA/MS in Criminology ʼ19

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MPA curriculum and courses

Our core curriculum provides you with the essential tools you need to become a public manager and leader of tomorrow. The fall term focuses on the core concepts and analytical tools needed for effective public administration. In the spring term, you learn the skills you need to translate knowledge into practical solutions. As a Fels student, you can specialize your skill set through elective courses and optional concentrations chosen in consultation with your advisor. Elective courses may be selected from schools across Penn, including the Carey Law School, the Wharton School, and the School of Social Policy and Practice.

In the summer, you take everything you’ve learned in the classroom and put it to the test in the real world through your capstone and internship.

MPA course schedule

These are the courses that all MPA students take and are required for completion of the program.

  • GAFL 6110 Statistics for Public Policy: The modern world is built on data. How can public managers, policymakers, and political leaders learn to use data to make informed decisions and improve public policy outcomes? This class covers the data and statistical tools students will encounter in the public sector. Students will also learn to use the R statistical computing language, which is widely used across both the public and private sectors.
  • GAFL 6210 Public Economics: How can—and how should—governments manage a market economy? To understand how to design and implement public policies, as well as lead public agencies, students need to understand the economic behavior of citizens, governments, and private entities, how they interact, and how this affects the design and administration of government programs.
  • GAFL 6340 Writing for Public Policy and Administration: This course covers techniques in effective writing for policy and public sector audiences. Students will learn how to effectively draft policy memos, public comments, crisis management communications, professional emails, and persuasive Congressional Hill materials. Students will gain a persuasion toolkit and be able to pitch ideas to diverse sets of stakeholders.
  • Elective #1: Chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor. Review the full graduate course catalog.
  • GAFL 6400 Program Evaluation and Data Analysis: How do we know if a given program is effectively achieving its goals? How can we compare which of several programs is actually producing the most benefit to society? Students learn the tools needed to analyze policies, with a particular emphasis on presenting the results of quantitative analysis effectively for a non-technical audience.
  • GAFL 6510 Public Finance and Public Policy: Government budgets are expressions of public policy and carry the authority of the law; non-profit budgets express the commitment to the mission of the organization and are the blueprint for meeting obligations to donors and funders. Both types of budgets and the accounting systems that support them are subject to legal and professional standards. The course is designed for students with little or no background in financial reporting, budgeting, and financial management and intends to provide an understanding of the primary financial management issues and decisions confronting senior management in nonprofit and government agencies.
    • Students will examine multiple financial analysis techniques from both a practical and strategic perspective as they consider operating and capital decisions;
    • Students will consider frameworks for evaluating performance and operating results of governments and non-profit organizations; and
    • Students will develop the skills to determine whether organizations are effectively using their resources while meeting their legal requirements and social responsibilities.
    The objective of the course is to allow the student to understand how managers integrate various discrete financial decisions within a broader framework that allows them to develop and execute a coherent overall financial strategy with accountability and transparency while meeting legal and professional standards, implementing public policies as funders intended,  and furthering the mission of their organization.
  • GAFL 7320 Public Management: How can you become an effective public manager? Technical skills in budgeting, organization, and management are not enough; you need to understand the social and political context of the organization and be able to effectively coordinate with relevant stakeholders to produce change. Working with real-world examples, this class helps students develop this competency.
  • GAFL 7980 MPA Capstone I (0 c.u. course): This required non-credit class is the first part of the MPA Capstone, which is a requirement for the Master of Public Administration program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government. During MPA Capstone I, students work through the early stages of their capstone projects, including project planning and project research and design. Examples of early-stage work include conducting background research, creating an annotated bibliography, designing the project, and planning and executing data collection. Students work with their capstone instructor, advisor, and community partner organization. MPA students take MPA Capstone I during the spring semester. 
  • Elective #2: Chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor. Review the full graduate course catalog.
  • GAFL 7990 MPA Capstone II: Successful completion of a capstone project is one of the academic requirements for the Master of Public Administration program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government. During MPA Capstone II, students work through the middle and final stages of their capstone projects, including conducting analysis, writing, and creating and presenting deliverables. Students work with their capstone instructor, advisor, and community partner organization. This core course is designed to give students direct guidance as they apply and consolidate knowledge and skills gained across the curriculum through the completion of a rigorous capstone project. Capstone students are responsible for designing and completing a public policy or public administration-related project and presenting to the Fels community and other stakeholders. MPA students complete MPA Capstone II during the summer semester.  
  • Internship: Students are required to complete an internship to gain experience addressing real-world problems on a day-to-day basis. Your advisor will work with you one-on-one to assist you with finding and securing an internship that aligns with your career goals: to put your classroom knowledge to work, to deepen or diversify your skill set, to expand your professional network, and to make an impact in the public sphere.
  • GAFL 5020 Public Communications: Successful leaders must be able to convey their integrity and their ideas, their vision, and their values clearly and convincingly in public settings. By analyzing great political speeches and affording students the opportunity to prepare and deliver different types of speeches, this course teaches the fundamentals of persuasive public speaking while encouraging students to develop their own voice. This is a performance course. Students will gain skill and confidence in their speech writing and public speaking skills through practice, peer feedback, and extensive professional coaching. Class lectures and discussions will focus on persuasive strategies and techniques for handling community meetings, Q & A sessions, and interactions with the media.    
  • GAFL 5310 Data Science for Public Policy: In the 21st century, “big data” surrounds us. Data are being collected about all aspects of our daily lives. To improve transparency and accountability, an increasing number of public organizations are sharing their data with the public. But data are not information. You need good information to make sound decisions. To be an effective public leader, you will need to learn how to harness information from available data. This course will introduce you to key elements of data science, including data transformation, analysis, visualization, and presentation. An emphasis is placed on manipulating data to create informative and compelling analyses that provide valuable evidence in public policy debates. We will teach you how to present information using interactive apps that feature software packages. As in all courses at Fels, we will concentrate on more practical skills than theoretical concepts behind the techniques.
  • GAFL 5490 Leading Nonprofits: This course is designed for those interested in leading and managing a nonprofit organization. It takes a practitioner’s perspective on strategic realities of modern practice. Each section will seek to rapidly orient a new manager to the complexities, strategic issues, and politics. The course is taught through a combination of theory and practice using selected readings, lectures, guest presentations, group activities (mock senior staff discussions) and field assignments (pairing with an area nonprofit leader and attendance at one of the organization’s board meetings).
  • GAFL 5510 Government Relations: In a system of representative government, organizations and individuals with interests at stake often seek the support of a government relations professional. This course addresses government relations from the varying perspectives of the current or aspiring professional, the client, and the government official.
  • GAFL 5900 Use and Misuse of Data for Policy Challenges: "Data-driven policy-making" has become a popular phrase, but what does it actually mean and how can aspiring policy-makers meet its lofty goals? This class will help students understand how data of all sorts (administrative, observational, experimental, "big") can be used to shed light on various policy issues. To do this, the class teaches students a set of computational tools (centered on the R statistical programming language), and shows them how to gather, analyze, and present data in useful ways. It does so by working through a number of important policy issues, including policing, campaign finance, public health, political polling, and many others.

Students in the MPA program may pursue an optional concentration in one of five areas:

  • Domestic policy
  • Data analytics
  • Nonprofit leadership
  • International affairs
  • Political advocacy

Each concentration requires the completion of two elective courses and a capstone project related to the concentration area.

Through the capstone project, you synthesize what you’ve learned across your coursework to demonstrate the ability to produce change in the public sector. With guidance from Fels advisors, you evaluate and analyze a real-world challenge facing a government or nonprofit organization in order to propose practical solutions.

Learn more about capstone projects >

*Academic credit is defined by the University of Pennsylvania as a course unit (c.u.). A course unit (c.u.) is a general measure of academic work over a period of time, typically a term (semester or summer). A c.u. (or a fraction of a c.u.) represents different types of academic work across different types of academic programs and is the basic unit of progress toward a degree. One c.u. is usually converted to a four-semester-hour course.

A week in the life of an MPA student

Internship opportunities put your knowledge to work

In the summer, you apply your knowledge in real-world contexts, develop vital skills, and build a professional network through an internship with a government or nonprofit organization. Our career advising team helps you identify internship opportunities to align with your professional goals—and fellowship opportunities to help support your experiential learning, when available.

Sara Autori

"Being integrated into City Council and the City of Philadelphia has been fundamental to my Fels experience. Truly the best part of Fels is the expectation for me to be a partner with the city. If you want to feel like you’ve spent eight hours of your day impacting the lives of residents, local government is the best tool for doing that."

Sara Autori, Master of Public Administration/Master of Science in Social Policy ʼ19


See how to apply to the MPA program.

Review MPA admissions requirements

Ready to join the Fels community?

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