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Which Graduate Degree(s) for Me?

April 23 2013 By The MBA Exchange
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By Jeff Phillips, MBA Kellogg / MPA Harvard, Senior Admissions Consultant

For individuals seeking a business career, a top-tier MBA education is a powerful vehicle by which to advance. The lifetime value of the knowledge, perspective and network gained by attending a leading business school is undeniable. Graduates are recruited by a wide range of firms, from promising startups to blue-chip corporations, for six-figure opportunities that often lead to a corner office.

In contrast, individuals considering a career in government (the public sector) — with a lesser interest in the business world — should consider a master’s degree in Public Affairs. Typically two years in length, these programs award students either an MPP (Master of Public Policy) or MPA (Master of Public Administration) credential upon completion. A long list of administrative and policy-making roles await graduates at the federal, state and local levels in governmental entities desperately in need of talented men and women.

However, there is an alternative to the stand-alone MBA, MPP or MPA degree worth considering. In a world where the for-profit, non-profit, and public sectors are inextricably linked, a dual degree stands as a compelling option.

Do you envision a business career in which dealings with government are par for the course? At one point or another, most business executives find themselves dealing with the public sector. After all, companies of every kind face taxation, many interact with local governments when considering the siting of facilities, and many more must comply with environmental, financial and other types of regulation.

Arming yourself with a broader tool kit so that you can effectively handle such challenges is the reason why prospective MBA students should consider an MBA/MPP or MBA/MPA program. These dual-degree options, offered at many great universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and Penn, allow one to develop a deeper understanding of the for-profit business sector as well as the public/governmental sector. Those interested in senior business roles would be well-served with the additional insights these programs provide, as senior executives must possess a broad, multi-sector perspective.

And those dreaming of a government / public service career would benefit from a solid understanding of the businesses that drive our economy. Candidates with a passion for public service (who might have little interest in ever assuming a business role) would nonetheless be well-served by a deeper understanding of the entities that government regulates and which actively seek to influence public policy.

So, before taking the traditional MBA-only route, carefully consider which of the options available to you — an MBA program, a Public Affairs program, or a combination of the two — will best equip you to achieve your long-term career goals. (Of course, for those with career interests requiring a law degree, the JD is also an option.)

The MBA Exchange team has an industry-leading track record in helping applicants gain admission to top-tier MBA, MPP, MPA and JD programs. If you’d like The MBA Exchange in your corner, the first step is a free, expert assessment of your MBA, MPP, MPA or JD candidacy using the free evaluation form on our website. If you have any questions, please email us at