Master of Public Affairs

Through the Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree program, professionals and new college graduates learn the skills needed to transform an interest in public affairs into serious careers.


Learn about our program, our faculty, how to apply, costs and paying for school, and careers in Public Affairs.

Program details

Professor Michael Collins with studentWith rigorous professional training across several disciplines, La Follette School MPA graduates take up positions as managers and analysts in government at all levels, in the rapidly growing nonprofit sector, and in private firms across the United States.

The school admits about 50 students per year, approximately 35 to the MPA Program and 15 to the Master of International Public Affairs Program. The small class size enables students in the cohort to get to know each other and their faculty members well.

Students must complete 42 credits, including six core courses, a one-credit professional development seminar, plus eight elective courses. An internship can count for up to three elective credits. The program generally takes two years and you can find a detailed degree plan here.

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Selection into the program

Students are selected for the Master of Public Affairs Program on the basis of:

  • strong academic achievement
  • relevant experience
  • potential for success in the public affairs graduate programs
  • evidence of commitment to a public affairs career
  • commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion

Requirements

Every applicant whose native language is not English, or whose entire undergraduate instruction was not in English, must provide official scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). TOEFL information can be found at www.ets.org.  The La Follette School requires a TOEFL paper-based test score of 580 or above, TOEFL computer-based test score of 237 or above, TOEFL Internet-based test score of 92 or above, or an IELTS score of 7 or above.  The UW–Madison institution code is 1846. Tests should be completed to ensure scores are received by January 1.

Prerequisites

(A strong MPA applicant has taken these courses or their equivalents and earned a B or above.) All prerequisite courses directly related to three required core courses taken in the first fall semester.

Introduction to microeconomics or course equivalent to Microeconomics 101 or Agricultural and Applied Economics 215
Introduction to statistics or calculus or course equivalent to Statistics 301 or Math 211 or Math 221 or Sociology 360 or Psychology 210
Introduction to American government or course equivalent to Political Science 104

Core courses

  • Introduction to Statistical Methods for Public Policy Analysis develops competence with analytical tools for studying public affairs.
  • Microeconomic Policy Analysis explores how to evaluate the implications of policies for efficiency and equity, and to employ statistical methods for interpreting and presenting quantitative data.
  • Introduction to Policy Analysis focuses on defining policy problems, determining goals, designing policy alternatives, and assessing trade-offs to make recommendations.
  • Policymaking Process examines the political processes that shape U.S. public policy.
  • Introduction to Public Management introduces key theories of how public organizations work, the relationship between democracy and management, and critical public management issues such as accountability and policy implementation.
  • Workshop in Public Affairs, the capstone course taken in the final semester, gives students experience working in teams with a faculty supervisor on a real-world policy project. They apply conceptual and analytical tools to issues their clients face in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors.

Browse all courses

Elective courses

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Health Systems and Policy
  • Inequality, Race and Public Policy
  • Public Program Evaluation
  • State and Local Government Finance

Students also may take courses from other highly regarded UW–Madison graduate programs, such as economics, political science, public health, urban and regional planning, social work, law, business, educational leadership and policy analysis, sociology, and environmental studies.

Browse all courses

Accelerated degrees

The La Follette School of Public Affairs provides selected UW-Madison undergraduates an opportunity to jumpstart the Master of Public Affairs or Master of International Public Affairs program. Learn more about the accelerated program.

Combined degrees

We offer established combined, double, and dual degrees in coordination with other university schools and departments.


Learn more about our combined degrees.

Student Xu at EPA

Careers

The Wisconsin State Capitol in MadisonCareer development is an integral part of the La Follette School experience. Most graduates find employment three to six months after graduation. Our Career and Professional Development office helps prepare students to work in government, nonprofits, and private firms across the U.S. and the world. Career development offers:

  • Career development events
  • Employment and internship position postings
  • Networking opportunities
  • Visits with local employers as well as regular trips to Washington, D.C.

Learn more about career and professional development

Applying and paying for school

Costs and financial aid

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Learn about cost and paying for school

Hear what our students say

  • Photo of Jessie Martin

    Jessie Martin, MPA

    "While shaping and improving public policy is still a major interest of mine, I took an increasing interest in how government policies and programs are administered."

  • Photo of Elizabeth Johnson

    Elizabeth Johnson, MPA, MPH

    "If you are looking to create a better future for yourself or the world, you will have the opportunity to learn how to do that here at La Follette."

  • Photo of Liliana Keomanivong Teniente

    Liliana Keomanivong Teniente, MPA

    "As a true believer in 'The Wisconsin Idea,' I have always sought to take my own learning beyond the boundaries of this campus, help others, and create positive change."

  • See more student profiles

Faculty

Our multidisciplinary faculty are nationally recognized experts in public policy analysis, public management and administration, and specialized policy fields.

Associate Professor Yang Wang delivers a lecture in front of a chalkboard

News

Talk to an advisor

Do you have questions, but aren’t sure where to look? We have advisors to talk to prospective students.


Please reach out

A student talking to an advisor

Frequently asked questions

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Does a student have to take both policy analysis and public administration courses?

La Follette School faculty believe that students need skills in public management and policy analysis to be effective administrators and policy analysts. After students take the core courses, they can choose to specialize more in management or in policy analysis depending on which electives they choose. A student who prefers to work in nonprofit or management might take electives such as Advanced Management, Performance Management, and Personnel Management. A student who plans to become an analyst can choose to take electives such as Program Evaluation, Advanced Statistical Methods for Public Policy, and Benefit-Cost Analysis.

Why does a student who wants to be an administrator or work in the nonprofit sector need to study statistical methods and microeconomic analysis?

Leaders in government agencies and nonprofit organizations are called upon to report on the performance of the programs that they manage. They have to be able to showcase the advantages and disadvantages of programs with regard to cost and social value. To make a compelling case for the relative effect of a particular program requires an understanding of basic statistical concepts. Such professional skills are badly needed in the nonprofit area, and La Follette School graduates have an advantage when competing for higher-level administrative positions.

Can I study a specific type of policy like education policy or environmental policy?

Students take the core required courses and acquire skills that will allow them to work in a variety of types of administration and policy. Students can tailor their studies to develop a focus on one or two types of policy such as health, education, social and poverty, environmental, trade and finance, security, and international development policy. They do this by carefully selecting electives offered by public affairs faculty and by other departments on campus.

Students considering applying to the La Follette School, are encouraged to check out our double- and dual-degree programs and graduate certificate options.