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Our general curriculum is laid out below. For detailed information about the program requirements, you will want to consult our current Program Handbook. For specific information on available courses and how they meet program requirements, please consult the current Course Guide. Consult the MPA Professional Writing Guide for more information about the professional writing and analysis qualification.

Foundation Coursework: 9 courses

To develop a strong foundation of cross-disciplinary knowledge for working within the broad domain of public affairs, you take courses in the following three complementary subject areas:

  • Administrative, Political and Policy Processes
    –how public affairs are conducted
  • Economic Analysis and Public Finance
    –how public affairs are financed
  • Quantitative Analysis
    –how decisions and results in public affairs are evaluated

Concentration Coursework: 5 courses

We offer eight areas of concentration from which to choose. With the help of your advisor, you can select courses that fit your desired area of specialization. Within each of these concentrations, you may choose five courses that will give you the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue your professional goals:


The MPA Program Colloquium is a sequence of courses designed to acclimate MPA students to workforce demands and cutting-edge perspectives from across the field of public affairs.

In the fall of their first year study, students enroll in PADM 5009: Career Management for Public Affairs, which provides an overview of the public affairs career landscape, as well as the career management tools (effective resumes, cover letters, interviewing, online reputation management, self assessment) required to succeed on the job market.In the fall of their second year of study, MPA students enroll in PADM 5011: Perspectives on Public Affairs.  PADM 5011 is an engaging and interactive topical roundtable series facilitated by MPA Program alumni and professional partners around emerging public policy issues and challenges.Both first and second-year MPA students enroll in PADM 5012 each spring.  A case-based, interactive seminar series, PADM 5012 encourages students to consider how public affairs challenges are resolved across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, and work with peers to identify alternative decision options and resolutions.

Practical Experience

Hands-on, professional work experience in public affairs is a key component of the MPA Program. You are expected to gain practical work experience in an area related to your concentration. There are several options for meeting this requirement:

  • Summer Internships. Most students undertake an internship during the summer between their first and second year of study. The MPA Program Office of Career Management will assist you in finding a position that matches your interests, expertise, and professional goals.
  • Introductory Consulting Course—PADM 5900: Consulting for Nonprofit and Government Organizations
  • Off-Campus Study/Externship Programs
  • Graduate Certificate Programs
    Environmental Finance and Impact Investment (EFII)
    Fellows Program or the Infrastructure Project Management and Finance (IPMF)
    Systems Thinking, Modelling, and Leadership (STML) Certificate

Professional Writing/Analysis Qualification

In the public affairs profession, you will need a high level of expertise in both analysis and written communication. We offer several ways for you to improve your skills and demonstrate professional competency in these areas:

  • Capstone Project. You may undertake a rigorous, semester-long, pro bono, group consulting project for real clients in public agencies or nonprofits, culminating in a written report.
  • Professional report. Some students who undertake a summer internship expand on their experience by enrolling in a semester-long independent study or directed reading course, culminating in a more complete professional report that is useful to the client and others. The report is intended to assist your client in decision-making and program management or evaluation. Consult the Program Handbook and the MPA Professional Writing Guide for more specifics.
  • Thesis. Writing a master’s thesis is an option that is particularly appropriate for those who plan to go on for a PhD and have some particular topical concern within the field of public affairs that can be served by broad-ranging but focused research. Consult the Program Handbook and the MPA Professional Writing Guide for more specifics. For additional information about writing a research thesis and proper format see the Thesis and Dissertation Guide, available on the Cornell Graduate School web site.