Careers: Public Administration
Updated: Feb 25
As the aging Baby Boomer generation nears retirement age, a large number of job openings will occur in government and public sector positions. Students interested in careers in public service will find themselves well positioned for these an-ticipated openings in federal, state, and local government, in city management and urban planning, in work with non-profits or in positions with private firms dealing with government relations.
Public administration focuses on the management of public affairs. Public administrators function in governmental organizations in a way similar to that of business managers in the private sector. Students develop an appreciation for the socioeconomic, political, and cultural environments in which businesses and governments operate. Majors must develop their ability to see all sides of complex issues and also hone their skills in negotiation. It is the public administrator who often must help those on opposite sides of an issue find common ground.
Public administration is a subfield of political science. It combines the teachings of political science with studies in economics, management, sociology, and psychology. Public administrators both to formulate public policy and to put these policies into place. Thus, public administration majors must learn about all aspects of policy making and implementation.
Success in this field requires finely devel-oped problem-solving abilities. Knowledge of political systems and an under-standing of economics, statistics, and computer science are necessary. Typical courses in the major include studies in public policy, grant writing, economic development, structure of state government, organizational theory, local politics and administration, public financial administration, human resources administration, voluntarism and information technology. Programs vary from institution to institution, with some colleges focusing on local politics or community development, while others may be geared more to those who want a career in state or federal government. Still other programs specialize in environmental policy or nonprofit administration. When considering a college for this major, try to determine how well the institution’s focus fits your vision of what you’d like to do in the future.
There’s a lot of cross-over between public administration and related majors. Majors in areas such as economics, urban and regional planning, political science, sociology, health care administration, public relations, environmental studies and business administration and management all provide students with similar skills and competencies. Social work and human services may also work in closely related areas. Course work in each of these fields often employs the use of case studies or simulations to provide a sense of how things operate in the real world. Most programs require internships in govern-mental or nonprofit agencies to provide more hands-on experiences, while other programs utilize a co-op approach, placing students in paid positions for several semesters.
A bachelor’s degree in any of these areas is required for entry level positions in a variety of public service positions. Graduates may be employed by governmental agencies in positions such as assistant city manager, human resource manager, grant coordinator, neighborhood planner, or policy analyst. Nonprofits such as religious groups, chambers of commerce and other neighborhood organizations and schools also hire public administration graduates. Still others are employed by private companies to act as liaisons with governmental agencies. Want to learn more? Visit the website of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA). Those more interested in the human side of public administration may want to check out the website of the National Association of Social Workers.
Career Paths for Public Administration Majors
Health care administrator Urban & regional planner City manager Public administration consultant Foreign service officer Auditor Criminal investigator Customs inspector Industrial relations specialist Labor management relations specialist Mediator Private investigator Systems analyst Public utilities specialist Budget analyst Political scientist Social services administrator Lobbyist Non-profit manager County clerk Financial administrator