The Master of Public Affairs (MPA) Program provides education in public management and policy analysis that prepares students for careers in public policy and administration within the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

The award-winning La Follette School faculty includes economists, political scientists, sociologists, and public affairs scholars who teach the skills and tools needed for a career in public affairs. They are experts in social policy, health policy and management, public administration, public policy analysis, environmental policy and management, poverty, and tax policy and government finance.

Beyond campus, the city of Madison, as the state capital, provides a wealth of opportunities for La Follette School students to participate in outreach and acquire practical experience as professional project assistants or interns with public and private entities. Students benefit from the strong relationships that La Follette School faculty have with these organizations, in keeping with the Wisconsin Idea of public service. This includes the Family Impact Seminar and Committee Connect—opportunities that use evidence-based research to inform policymakers and improve public policy.

PUBLIC AFFAIRS COMBINED DEGREES AND CERTIFICATE PROGRAMS

Some students earn additional credentials while they work toward their public affairs degrees. Students must follow double degree and dual degree policies. The following combined degree and certificate programs are available:

  • Law (Juris Doctorate)
  • Master of Public Health
  • Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning
  • Doctorate in Neuroscience
  • Energy Analysis and Policy Certificate through the Nelson Institute in Environmental Studie
  • Business, Environment, & Social Responsibility; Entrepreneurship; or Strategic Innovation offered through the Wisconsin School of Business.

Law and Public Affairs (J.D./MPA)

Increasingly, careers in the federal, state and local governments, as well as nonprofit organizations and private sector businesses require an understanding of public administration, policy analysis, and public affairs, as well as law. Many students choose to pursue the dual law and public affairs degree because of their interest in employment in government agencies, government relations law practice, or in other policy-oriented firms and organizations.

For most students the dual-degree program will add about a year of study to the three years it takes to complete law school, but will save approximately one year of study compared to doing the two programs separately.

Public Health and Public Affairs (MPH/MPA)

The Master of Public Affairs (MPA) and Master of Public Health (MPH) dual-degree program prepares health policy professionals as policy analysts and public managers in the increasingly important area of health care. Dual-degree MPA/MPH students develop a firm foundation in policy analysis and public management offered by La Follette faculty and a deep substantive knowledge in public health that can only be offered through a program in the School of Medicine and Public Health. The dual degree program generally takes two years and one summer or three years to complete.

Neuroscience and Public Affairs  (Ph.D./MPA)

Advances in neuroscience have important policy implications for child welfare and education, community development, mental health and health care, bioethics and aging, environmental risks and national security. The Neuroscience and Public Policy Program (NPP) and the La Follette School of Public Affairs courses prepare students to work in the growing array of domestic or international policy jobs involved in the management of science and its integration into policy analysis and design. Students become good scientists and effective communicators, managers, and advocates of good public policy.

Urban and Regional Planning and Public Affairs (M.S. in URPL/MPA)

The La Follette School and the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture offer a three-year double-degree program in Urban and Regional Planning and Public Affairs that culminates in two degrees: a Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning and a Master of Public Affairs degree.

Applicants for the MPA program should submit official transcripts showing undergraduate performance with at least the equivalent of a 3.0 G.P.A. (on a 4.0 scale), three references, a statement of purpose, Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores, and a resume. Prerequisite courses are an introductory course in microeconomics, an introductory course in calculus or statistics, and an introductory American government course. Applicants without this background may be admitted with the understanding that these courses will be completed before beginning the program.

Every applicant whose first language is not English and whose complete four-year undergraduate instruction was not in English, must provide official scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Michigan English Language Assessment Battery (MELAB). The applicant must provide at least one of these minimum standardized test scores: TOEFL computer-based test score 237, TOEFL internet-based test score 92, IELTS score 7, or MELAB 82. Even if a student has the minimum score, the program can require the admitted applicant to take the on-campus ESL exam and register for any recommended English-as-a-second-language course(s) in the first semester of graduate study.

The La Follette School of Public Affairs only admits for the fall semester. The priority deadline for admission is January 1. Applications are accepted after this date on a rolling admission basis, but there is no guarantee that space in the incoming class will be available.

Graduate School Admissions

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic degree programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet requirements of both the program(s) and the Graduate School. Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.  

Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and processes related to funding.

Program Resources

La Follette School fellowships and scholarships are offered on a merit basis to all public affairs and international public affairs applicants. Priority consideration is given to applications received by January 1.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements

MODE OF INSTRUCTION

Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No Yes

Mode of Instruction Definitions

CURRICULAR REQUIREMENTS

Minimum Credit Requirement MPA: 42 credits

MPA with accelerated track: 36 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement MPA: 16 credits

MPA with accelerated track; 36 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement Half of degree coursework (21 out of 42 total credits) must be completed in graduate-level coursework. For MPA accelerated track, 21 of 36 must be completed in graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide (https://registrar.wisc.edu/course-guide/).
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required.
Other Grade Requirements Students must earn a BC or above in all core curriculum coursework.
Assessments and Examinations Requirements are determined by the program.
Language Requirements No language requirement.

Required COURSES

Students must complete 42 credits, including six core courses, a 1-credit professional development seminar, plus eight elective courses. An internship can count for up to 3 elective credits. The program generally takes two years.

Six required courses are the foundation of the MPA degree program:

PUB AFFR 800 Public Affairs Professional Development Workshop1
PUB AFFR/​POLI SCI/​URB R PL  874 Policy-Making Process3
PUB AFFR 818 Introduction to Statistical Methods for Public Policy Analysis3
PUB AFFR 880 Microeconomic Policy Analysis3
PUB AFFR/​POLI SCI/​URB R PL  878 Public Management3
PUB AFFR 873 Introduction to Policy Analysis3
PUB AFFR 869 Workshop in Public Affairs3

MPA students are also encouraged to build proficiency beyond the core analytical requirements by completing at least one of the following:

PUB AFFR 819 Advanced Statistical Methods for Public Policy Analysis3
PUB AFFR/​POLI SCI  871 Public Program Evaluation3
PUB AFFR/​A A E/​ENVIR ST/​POP HLTH  881 Benefit-Cost Analysis3

In addition to the required core courses, MPA students choose electives to develop specialized knowledge in policy fields that match their interests and career goals. Guided by faculty advisors, students typically choose electives that build on the expertise of La Follette School faculty across a number of well-established policy fields. Students can also take advantage of the wide range of courses offered throughout the university.

Recommended Electives in Public Affairs:

PUB AFFR 819 Advanced Statistical Methods for Public Policy Analysis3
PUB AFFR 827 Administrative Internship1-3
PUB AFFR/​POLI SCI  871 Public Program Evaluation3
PUB AFFR/​A A E/​ENVIR ST/​POP HLTH  881 Benefit-Cost Analysis3

 Recommended Two-Year Plan of Study

Recommended progression
Fall Year One
PUB AFFR 800 Public Affairs Professional Development Workshop1
PUB AFFR 818 Introduction to Statistical Methods for Public Policy Analysis3
PUB AFFR 880 Microeconomic Policy Analysis3
PUB AFFR/​POLI SCI/​URB R PL  874 Policy-Making Process3
Spring Year One
PUB AFFR 873 Introduction to Policy Analysis3
PUB AFFR/​POLI SCI/​URB R PL  878 Public Management3
Spring Year Two
PUB AFFR 869 Workshop in Public Affairs3

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Graduate Program Handbook

The Graduate Program Handbook is the repository for all of the program's policies and requirements.

Prior Coursework

Graduate Work from Other Institutions

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 9 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions. Coursework earned five or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements. This work does not appear on UW–Madison transcript nor count toward graduate career GPA.

UW–Madison Undergraduate

Up to 7 credits from a UW–Madison undergraduate degree are allowed to count toward the degree. This work will not appear on the student’s graduate transcript. Coursework earned five or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 9 credits of coursework numbered 300 or above taken as a UW–Madison University Special student. Coursework earned five or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

ProbatioN

The Graduate School regularly reviews the record of any student who earned grades of BC, C, D, F, or Incomplete in a graduate course (300 or above), or grade of U in research credits. This review could result in academic probation with a hold on future enrollment or in being suspended from the Graduate School.

  1. Good standing (progressing according to standards; any funding guarantee remains in place).
  2. Probation (not progressing according to standards but permitted to enroll; loss of funding guarantee; specific plan with dates and deadlines in place in regard to removal of probationary status).
  3. Unsatisfactory progress (not progressing according to standards; not permitted to enroll, dismissal, leave of absence or change of advisor or program).

ADVISOR / COMMITTEE

Every graduate student is required to have an advisor. To ensure they are making satisfactory progress toward a degree, the Graduate School expects that students meet with their advisor on a regular basis.

An advisor generally serves as the thesis advisor. In many cases, an advisor is assigned to incoming students. Students can be suspended from the Graduate School if they do not have an advisor. An advisor is a faculty member, or sometimes a committee, from the major department responsible for providing advice regarding graduate studies.

A committee often accomplishes advising for the students in the early stages of their studies.

CREDITS PER TERM ALLOWED

MPA: 13 credits are advised if a student hold other appointments on campus. Students need advisor approval to take 15 credits.

MPA with accelerated track: 15 credits

Time Constraints

Master’s degree students who have been absent for five or more consecutive years lose all credits that they have earned before their absence. Individual programs may count the coursework students completed prior to their absence for meeting program requirements; that coursework may not count toward Graduate School credit requirements.

Other

n/a

Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

Program Resources

PUBLIC AFFAIRS CAREERS

Career development is an integral part of the La Follette School experience, and data show extremely high percentages of employment three to six months post-graduation. The Career Services Office offers:

  • Visits with local employers as well as regular trips to Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Milwaukee
  • Networking opportunities
  • Career development seminars with public affairs professionals
  • Connections with alumni mentors

The career services coordinator works with students one-on-one to develop essential skills, such as interviewing, writing strong cover letters and resumes, and researching internships and permanent employment. During the first-semester course Professional Development Workshop, students also create an individual plan and portfolio that help them proactively move toward their academic and career goals.

La Follette School alumni work in all levels of government, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector. Popular positions include policy analyst, consultant, executive director, research analyst, project manager, and government liaison. MPA alumni have held positions with these agencies, organizations, and businesses:

  • Congressional Research Service
  • Deloitte
  • Duke Margolis Health Policy Center
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Grant Thornton
  • National Council on Crime and Delinquency
  • Oregon Legislative Fiscal Office
  • UW–Madison Center for Education Research
  • U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Wisconsin Department of Health Services
  • Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau

1. (Knowledge) Demonstrate understanding of major current and past policy debates, research findings, and analytical methodologies in each of the following core areas: microeconomic policy analysis, quantitative tools for policy analysis, policy analysis, the policymaking process, and public management.

2. (Knowledge) Demonstrate critical thinking skills. They will retrieve and examine the policy literature and evaluate evidence for and against hypotheses, identify knowledge gaps, strengths and weaknesses in existing literature, synthesize knowledge, and develop conclusions.

3. (Applied Research Skills) Read, comprehend, and effectively summarize policy research and policy-relevant academic research.

4. (Applied Research Skills) Effectively summarize data for a general (non-academic) or policy audience.

5. (Applied Research Skills) Demonstrate competency in methods of inferential statistics including those associated with multivariate regression models.

6. (Professional and Ethical Conduct) Identify and appropriately respond to scenarios involving the ethical and professional responsibilities of public administration.

7. (Professional and Ethical Conduct) Demonstrate the ability to maintain human subjects protections when designing studies, collecting data and reporting results.

8. (Professional and Ethical Conduct) Know and adhere to high levels of professional conduct, ethical decision-making and legal and regulatory compliance.

9. (Professional and Ethical Conduct) Demonstrate the ability to maintain fidelity to objective social science-based research methods.

10. (Communication) Communicate in clear written language: a real-world policy problem, relevant scholarly studies and practical applications, a policy-analytic method to investigate the problem, and client-oriented advice to mitigate the problem.

11. (Communication) Communicate substance of point 1 highly concisely and in language understandable to a non-specialist.

12. (Communication) Communicate substance of point 2 orally.

13. (Professional Skills and Career Preparation) Develop effective job-seeking tools and utilize job-seeking techniques.

14. (Professional Skills and Career Preparation) Complete high quality group projects, including demonstration of effective project management and teamwork.

Faculty: Professors Blank, Cancian, Chinn, Copelovitch, Fletcher, Meyer, Nemet, Smeeding, Weimer, Yackee (director); Associate Professors: Collins, Wallace; Assistant Professors: O'Brien, Tjernstrom; Assistant Professors: Jacobs, O'Brien, Tjernström, Wang; Lecturers: Doyle, Howard, Kozel, Lavigna, McKelvey, Nelson