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MPA plus no experience... a dead end?


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So I am interested in getting an MPA so I decided to go around looking
for jobs online which required or encouraged applicants to have earned
one. I noticed something kind of troubling- most of these jobs require
an MPA and associated experience in that industry or field.


For example, a healthcare program administrator job wanted the MPA ,
PLUS 5 years in the healthcare industry or a health related BA. A
county forestry program manager job wanted the MPA plus forestry
experience. An ecology program manager job wanted the MPA plus ecology
experience and/or related BA.


I was thinking I could get this degree, and then be able to choose
across a wide swath of potential jobs. However from what I have seen,
I'm wondering if a MPA is more of a tool for people already working in
that field to break whatever glass ceiling they might be facing and
enter management.


I'm not saying I am no longer interested in the MPA program, but I
would like to make sure I have realistic expectations on what an MPA
without industry experience would do for my marketability.

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I get the impression that that's very common for professional degrees-- I'm not as familiar with the MPA but you'll see a lot of the same advice given to people considering the MPH. These degrees are useful, but they're not a substitute for work experience and they won't automatically turn a new graduate into a professional with their pick of jobs. It's common for employers to feel that job candidates don't merit better titles, responsibilities, or pay based on a professional degree alone-- but that young people with these degrees will come in already feeling "overqualified" even if they've never held a job. (I'm not saying that's true, just that it seems to be a common perception of job candidates.) Also, enrollment in these programs is soaring due to several factors that can be summed up as "the crappy economy", so although people with masters degrees are a small percentage of the total population, unfortunately none of them are as rare as they probably bargained on being when they entered their programs.


If you have your heart set on attending in the fall, you should aggressively go after internships or part-time work that resembles your goal job as much as possible. Even unrelated general office experience is valuable in showing that you'll be reliable and get how career-type jobs work in a field that is full of people who only have school on their resumes. Otherwise, I'd strongly recommend that you wait and work for a couple of years. It will help you make sure that you want the MPA, set you apart once you're out, and allow you to identify related skills that you should try to pick up while you're in school. It's smart of you to be reading job ads now (lots of people don't do that, you'd be surprised), but job ads are wishlists-- it doesn't mean the employer is really inundated with unicorns who have that incredibly specific experience. Working will help you learn what is on every job ad because everyone has it, and what is on every ad because everyone wants it (spoiler: it's probably math).

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