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Can anyone in MPP/MPA programs offer thoughts on if MPP is right for me?


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Hi folks,

I currently work in community development for a large chamber of commerce in my market. Housed in the government affairs department and reporting to the VP of Gov Affairs, I work in community development on quality of life issues (think transportation, education, sports, public health, art, etc.). I seek to make these sectors more attractive and supported by businesses and local government in order to make our area remain an attractive metro in which to live and do business.

What I want to do is be some type of community relations/external affairs director (or similar) for a private company and use these skills to interact in the community. A large part of my job is being present and communicating/consensus building, and I believe I am quite good at it, and would like to do it more professionally (I mentioned private sector for the salary, but I suppose consultants do this also).

I've gone back and forth on what to get my degree in, but unfortunately most of my network of folks that I would ask for advice that do the type of work I would like to do "worked there way up to it" and don't necessarily have advanced degrees, if a degree at all. Obviously, MPA or MPP degrees come to mind given my undergrad (polysci and soc), but I'm not entirely sold on getting that degree, exiting with ~$40k-ish in debt and working for $15-$20k salary increase.

Any thoughts on this situation? Are there other degrees what would be more useful that I should consider (and just don't know of yet)? Or would an MPA/MPP serve me in this role?  

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If you do want to do a master's degree, it sounds like you'd benefit more from a public relations or communications degree.  Some of the big skills taught in MPPs are quantitative analysis (statistics), economic theories as they relate to policy analysis, and memo writing.  There isn't a ton about communicating with the public/broader community.

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Skwaat, I can tell you that YES you can get an MPP / MPA and end up in PR / Communications / External Relations at a private company. That's exactly what one of my best friends while I was at Harvard Kennedy School went on to do. He's now a VP of CSR & Sustainability after serving in crisis management roles at the same company after HKS. I interned in the Public Affairs Department of Eli Lilly & Co. as my HKS internship, and if I had worked there after school, I could have easily transitioned into an external relations type role. So yes, it is definitely possible!

HOWEVER, I'm thinking something like an MBA with an MA in Communications would serve you well if you're interested in going into the private sector. Johns Hopkins appears to have the ideal program for you: an MBA/MA in Communication. Read more here.

If you're not interested in a joint degree, and just want to do ONE degree, I suggest going for an MPA degree that has as many slots as possible open for elective coursework, and try to take as many communications related courses as you can. For example, I did the MPA at HKS, and I was able to take 3 Communications-focused classes:

  • Arts of Communication (a very popular course where you give speeches in front of the entire class on a weekly basis)
  • Writing for Politics and Policy
  • Public Narrative

I'm a joint degree, so here are some of the classes I took at HBS that might interest you:

  • Authentic Leadership Development
  • Leadership and Organizational Development (a core course)

I share those classes to show you that it's less about the three letters of the degree that you get and more about the availability of the types of classes you're interested in taking.

My overall recommendation is to for something that sounds ultra-tailored to your interests such as the Carey joint degree program above.

Best of luck! At least you know what you want to do! So many people are unclear on that part.

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