Frequently Asked Questions

Prospective Students

Should I get an MPA? Or is another degree a better choice?

At its core, the JMU MPA program is best suited to students who have a commitment to public service. Our graduates have gone on to work in many types of organizations, but they all share a commitment to making a positive difference in their organizations and communities. The MPA is a professional degree that is widely recognized as the preferred credential in government and nonprofit organizations. Increasingly, due to the large number of private companies that interact with government agencies, graduates of MPA programs are also finding relevant work in the for-profit sector.

If you want to be a captain of industry, we’d recommend an MBA. If you want to be a scholar outside the field of public administration, we’d recommend an MA or MS program before pursuing a Ph.D. If you want to be a teacher, try an M.Ed.

What sorts of jobs do JMU MPA graduates get after they finish?

In a recent survey, our graduates indicated that they worked in a wide variety of organizations. Over 22% work in local government, 11% in state and federal government, 17% in nonprofit organizations, and 15% in for-profit companies. Read about how some of our alumni are using their MPA degrees.

How large is JMU’s program?

One of the strengths of our program is its small size. This allows students to have a high degree of interaction with faculty members and each other. We currently have seven full-time and several part-time faculty members participating in the program and less than fifty students.

Do you have to major in public administration as an undergrad to do the MPA program?

Absolutely not! In fact, the majority of our students do not have an undergraduate major in public administration. We routinely accept applicants from a wide variety of undergraduate programs—recent majors have included biology, sociology, English, international relations, business administration, and social work, to name a few.

What are the admissions requirements?

Applicants are required to submit: 1) official transcripts from all previous colleges, 2) current GRE or GMAT scores (less than 5 years old), 3) a resume, and 4) a professional statement. There is also an online application form and an application fee that is required by JMU’s Graduate School. When reviewing applications, we heavily emphasize cumulative undergraduate GPA, undergraduate major GPA, and GRE scores.

What are the application deadlines?

The MPA program has a rolling admissions process. Generally, we need to have you completed application at least 6 weeks prior to the start of the semester in which you intend to enroll. To be considered for assistantships, students must have a completed application on file by April 1st.

Do I have to take the GREs?

All applicants must complete the GRE (or GMAT) in order to be considered for admission to the program. The only exception to this rule is for applicants who have already earned a graduate degree at an accredited institution.

Are there any prerequisites?

Applicants to the program should have completed an undergraduate course in American Government and an undergraduate course in Statistics. We have found that this background is necessary to succeed in the graduate program. Students who apply prior to taking these courses may be offered conditional admission, meaning that they must complete these courses in order to be upgraded to unconditional admission.

Can I take courses prior to applying for the program?

Students can take courses on a space available basis by enrolling as a non-degree seeking student. Non-degree seeking status is granted by Outreach Programs and must be renewed each semester. A limited number of courses taken as a non-degree student may be transferred to a degree program after admission. The MPA faculty discourages students from taking more than 2-3 courses as a non-degree seeking student, because successful completion of the courses does not guarantee admission to the program.

Is there financial aid?

Students in the MPA program are eligible to apply for financial assistance through JMU’s Office of Financial Aid. There are also a very limited number of graduate assistantships available to highly qualified, full-time students. Graduate assistantships cover in-state tuition and provide a small stipend to defray living expenses. Graduate assistants are expected to work 20 hours per week in support of faculty members in the department.

How do I apply for assistantships?

Applicants to the MPA program who indicate on their application that they are interested in assistantships will automatically be considered by the department. These are highly competitive awards. Additionally, graduate assistantships are occasionally available in other administrative units at JMU. These assistantships are announced on the JMU jobs site or through other internal communication channels. Selection for assistantships outside of the MPA program is controlled by the hiring department.

What if I don’t want to do one of the existing concentrations?

One of the most popular concentration options for students is the individualized concentration. This gives students the flexibility to choose graduate level courses that are specifically relevant to their professional goals. Courses must be approved by the MPA Director in order to count, but past students have taken coursework ranging from Environmental Toxicology to Counseling.

Is a thesis required?

JMU’s MPA program does not require a thesis. Students develop a professional portfolio as the culmination of their studies. The portfolio documents each student’s competency in core areas of public administration and serves as an excellent showcase of the student’s work. Recent students have found their portfolios to be a very useful tool in their job searches and as evidence to support promotions and raises.

Do I have to do an internship?

All MPA students who have fewer than 2-years of substantive, professional public service experience are required to complete an internship as part of their curriculum. The internship requires 400 hours of work in a government or nonprofit organization. These experiences are extremely important for students without a track record of public service employment.

I am entering the program in order to switch careers. Despite my professional experience, can I do an internship?

An internship is an excellent way to gain relevant experience in a field or subfield where you lack experience. We would encourage you to do an internship, but you should work closely with the internship coordinator to make sure your placement will support your professional goals.

Is there an MPA orientation session?

Beginning in Fall 2010, all MPA students will be required to attend an orientation meeting prior to beginning classes. Students are also encouraged to attend the university-wide Graduate School orientation.

What is the mix of part-time students and full-time students?

The mix of full-time and part-time students is one of the strengths of the JMU program. Professors and students report that having students with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives makes the class environment very conducive to peer-learning. Lively, collegial debate is a standard part of many MPA classes.

For part-time students, how long does it take to finish?

It varies. Part-time students, especially those working full-time, often find that their ability to take courses varies over time. One semester they might be able to take two courses, the next semester only one. The key thing to keep in mind here is that JMU’s policy is that graduate coursework expires after 7 years. So, students must plan accordingly in conjunction with their adviser.

Is it possible for someone who works 8-5 to complete the MPA program?

Absolutely! For several decades, we have met the needs of full-time professionals by offering our courses in the evenings. All core classes and many elective courses are offered on a schedule with working administrators in mind. Typically, these courses meet once per week throughout the semester from 6:30-9:00 pm in Miller Hall in Harrisonburg or at the Roanoke Higher Education Center in Roanoke.

For older students, is it awkward getting back into the classroom?

Most people have found it very easy to transition back to student status. There are usually several students in any given class who have been out of college for awhile. The MPA faculty is experienced in working with students who are returning to the class room after a long absence. If you are having trouble making the transition, we encourage you to work with the professors to let them know when you are having difficulty. They may be able to make useful recommendations that will help you succeed. Also, talk to other students in the program; a good support network of peers is a great thing to develop.

Can I do the JMU five-year program if I am not a Public Policy and Administration major?

Yes, but there are additional courses you will need to take in order to prepare for graduate public administration coursework in your senior year. Five-year students must be able to fit in 9 hours of graduate coursework during their undergraduate careers that will not count toward the 120 required hours for the bachelor’s degree. It is recommended that you meet with the Director of the MPA program as early in your undergraduate career as possible to plan your program of study.

What format the classes are in?

Course formats vary by course topic and instructor. They range from traditional lecture-based courses to seminar-style discussions to field-based, applied projects.

Does JMU have a campus in Roanoke?

Not exactly. JMU’s only campus is in Harrisonburg, but we are proud to be a member of the Roanoke Higher Education Center (RHEC) in downtown Roanoke. JMU has dedicated class space and a faculty office in the RHEC building (Room #108). Our Roanoke MPA classes are taught in this space. The RHEC offers a wide array of support services to JMU students, including a library facility. Of course JMU students in Roanoke also have access to Harrisonburg resources, many of which are available remotely.

What is the difference between the Roanoke program and the Harrisonburg program?

In terms of admissions criteria and course work, there are fundamentally no differences in the two locations. The primary difference, aside from geography, is that the Roanoke program operates as a sequenced cohort. Roanoke students take two courses per semester with the members of their cohort, completing the program in slightly less than two years. Due to the cohort format, Roanoke students complete the concentration in public and nonprofit management.

I heard that some of the Roanoke courses are taught by video. Is this true?

Many of the courses in Roanoke are taught in-person, but it is sometimes necessary for courses to be taught via interactive videoconferencing. The technology that is used allows students in Roanoke to see and hear a professor in Harrisonburg; conversely, it also allows the professor to see and hear the students in Roanoke. Students and faculty have reported that, while the technology takes a little bit of adapting, eventually the experience is not unlike having the faculty member in the same room.

How do I indicate that I want to enroll in the Roanoke program?

When you complete the online application at the Graduate School website, choose Roanoke MPA from the list of available programs.

Current Students

Is there an MPA Student Organization?

A chapter of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) has recently formed in Harrisonburg. Graduate students are encouraged to participate in ASPA to gain valuable professional networking and development opportunities.

Does the department have any social events?

The department generally hosts two large social gatherings for MPA students, faculty, and their families during the academic year. Other opportunities exist throughout the year for students and faculty to meet informally. As well, the local ASPA chapter, the Graduate Student Association (GSA) offers additional occasions for gatherings.

Is there an MPA orientation session?

All MPA students will be required to attend an orientation meeting prior to beginning classes. Students are also encouraged to attend the university-wide Graduate School orientation.

Who is my advisor?

Currently, all MPA students are advised by the MPA Director. Your adviser should also be identified in e-campus.

What order should I take the courses in?

For most courses, there are no prerequisites, so it does not particularly matter in which order courses are completed. There are a few exceptions. PUAD 605 (Research Methods) should be taken before PUAD 606 (Program Evaluation). PUAD 692 (MPA Capstone) should be taken in the final spring semester in the program. It is recommended, but not required, that students take PUAD 620 (Politics of Administration) in their first fall semester in the program.

I was admitted conditionally, when and how do I upgrade to unconditional status?

Your admissions letter describes the conditions for upgrading your status. If you have met these requirements, you should consult with your adviser. The adviser and the MPA director must certify that the conditions have been met and request your status upgrade from the Graduate School. All students must be in unconditional status in order to apply for graduation.

I want to change my concentration, how?

Consult with your adviser. There is a form required by the Graduate School to officially change your concentration. The form must be signed by your adviser and the MPA Director. Concentration changes should be completed prior to filing the graduation application.

What if I don’t want to do one of the existing concentrations?

One of the most popular concentration options for students is the individualized concentration. This gives students the flexibility to choose graduate level courses that are specifically relevant to their professional goals. Courses must be approved by the MPA Director in order to count, but past students have taken coursework ranging from Environmental Toxicology to Counseling.

I am doing the individualized concentration, what courses are acceptable?

The MPA Director must approve all courses applied to the individualized concentration. Students have been given wide latitude in choosing courses that are relevant to their professional goals. Graduate level classes from many departments at JMU have been counted by students with specific interests.

I took PPA 415 as an undergraduate PPA major. Do I have to take PUAD 615? Isn’t it the same course?

Students who officially declared the 5-year program are granted a waiver for PUAD 615 (Legal Environment of Public Administration). Other students must complete PUAD 615 in order to graduate from the MPA program. Although there is substantial overlap in content, PUAD 615 has additional requirements for graduate students.

I want to do an independent study, how?

PUAD 680 (Reading and Research) is the MPA program’s equivalent of an independent study. It allows students to pursue advanced study in a narrowly defined area under the guidance of an MPA faculty member. The first step in setting up an independent study is to find an MPA faculty member willing to act as your faculty supervisor. Once there is an agreement, the faculty member should notify the MPA Director. An override into PUAD 680 will then be generated, allowing the student to register for the course. Next, the student should work with the faculty member to develop a plan for the independent study. Department policies require that independent study participants produce at least one written product of at least 35-pages in length.

I want to do research with a professor, how?

If you have a specific research project in mind, talk to the MPA faculty member to see if he/she would be willing to work with you on the project. If you have a more generic interest in participating in research, most faculty members have ongoing research projects on which they may need assistance. The MPA faculty members value the input from students, and encourage their participation. It is important to remember that not all faculty members are able to include students in their research, and that they are under no obligation to provide you with this opportunity.

How do I find an internship?

The internship coordinator may be able to provide contact information for some local internship providers. Your best option is to contact directly agencies and organizations in which you are interested. Some entities have formalized internship programs and others may be willing to take on an intern depending on needs and workload. Make sure you are clear about the agency’s expectations from its interns—the level of autonomy and responsibility varies widely from agency to agency, and the most successful internships are ones where there is an explicit agreement between the parties prior to beginning.

There are also a number of excellent websites that advertise internship vacancies. To see the list of sites we recommend on our internship page (click here).

When do I take the comprehensive exam?

For MPA students, the written comprehensive exam was replaced by the portfolio produced in the MPA Capstone. Students who earn satisfactory scores on all required competencies in the professional portfolio are deemed by the MPA faculty to have successfully completed the comprehensive exam requirement. As such, a successful portfolio is a requirement for graduation from the MPA program.

When do I need to submit my graduation application?

For most students, the graduation application is completed in the first week of the PUAD 692 (MPA Capstone) during the class period. For students who are not taking PUAD 692 in their final semester, the graduation application should be completed in the first week of the semester in which they intend to graduate. Consult the Graduate School website for filing deadlines or speak to your adviser.

I want to take a leave of absence, how?

The JMU Graduate School requires continuous enrollment once students begin a program. Recognizing that there may be circumstances requiring an interruption, GRAD 597 (Continuance) has been established to allow students to remain enrolled during a period of absence. This course is a one-credit course, requiring payment of a $50 fee.

In extenuating circumstances, a leave of absence may be granted by the MPA Director and the Dean of the Graduate School.