FAQ for Prospective MPA Students

Apply to the JMU MPA programShould 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.