The M.P.A. program presents a basic structure for undertaking graduate study in public affairs, but students are the primary designers of their respective educational and career trajectories while at Cornell. When entering the program, each fellow is provided a faculty mentor. Students work with their respective mentors, and the MPA Student Advising Coordinator, to design individualized courses of study. Students decide upon a concentration and a plan of study and choose one of the three options for completing the professional writing/analysis qualification: a capstone project, a professional report, or a thesis. The latter option will require a student to identify an additional advisor from the Jeb. E. Brooks School of Public Policy Faculty with subject matter specialization.
During their two years of study, MP A students must satisfactorily complete a minimum of sixteen full semester courses totaling 48 credits, typically four courses per semester. A full semester course is either a 3 or 4 credit course; note that two 1.5 or 2 credit courses together count as one full semester course. All courses must be at the 5000 level and above to count toward the MPA degree.
Instruction mode for the program is in-person unless otherwise noted. In order to remain in good academic standing, MPA students must maintain a GPA of 2.0 (3.0 for funding eligibility), not have any failing grades in any class counting toward the degree, and not carry more than two (2) incomplete grades.
Fellows are required to spend four semesters of study in residence to complete the MPA Exceptions are made for Fellows completing an approved semester of off-campus study.
Foundational Course Work
Eight courses in total (minimum 24 credits), including the following four courses, which are required in the fall of the MPA student’s first year:
PADM 5009 Career Management for Public Affairs
PADM 5110 Public Administration
PADM 5210 - Intermediate Microeconomics for Public Affairs
PADM 5310 Applied Multivariate Statistics for Public Affairs
PADM 5414 Project Management
In addition to the four required MPA Foundation courses, students select courses in each of the three foundation areas listed
below with one course in each of the foundation sub areas:
Administrative, Political and Policy Processes (minimum 6 credits)
- one course on leading and managing in the public affairs arena and
- one course analyzing politics and processes for implementing policy
Economic Analysis and Public Sector Economics (minimum 3 credits)
- one course on the microeconomics of government policy
Quantitative Methods and Analytics (minimum 3 credits)
- one course on decision analytic methods for public affairs
Additional Foundation Course (minimum 3 credits)
One additional full semester course chosen from any of the foundation areas or from a list of pre-approved additional
foundation courses identified in the MPA Course Guide.
Concentration Course Work
Five courses (minimum 15 credits) in the MPA student’s selected area of professional focus, including one Concentration Gateway course that serves as a field seminar for providing students with the state of scholarship and practice in their chosen concentration. No MPA student may take more than half of their concentration courses in another professional master’s program, such as, but not limited to, NBA, AEM, HADM, ILR, CRP, ENG, ENGMT.
Practical Experience: Internships, Off-Campus Study, and/or Public Service Exchange
Experiential learning is an integral component of MPA’s educational strategy, and a practical experience is a requirement for obtaining the MPA degree. Summer internships, the MPA Public Service Exchange, and off-campus study may be used to satisfy this requirement, and many students choose to gain experience through more than one of these options.
Most of our students fulfill this requirement through a summer internship between their first and second year of study. Internships allow students to apply training in a practical environment and establish contacts for permanent employment. The Brooks School Office of Enrollment and Student Services provides assistance to MPA students in finding internships that match a MPA students’ interests, expertise, and professional goals. Appropriate internships are available in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Organizations who have offered internships in recent years can be viewed on the MPA website.
The MPA Public Service Exchange is a unique service-learning partnership with nonprofit and government agencies, many of which are located in the Ithaca/Tompkins County area. These agencies provide real world projects for MPA students to work on. In the process, MPA students gain practical work experience while completing their MPA coursework. MPA students who wish to participate in the Public Service Exchange must register for PADM 5900 - Consulting for Nonprofit and Government Organizations .
MPA students also have the opportunity to gain professional experience off-campus, while taking a semester of courses for credit, through the following programs:
- CIPA Washington, D.C. Externship Semester
- CIPA New York City Externship Semester
- Cornell Capital Semester in Albany, NY
Professional Writing/Analytical Qualification
As a culmination of studies in the MPA program, MPA students must complete a final project that demonstrates well-developed analytical and expositional skills. This project should provide MPA students with:
- An opportunity to integrate/refine knowledge and skills that have professional relevance; and
- Tangible products demonstrating professional competence to prospective employers.
In order to serve MPA students’ different career needs, Brooks offers three options for completing the requirement: a capstone project, a professional report, or a thesis.
The MPA Capstone is a semester-long course designed for second-year MPA students. It offers an opportunity for MPA students to apply the knowledge and skills that they have acquired through coursework and internship experience by engaging in rigorous pro bono consulting projects for real-world public, private, and nonprofit clients. Each semester, two Capstone courses are offered, one addressing public service initiatives or policies posed by U.S. clients, and the other addressing initiatives or policies posed by clients from other countries. For each Capstone project, MPA students form consulting teams that propose solutions which are relevant and actionable. Through this experience, MPA students learn about managing client projects and undertaking sophisticated policy analyses within the constraints of different political environments and organizations.
Most MPA students undertake an internship during the summer between their first and second years, and most of these will require a written deliverable at the conclusion of the experience. Some MPA students, based on their professional and career objectives, will prefer to follow up their internship experience by writing a more thorough and authoritative professional report for their client than was possible during their internship period. Work on a professional report is supervised by a representative of the client organization and by a member of the faculty of the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy. MPA students choosing to write a professional report may register for an independent study or directed reading course in the fall or spring semester of their second year. In order to satisfy the professional writing requirement, a MPA student’s report must be approved by both the client organization and the faculty supervisor.
The thesis option is best-suited for MPA students who intend to pursue a Ph.D. beyond the MPA degree, and who have some topical concern within the broad domain of public affairs that can be well-served by focused research. Thesis research is supervised by a member of the faculty of the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy. MPA students who choose this option may enroll for a semester of directed reading/independent study under the supervision of their thesis advisor. Pre-approval for the thesis option must be received from the MPA Director during the first semester of a student’s second year. In order to satisfy the professional writing requirement, a MPA student’s thesis must be approved by the faculty supervisor and the MPA Program Director.
MPA students gain practical skills by organizing, managing, and participating in a variety of professional development activities on campus. These provide MPA students with opportunities to share work experience with other MPA students and to meet practitioners and distinguished faculty members in public affairs. These student-led initiatives include:
- Cornell Public Affairs Society (CPAS): CPAS is the student-run professional organization of the MPA Program. CPAS aims to provide MPA students with access to opportunities and experiences that enhance their professional, interpersonal and leadership skills to prepare them for a successful career in public affairs.
- The Cornell Policy Review: This is Brooks’ student-edited academic public policy journal. MPA students serve as both editors and contributors, and the editorial board solicits book reviews, interviews, and scholarly contributions from members of the Cornell community, alumni and others.
- Women in Public Policy (WIPP): This student organization is dedicated to furthering the understanding of the current role of women in public affairs and policy both in the United States and abroad.
Some substitution of coursework may be allowed, based on a student’s previous mastery of a subject; for example, a student with a bachelor’s degree in economics would not be expected to repeat the intermediate microeconomics course, but would instead take more advanced graduate work. Students, in consultation with their faculty mentors and the MPA Student Advising Coordinator, can propose alternative ways in which the purposes of the curriculum’s structure can be better fulfilled in their case to enrich their degree program, and then petition for approval from the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). The DGS has responsibility for final approval of all plans of study. Additional information is available on the MPA Program website.
Complementary and Dual-Degree Programs
MPA students seeking to enhance their studies with additional interdisciplinary and intersectoral training may apply for one of several complementary or dual degree programs affiliated with the MPA Program. Applicants must apply and be accepted to each program separately, and acceptance into one program does not enhance the prospect of being accepted to the complementary or dual degree program.
Dual MHA/MPA Degree Program
This program, run in collaboration with the Sloan Program on Health Administration, allows students to obtain the Master of
Public Administration Degree and the Master of Health Administration degree in five semesters.
Complementary Degree Programs
These programs enable students to obtain an accelerated degree in addition to the MPA degree by applying up to twelve credits
across both degree careers.
Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Master of Industrial and Labor Relations Program (MILR)
Master of Public Health Program (MPH)
Juris Doctor Program (JD)
The MPA program seeks diversity in its student body, drawing from a pool of applicants who have studied in a wide range of disciplines. No specific background or undergraduate major is required, although individuals with previous work experience in policy making or implementation are strongly encouraged to apply. Admission to MPA is selective. A faculty committee evaluates individual applications based on the following:
- overall academic record
- potential for public-policy leadership as evidenced by professional work and community, extracurricular, or other relevant experience
- three letters of recommendation
- current résumé
- a written statement of purpose
- detail why you are applying to the program
- include personal and/or professional experiences that have led to your interest in the Cornell Brooks School MPA Program
- describe your future goals and explain how you would put an MPA graduate education to use
- include examples of volunteer work, positions of responsibility, and any other life experiences that have contributed to your interest in public affairs
- a public affairs essay
- briefly describe an area of public affairs to which you would like to make a contribution
- discuss what you would like to see accomplished in this area
- explain how you would go about initiating, supporting and sustaining changes in this area so as to enhance public well-being and public services
- an online video interview
Applicants for whom English is a second language will need to meet minimum scores on either the TOEFL or IELTS exams. Required minimum scores on the TOEFL exam are: writing 20, listening 15, reading 20, speaking 22, as well as an overall combined score of at least 100. Minimum requirements on the IELTS exam are: 7.0 in each section as well as an overall score of at least 7.5.
For more information, contact the MPA Program, MVR Hall (tel: (607) 255–8018; firstname.lastname@example.org).
A variety of funding opportunities are available to pay for your MPA Program education, including merit-based fellowships, part-time campus employment, federal loans, MPA Program-supported fellowships and external funding.
MPA students often win support from Fulbright, Truman, Rangel, World Bank, and other fellowship programs. In addition, Cornell University offers numerous employment opportunities for graduate students. Applicants are encouraged to explore all available sources of external funding, including grants that may be provided by current employers.