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5 MPA Concentrations to Consider if You're Passionate About Working in Domestic Policy

Posted by Cornell MPA Program Admissions Team on 3/4/19 11:06 AM

In the United States, today’s tough political climate demands public servants with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to lead and manage change through conflict. Are you ready for this challenge?

Getting an MPA is one of the most effective and results-oriented graduate degrees for students aiming to pursue a career in the public or nonprofit sectors. This interdisciplinary degree places a strong emphasis on law, policy, and economics, allowing students to gain a comprehensive, nuanced, and detailed understanding of the political, economic, and social dynamics that shape the United States. 

At the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, our students have the opportunity to choose one of eight specific concentrations. Below, we've outlined the concentrations that we think are particularly strategic for MPA students looking to enact change in the United States.

While a variety of these concentrations are strategic choices for future leaders in domestic policy, we’ll focus on a few that have proven to prepare tomorrow’s domestic US policy professionals for success.

1. Social Policy

Those who choose to participate in the Social Policy concentration learn an array of tools and policy history required for designing, managing, and evaluating programs in their choice of social policy area which include health, nutrition, education, poverty alleviation, aging, criminal justice and others. Much of the fundamental material in this concentration introduces students to problem formulation, identification of policy alternatives to address social concerns, cost-benefit analysis and other tools needed to evaluate policy alternatives and policy implementation strategies.

Note: For a look at one student’s experience in the Social Policy concentration, take a look at this blog article that discusses one student’s summer internship — Summer Internship: Harlem Youth Court Offers Window Into Education Policy.

2. Science, Technology and Infrastructure Policy

The STIP concentration is intended to assist MPA students in developing the knowledge and skills to work in policy/project analysis, project planning, implementation (including financing and construction) and operations in the areas of science, technology and infrastructure policy. Students can approach the concentration from various perspectives, drawing on Cornell's strengths in engineering, finance, planning, economics, environmental and resource management, policy analysis and sustainability studies. MPA graduates with this concentration will be equipped to work in either the public or private sector and across those sectors.

Note: In this article, a CIPA Visiting Scholar who oversees the CIPA Graduate Certificate program in Infrastructure Project Management and Finance gives us a closer look at his experience working public affairs: Meet an Infrastructure Policy Expert — John Foote.

3. Public and Nonprofit Management

Students participating in the Public and Nonprofit Management concentration tailor their studies for careers as general managers in the public sector or as leaders of domestic or international nonprofit organizations. In this concentration, students acquire a strong set of budgeting, investment, debt financing, and data-driven analytical skills as well as managerial skills including negotiations, leadership, staffing, and compensation skills. In addition to these specific skills, students will gain an understanding of the broad political, economic, and regulatory factors that affect the sector in which they are working.

Note: Read our story, Q&A with a Current CIPA Student: Molly Conlin, for a closer look at one student’s journey to make a difference in the nonprofit sector.

4. Human Rights and Social Justice

MPA students who choose a concentration in Human Rights and Social Justice focus on human rights, which, although often assumed to be universal, remain controversial in domestic and world politics. Students in this concentration study policies that support the expansion of human rights and the elimination of all forms of discrimination, such as those based on gender, race, class, religion, ethnicity, caste, sexual orientation, disability or marital status both domestically and internationally, and work toward ensuring equal opportunities before the law and in society-at-large. Students pursuing this concentration also analyze the political and economic constraints that stand in the way of the full realization of human rights and learn to serve as advocates for alleviating political, economic, and social inequality.

Note: If you’re thinking about a career in social justice advocacy, explore this story about one MPA student: Gender Equality is Focus of Summer Internship at United Nations Women.

5. Economic and Financial Policy

MPA students concentrating in Economic and Financial Policy explore ways in which public policy affects economic and financial decision making, and vice versa. Students may study these policy issues at the level of international organizations, federal/state/local government, non-governmental organizations or the private sector. MPA students can draw on the broad CIPA faculty strength in this area and further identify a public affairs focus. This can include 1) economic policy, public economics and public finance, 2) finance and financial policy, and 3) international economics.

Note: Our recent blog article, How I chose My Concentration in Economic & Financial Policy, examines one student’s experience in Cornell’s MPA program and how he chose a concentration that focused on advanced economic notions.

Are you passionate about domestic policy?

Cornell’s MPA places a strong emphasis on experiential learning. Real-world consulting opportunities, internships, off-campus study, and Capstone experiences help you develop the skill set you need to be successful in your future careers, and provide relevant material for inclusion in résumés and job interviews. Cornell’s interdisciplinary curriculum also affords you the opportunity to work with renowned faculty across many different departments, schools, and colleges at Cornell, which is among the largest and most diverse of the Ivy League universities.

"Our graduates experience tremendous success finding employment across many key areas of public policy including education, healthcare, criminal justice, sustainability, infrastructure, and economic policy. If you are looking for an opportunity to make valuable contributions to the world around you, then you should make CIPA the next step in your career.”Maria Fitzpatrick, CIPA Director

If you have questions about attending Cornell University's Institute for Public Affairs, we encourage you to request more information today! 

Explore our digital resource — Enacting Change: Tailoring Your MPA to Focus on Policy in the United States — for advice and tips related to choosing a career in domestic policy-making.

Explore Domestic Policy Resource


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