University of Southern California
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Graduate Degrees

Master of Public Administration


The Master of Public Administration programs are under the jurisdiction of the School of Policy, Planning, and Development. All admissions decisions are made by the school, following guidelines set by the university. See the Admission section of this catalogue.

All questions about the programs and all materials required for admission should be submitted to: M.P.A. Programs, Admissions Office, RGL 111, University Park, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0626.

Admission to each of these programs is determined by the faculty and admissions committees connected with those areas. Application packages should be sent directly to the program office.


The admission decision is made using criteria which include verification that the applicant has completed a bachelor's degree from an accredited college, has maintained a B average in undergraduate course work and has earned an acceptable score on the verbal and quantitative portions of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). Other elements of the applicant's educational and experiential background are also evaluated. International students whose native language is not English must also submit a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score.

Each candidate should submit the following to the school: (1) official transcripts of all previous college and university work, showing an awarded degree where appropriate; (2) copies of GRE or GMAT scores; (3) an essay answering questions on the admission questionnaire provided by the school; (4) an up-to-date resume which includes academic and professional accomplishments; (5) three or more letters of evaluation from previous instructors and from professional associates who can attest to the applicant's potential; (6) completed USC Graduate Admission Application, along with the nonrefundable processing fee; and (7) completed School of Policy, Planning, and Development Supplemental Graduate Application.

International applicants may be asked to supply additional information. See the Graduate Admission section of this catalogue.

Applications for admission are evaluated monthly. Those students who are also applying for financial aid, or who must meet other deadlines for admission, should submit application materials early enough to allow the admissions decision to be made in advance of those other deadlines.

The admissions process generally takes about four to six weeks after all necessary materials have been submitted.

Pre-Service/In-Service Designation
Most M.P.A. students are classified as pre-service or in-service students at the time of admission. Pre-service students are those who enter the program with less than two years of professional work experience. In addition to course work, pre-service students complete an internship. Students pursuing the Intergovernmental Management specialization or one of the dual degree programs are not classified as pre-service or in-service. Appeals for reclassification of this designation must be submitted during the first semester of enrollment.


Social Science
Any undergraduate major is acceptable as preprofessional background, provided the applicant has had at least 12 semester units (16 quarter units) of undergraduate course work in cultural anthropology, economics, ethnic studies, social and human geography, political science, sociology or related social science area courses; no more than two of these courses may be in the same field.

Deficiencies in the social science prerequisite may be met while in residence by taking appropriate courses in other departments, but such course work may not be counted toward the course requirements for the master's degree.

A basic competence in descriptive and inferential statistics is also required for the M.P.A. programs. This prerequisite may be met in one of two ways:
  1. Entering students must have passed an undergraduate inferential statistics class, with a grade of “B” or better, at an approved university within three years of matriculation.

  2. If students do not satisfy this prerequisite, they will be required to take PPD 502x Statistical Foundation for Public Management and Policy, a two-unit graduate level inferential statistics course. They must complete the course with a grade of “B” or better. The units associated with this class may not be used toward the M.P.A. degree.

All prerequisites must be fulfilled within the first 12 units of graduate course work. The statistics prerequisite must also be met before enrolling in PPD 541, PPD 542, PPD 557, PPD 638 or PPD 666.

International Students

Students applying for graduate programs should send applications and appropriate documents to the M.P.A. Programs Admissions Office, which processes all such applications.

A student is accepted for admission only for the semester indicated on the letter of admission. If the student desires to enter at another time, or if the student cannot arrive on campus in time for the semester in which he or she was admitted, the student must contact the M.P.A. Programs Admissions Office in writing. That office will contact the Office of International Admissions.

Students who do not enroll for the semester indicated on the letter of admission cannot be guaranteed admission to a later session. They will need to work with the M.P.A. Programs Admissions Office to determine procedures to follow.

Registration Requirements
International students on student visas must be registered as full-time students as arranged by the Office of International Services. Doctoral students must carry a load of at least 6 units to be considered full-time students. A full-time graduate load is eight units. Such students are not eligible to be considered students without formal registration and may be in violation of immigration laws when not properly registered.

International students who have questions about registration requirements should contact the Office of Recruitment and Student Affairs.

Admission Status

M.P.A. applicants may be permitted to take courses before the admission process is completed or they may be admitted before certain conditions have been met; each student must, however, attain regular status (standing) admission to the school prior to or upon completion of 8 graduate units.

Limited Status Students (Preadmission)

Students taking courses who have not been admitted to the school are designated limited status students. These students may be taking courses to meet prerequisites; they may be waiting for part of their application package materials to arrive; or they may be investigating whether an M.P.A. is the best choice for them.

To be considered for limited status enrollment, interested students need to complete the School of Policy, Planning, and Development Limited Student Application for Enrollment form and submit official or unofficial copies of their transcripts from their bachelor's degree granting institution. Students with a 3.0 grade point average (A = 4.0) may enroll in up to 8 units of graduate courses in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development.

School of Policy, Planning, and Development Limited Student Application for Enrollment forms may be obtained from the Admissions Office, School of Policy, Planning, and Development, University of Southern California, RGL 111, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0626; (213) 740-6842. Limited students may only enroll during the in-person registration period (the week before classes begin).

Limited status students may apply only 8 units of appropriate graduate work toward the M.P.A. after admission. Units beyond these first 8 must be petitioned for through the school. Students on limited status are encouraged to complete the application and admission processes before completing those first 8 units.

Ph.D. Candidates

Ph.D. students who pass the qualifying examinations and complete the M.P.A. course requirements or their equivalent during their course work at USC may, with the recommendation of the coordinator of the M.P.A. program, apply for and receive the M.P.A. degree.

M.P.A. Curriculum

The M.P.A. course requirements are designed to address current and future professional competencies for accomplishment; to establish a sequence of basic required courses; and to maximize student choice and depth in specialized studies. The curriculum requires 40 units for completion (41 for pre-service students). Pre-service students, that is, those who have less than 25 months' employment experience in a professional level position, are also required to take an internship that includes a one-unit seminar.

core coursesUnits
PPD 500Intersectoral Leadership2
PPD 501abEconomics for Policy, Planning and Development2-2
PPD 540Public Administration and Society4
PPD 546Professional Practice of Public Administration4

Three of the required core courses (PPD 500, PPD 501ab and PPD 540) provide the foundation to the field and the fourth (PPD 546) serves as a capstone course. PPD 540 must be taken in the first semester or within the first 12 units and PPD 546 must be taken in the final semester or last 12 units of the student's program.

Management Competencies

M.P.A. students are expected to develop managerial competencies in three areas by taking at least one course in each of the following areas:

Management CompetenciesUnits
Analytic Methods
PPD 542*Policy and Program Evaluation, or
PPD 557*Modeling and Operations Research, or
PPD 666*Administrative Research and Analysis4

Organizational Behavior
PPD 545Human Behavior in Public Organizations4

(With the approval of the M.P.A. or center director, the student may choose a human resource management elective to fulfill this requirement.)

PPD 541*Public Financial Management and Budgeting4

(With the approval of the M.P.A. or center director, the student may choose a financial management elective to fulfill this requirement.)

*The statistics requirement must be met before enrolling in PPD 541, PPD 542, PPD 557 or PPD 666. A student must pass the school's statistics competency examination or pass PPD 404x with a grade of C or better. The examination is offered every semester.

Area Cluster Electives

Students may elect to devote their elective courses (14 units) to gain depth in a designated area cluster. These areas include the following: community and economic development, environmental management and land-use policy, financial management, health administration, human resources management, information technology management, intergovernmental management, international policy and management, local government, nonprofit management, planning, public policy, real estate development, transportation, and urban form and design.

Students may elect to follow a more generalist perspective and take their elective courses from the array of elective offerings.

Thesis Option

Thesis option, PPD 594ab Master's Thesis (4 units), may be taken as part of the elective category. Information regarding the thesis contract is available from the M.P.A. director. All theses and dissertations submitted in fulfillment of requirements for graduate degrees must conform to university regulations with regard to form and method of preparation.


Pre-service students – that is, those with fewer than 25 months employment in a professional level position – are required to complete at least 300 hours of an internship and an internship seminar (PPD 543). MPA students may enroll in the internship seminar during their first semester. Students complete internships in conjunction with the internship seminar.

Specialization in Intergovernmental Management

In addition to the substantive area cluster, M.P.A. students may choose the specialization in intergovernmental management.

Students enroll in courses and serve in internships in at least two levels of governance. A student may take courses toward this specialization at either the Los Angeles or USC State Capital Center. Internships may be taken through either of these centers. Students electing this specialization meet with the intergovernmental management coordinator at either the Los Angeles or the USC State Capital Center to design their program.

To complete this specialization, students complete three courses from the following lists (with at least two drawn from the first list): (1) PPD 661, PPD 662, PPD 663, PPD 669, PPD 670; (2) PPD 688, PPD 689, PPD 690.