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Public Service Degrees

There are various intersections between the fields of public service and social work. Social workers with training in both disciplines have a wide range of career options where these goals intersect. The following section discusses options for earning a master’s degree in various public service fields since these programs can lead to broader career opportunities for those who already meet social work licensing requirements with a BSW or MSW.

Table of Contents
Master of Public Health (MPH) or MPH/MSW Dual Degree
Master of Public Affairs (MPAff) / Master of Public Administration (MPA)
Master of Public or Social Policy (MPP or MSP)
Doctoral Degrees in Public Health

Master of Public Health (MPH) or MPH/MSW Dual Degree

A Master of Public Health (MPH) program prepares graduates for leadership roles in settings that promote public health and welfare, including social work organizations, community healthcare, government, and nonprofits. Potential jobs with a public health degree include community health worker and health educator.

While a master’s degree in public health will not qualify graduates for social work licensure on its own, many schools offer dual MPH/MSW programs. The MSW portion of this type of program can qualify graduates for social work licensure, while the MPH portion adds broader preparation for careers in social welfare and administration. You can read more about these types of programs on our guide to earning a master’s degree in public health.

Master of Public Affairs (MPAff) / Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Master of Public Affairs (MPAff) and Master of Public Administration (MPA) programs are preparation for careers in public administration and health policy, strategy, and management. These programs typically have a focus on public, government, or nonprofit leadership. Though curriculums for these programs may look similar, an MPA will focus more heavily on management skills, while MPAff programs tend to focus more heavily on policy decisions. The Master of Public Administration curriculum is usually similar to a Master of Business Administration, with courses emphasizing organizational management skills specifically for public sector careers. This type of degree is a good fit for those interested in earning a master’s degree online, since many MPA and MPAff programs are offered wholly or partially through distance education.

Students pursuing an MPA or MPAff typically have a bachelor’s degree in social work or public health and some experience working in the public sector. This type of public health degree can be great preparation for those who already have an MSW and are looking to move into nonprofit administration and management.

Master of Public or Social Policy (MPP or MSP)

Master of Public or Social Policy (MPP or MSP) degrees are focused on developing, analyzing, and implementing policy changes at the community level and above. An MPP or MSP can prepare licensed social workers and others with a background in public health to move into leadership roles focused on policy and positive change at the mezzo and macro levels. As a professional degree, this type of program typically requires applicants to demonstrate a commitment to and work experience in the public service sector during the admissions process.

MPP and MSP programs differ from MPA programs in that public and social policy programs focus on policy evaluation and formation, while MPA programs focus more on the management side of public service.

Doctoral Degrees in Public Health

The Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) or PhD in Public Health is designed for those seeking research and advanced administration roles. There are also PhD programs with focus areas in Public Administration and Public/Social Policy. Prospective PhDs usually center their studies on a specific area, such as environmental health, epidemiology, or health policy. Many who graduate from doctoral programs in public health go on to become educators at the college level, but there are other opportunities for PhDs. Jobs with a public health degree at the doctoral level include health informatics, political and public policy analysis, and senior-level research.

Admission to a PhD program in public health commonly requires a master’s degree and a competitive academic and professional portfolio. Those considering this education track should be prepared to undertake intensive research and data analysis, including advanced courses in statistics. Those who are more interested in the social welfare and practice side of public health may be better suited to a doctoral program in social work.