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Public Administration


Keepin' the city streets safe…from poor urban planning.


It's an ordinary Friday night. You're exhausted after a week of school and you just want to Netflix-binge a comedy show. You put on Parks and Recreation, but somehow, you can't enjoy it. Not because it's not funny, but because everyone in the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department is totally inefficient. Ron Swanson may be into that, but you want to reach into your TV and force them to do their stinking jobs right.

Come to think of it…you have the same problem with Veep, The West Wing, and, well, basically any show involving inefficient public administration of any kind. You just know that if you were in any of those offices, you would be doing a much better job.

We know you all too well, don't we?

Well, Shmooper, it's your lucky day because majoring in public administration is your chance to prove that. Public administrators design and implement policies at the local, state, and federal levels. They work on everything from drawing up a budget for fixing those giant potholes down the street to organizing nationwide school lunch programs. Obviously, they don't do both of those things at once—there are separate departments for each category of public service.

It's good from an organizational standpoint, but also because you probably don't want grungy waste management hands working on your (hopefully not grungy) cafeteria food. Even if they Purell their hands.

Public administration makes a career out of keeping the wheels greased in an institution. If you like organizing files and making sure everything's running smoothly, then this is definitely the major for you. If you have a real sense of compassion and impartiality, that makes you an even better fit.

You'll often find yourself trying to find a win-win situation for two groups at odds with one another. For example, let's say the animal shelters in your town are struggling, but the city just raised taxes six months ago and you know that the good citizens' wallets are looking mighty thin right now. You don't want to have to shut down the shelters, but you also don't want to take more money out of your citizens' pockets. What can you do?

Maybe you help the shelters organize an Adopt-A-Thon. Maybe you contact shelters from a nearby city and ask them to take in the extra animals. Maybe you help get a charity marathon organized so that the shelters are able to expand. Clearly, you've gotta have some people skills to make it on the mean streets of your community. And then, hopefully, make those streets a little less mean.

Fair warning: public administration is not what you'd call a glamorous whirlwind of money and power. Not even at the federal level. It's not flashy and it doesn't brag. PA majors probably won't swan around in head-to-toe Gucci while paparazzi cameras pop and flash all around them.

But, as fictional characters like Leslie Knope (and real-life powerhouses like Woodrow Wilson and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) prove, public administration people care. What they lack in Gucci, they make up for in guts. What they lack in Prada, they make up for in passion. What they lack in Burberry, they make up for with…bag lunches?

Okay, you get the picture.

Public administration's never gonna score you the big bucks, but it'll keep you living comfortably; and the fulfilling nature of the work is sure to keep you happy.

Famous People who majored in Public Administration

  • Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States
  • Fredrick Taylor, one of the first management consultants
  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 24th and current president of Liberia
  • Yehezkel Dror, professor of political science in Jerusalem
  • Leslie Knope, of Parks and Recreation

Percentage of US students who major in Public Administration:


Stats obtained from this source.