Details at a Glance
Build your skills in the epicenter of the public affairs and policy world
For 85 years, SPA has cultivated a culture of excellence. Students come to SPA for the rigorous academics and for the chance to experience their field of study firsthand—in the heart of the policy and politics world. These experiences—political, personal, and cultural—help shape and drive a passion for public service. At SPA, we search for the students who exemplify the spirit of our storied school—the future leaders, political advocates, public servants, and policy trailblazers with a desire to roll up their sleeves and face some the world’s most pressing challenges. At SPA, students both build a theoretical foundation and develop practical skills that can be applied in the workplace.
SPA is recognized as one of the nation’s top public affairs schools, with an overall ranking of 13th among 285 of its kind, by U.S. News & World Report's 2021 Public Affairs Graduate Schools Rankings.
Our degree programs offer students incredible flexibility—with most classes beginning at 5:30 pm and a range of options to help you customize your degree to meet your unique goals.
You will learn firsthand from a faculty that is composed of scholar-teachers and seasoned practitioners. Faculty serve as mentors—working closely with you—in and out of the classroom.
SPA delivers for our graduates: 95% earn professional placement within six months of graduation.
SPA offers varying levels of tuition remission, graduate assistantships, and endowed scholarships. On average, close to 50% of our incoming class are offered some type of merit-based funding.
SPA is top-ranked in specialty area rankings by U.S. News & World Report:
#4 Public Management and Leadership
#4 International Global Policy & Administration
#11 Nonprofit Management
#7 Homeland Security & Emergency Management
#12 Urban Planning and Policy
#14 Public Financing and Budgeting
#14 Public Policy Analysis
Only three other schools in the country have more specialty area rankings than SPA.
The School of Public of Affairs at American University was established in 1934 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s "New Deal" legislation. From FDR’s vision for “practical contacts between the collegiate and the educational world, and the operations of government,” SPA has been committed to training, educating, informing, and elevating public servants. FDR’s vision remains at the heart of SPA—building a bridge between academic thought and policy planning, while inspiring change at every level.
SPA Research Centers
The School of Public Affairs operates on a rolling admissions basis for our graduate programs. Posted deadlines are as follows:
February 15: Priority deadline for first round consideration for Fall merit awards. Merit awards are not offered to Certificate students.
May 1: Final international student deadline for Fall admission.
September 15: Priority international student deadline for Spring admission and merit award consideration.
November 1: Priority deadline for first round consideration for Spring merit awards and final international student deadline for Spring admission.
After the posted deadlines, applications will be accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis until the respective term or degree program reaches capacity. If you are interested in merit aid consideration, we strongly encourage you to submit your application before the priority deadline.
Clubs & Associations
Class time is balanced with experiential learning opportunities. Campus life is rich with talks by well-known speakers, conferences, and active student groups. SPA students also have access to:
THE SINE INSTITUTE FOR POLICY & POLITICS
The newly established Sine Institute serves as an incubator for policy innovation and a convener of the best minds in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors and journalism. Students participate in discussions and study sessions with experts and top scholars to work on the nation’s most pressing challenges in a way that promotes common ground and nonpartisan policy solutions. SPA students met in small groups with Sine Fellows Abdul El-Sayed, former executive director of the Detroit Health Department and former candidate for governor of Michigan; Bill Haslam, outgoing governor of Tennessee; William Kristol, political analyst and founder of the Weekly Standard; Ruth Marcus, political commentator and columnist for the Washington Post; and Karen Zacarías, playwright, founder of Young Playwrights’ Theater and Latinx Theater Commons.
Being ready for the real-world application of what’s learned at SPA is important. The SPA Analytics and Management Institute (SAMI) prepares SPA graduate students by sharing practical, cutting-edge skills to work in and lead multidisciplinary teams after graduation. The institute brings leading experts from inside and outside of academia to offer students a variety of skills including mapping, compliance with regulations, creating effective presentations, policy writing for a general audience, media skills, and writing blog posts.
SPA Graduate Council
The SPA Graduate Council provides opportunities to serve, network, and develop both academically and professionally through faculty talks, policy discussions, community service opportunities, and a Spring Giving Gala. They also sponsor a robust student mentoring program and support the publication of SPA's graduate journal, The Public Purpose.
Pi Alpha Alpha Honor Society
Pi Alpha Alpha (PAA) is a national honor society that recognizes and promotes excellence in the field of public affairs and administration. Graduate students who have demonstrated significant academic achievement are eligible to become members of PAA.
The Public Purpose
The Public Purpose is an organization composed of graduate students in SPA that provides perspectives on public policy issues and topics through its The Public Purpose journal, a peer-reviewed academic journal featuring research essays, and The Public Purpose website which features short-form articles written by SPA graduate students on timely public policy subjects. Each spring, The Public Purpose co-hosts the SPA Policy Forum, a speaking event, in partnership with the SPA Graduate Student Council.
Annual Master of Public Administration Poster Competition
The contest promotes teamwork, showcases the outstanding research being done in the department, and provides students with the experience of conducting research. Students submit deliverables all semester—outlines, research plans, and bibliographies. The poster presentation at the end of the semester requires students to crystallize their project into a small document and focuses students on what’s most important. Faculty members serve as judges.
What Our Students Say
“I learned great deal about using quantitative analysis to get better results in government.”Muriel Bowser, D.C. Mayor, Master of Public Policy ‘00
"My SPA experiences helped drive me towards a career nonprofit management. The skills I learned getting my MPA all contributed to my career and development of my business. SPA graduates are everywhere—and being able to note that connection from the outset has helped advance a number of conversations critical to strategy and coalitions for the nonprofits I have led."Erin Fuller, President MCI USA, Master Public Administration ‘94
"SPA provided me with the confidence to not only manage programs and complex policy portfolios, but it helped me manage the expectations of outcomes and people. As a public servant, the program also allowed me the flexibility to work full time and apply relevant skills and practices in real time."Julian Cuevas, Dir of Government Affairs, CA Dept of Education, Master of Public Administration and Policy ‘19
“I learned great deal about using quantitative analysis to get better results in government.”
"My SPA experiences helped drive me towards a career nonprofit management. The skills I learned getting my MPA all contributed to my career and development of my business. SPA graduates are everywhere—and being able to note that connection from the outset has helped advance a number of conversations critical to strategy and coalitions for the nonprofits I have led."
"SPA provided me with the confidence to not only manage programs and complex policy portfolios, but it helped me manage the expectations of outcomes and people. As a public servant, the program also allowed me the flexibility to work full time and apply relevant skills and practices in real time."