Thanks for your interest in the Duke Master of Public Affairs (MPA) program. Here, we have collected answers to frequently asked questions about the program.

Academic Overview

The Duke MPA is an accelerated program designed to accommodate the needs of working professionals through its hybrid format, convenient meeting times, and flexible degree options. Full-time students will earn the 30-credit degree in 15 months (four terms), taking no more than three courses per term. Part-time students will earn their degrees in 18 months (five terms), taking no more than two courses per term.

The Duke MPA curriculum is tailored to the unique educational needs of mid-career practitioners. While some courses include a review of foundational theories and concepts, the main emphasis is on practical training, inviting you both to draw on your significant prior experience and to apply the skills you develop in the program back in your area of professional practice.

As a student in the program, you will strengthen your analytical and decision-making skills, prepare yourself for executive leadership roles, develop additional competencies tailored to your specific career trajectory, and deepen your understanding of cross-cutting challenges facing public affairs practitioners in all sectors.

Specifically, the MPA degree combines a core curriculum in public affairs with a concentration in leadership, management, and ethics. Students will complete four core courses, three concentration courses, and three elective courses, for a total of 10 courses (30 credits).

In lieu of a traditional master’s thesis, the Duke MPA culminates in a capstone project that challenges students to apply the knowledge and analytical skills they have acquired in the program to a real-world challenge within their employing organization or field of study. This capstone project will be conducted under the guidance of a Sanford faculty member and counts toward the program’s core curriculum requirements.

As an accelerated, hybrid program in which many students will continue working while earning their degrees, the Duke MPA does not require internships, teaching assistantships, or research assistantships as a degree requirement. Our academic and career services advisors are available to work with students who are interested in pursuing off-campus internships or on-campus research or teaching opportunities in conjunction with their degree.

The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), which accredits the Sanford School of Public Policy and other leading policy schools, makes no distinction among the three degrees. Broadly speaking, however, Master of Public Policy programs tend to emphasize policy analysis and evaluation, while Public Administration programs tend to emphasize management and leadership of public organizations.

The Duke MPA combines the rigorous analytical tools of a public policy degree with the
management and leadership skills taught in many public administration programs. While many of our students work (or plan to work) in the public sector, the MPA is also designed for students in the non-profit and philanthropic sectors and in a range of private-sector professions such as consulting, government relations, and social entrepreneurship.

Our world-renowned faculty, diverse and engaged student body, historic campus, and convenient location make Duke an ideal place to pursue a graduate degree in public affairs. The MPA program’s custom-built hybrid format and small size also set it apart from other executive programs in public affairs, policy, and administration. While some online programs simply allow students to join campus-based classes remotely, the Duke MPA combines in-person residencies in Durham, NC and Washington, D.C. with state-of-the-art online instruction, providing opportunities for networking and cohort development along with the flexibility of remote learning. 

Every course in our core curriculum and leadership, management, and ethics concentration has been custom-built for the program, and our small size allows students to receive individualized attention and support from our instructors and program staff.

Finally, Duke MPA students will have access to the full range of student services, amenities, and benefits available to all Duke students and alumni. Our goal is to provide students in the program with the “Duke experience,” despite the limited amount of time you will be spending on campus.

About Hybrid Learning

While many universities now offer “online” or “hybrid” degree programs, many of these programs simply allow students to join traditional campus-based classes remotely. By contrast, the Duke MPA combines in-person residencies with state-of-the-art online instruction, providing opportunities for networking and cohort development along with the flexibility of remote learning. Every course in our core curriculum and leadership, management, and ethics concentration has been custom-built for the program and includes both synchronous elements (in which all students meet remotely in real time) and asynchronous elements (which students complete on their own time).

Sanford’s Office of Digital Learning works with every instructor in the program to help them incorporate the latest advances in remote learning pedagogy into their courses. Our goal is to ensure the program meets Duke’s rigorous standards of academic excellence, while also meeting the needs of working professionals.

The Duke MPA’s in-person residencies fall at the beginning of each semester, with longer residencies (lasting approximately one week) in early June and shorter residencies (lasting approximately a long weekend) in late August/early September and in January. Two of these residencies will occur on Duke’s Durham, North Carolina campus, while two will occur at Duke’s Washington, DC office.

Following the initial residency period, your courses will continue online, combining synchronous elements (in which all students meet remotely in real-time) and asynchronous elements (which students complete on their own time). While the exact balance of synchronous and asynchronous elements will vary by course, all MPA courses will meet Duke's rigorous standards for direct contact between instructors and students.

While the Duke MPA is designed to meet the needs of working professionals, it is also a demanding program designed to meet rigorous academic standards. Full-time students must take up to three courses per semester to earn their degree in 15 months, while part-time students must take up to two courses per semester to earn their degree in 18 months. Students should be prepared for a significant time commitment (15-20 hours per week, on average) that will impact their other obligations. Students who intend to keep working while earning their degree are required to secure their employer’s support before enrolling.

Unlike some online programs, our custom-built hybrid curriculum includes significant “face-to-face” learning components. While this approach produces stronger cohort development and better learning outcomes, it also requires students to prepare for and participate in, regular class or small group meetings.

This program seeks to minimize the number of technical tools and platforms needed to participate. At a minimum, students must have a Windows or iOS computer with a working camera and microphone and a reliable internet connection. Most of your online coursework will occur via Canvas, Duke’s Learning Management System, which can be accessed via your web browser (Chrome is recommended). Some instructors may choose to use commonly available applications such as Zoom, Google Suite, or Slack for course activities. All students will be assigned a Duke ID and password through the university system and will have access to 24/7 technical support. Students must comply with all Duke University IT regulations.

While the Duke MPA offers the flexibility of a hybrid program, we strive to create a true learning community within each cohort of students. This starts with our in-person residencies at the beginning of each semester, which will include networking and social activities in addition to course immersions, as well as opportunities to interact with Duke faculty, staff, and students both within and outside of Sanford.

Once courses move online, students will have the time and opportunity to continue to engage with their classmates both formally (e.g., during synchronous online discussions or asynchronous chats) and informally (e.g., unstructured time before/after class, during breaks, etc.). Students also will have an opportunity to work with their peers on group projects, communicate with their cohort via messaging platforms, and schedule virtual appointments for career services, academic advising, and other student services. 

While each Duke MPA course is distinct, all are offered on Duke’s Canvas Learning Management System, offering a familiar template across courses. Students will open a new module at the start of each week, and the requirements, readings, lectures, assignments, and live elements will be clearly defined, allowing you to complete the work at your own pace. Any materials for the course will either be preloaded in Canvas or purchased through an identified vendor.

Assessment methods also vary by course but will generally include a mix of written assignments, team-based projects, presentations, scenario-based exercises, and participation.

Program costs and financial aid

Total tuition for the Duke MPA is $60,000 for both full-time and part-time students, excluding student fees and purchases of course materials. Travel arrangements and expenses associated with in-person immersions are not covered by tuition. In addition, MPA students who enroll in elective courses offered by other Sanford and Duke programs may incur additional tuition expenses.

Yes. The Sanford School of Public Policy will be offering partial tuition fellowships to MPA students based on demonstrated financial need, with the goal of making the program accessible to as many students as possible.

In addition, we strongly encourage students to take advantage of tuition assistance programs offered by their employers, fellowships available to graduate students, or federal financial aid programs. Our financial aid specialists are available to work with you to identify potential sources of tuition support for which you may be eligible.

The Sanford School of Public Policy does not assess student fees on top of the tuition associated with the program. However, all Duke University students (both in-person and hybrid/online) are required to pay some student fees.

Full- and part-time students pay the same tuition, but part-time students pay marginally higher fees since they remain a student for longer. Full-time students who find the program too demanding may switch to the part-time program without penalty.

Application Process

Prospective students can apply using the link provided via Duke University’s Slate admissions portal. The application window for the 2025-26 MPA cohort opens in August 2024 and closes in January 2025.

Sign up to be notified when the application opens.

Applicants to the Duke MPA program will be required to submit:

  • A copy of your resume or curriculum vitae
  • Three letters of recommendation, at least one of which must be from a current or former professional supervisor or colleague
  • Transcripts (unofficial) from all institutions of higher education from which you have previously earned a degree or certificate
  • Two brief personal statements regarding your personal and professional background and your motivation for applying to the program (prompts can be found in the application portal)
  • If English is not your first language, a copy of your TOEFL or IELTS score

Applicants may also optionally submit:

  • GRE scores
  • Video introduction
  • Professional writing sample

Duke University is one of the premier academic institutions in America, and the Sanford School ranks consistently as one of the nation’s leading graduate public policy programs. The MPA’s small cohort size means that many students who apply are not admitted.

However, the Duke MPA admissions process prioritizes applicants’ work experience, leadership potential, and vision for the future over their previous academic records. Our students come from many different backgrounds and experiences, but they are united in their motivation to have an impact in the field of public affairs.

No. The Duke MPA welcomes applicants from across the country and around the world, provided they can travel to Durham and Washington, DC for in-person residencies and to participate remotely in online learning activities. Duke’s main campus is located close to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), which offers more than 60 nonstop flights to U.S. and international locations.

That said, given the need to participate synchronously (in real-time) in online courses that fall on weeknights, the program recruits most heavily in the eastern and central United States. Students in other locations should consider time zone differences when determining whether the program is the right fit.

At this time, the Duke MPA does not sponsor visas for international students. Students who are already eligible to study in the United States are welcome to apply.

The Duke MPA is held to the same rigorous academic standards as any graduate program at Duke, and your diploma and transcript will be no different than a campus-based program. 

All graduate students have access to all Sanford Career Services resources. 

Sanford Career Services offers resume and cover letter review, LinkedIn profile assistance, and access to the Sanford Master’s Student Professional Development Fund. For more information, please contact Dr. Nadia Chamberlin, Associate Dean of Career Services and Professional Development.  

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Woman listening intently
Dr. Nadia Chamberlin leads Sanford's Career Services office.

Additional Questions

The Duke MPA is an executive program open to practitioners with at least seven years of experience in government, non-profit or philanthropic organizations, or private sector professions such as consulting or government affairs—or for mid-career professionals in other sectors seeking a transition into public affairs. With a concentration in leadership, management, and ethics, the degree helps equip established or emerging leaders in all sectors and areas of policy with the knowledge, skills, and credentials they need to assume senior leadership positions. The program is not well-suited for early-career professionals or students seeking highly specialized knowledge in a single policy area.

Duke MPA students will have access to the full range of student services, amenities, and benefits available to all Duke students and alumni. Our goal is to provide students in the program with the “Duke experience,” despite the limited amount of time you will be spending on campus.