MPA Program Admission

Information to Know

What is the most important area in the admissions decision?

The MPA Admissions Committee looks for well-rounded applicants with a demonstrated ability for graduate coursework and a commitment to public service.

Do I have to take the GRE to be considered for admission?

Yes.All applicants must submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test. The General Test includes assessment of Verbal, Quantitative and Analytical Writing skills.  We do not ask for scores from subject tests. You can obtain further information about this examination from:

Educational Testing Service
Princeton, NJ 08541 USA

Please request that your GRE scores be sent directly to the Graduate School at Northern Illinois University. The institutional code for Northern Illinois University is 1559 and the Public Administration code is 4801.

Is there a minimum GRE, GPA, or TOEFL score required?

The Admissions Committee prefers a minimum score for the GRE of at least 500/800 on the verbal and quantitative sections and at least 4.5/6.0 on the analytical writing section, and a minimum GPA of 3.00 (on a 4.00 scale).  International students are required to submit TOEFL examination scores of at least 250 on the computer-based test or at least 600 on the paper-based test.

Is there a date by which the GRE or TOEFL exams must be taken?

Applicants should make arrangements to take the GRE, and TOEFL examination (if applicable), at least two months before the relevant MPA application deadline.

If I have an advanced degree do I still need to take the GRE?

Yes. In order to be admitted to the Graduate School, all applicants must provide official scores on all sections of the GRE General Test.

Can I use my LSAT or GMAT scores?

No. The LSAT and GMAT will not be accepted.

What if my GRE scores are more than five years old?

ETS only reports GRE scores for five years so applicants whose scores are more than five years old should provide their original score report from ETS or make preparations to take the exam again.


Do I need an appointment to visit the Division of Public Administration to meet with a representative?

Appointments are recommended.  You may stop by the Division of Public Administration office between 8:00 am - 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm - 4:30 pm or call (815) 753-0184 to schedule an appointment.

Are interviews required?

No. While admissions interviews are sometimes used to make admissions decisions, they are not required for admission.

Do you offer tours of the school?

Northern Illinois University offers tours Monday-Friday at 11:30 am and 2:00 pm leaving from the campus admissions office. For more information on these tours please click here. You can also take a virtual tour of campus at here.

May I attend a class when I visit?

Yes.  Prospective students interested in attending a class while visiting NIU must contact the professor directly before the day of the visit. This can be done by phone or e-mail. Please note that classes typically do not meet on Fridays. Click here for a list of courses.                  

How do I contact a current student or alumnus?

To contact a current student or alumnus, please call the Division of Public Administration office at (815) 753-0184


What are the academic requirements of the Master in Public Administration degree program?

The Master of Public Administration program requires the completion of 39-50 semester hours of approved graduate study.  In addition to the public policy/management core, students must also complete the requirements of a specialization, thus permitting the development of the expertise in a specialized field of academic and professional interest.  NIU's program in public administration offers specializations in urban management, human services administration, fiscal administration, comparative & developmental administration, and general administration.

Students who enter the MPA program without "appropriate professional experience" will generally be required to serve internships.  Internships are generally not available for students in the comparative and developmental administration area of specialization and are usually not available for foreign students.  Interns are the employees of the public or quasi-public agencies for which they work and they receive work assignments from their supervisors at their agencies.

Appropriate professional experience can generally be defined as: at least two years of administrative full-time work experience in the student's area of interest in the MPA program.  The MPA Coordinator will determine whether a student meets this criterion after consultation with the work supervisor and program faculty.

For pre-service students serving in internships, the program requires two years of full-time study.  During their second year, full-time MPA students must also complete the Capstone Paper and Comprehensive Exam.

For in-service students, mid-career professionals who work full-time and take classes on a part-time basis, the program typically requires three to four years of part-time study.  Before the completion of the program, part-time MPA students must also complete the Capstone Paper and Comprehensive Exam.

What is the core curriculum?

The core curriculum is the foundation of the MPA Program. Our required coursework builds a broad perspective and sharpens specific skills, namely in analysis, management and advocacy. Descriptions of the required courses can be found at this link online.

Can I concentrate in international policy and administration as an MPA student?

Yes.  There is a Comparative & Developmental Administration specialization which focuses on Development Administration, International Political Economy, International Trade and Finance, and Political and Economic Development. This specialization is typically chosen by international students.  Internships are generally not available for students in this specialization.

Does the school offer a Ph.D. program?

Yes. Northern Illinois University offers a doctoral program in Political Science. There are also other related doctoral programs offered by the Graduate School. For more details visit the Department of Political Science website.

Once I complete the MPA degree, can I continue on to the doctoral degree?

Yes.To enter the NIU doctoral program you must formally apply to it and be accepted. This can be done while completing your second year of the MPA degree.


Do you allow students to attend on a part-time basis?

Yes, students who have appropriate professional experience may enroll in classes on a part-time basis, typically one or two courses each semester.

MPA students must fulfill all requirements for the MPA degree within a period of six consecutive years.  The entry date into the first course of a student's graduate program is viewed as the starting point of the six year period.  The time limit does apply to courses to be transferred in from other graduate programs, as stipulated in the Graduate Catalog.

With my professional experience, will I need to fulfill the internship requirement?

Students who enter the MPA program without "appropriate professional experience" will generally be required to serve internships.  Appropriate professional experience can generally be defined as: at least two years of administrative full-time work experience in the student's area of interest in the MPA program.  The MPA Coordinator will determine whether an applicant meets this criterion after consultation with the work supervisor and program faculty.

I work full-time in the private sector and would like to attend classes part-time.  Can I be admitted to the program as a part-time student?

If you have appropriate professional experience in the public sector (for example government or not-for-profit management), your application may be considered for an in-service, or part-time, admission.  Since the program is designed to meet the needs of those students seeking career positions in governmental and quasi-public agencies, applicants with only private sector experience would generally need to fulfill the internship requirement.

I have been out of school for a long time.  How important are my GRE scores?

While standardized test scores are an important measure of academic ability, they are not necessarily the most crucial part of the application.  When evaluating mid-career MPA applicants, emphasis is placed upon the depth and breadth of your professional work experience, and leadership capability, in addition to your GRE scores and GPA.  Could I start taking classes as a Student-At-Large in the MPA program and submit an application for admission to the Graduate School at a later date?

The MPA program does not encourage students to pursue the SAL option.  We strongly encourage applicants to pursue full admission to the Graduate School and MPA degree program.


Are there any academic prerequisites to apply?

Yes.MPA applicants are required to have at least nine semester hours in the social sciences, at least one course in U.S. government, and appropriate undergraduate work in mathematics or statistics.

What are the tuition and fee costs of the program for the upcoming year?

Please visit the NIU Graduate School website for the most current information on tuition and fees.

Is there any form of financial assistance offered as part of this program?

Financial assistance, if offered, usually takes the form of an Internship tuition waiver for the PSPA 695 course (1 credit hour per semester). In order to receive a tuition waiver applicants must:

  • be serving in an approved internship;
  • be enrolled in PSPA 695;
  • be taking a full course load (10 hours in fall and spring terms, 4 hours in summer term);
  • pay student fees;
  • maintain a minimum of a 3.00 cumulative GPA; and
  • attend required professional development and advising meetings.

There are also opportunities for tuition waivers offered by the Graduate School. Students in the Rhoten A. Smith Minority MPA Internship Program receive a waiver of tuition while supported by the Rhoten A. Smith Assistantship.

Does the MPA program offer evening or weekend courses?

Yes.  Courses are typically offered between 3:00 pm-9:00 pm, Monday through Thursday, and occasionally on Saturdays.

Can I live in Chicago and take classes in the suburbs?

Yes. Students may take courses at our campus in DeKalb or our regional sites in Naperville, Hoffman Estates, and Rockford.

Can I take all my courses at one campus?

Students should plan on taking their courses at two or more NIU locations to complete the degree program.

Do you accept transfer credits?

Yes. With the approval of the Division of Public Administration and the Dean of the Graduate School, graduate course work may be accepted from other accredited colleges and universities to meet credit hour requirements for the MPA degree.  Normally, no more than nine credit hours are transferred from other universities.  Any student wishing to transfer graduate credits should consult with the MPA Coordinator and must obtain approval from the Director of the MPA Program.

How important is professional work experience for an applicant?

While work experience is not a prerequisite for the MPA program, some public sector experience is encouraged.

How many students are in your degree program?

The MPA program has approximately 100 students enrolled.

What is the ratio of international to domestic students in the program?

Typically, the MPA program enrollment is 95% domestic students and 5% international students


When are the admissions deadlines?

The Graduate School website and online application contain information pertaining to all requirements for admission including relevant deadlines. MPA applicants are strongly encouraged to follow the MPA program deadlines listed below

MPA Program


Graduate School


Summer Semester February 1 April 1
Fall Semester February 1 June 1
Spring Semester September 1 November 1

Our program does have competitive admissions so we encourage you to apply early.  The MPA Program deadlines are strongly recommended so that applicants may be considered for their intended term of admission.  In addition, these deadlines allow pre-service students to start their internship search in a timely fashion with the hope of internship placement before the beginning of the term for which they have been admitted.  In-service and pre-service students are advised to submit all application materials by the MPA program deadline to be assured of consideration for the term indicated.

Do the application materials need to be received by the specified deadline or postmarked by the deadline?

All Graduate School deadlines for admissions materials are dates by which application materials must be received.  Applicants should make arrangements to ensure their materials are received on or before the relevant deadlines.

How often does the admissions committee meet to review applications?

The faculty serving on the admissions committee for the MPA degree program review applications shortly after the MPA program deadlines (February 1 and September 1) though applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis as space allows.

Does the MPA program offer provisional admission?

While the Graduate School offers provisional admission, the MPA program typically does not grant provisional admission to applicants.  Applications received after the stated application deadline will automatically be considered during the next subsequent term of admission.

What happens if I miss the deadline?

Applications received after the MPA program deadline will be considered if places are available; applications received after the Graduate School deadline will be considered for the following semester.

Is there any benefit to applying earlier than the deadline?

We encourage early applications to ensure that your application will be considered for the term for which you are applying.  However, your application will not be reviewed until all documents are received.


Do I need to take the TOEFL exam?

The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is required of all applicants whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate degree program was not conducted in English.  The Admissions Committee expects that admissible applicants will have TOEFL scores of 250 on the computer-based test or 600 on the paper-based test.  For more information on TOEFL, please visit

Are there any special application requirements for international students?

Other than the TOEFL requirement, there are no other special application requirements for international students. To be admitted as a graduate student at NIU, an international applicant must have obtained a baccalaureate or higher degree from a regionally accredited college or university within the United States, or an equivalent degree from an institution outside the U.S.  Each applicant for admission to the Graduate School must submit official academic credentials for all undergraduate and graduate work completed. These credentials must include the years of attendance at each college or university; courses taken; and grades received. Official graduation certificates, diplomas, and degree certificates must also be submitted. All documents must bear the original seal or signature of the registrar of the institution attended. Credentials written in languages other than English must be submitted along with a certified translation (note: a translation alone is not sufficient). Translations should be literal and not interpretive. Credentials submitted to the Graduate School at Northern Illinois University become the property of the university. Unattested photocopies and photocopies attested by a notary public are not acceptable.

An applicant seeking an F-1 or J-1 visa must have not only sufficient funds to finance travel to and from the university, but also enough U.S. dollars to pay university tuition, fees, and living expenses for the applicant and accompanying dependents, if any. A financial statement and supporting documents showing evidence of financial resources adequate to undertake the proposed program of study must be submitted before the university can issue the I-20 or IAP-66 form that will allow the applicant to apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa. This statement is to be made on a specific form that is available from the Graduate School at this website. For further information regarding international student admissions, please contact the NIU Graduate School.


Is there one application applying to the JD and MPA degree programs?

In order to enroll in these concurrent programs, you must apply separately and be accepted to both the College of Law and the Graduate School.

If I am not admitted to one of the programs, can I attend the other?

Yes. Applicants apply to and are accepted by both programs separately. Therefore, admission to one of the programs is not a deciding factor in admission to the other program. If admission is granted to one and not the other, you may attend the degree program that offered admission.

How long does it take to complete the JD and MPA degrees through simultaneous enrollment?

The length of time to complete the degrees varies.  Most students are able to complete all degree requirements in four years.


Who should write my letters of recommendation?

Three letters of recommendation are required for all MPA applicants.  Pre-service students should request at least two letters of recommendation from previous instructors who can judge their ability to do graduate work.  If pre-service students have public sector experience, they may request a letter from an employer who can judge their potential as future public administrators.  In-service students should request at least one letter of recommendation from a previous instructor and remaining letters from public sector employers.  We understand that it may be difficult to obtain an academic recommendation after being out of school for many years.  However, applicants without appropriate academic recommendations may receive lower rankings in the admission process. You are encouraged to select a well-rounded group of recommenders who will offer detailed and personal descriptions of your capability.  Choosing a high profile recommender who may not be as familiar with your specific professional or academic skills may not be beneficial.

The Graduate School letter of recommendation form is available at the website.

Can the recommendations be sent by a letter file service at my college/university?

Yes.  We accept recommendations that are held on reserve by a college or university service.  However, we strongly encourage you to submit recommendations that are personalized for your application to NIU and the specific program to which you are applying.  Generic recommendation letters are not helpful or highly valued by the admissions committee.

Is the provided recommendation form required?

Recommendations should be submitted using the recommendation form provided by the NIU Graduate School.  Recommenders may choose to write separate letters that may be attached to the recommendation forms.  If a separate letter is submitted, it must be on professional letterhead and signed.   Our program advises that letters of recommendation be submitted in sealed envelopes that are signed across the flap.

How will I learn whether I have been accepted?

Admitted applicants will receive notification letters from the Division of Public Administration and the Graduate School.  Notification of decisions may not be mailed until several weeks after the formal deadline for applications has passed.

Can I apply to NIU online?

Yes.The NIU Graduate School is now accepting applications for admission to the MPA program online.  Please note: The Graduate School online application system is designed for credit card use only.  The Graduate School accepts Money Orders and personal checks drawn on a U.S. bank for all applications submitted  in person.

What do I need to submit in order to complete my application?

A completed application includes a submitted application, payment of the $30 application fee, statement of career goals, three letters of recommendation, all official academic transcripts, and an official GRE score report. The TOEFL examination is also required if English is not your native language.

Should I list certificate programs or other courses on my application?

Yes.All colleges and universities attended should be included in the education section of the Graduate School application for admission.  The Graduate School requires transcripts from any institution that has granted the applicant a degree. Full transcripts are also required from all institutions where the applicant has taken graduate-level courses.

Should I list a semester or a year abroad as part the application?

If your study abroad coursework and grades are listed on your undergraduate transcript, you do not need to list it on the application.

What kind of information should I provide in my Statement of Career Goals?

Explain why you are seeking entry to this program, describe your career interests, and explain the ways in which you intend to contribute to public service.  Through this essay, help us understand what makes you a unique individual, and what experiences in your life have fostered an interest in public service.  Articulation and grammar are very important as this is the faculty's only chance to evaluate your writing skills.  Your statement of career goals should be no more than two pages, single spaced.

The space provided for my Statement of Career Goals on the paper application is too small.  What should I do?

If you have insufficient space for this section, please attach additional pages.   Be sure to include your name and Social Security Number on each attached page and label the section to which the information corresponds.

After I submit my application online, should I print out a copy and mail it to the Graduate School to ensure my application has been received?

No. Please do not mail a copy of your online application to the Graduate School. You should receive an immediate acknowledgement of receipt when you submit your online application. In addition, you will be notified by email once the Graduate School has your application in the system to direct you through the rest of the application process.