Cornell University


The MPA program presents a basic structure for completing your graduate study in public affairs. You, however, you are the primary designer of your educational and career trajectory at Cornell. Your faculty advisor will work with you to determine what courses you should incorporate into your individual program of study.

During your two years of study as a CIPA Fellow, you will take 16 courses (typically four per semester). While no one specific course is required, your program should include the following curricular components:

  • Foundation Coursework -- three courses in each of the broad areas listed below:
    • Administrative, Political and Policy Processes
    • Economic Analysis and Public Finance
    • Quantitative Analysis for Public Affairs
  • Concentration Coursework -- five courses in the your selected area of professional focus
  • Specialized Coursework (two courses related the Professional Writing/Analysis Qualification or strengthening professional preparation)
  • Practical Experience: Internship, Off-Campus Study, and/or Public Service Exchange
  • Colloquium (four semesters)
  • Co-curricular Activities (optional): Colloquium Committee, Point of View, The Cornell Policy Review, Women in Public Policy (WIPP), the Jade Moore Forum on American Politics, and CIPA-New Orleans Professional Partnership (CIPA-NOLA)
  • Professional Writing/Analysis Qualification: a Capstone Project, Professional Report, or Thesis

Foundation Coursework

The foundation coursework requirements are intended to strengthen your conceptual and analytical capabilities for pursuing specialized studies in your chosen concentration. Of the three courses that you take in each foundation subject area, at least one should be a course offered by a CIPA core faculty member as these courses present purposefully integrative perspectives on different aspects of public affairs. Please see the MPA Course Guide for foundation course listings.

Concentration Coursework

You have eight broad concentration options from which to choose at CIPA:

Five graduate-level courses are required in the area of your chosen concentration. In the concentrations page, you will find a representative list of courses that have been identified by concentration, which build on the foundation courses taken and give more depth in a chosen area.

Specialized Coursework

In addition to the total of fourteen foundation and concentration courses, you choose two additional courses specifically geared toward strengthening your professional capabilities. Many Fellows take a capstone course in either the fall or the spring semester of their second year to fulfill their professional writing requirement. Other Fellows choose to take an independent study or directed reading course with a faculty member for researching and writing either a professional report or a thesis, done in lieu of the capstone project.

The second specialized course should add in other ways to your professional qualifications, e.g., language competence. International Fellows may enroll in an ESL (English as a second language) course, or domestic Fellows may consider a semester of studying another language as their second specialized course. This category of coursework gives Fellows some scope for elective study. Fellows always have the option of auditing additional courses to gain specialized (or broad) knowledge, attending lectures and doing as much reading and assignments as time and interest permit. Auditors are not required to do all of the work assigned, but also are not given course credit. Audited courses are shown on the transcript but do not count toward the 16 courses needed for the degree.

Practical Experience: Internships, Off-Campus Study, Public Service Exchange

Experiential learning is an integral component of our educational strategy at CIPA. It serves as a practical complement to formal academic study. During your two years at CIPA, you are expected to gain practical work experience in an area related to your concentration. There are several options for meeting this requirement.

  • Summer Internship: Most Fellows undertake an internship during the summer between their first and second year of graduate study. The CIPA Office of Career Management will assist you in finding an internship that matches your interest, expertise, and professional goals. If you decide to pursue an unpaid internship, you may apply for one of CIPA’s summer internship grants, which reimburses for travel and lodging expenses that you will incur.
  • Off-Campus Study: As a CIPA Fellow in good academic standing, you are eligible to enroll in one semester of off-campus study through a CIPA-approved program. Please consult the Off-campus Study page for detailed information about all of the exciting opportunities that are available.
  • CIPA Public Service Exchange: Another opportunity for practical experience is the Public Service Exchange. This represents a unique service-learning partnership with nonprofit and government agencies located primarily in Tompkins County as well as in the greater New York region. CIPA Fellows who wish to participate in the Service Exchange must register for CRP 6311—Consulting for Nonprofit and Government Organizations. This opportunity can be in addition to or instead of the summer internship.


All Fellows are required to register for PADM 5010: CIPA Colloquium for every semester that they are in residence at Cornell. This forum features invited speakers who address a diverse range of issues in public affairs that face public policy professionals, helping you to make links between your coursework and a wide array of challenges for domestic and international public policy and administration. Guest speakers include leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Read additional information about Colloquium.

Co-curricular Activities

Fellows have the opportunity to develop practical skills by organizing, managing, and participating in a variety of CIPA-sponsored Co-curricular Activities. These are student-led initiatives and, while not required, they provide you with a chance to share experiences and perspectives with your peers, and to meet practitioners and distinguished faculty members from the field of public affairs. Co-curricular Activities include: The Cornell Policy Review, the Jade Moore Forum on American Politics, and the CIPA-New Orleans Professional Partnership.

Professional Writing/Analysis

As a culmination of your MPA study, you will demonstrate your high-level skills for writing and analysis by producing a professional writing project. You have three options for fulfilling this degree requirement:

  • Capstone Course: In the second year of study, you will have the opportunity to take a public service-oriented capstone course that involves preparation of a professional project report. This will include a formal oral presentation to a real client agency or program.
  • Professional Project Report: You may write a professional report growing out of your internship experience. Fellows choosing this option typically enroll for a semester of independent study or directed reading with a field faculty member.
  • Formal Thesis: If you intend to pursue additional graduate study beyond the MPA, you may choose to produce a formal, academic, policy-related thesis, which corresponds to the Graduate School’s MA or MS degree requirement. Fellows choosing this option will want to find a faculty member, preferably within the field of public affairs, who will serve as a thesis advisor.

View detailed information about all three of the professional writing options.