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MPA Program Handbook 2023-2024

MPA Class of 2025

Brooks Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program graduates are leaders in organizations serving the public throughout the world who contribute to the formation, design, and implementation of sound public policies and programs to improve human well-being. The Brooks MPA Program offers a flexible and challenging two-year program of graduate professional studies in public affairs that will qualify students enrolled for the MPA degree for careers in public affairs, public administration, and public policy. This Program Handbook is designed to help Brooks MPA Program students—with the guidance of their faculty mentors—create programs of study that are appropriate to their interests and career aspirations. It provides information pertaining to degree requirements and program protocols. It also includes forms that will expedite the unavoidable paperwork for satisfying academic requirements.

To find a selection of courses that can help students prepare themselves for professional careers in public affairs, public administration, and public policy, please consult the Brooks MPA Program Course Guide, which is available on the Brooks MPA Program website.

No program handbook can present the full spectrum of individual learning, professional activities, and intellectual challenges to be experienced at Cornell. With the help of the Brooks School faculty and staff, MPA students are encouraged to explore and design a two-year program of study that addresses their respective interests. 

Welcome to the Brooks School!

Brooks MPA Curriculum

Brooks MPA Curriculum Overview

At Cornell, the MPA degree is a two-year graduate program that requires four semesters in residence (one of which can be through an approved off-campus study program). The MPA Program presents a basic structure for undertaking graduate study in public affairs, but MPA students are the primary designers of their respective educational and career trajectories while at Cornell. When entering the program, each student is provided a faculty mentor. Students work with their respective mentors to design individualized courses of study. Students decide upon a concentration and a plan of study and choose one of the three options for completing the professional writing requirement: a capstone project, a professional report, or a thesis. These options have specific requirements and timelines that can be found on the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center.

During their two years of study, MPA students must satisfactorily complete sixteen courses, typically four courses per semester. The MPA curriculum includes the following components:

  • Core Foundation Coursework: Five Core Foundation courses required in the first semester. These five courses provide students with the foundational knowledge, skills, and abilities required to advance in the degree program:
    • PADM 5009: Career Management for Public Affairs
    • PADM 5110: Public Administration
    • PADM 5210: Intermediate Microeconomics for Public Affairs
    • PADM 5310: Applied Multivariate Statistics for Public Affairs
    • PADM 5414: Project Management
  • Foundation Course Areas: In addition to the Core Foundation coursework, students select four courses in each of the following foundation areas:
    • Administrative, Political and Policy Processes (two courses)
      • one course on leading and managing in the public affairs arena and
      • one course analyzing politics and processes for implementing policy
    • Economic Analysis and Public Sector Economics (one course)
      • one course on the microeconomics of government policy
    • Quantitative Methods and Analytics (one course)
      • one course on decision analytic methods for public affairs
  • Additional Foundation Coursework: One additional foundation course that reflects the MPA student’s professional goals.
  • Concentration Coursework: Five courses in the student’s selected area of professional focus, including one required concentration gateway course.
  • Professional Development Coursework: two courses related to professional writing, leadership, analytical qualifications, or strengthening professional skills.
  • Practical Experience: Internship, Off-Campus Study, Capstone and/or Consulting
  • MPA Colloquium: Career Management and Professional Development for Public Affairs
  • Professional Writing: a Capstone Project, a Professional Report, or a MPA Thesis

Some substitution of coursework may be allowed, based on a student’s previous mastery of a subject; for example, a student with a bachelor’s degree in economics would not be expected to repeat the intermediate microeconomics course, but would instead take more advanced graduate work. Students can petition through the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center for alternative ways in which the purposes of the curriculum’s structure can be better fulfilled in their case to enrich their degree program, and then petition for approval from the Brooks MPA Academic Director, who also serves as the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). The DGS has responsibility for final approval of all plans of study.

NOTE: The Brooks MPA Program web site contains an online course guide that students may use to identify Cornell courses that are being offered during the current academic year, and which can fulfill foundation and concentration requirements for the MPA degree.

The Brooks MPA Program Plan of Study form must be submitted to the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center for review and approval at the end of the first semester. The MPA Plan of Study should be reviewed again and resubmitted with possible revisions, at the beginning of students’ third semester of study at Cornell. All forms and petitions must be submitted through the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center.

Plan of Study forms may be downloaded on the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center. The Plan of Study is not a ‘contract’ but rather an ‘indicative plan.’ A Plan of Study can be modified according to a student’s professional objectives at any time. Completing and revising the Plan of Study is an opportunity for students to reflect on their objectives. Students who do not prepare and submit this documentation on schedule are liable to forfeit their good standing in the program. It is the student’s responsibility to resubmit on the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center any changes to their Plan of Study for review and approval.

Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center

The Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center is a resource covering all aspects of Brooks MPA Program academic planning. From this site, you can access MPA forms and petitions, the most current version of the Brooks MPA Program Handbook, the Brooks MPA Course Guide, and most up to date information on MPA compliance and academics. All forms and petitions for Brooks MPA Program Director or MPA Advising Coordinator review must be submitted through the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center.

Foundation Coursework

The foundation coursework requirements are intended to strengthen students’ conceptual and analytical capabilities for pursuing specialized studies in their chosen concentration. In addition to the five required core foundation courses taken the first semester of the MPA degree, students have some latitude to tailor their foundation coursework across the three foundation areas of the degree:

  • Administrative, Political and Policy Processes
    Brooks MPA graduates should have a good understanding of (a) how objectives are and should be formulated and pursued within public sector and non-profit organizations serving the public good and in private and other organizations that attempt to influence public decisions; (b) how public purposes and values can be advanced strategically through leveraging stakeholders and utilizing available resources, organization and skills, cognizant of legal, ethical and professional obligations; and (c) the interplay between politics and administration within the public affairs arena in which they expect to work (international, national, state, local, private, nonprofit). 

Students will take one course from a selected set on leading and managing in public and non-profit organizations and also take one course from a selected set on analyzing politics and processes for implementing policy.

  • Microeconomics of Government Policy
    Brooks MPA graduates should have a solid foundation of knowledge in economics and public sector economics, including understanding of supply and demand, marginal analysis, the price mechanism and market structures, as well as standard rationales for government intervention in the marketplace. Students should appreciate the value of economic concepts for understanding and assessing human interactions and public policy.

Students will take one course from a selected set on the microeconomics of government policy.

  • Decision-Analytic Methods
    Brooks MPA graduates should be able to define and assess a problem and then choose appropriate tools or methods to determine and evaluate both solutions and impacts. A key part of analytical training is to develop the ability to identify appropriate methods for a given problem and gain confidence in applying them in real-world situations. MPA graduates should recognize that quantitative skills and analytical modeling techniques are often necessary complementary elements to qualitative methods that must be considered for policy research, evaluation and decision-making in the public sector.

Students will take one course from a selected list on decision analytic methods for public affairs.

In addition to the nine courses specified above, students will select an additional foundation course from any of the areas above that will provide them with foundational knowledge and skills relevant to their own professional interests.

Concentration Coursework

There are eight concentration options:

  • Government, Politics and Policy Studies
  • International Development Studies
  • Economic and Financial Policy
  • Public and Nonprofit Management
  • Environmental Policy
  • Science, Technology and Infrastructure Policy
  • Human Rights and Social Justice
  • Social Policy

Five graduate-level courses are required in the area of the student’s chosen concentration. One of these courses is a required Concentration Gateway course. The Concentration Gateway course is a field course that provides students in each concentration with the landscape of their area of specialization. The Concentration Gateway course also helps to build a cohort of specialists in the program. For a student’s four elective concentration courses, a variety of courses have been identified that build on the foundation courses taken and give students more depth in a chosen area. Please see the Brooks MPA Program Course Guide for concentration course listings.

At the end of the first semester, students should submit the MPA Program Plan of Study through the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center for Brooks MPA Program Director or MPA Advising Coordinator approval. This should be fully completed and should include any courses already completed, proposed coursework to be taken in the remaining three semesters, and indicating tentatively which professional writing option will be completed. The professional writing option decision should be confirmed by the end of the second semester.

Students must also submit a revised MPA Program Plan of Study at the beginning of their third semester of study which reflects their finalized course of study for the MPA degree. These forms will be reviewed and approved by the Brooks MPA Program Director or MPA Advising Coordinator.

Professional Development Coursework

In addition to the total of fourteen foundation and concentration courses, MPA students complete two courses of their choice that will strengthen their professional capabilities. This category of coursework gives opportunities for elective study to strengthen particular professional capabilities. Any course chosen in this area should add to students’ respective professional qualifications. The MPA Capstone course may also be counted in this category. Please see the Brooks MPA Program Course Guide for Professional Development course listings.

Learning Goals for the MPA

The Brooks MPA Program offers a flexible MPA that allows our students to pursue an array of professional and career goals. We do, though, expect that MPA students will design their programs so that they have achieved the learning goals below at the time of graduation. 

MPA graduates’ learning goals fall into the following categories:

  • Problem Solving and Analytical Skills
    • Administrative, Political, and Policy Analysis
    • Economic Analysis and Public Finance
    • Quantitative, Analytical, and Qualitative Analysis for Public Affairs
  • Specialized Public Policy Subject Matter Competence
  • Writing Skills
  • Group Working, Management and Leadership Skills
  • Communication and Presentation Skills

Practical Experience: Internships, Off-Campus Study, PADM 5900: Consulting

Direct experience with professional work in public affairs is a key component of the Brooks MPA Program, serving as a practical complement to formal academic study. Students are expected to gain practical work experience in an area related to their concentration. There are several options for meeting this requirement described below: summer internship, PADM 5900: Consulting for Government and Nonprofit Organizations, and off-campus Study Programs.

Summer Internships

Most MPA students undertake an internship during the summer between their first and second years of graduate study. Internships are available in organizations in the public, private, nonprofit, and academic sectors. Cathy Bartell, Associate Director for Brooks Career Management, provides assistance to students in finding internships that match their interests, expertise, and professional goals. Cathy can be reached by email at Additional information on internships is available on the Brooks MPA Program website. 

Recent MPA students have been placed in internships with the following representative organizations:

  • Accenture
  • McKinsey
  • Amazon
  • New York City Comptroller’s Office
  • Ashoka
  • New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
  • Asia Society
  • New York City Department of Transportation
  • Aveshka
  • New York City Mayor’s Office of Operations
  • Boston Redevelopment Authority
  • New York City Office of Management and Budget
  • Brookings
  • Parsons
  • Calvert Investments
  • Partnership for Public Service
  • Cato Institute
  • United Nations Development Programme
  • China Development Bank
  • Citibank
  • Congressional Research Service
  • Council on Foreign Relations
  • UN Women
  • Deloitte and Touche
  • United Nations Secretariat
  • DeVos Institute of Arts Management
  • United States Agency for International Development
  • Google
  • United States Department of Justice
  • Government Accountability Office
  • United States Department of State
  • International Finance Corporation
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency

Off-Campus Study Programs

Students may enroll in one semester of off-campus study as part of their MPA Course of Study. These opportunities are available to students in good academic standing and who are making satisfactory progress toward the degree and have a completed and approved Plan of Study submitted to the Brooks MPA Advising Center demonstrating how the student has integrated the off-campus study into their MPA. Students must be in good academic standing during both the semester in which they are off-campus and during the prior semester when they are applying. Students interested in off-campus study are strongly encouraged to begin planning this with their academic mentors as early as possible in their graduate careers at Cornell. Information sessions on off-campus study opportunities are held during the fall and spring semesters. As each opportunity has its own application requirements and deadlines, students should carefully research each program before applying.

Cornell in Washington Program:

The Cornell in Washington Program enables MPA students to live, learn, and intern in Washington DC during either the fall or spring semesters of their MPA degree careers.  Students enroll in a full semester of study in addition to completing a rigorous public affairs externship. A residential option is available for students at the Wolpe Center, 2148 O Street NW Washington DC, or students can obtain housing on their own. Coursework and externships are complemented by structured professional and social networking opportunities. Interested students should contact Lyndsey Bullock, Cornell in Washington Assistant Director of Recruitment, at for more information. 

Capital Semester Program in Albany:

The Albany Semester Program is offered in collaboration with The New York State Capital Semester Program. This program, which is available as an off-campus study option each spring, provides MPA students with the opportunity to work for a public, private, or nonprofit public affairs organization in the Albany area, while taking coursework in public policy analysis that applies toward the MPA degree. In total, four courses may be taken in Albany–an eight credit externship, a core course facilitated by the Capital Semester Program, and a course taught via online instruction by a MPA faculty member. As part of this experience, students attend hearings and legislative sessions, meet with lobbyists and constituents, and draft substantial policy deliverables. Paid internship opportunities are available for students seeking placements with the New York State Legislature. Interested students should contact Thomas O’Toole, Executive Director of Public Affairs Programming, at for more information.

Graduate Certificate and Special Programs

The Brooks MPA Program offers students the opportunity to explore policy spaces in-depth, as well as develop specialized professional skills, through one-year graduate certificate programs. These programs require coursework designated as satisfying certificate requirements by MPA Faculty, intensive practical experience and writing requirement, and participation in a seminar series organized around pressing issues in each space. These programs require that students apply through a competitive application process and may require academic or professional prerequisites. There are currently three certificate programs available to MPA students in their second year of study.

Environmental Finance and Impact Investment (EFII) Students Program

This program, overseen by Professor Mark Milstein, provides students with the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for successful practice in the fields of environmental finance and impact investment. Students will receive rigorous interdisciplinary training in several areas relevant to EFII, including economic and political analysis; finance and analytics; science and technology; and markets and regulation. For more information, please contact Professor Milstein at

Certificate Program in Infrastructure Project Management and Finance (IPMF)

This program, run in collaboration with the Cornell Program in Infrastructure Policy (CPIP), provides students with a rigorous overview of current trends and best practices in the delivery, maintenance, and operation of physical infrastructure. Areas covered in this certificate program include organizational design, regulation and infrastructure policy, infrastructure finance, and project management. For more information, please contact John Foote, MPA Program faculty member, at

Certificate Program in Systems Thinking, Modelling, and Leadership (STML)

This program is designed for students interested in shaping their MPA around systems thinking applications in public sector planning and management. Emphasis is placed on technology and tools available to solve complex problems using a systems thinking framework. For more information, please contact Derek Cabrera and Laura Cabrera, MPA Program faculty members, at and

MPA Colloquium Coursework: PADM 5009, PADM 5012

Students are required to successfully complete several colloquia courses as part of the MPA Program. These sequenced forums offer professional insights and practice opportunities for at each stage of the degree program and are designed to help students make links between their coursework and the wide array of challenges for domestic and international public policy and administration.

First-year students are required to enroll in PADM 5009: Career Management for Public Affairs in the fall semester. This course introduces students to the landscape of public affairs employment, as well as techniques for succeeding in the internship and job search.

All students are required to enroll in PADM 5012: Professional Development for Public Affairs in the spring semester. This course will focus on knowledge, skills, and abilities that are relevant from a general management perspective, and across MPA degree concentrations. Topics covered might include strategic planning, stakeholder engagement, managing people/finances/technology, and more.

Students who have a course scheduling conflict with PADM 5012 may petition to have the colloquium requirement waived if the course is integral to the completion of their MPA course of study. Course petitions must be submitted through the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center for review and approval. A colloquium waiver will be given for only one semester while in residence at Cornell. PADM 5009 may not be waived.

Co-Curricular Activities

Students have the opportunity to develop practical skills by organizing, managing, and participating in a variety of sponsored activities. These are student-led initiatives and, while not required, they provide students with opportunities to share experiences and perspectives with their peers, and to meet practitioners and distinguished faculty members from the field of public affairs.

The Cornell Public Affairs Society

The Cornell Public Affairs Society (CPAS) is the Brooks MPA Program’s student government organization. Executive Board members are elected by the MPA student body each fall. In addition to facilitating a wide range of academic and professional development programming, CPAS serves as the conduit between MPA students and the MPA Program faculty and administration. All students running to serve on the CPAS Executive Board must be in good academic standing.

The Cornell Policy Review

The Cornell Policy Review is the Brooks MPA Program’s academic public policy journal. Drawing upon their own research and professional experiences, MPA Students and external contributors write articles for this publication and edit articles submitted by faculty, alumni and others. Working on The Cornell Policy Review gives students a greater appreciation for the rigors of academic publishing and the peer review process, while simultaneously allowing participating students to refine the writing and editing skills that are vital to preparing public affairs reports and position papers.

At the end of each fall semester, The Cornell Policy Review accepts applications for the positions of Editor-in-Chief, Business Editor, and Social Media Editor of The Cornell Policy Review. Students who are selected for these positions will serve as Editors-in-Training during their first-year spring academic term and as full Editors for the remaining two semesters following their appointment. Small stipends may be available for Editors. Applicants must be MPA students in good academic standing. Applicants must be willing to commit themselves to be in residence at Cornell during the three academic semesters for the remainder of their tenure at Cornell. Students planning to participate in a semester of off-campus study, for example, are not eligible. Information on applying for these positions is provided to MPA students in the fall of each year.  For additional information, please contact Thomas O’Toole, Executive Director of Public Affairs Programming, at

Women in Public Policy

Women in Public Policy (WIPP) is an organization that facilitates the professional integration of women into public policy roles. WIPP organizes discussions and debates on gender and policy issues regarding women in the public arena, and generates public awareness about economic, social, political and historical issues in relation to gender and power in policy. WIPP promotes principles of equality, justice and integrity in the public and private arena and provides a support system and networking opportunities for its members. WIPP invites women leaders to speak at Cornell, co-hosts various events on campus that deal with women and equality, holds panel discussions on current issues on gender, and makes information available to its members of gender policy related events at Cornell and beyond. For additional information, please contact Laurie Miller, MPA Program Associate Director for Engaged Learning, at

The International City/County Management Association

The Cornell Chapter of the International City/County Management (ICMA) provides a forum for MPA students to advance professional local government management and create sustainable communities that improve lives worldwide. ICMA members are committed to identifying leading practices to address the needs of local governments and professionals serving communities globally.

Cornell Latin American Student Society

The Cornell Latin American Student Society is a co-curricular organization dedicated to enhancing relationships between Cornell and Latin America, raising awareness of opportunities and challenges within Latin America, and fostering an active engagement of the Cornell community in development projects in the region.

Professional Writing/Analysis Qualification

Brooks MPA students, by the time they complete the degree program, must be able to demonstrate high-level skills for writing and analysis, with experience in oral presentation of their work. In order to ensure compliance with this, MPA students must meet the Professional Writing Requirement. One way to meet this requirement is through a service-oriented Capstone course that involves preparation of a professional project report and making formal oral presentations in the context of a collaborative group with a real client agency or program being served. Students can take the Domestic or International Capstone course. Students can also complete a Capstone project as a part of the certificate programs. Alternatively, students may write a Professional Report, typically based on their summer internship experience. The third method is a policy-related MPA thesis researched and presented in a more academic manner. The professional report and the thesis differ more in their intended audiences than in quality or quantity of work. Professional reports are written for a specific audience (client), to assist in decision-making and program management or evaluation, while theses are written for a general audience, for anyone in the world who would be interested in their subjects.

Course credits (but not independent study credits) earned in the process of completing the professional writing requirement may count as one of the 16 courses required for the MPA under the Professional Development Coursework category.

Capstone Project

The International or Domestic Capstone is a semester-long service-learning course designed for second-year MPA students. It offers an opportunity for students to apply the knowledge and skills that they have been acquiring through coursework and internship experiences by engaging in rigorous pro bono consulting projects for real-world clients in public agencies and non-profit organizations.

Each semester, several Capstone projects are offered, one addressing a public service initiative or policy issue posed by a domestic client, and in the other, by an international client. For each Capstone project, Students will form a number of complementary consulting groups that propose solutions which are relevant and actionable. The Capstone projects are multidisciplinary and experiential in nature, and Students have opportunities to learn from each other and from resources across the University, as well as from contacts in the field. Students learn about managing programs and undertaking policy analysis within the constraints of different political environments and organizations, as well as gain professional and public-service experience. To learn more about current Capstone projects, requirements, and registration, or to discuss future topics please contact Laurie Miller, MPA Program Associate Director for Engaged Learning & Capstone Instructor, at

Students enrolled in the Environmental Finance and Impact Investing (EFII) or Systems Thinking Modeling and Leadership (STML) program may fulfill the writing requirement through the project requirement of both certificate programs.

Students who are choosing one of the alternatives to the capstone described below should not enroll in a Capstone course.

Professional Report

Most students undertake an internship during the summer between their first and second years, and most of these assignments require some written report or output from the work engaged in. Some students, having done this professional work, would like to develop their analysis to a higher level, with more research, more data assembly and analysis, more detailed evaluation and explanation.

Students choosing this option to demonstrate professional writing and analytical skills must complete PADM 5930: Professional Report Proseminar, in the fall semester of their second year of study. This course will help to develop the student’s understanding of the process of producing a client report, resulting in a more complete and useful document for the client.

It is the responsibility of the student to identify and recruit a faculty member with subject matter expertise to advise on and evaluate the project. In general, professional reports will be written by a single student for a specified client according to that client’s needs. For this to meet the professional writing requirement, the report needs to be approved by the client, the faculty member who supervised the report, and the MPA Program Director.

Students should consult the Professional Writing Requirement Guidelines for more information about writing a professional report.

The Professional Report Preliminary form, along with a copy of the project description, must be signed by their client and by the faculty member supervising the project, and submitted to the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center no later than the ‘last day to add classes’ of their fourth semester (typically January).


For students intending to pursue a Ph.D. beyond the MPA degree, or who have some particular interest in public affairs that can be advanced by more traditional academic research, a thesis that corresponds to the Graduate School’s MA or MS degree requirements can meet the professional writing requirement. A student must be in good academic standing to choose a thesis as their professional writing requirement.

Students who choose this option will be responsible for finding a willing faculty member. Only tenured and tenure-track faculty members of the Brooks School are eligible to serve as thesis advisors.

When writing a thesis, students may enroll for a semester of directed reading or independent study under the supervision of their thesis advisor. If a student decides to do an independent study, it will NOT count as one of the 16 courses required for the MPA. Students who are planning on writing a MPA thesis are also required to participate in the thesis Proseminar sessions that are offered during the fall semester of their second year. They must submit a Thesis Prospectus Form, along with a copy of the thesis prospectus, signed by their proposed thesis advisor, to the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center no later than the ‘last day to drop classes’ of their third semester (typically mid-October). Thesis prospectuses must be approved by the thesis advisor and the MPA Program Director. 

Approval of the thesis is conveyed by advisors signing the abstract of the thesis and signing the MPA Thesis/Professional Report Approval Form. All theses require the signature of the thesis advisor and the MPA Program Director.

The MPA thesis should follow formatting guidelines provided by the Graduate School. For these formatting specifications, students should consult the Thesis Formatting Guide. Students should consult the Professional Writing Requirement Guidelines for more information about writing a thesis.

Procedures and Timeline

Students should discuss these options with the Student Advising Coordinator and their respective academic mentors during the first year and should make tentative decisions among the three options by the end of their first year. A final decision may await the completion of the summer professional experience, as this could become the basis for submitting a professional report. The final Program Plan of Study must be filed on the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center at the beginning of the third semester and must include the professional writing option, so that students are clear about what remains to be completed in their final semesters before graduation. Some students plan to complete the writing of a thesis or professional report during the summer after their fourth semester, receiving their degree in August. This is acceptable to the program, but it should be something planned and approved by the MPA Program Director, not the consequence of missing the deadline for a May graduation.

This Plan of Study will show which semester the student plans to take the Capstone seminar in their second year and whether with a domestic or international focus. Or alternatively, it will indicate whether the student is planning to complete a professional report or a MPA thesis with plans for taking the required coursework and in which semester. Students who do not make decisions on these questions by the start of the second year cannot expect that they will necessarily be able to graduate in May. This decision is reviewed and approved as part of the Plan of Study that is submitted through the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center.

To get sufficient and timely feedback from faculty supervising a thesis or professional report, drafts need to be submitted to advisors enough in advance for the material to be read and commented upon. Schedules for submission of drafts need to be worked out with advisors in advance. Theses and professional reports that are not of an acceptable quality, in presentation as well as substance, may not be approved in time for degree conferral as anticipated if too little time for feedback is allowed. Both theses and professional reports are more substantial undertakings than a research paper for a seminar or course.

Role of the Thesis/Professional Report Advisor

The role of the faculty advisor for the thesis, and the faculty advisor and supervisor from the client organization for the professional report, is to provide periodic advice to the student on issues related to the scope, content and organization of the professional report or thesis, and to ensure the quality of the final project prior to submission.

Responsibility for writing an acceptable thesis or professional report remains fully with the student. The Brooks MPA Program does not operate with the same ‘special committee’ system for all students that the Graduate School prescribes for academic Master’s or Ph.D. degrees and does not require a defense, although individual faculty advisors may expect one. 

Approval of the Thesis/Professional Report

Approval of the writing project is conveyed by faculty advisor(s) signing the abstract of the thesis or an executive summary of the project paper, as well as by signing the MPA Thesis/Professional Report Approval Form.

Finalizing the Thesis/Professional Report

Upon receiving faculty approval of their thesis or professional report, students should submit this document in final form to the Brooks MPA Advising Center. In order to graduate on schedule at the end of a given academic term, students need to turn in the following documents no later than two weeks before the graduation date:

  • A PDF copy of thesis or professional report.
  • A completed and signed MPA Thesis Approval form or MPA Professional Report Approval form submitted through the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center.

Students are expected to provide their professional report or thesis advisors and/or their client organization with copies of their final thesis or report.

Academic Advising and Mentorship

Academic Advising and Mentorship Overview

MPA students can take courses according to their professional objectives and academic preparation from a wide, multi-disciplinary variety of faculty members across the university. However, to provide cohesion to the program and coherence in advising, the Brooks MPA Program is guided by faculty within Brooks. They share a commitment to Cornell’s providing quality graduate education for careers in public service of many types. The Brooks School faculty bring a range of experience and involvement in domestic U.S. and international public affairs to their teaching and mentorship.

Upon entering the MPA Program, each student is assigned a member of the MPA faculty as a mentor based in part on the area of interest that was indicated in their MPA application.

Cornell Brooks School MPA Program Faculty Directory

Registration Information

Registration Information Overview

Cornell has a two-step registration process. The first involves becoming registered as a graduate student at Cornell University. This registration covers things like the privilege to enroll in courses, access to the library system, assignment of an email address, and enrollment in health insurance. This registration precedes and is not to be confused with course enrollment, which is discussed here.

MPA students enroll in courses online through Student Center. This system enables students to request classes for the upcoming semester during the pre-enrollment period before a semester begins, and to enroll in or to drop classes for the current semester during what is called the add-drop period. This is a three-week period at the start of each semester during which graduate students register for the courses that they will take that semester and can drop any that they have signed up for but then decide not to take. Access and instructions for using Student Center can be found on the Office of the University Registrar’s website. A complete listing of academic dates can be found on the Cornell Academic Calendar.

Registering for 1-Credit or 2-Credit Courses

For a course to fulfill an MPA requirement as being a ‘course’ (one of the 16 that must be completed to earn the MPA degree), it must be at least 3 credits. (Three- and four-credit courses are counted similarly in the MPA curriculum.) Students who want to enroll in a 1-credit or 2-credit course can get MPA credit for a ‘course’ by pairing it with another 2- or 1-credit course, for a total of at least 3 credits. A 1-credit and a 2-credit course, two 1.5-credit courses, or two 2-credit courses get counted as a ‘course’ for degree purposes. Three 1-credit courses do not get counted as one course nor does two 1-credit plus a 1.5 credit count as a course.

Registering for Courses in the MBA Program & Cornell Law School

While MPA students are welcome to enroll in most courses in the MBA program and Cornell Law School, students should consult the course roster for any specific enrollment guidelines. No student may take more than half of their concentration courses in the S.C. Johnson School of Business or in professional Masters’ programs offered by the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the Department of City and Regional Planning, or the College of Engineering, given that an MPA degree program differs from these degree programs in both purpose and content. While some of the courses listed for the concentrations may not have direct public policy content, most of the courses selected for your concentration must have a policy or public affairs focus appropriate for an MPA degree.

General Course Advice

Summer Webinar in Statistics, Microeconomics and Excel

Students who have limited preparation in quantitative and economic analysis, given their lack of previous coursework in economics or statistics and/or low scores on the quantitative section of the GRE, are advised to enroll in a foundational ‘webinar’ prior to matriculation. This webinar, which is made available as a distance-learning experience, covers elementary statistical analysis, microeconomic theory, and excel applications. Its objectives are: 1) to provide students with some basic terminology and skills that will make it easier for them to engage in graduate coursework in the Brooks MPA Program, and 2) to provide academic advisors with some metric for determining the level of quantitative coursework that students can reasonably enroll in during their first semester.

Material is presented in a series of modules, with instructors holding virtual office hours with students throughout the summer prior to the start of fall semester. There is no tuition fee for students participating in the foundational webinar, but they will need to purchase some textbooks for this. Brooks MPA Program Administration will inform incoming students whose background in economics and quantitative analysis looks insufficient for starting coursework at the expected level and invite them to take the webinar. Other students who would like to refresh their understanding of economic and statistical concepts and methods prior to the start of classes are welcome to participate in the webinar.

MPA Concentration

Students select a concentration that is appropriate for their respective backgrounds and their career interests. While it is possible to pursue a career transition through the Brooks MPA Program, two years is not enough time to obtain the subject matter depth and breadth necessary to compete with seasoned practitioners already operating in the new area. It is recommended that students who would like to concentrate in international development, for example, should have at least some prior field experience in a developing country in order to be competitive in the employment market post-graduation, or if they want to concentrate on human rights that they have some prior experience in this policy area.

The Brooks MPA Program does not have ‘dual’ or ‘combined’ concentrations, however, there is flexibility in putting together a concentration. Someone interested in international development and social policy, for example, could choose development courses that deal with demographic and/or health issues, to design a development concentration which focuses on issues affecting an aging population.

The choice of courses to constitute a student’s concentration is one of the most important parts of any MPA course of study. The concentration should NOT be a random assortment of diverse courses. Students should consider what combination of subjects within their chosen concentration will give them both reasonable breadth (coverage) of the area chosen and also some identifiable expertise within that concentration, possibly amplified by work done in the capstone course or for a professional report or thesis. A well-constructed concentration should have purposiveness and coherence.

No student can know now what she or he will be doing 5, 10 or 20 years from now. But ‘as the bough is bent, so grows the tree.’ Students are positioning themselves, by their choice of courses and by the competences that they develop while at Cornell, for careers along certain trajectories. There will be various career-changing opportunities that arise in most people’s lives, so it is good to be prepared intellectually for a range of career paths.

Academic Standards

Academic Standards Overview

The Brooks MPA Program functions under the aegis of the Cornell Brooks School of Public Policy And thus operates within its procedures and policies. MPA students can consult a general, comprehensive overview of Policies, Procedures, Students Services, and Supports on the Cornell University Registrar website.

The Brooks MPA Program, like many other graduate fields, has its own additional guidelines, and students are responsible for familiarizing themselves with these also.

Registration Requirements

At the beginning of each semester, all students must register with the university. Registration establishes a student’s status as a Cornell student and confers access to the range of university resources and services available to all students. Registration is not, however, synonymous with course enrollment, which is a separate process discussed above.

Registration is necessary each semester until a student either completes the MPA degree or withdraws from Cornell — unless a leave of absence for health or other reasons is petitioned for and granted. Each regular degree student is expected to complete the requirement of four registered semesters with reasonable continuity. MPA students pay the same tuition whether they are studying in Ithaca or during semesters in Albany, New York, or Washington.

Courses and Grades

MPA Students take at least 16 courses during the two years, usually 4 per semester plus colloquium. They are expected to take all of the courses that are planned for meeting their degree requirement for a letter grade, except for those courses that do not offer a graded option. (Some courses are taught only with S/U grading.) Of the 14 courses counted toward degree requirements, students are permitted to enroll in no more than 2 courses (6-8 credits) on a S/U basis and only when a letter grade is unavailable.

A grade of B- or above in at least 14 out of the 16 courses is required for completing the MPA degree. While as many as two grades of C or C+ are acceptable, in no case will a grade of C- or below be counted toward satisfying the requirements of the degree. For courses that only offer a S/U grading option, the student should find out from the course instructor in advance (prior to the end of the course add/drop period) whether the standard for receiving a Pass grade is consistent with MPA requirements (i.e., B- or above). It is the obligation of each MPA student to understand and comply with the program’s academic standards.

To maintain eligibility for academic funding from the program, students must be full-time students (no less than 12 credits completed) and maintain at least a B average (3.0). Students who perform below a B average during the first semester will receive a notice from the DGS informing them that they are on academic probation and if they still have a cumulative GPA lower than a B average at the end of their second semester, they will not be eligible for financial aid during their second year. If a student’s GPA is lower than a C average (2.0) at the end of any semester, this will be grounds for separation from the program. A student who is on academic probation must make a special appointment to meet with  the DGS to develop an academic plan in writing for the completion of their degree.

An incomplete (INC) grade for a course is given at the discretion of the course instructor and only when: (1) the student has 50%+ equity of the course at a passing level; and (2) extraordinary circumstances beyond control of the student have prevented the student from completing the outstanding course requirements. 

It is the student’s responsibility to initiate a request for a grade of INC, and the reasons for requesting an INC must be acceptable to the instructor, who shall specify what the specific make-up requirements are. The program requires that a statement signed by the instructor be on file indicating the reason for the grade of INC and the requirements/restrictions agreed upon, for making up the INC.

A grade of incomplete may remain on a student’s official transcript for 12 months, or until the awarding of a degree, whichever is the shorter period of time. The instructor has the option of setting a shorter time limit for completing the course work. If the work is completed within the designated time period, the grade of INC will be changed to a regular grade on the student’s official transcript. If the work is not completed within the designated time period, the grade of incomplete automatically will be converted to an F by the college registrar.

Students who receive two incomplete grades (INC or NGR) from their first semester will receive a warning notice. Any students who get two additional INC grades during their second semester (a total of four unresolved INC) will be placed on academic probation and can be separated from the program.

Residence Requirements

MPA students are required to be physically present on the Ithaca campus during all four semesters of the program. Students must also attend classes only in the modality offered by the course (i.e., listed on the course roster), and not request an alternative form of attendance/participation. Non-residential status is considered only for students accepted into authorized program externships in Albany, New York, or Washington D.C., and for no more than one-semester. No other off-campus study programs are approved to fulfill a registered semester requirement.

Relevant coursework taken prior to entering the MPA Program, during the summer session, or at some other institution at Cornell does not count toward shortening the period of study at Cornell. Similarly, taking an overload of coursework while in the program does not shorten the time necessary to complete the degree.

Course Load Requirements

MPA students are expected to enroll in four (4) full-semester program-related courses plus colloquium courses during each of the four semesters they are enrolled in the Brooks MPA Program, for a minimum of 16 courses in total. These 16 courses must include 9 foundation courses, 5 concentration courses, and 2 professional development courses. MPA students may take more than 16 courses during their four semesters at Cornell. Students cannot earn the MPA in less than four semesters unless they both have a Cornell undergraduate degree and are approved for the accelerated MPA available to them. In that situation, those students will likely be able to complete the degree in three semesters but not less than that.

All courses applied toward requirements of the MPA degree must be taken at the graduate level-5000 level and above. Courses at the 7000 level (and most 6000 level courses) are generally for Ph.D. students and should only be taken by MPA students who have appropriate advanced training. Students should consult closely with their faculty mentors in their course selection process and use the Add/Drop period to carefully consider course choices.

Petition Process

Students may request waivers or changes to some MPA program requirements. This is done formally through a written petition to the program submitted through the MPA Advising Canvas Site or to the Brooks School of Public Policy Registrar Office depending on the nature of the waiver request. The petition must present a clear rationale and appropriate evidence that a waiver or substitution is needed and warranted. All petitions regarding coursework must be approved before the beginning of the semester during which the substitution will occur. At the very latest, the petition must be signed and submitted before the end of the ‘Add’ period. In no case can petitions be submitted for retroactive approval. Finally, petitions will not be considered for waiving required foundation courses.

MPA Petitions

MPA petitions are intended for MPA-specific program adjustments such as:

  • Selecting a relevant course that is not listed in the MPA course guide. The petition must be approved before the substitute course is taken. Course substitution petitions must be submitted on the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center.
  • Pursuing an off-campus study option.
  • Requesting a substitute Cornell course (such as the Johnson School’s SGE) for the MPA practical experience requirement.
  • Waiving colloquium if you have a course conflict.

MPA petitions may be downloaded and then submitted on the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center. All petitions must be typed and signed.

Brooks School Registrar Petitions

School of Public Policy petitions are used for:

  • Adding or dropping a course after the Add/Drop period has ended
  • A leave of absence for personal reasons
  • Requesting an increase in the credit cap

School of Public Policy petitions may be downloaded from the School of Public Policy registrar’s website.

Registration in Absentia/Leaves of Absence

The MPA degree is a two-year (four-semester) program of coursework and professional experience. Normally this is completed in four consecutive semesters in residence at Cornell or with three semesters in residence with one semester in an approved off-campus study program.

Under special circumstances and in consultation with their academic advisors and the Brooks MPA Program Director, registration ‘in absentia’ in conjunction with the student’s MPA program can be approved, or a leave of absence can be taken for one semester as explained below.

  • ‘In absentia’ registration is appropriate only for students who will be working full-time off-campus on an approved research project or internship that is integral to their MPA degrees. This signifies that they are practically continuing their program of study but are in an off-campus location.
  • Going ‘on leave’ is appropriate for students who must interrupt their studies—whether for health or other personal reasons, or to participate in an approved off-campus study program that requires enrollment in another institution. That program, even if dovetailing with the MPA Program, is not the same thing as being enrolled with the Cornell Brooks School.

NOTE: Students who register in absentia are not able to enroll in coursework at another institution. The Brooks School does not allow students to be concurrently registered both at Cornell and another institution.

Academic work done while registered ‘in absentia’ can possibly be counted toward the MPA since gaining in absentia status requires work that is integral to a student’s course of study. Work that students may do while ‘on leave’ will not count toward the MPA, unless approved in advance by the Brooks MPA Program Director.

International students who require visas for their study at Cornell typically do not lose their visa status when registered ‘in absentia,’ while visa status changes if a student goes ‘on leave’ all visa issues related to ‘in absentia’ registration or going ‘on leave’ must be discussed with the Office of Global Learning before petitioning for either status to ensure that the results will be satisfactory.

Registration ‘In Absentia’

‘In-absentia’ status provides an opportunity for students to pursue a professional engagement typically related to a research project during the academic year, usually just one semester, in a location at least 100 miles away from the University’s Ithaca campus. The research or work done while in absentia must be integral to the student’s course of study.

In absentia status may only be granted in the student’s second year of study and is limited to one semester, except under exceptional circumstances. Students when in absentia are not eligible for financial aid from the program. However, the financial aid award agreed upon at admission will resume once the student returns to Cornell from in absentia status (after one semester).

In absentia petitions must be submitted to the Brooks Registrar by June 15 for a fall semester leave, or by November 1 for a spring semester leave. Petitions received after these deadlines, if approved, may be subject to late-registration fees and finance charges. Students who are registering to be in absentia for a semester should settle their Bursar accounts prior to the first day of classes of that semester and should provide the Bursar’s Office with their billing address during the in absentia period.

To be registered in absentia, students must complete an “In Absentia Petition” form from the Brooks Registrar Office, outlining the reasons why they need to pursue meeting their degree requirements off-campus. When registering in absentia, students may waive the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) requirement if they can show that they will have adequate insurance coverage. Otherwise, they must make payments to continue with SHIP. Note also that students must complete any required summer registration while registered in absentia. Summer registration is a separate process required of all students who receive financial aid, assistantships, or use campus facilities during the summer. The application forms for in absentia registration are available on their website.

For international students, note that in absentia registration does count as full registration for immigration purposes, so their F-1 status will be maintained. Note further that students on an f-1 visa cannot apply for off-campus work authorization until they have completed at least one full academic year of study.

For MPA students to obtain in absentia registration status, the following steps are involved to ensure that appropriate arrangements are made regarding financial aid and visa status, where relevant:

  • Complete all required Brooks registrar forms at least one month in advance of the deadline (May 15 for the following fall semester; October 1 for the spring semester) so that the necessary consultation with academic advisors and Brooks MPA Program administration can be completed in good time.
  • A student seeking to register in absentia to conduct field research for a thesis or professional report must develop and present a detailed proposal, outlining the research question, methodology, research timeframe, and a preliminary bibliography. In the proposal, the rationale for field research should be fully explained: why it is necessary to acquire thesis/professional report data via field research, rather than by other means — e.g., from existing data sets, etc.

If wishing to register in absentia to pursue a professional engagement, a student must develop a detailed proposal outlining why the engagement proposed is integral to achieving the student’s professional objectives in public affairs, and why these objectives cannot otherwise be met through the usual means of satisfying the Brooks MPA Program’s practical experience requirement.

  • Meet with the student’s academic mentor to discuss the research proposal/professional development rationale for being approved to register in absentia.
  • Meet with the Brooks MPA Program Director to discuss the research proposal/professional development rationale for registering in absentia. Obtain approval (signature) from the Director on all required forms.
  • Submit the required forms by the deadline.

Leave Of Absence

A Leave of Absence (LOA) can be granted for personal or medical reasons, or to participate in an approved off-campus study program that requires enrollment in another institution. To have a leave approved, a student must file a Leave of Absence/Withdrawal form. Cornell Health and Brooks Registrar handles the forms for a health LOA and the Brooks School Registrar handles all personal LOA requests. Please contact the Brooks School Student Services Office before beginning a LOA application.

A leave of absence may normally only be taken in a student’s second year of study, and is limited to one semester, except under exceptional circumstances.

Students on leave are not eligible for financial aid. However, the financial aid award agreed upon at admission can be reinstated once the student returns from leave (after one semester).

During a leave of absence, students will not have access to campus facilities and personnel. In most cases, this means that students will no longer have access to labs, libraries, and online resources that require a NetID. Students on medical leave also cannot remain in student housing.

International students who hold a nonimmigrant visa and are considering requesting a leave of absence, or who are considering leaving the U.S. for any reason, must talk to a staff member of the Office of Global Learning (OGL) because international students need to be continuously registered during the fall and spring semesters to maintain their visa status.

  • Any student considering a leave or international travel should right away discuss options for maintaining their visa status with an OGL advisor.
  • Also, before leaving Cornell for any travel outside the U.S., international students need to contact OGL at Cornell for information on how to maintain their visa eligibility for reentry.

Any international student, before initiating the application for a leave of absence, must meet with an advisor in OGL to discuss how to maintain legal immigration status. As noted above, students on an f-1 visa cannot apply for off-campus work authorization until they have completed at least one (1) full academic year.

The question of whether to register in absentia or to take a leave of absence to pursue field research or a professional public affairs related engagement off-campus is a personal and professional decision that should be taken with advice from faculty and other academic/career advisors. Taking a leave severs the student’s relationship with the University during the leave period. Also, financial aid is suspended until the student returns to full-time, registered status. A student on leave will not have financial support to undertake field research or professional engagements during the leave period, and this can entail significant expenses (living/travel).

Registering in absentia or taking a leave of absence does not shorten the time to degree. Students returning from in absentia status or from a leave of absence are still expected to complete the four semesters of coursework required for the MPA degree (if their leave semester did not include coursework at another institution which is pre-agreed to be counted toward MPA requirements). Students participating in an MPA off-campus program in Albany, New York, or Washington are neither on leave nor in absentia, so their studies and field work in these programs will count toward the degree.

Students are strongly advised to discuss any leave plans with their respective academic mentors and with the MPA Academic Director before pursuing the option of registration in absentia or a leave of absence.

Complementary and Joint Degrees

The Brooks MPA Program recognizes that, for some students, there are significant academic and professional advantages to pursuing complementary studies in the MPA Program and another degree program. With approval by the Brooks MPA Program Director, MBA students at the Johnson Graduate School of Management, MEng students in the College of Engineering, MPH students in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and JD students at Cornell Law School may count up to twelve credits of their degree programs toward the MPA degree. Likewise, MPA students may count up to twelve credits of their MPA programs toward the MBA, MPH, and JD degrees. This complementary degree program reduces the time to complete both degrees by one semester (students may earn both degrees in 3.5 years). Students must be accepted to both degree programs independently, and admission to one degree program should not be understood as enhancing the likelihood of admission to the other.

Students who are interested in complementing their MPA degree with an MBA, MEng., MPH, or JD degree must demonstrate a sound purpose for their course of studies, as well as the ability to thrive within the rigors of such a program. Students are advised to initiate discussion of their plans for complementary degrees with their academic mentors as soon as possible after matriculating in the Brooks MPA Program.

The Brooks MPA Program has developed a formal joint degree program with the Sloan Program in Health Administration. Students who are successfully admitted to both graduate programs may complete the Master of Public Administration (MPA) and Master of Health Administration (MHA) degrees in three years. This intensive joint degree program is designed for students whose academic and professional objectives would be furthered by coursework and professional engagement in both programs. The dual MPA/MHA is a 90-credit program in which students must fulfill requirements in full for both component programs. For more information, please contact MPA Program Executive Director Thomas O’Toole at

The Brooks MPA Program has also developed several programs that allow students and alumni who have completed their undergraduate degrees at Cornell to apply up to twelve (12) credits from their undergraduate career toward the MPA degree. Currently, these programs include complementary degrees with the Department of Policy Analysis and Management, the Department of Sociology, and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Only courses taken at the 5000-level or above during an applicant’s undergraduate career may be counted toward the MPA degree.

Complementary degree programs should only be pursued by students in good academic standing, and who are making satisfactory progress toward the MPA degree. Complementary degree students should discuss their plan for finishing both degrees with their academic advisor as soon as possible after receiving an offer of admission. A complementary degree declaration form should be submitted to the Canvas Brooks MPA Advising Center within two weeks of receiving an offer of admission from a complementary degree program.

Cornell’s Code of Academic Integrity

Absolute integrity is expected of every Cornell student in all academic undertakings. Integrity entails a firm adherence to a set of values, and those most essential to an academic community are grounded on the principle of honesty with respect to the intellectual efforts of oneself and others. Academic integrity is expected not only in formal coursework situations, but in all university relationships and in all interactions connected to the educational process, including the use of university resources. Both students and faculty of Cornell assume the responsibility for maintaining and furthering these values.

A Cornell student’s submission of work for academic credit indicates that the work is the student’s own. All outside assistance should be acknowledged; sources must be credited; and the student’s academic position truthfully reported at all times. In addition, Cornell students have a right to expect academic integrity from their peers.

  • A student shall in no way misrepresent his or her work. All MPA students must understand how to properly cite prior work and others’ work.
  • A student shall in no way fraudulently or unfairly advance his or her academic position.
  • A student shall refuse to be a party to another student’s failure to maintain academic integrity.
  • A student shall not in any other manner violate the principle of academic integrity.

Failure to observe these expectations and requirements will have serious consequences for anyone breaching them. The Cornell Code of Academic Integrity must be read carefully by all MPA students. Students are responsible for fully understanding the Cornell Code of Academic Integrity. Failure to understand the Code is never a defense against an academic integrity charge. Students who have any questions about the Code should speak with their advisors. Concepts and standards can vary between countries, so international students have to be particularly careful to understand and abide by the American concepts and standards followed at Cornell.

Please note that the Brooks MPA Program will be participating in a program that runs computer checks on written work that can identify and document plagiarism. Such checks are becoming more and more standard, so it behooves everyone to abide by the norms that expect/require original work and to make explicit attribution and crediting of others’ work where cited or otherwise used.

The Brooks MPA Program will pursue expulsion for any MPA student convicted of more than one academic integrity violation. Students with any academic integrity violations are ineligible for induction into Pi Alpha Alpha, the public affairs honor society.