Public Administration and Urban Studies: Make a Difference as a Civic Professional

Cities are complex systems, requiring civic participation, input and lots of effort to maintain them properly. While politicians share the brunt of public initiatives and citizen frustration, professionals behind the scenes have a major role to play in improving civic life.

A degree in public administration or urban studies can prepare you for a worthwhile career in public service. These professionals work in the various city and state departments to ensure that civic institutions are available to those who are in need of services.

Both public administration and urban studies study how the various parts of a city interact. However, these fields differ in scope and focus:

  • Public Administration: This field considers the hands-on roles of civic workers, analyzing how civic bureaucracies work inside and out. A degree in public administration will familiarize you with various civic roles, how policy is implemented, and the theories that shape the civic workplace.
  • Urban Studies: This field approaches civic theory from an additional layer of abstraction. Urban studies is concerned with how cities develop and grow. It approaches civic life holistically, analyzing the ways in which administration, politics, culture and economics intersect to create the cities of today.
  • Public Affairs: This field is concerned with influencing public policy on behalf of citizens, interest groups or politicians. Similar to the field of public relations, professionals in public affairs inform, suggest and lobby for government policy. They often work alongside political, civic and business leaders to accomplish their goals and advance the interests of the city or other governmental bodies.

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Careers in Public Administration and Urban Studies

  • Civic Professional: Any of these degrees can help you succeed as a civic professional. Your duties will differ depending on the department and the size of the city.
  • Lobbyist: A degree in public affairs will directly prepare you for a lobbying career, but knowledge of public administration or urban studies is helpful as well. Lobbyists work on behalf of businesses, citizens or political action groups to influence politicians, institutions and citizens. Lobbyists are responsible for shifting public opinion, suggesting policy and making change at the political level.
  • Urban Planner: These degrees will make you an expert on civic affairs. Cities are always in need of urban planners, demonstrated by the field’s rapid growth over the next decade. Urban planners supervise the various projects that occur within a city, ensuring that the projects proposed are completed to the benefit of the citizens.

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How to Prepare for Success

Prospective majors in these fields should have a good understanding of American government, ethics and political science. 

UNCF Schools to Consider

Six UNCF-member schools offer programs for students wishing to work in the field of public administration or urban affairs, including:

Professional Organizations

There are many organizations in various fields of public administration or urban studies that offer more insight into working in those fields. A sample list includes:



Several scholarships are available through UNCF. The Target Scholars Program assists incoming freshmen seeking a degree in leadership and attending select HBCUs. The UNCF General Scholarship Awards are an excellent opportunity for any student going to a UNCF-member college, regardless of their major. The UNCF/Koch Scholars Program offers scholarships, mentorship, academic support and networking opportunities to undergraduate African American students. The Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Scholarship Program awards a $10,000 scholarship to one exceptional HBCU senior each year who has demonstrated high academic achievement, strong leadership skills, commitment to community service and unmet financial need.

Keep an eye on the UNCF website for current scholarship opportunities. There you can find programs like the Joyce Manning Scholarship, which gives up to $2,500 to eligible students.

Students should also check with each college or university to see if there are additional scholarships available to study public administration or urban studies.

Reach out for guidance by submitting a major interest form if you are interested in a career in public administration. Submit the form on our website to get started. And follow us on UNCF social media channels to receive notifications about our scholarships and member HBCUs. Reach out today!