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What Degree Do You Need to Become a City Manager?

City managers are in charge of public administration-related issues, such as developing budgets, preparing policy reports and overseeing city personnel. Learn more about what city managers do, how to become one and what to expect from your degree program.

How To Become a City Manager?

If you want to become a city manager, you'll need a bachelor's degree at minimum. According to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), an independent Washington, D.C.-based professional association for city managers, many local governments prefer or require city manager candidates to have master's degrees also (www.icma.org). To obtain the education necessary for a career as a city manager, you can apply to a bachelor's or master's degree program in public administration or public policy. Alternatively, you can pursue a business degree at either the bachelor's or master's level.

ResponsibilitiesLiaison between elected officials and the public, develop budgets, oversee selection of staff for public projects, issue reports about policy changes, management of lower-level city personnel
Education RequirementsMaster's degree preferred
Other RequirementsInternship in public administration, completion of thesis
Job Outlook (2018-2028)* 11% (for urban and regional planners)
Median Salary (2018)* $73,050 (for urban and regional planners)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Public Administration Degree Programs Entail?

As an undergraduate public administration student, you'll likely be enrolled in a Bachelor of Public Administration (BPA) or a Bachelor of Arts program in either public administration or public policy. Undergraduate public administration degree programs require completion of about 120 credits. Your required course curricula will cover topics like public information management, policy formation, bureaucratic law, public safety, labor relations, basic city planning and human resource productivity. You'll also learn basic business and government foundational concepts that will come in handy for a city manager, such as economics, accounting and political science.

Public administration master's degrees are generally conferred as Master of Public Administration (MPA) or Master of Public Policy (MPP) degrees. Some schools' programs will also allow you to select an optional concentration, such as urban or nonprofit management. Regardless of concentration, most programs require approximately 50 credits for completion. Some additional leveling coursework may be required if your undergraduate degree is in an area outside of public administration, however.

Master's degree programs in public administration typically build on the foundational concepts introduced in bachelor's degree programs. Topics commonly covered in required courses include public budgeting, program analysis, urban planning, community conflict resolution and organizational behavior.

At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, many public administration degree programs require completion of an internship in public administration. If you're a master's degree student, a thesis in a contemporary issue facing city administrators may be required as well. Both types of degree programs are available through distance learning programs in addition to on-campus ones.

What Does a City Manager Do?

City managers often serve as the chief liaisons between elected officials and the members of the public the officials are elected to serve. They attend city council meetings and issue reports on policy, budget and other public information to the assembled audience, which largely consists of citizens. They then listen to citizens' problems and concerns and report them back to elected officials. City managers also develop budgets, oversee the selection of staff for public construction or other related projects and issue reports to citizens and other administrators about any policy changes made by elected officials. They're also responsible for the hiring, management and dismissal of lower-level city personnel.