Guest Post from Heidi, Consultant for The Art of Applying
How to Determine if the Harvard Kennedy School Mid-Career Program is Right for You
“Is this program right for me?” It’s a good question to ask yourself for any program. Perhaps more so when considering mid-career programs. The following tips will help you get started:
Reflect early and often.
Before even looking further at the HKS MC/MPA and/or HKS Mason Fellows program, ask yourself:
- Why go back to school at this point in my career?
- What do I expect to gain from a graduate school experience?
- How will a graduate program further my career goals?
If you can’t answer these questions, it’s time to do some more soul searching before moving forward. It can be tempting if you feel stuck in your job or just itchy for something new to look at a graduate program and think “This is the ticket to a new life!” If this is you, you wouldn’t be the first grad student to end up there based on this logic, but to get the most out of any graduate school program, especially one focused on mid-career and executive professionals, you’ll do best to first set your objectives and then find the program that fits.
Make sure you’re eligible to apply.
Before getting in too deep, make sure you meet the academic and work prerequisites of the MC/MPA program.
Assess whether you’re a solid candidate or could benefit from waiting another year or two to apply.
Switching from the private sector? Test the waters first.
The MC/MPA program is not only for current public service professionals but also for professionals looking to “transition from the private sector to leadership positions in the public or nonprofit sectors.” If you fall into this category, you’ll be best positioned for acceptance and you’ll get the most out of the experience if you’ve already tested that a move into the public or nonprofit sector is truly the next step for you. If you’re looking for a way to explore this path but aren’t yet sure, the first step is to get involved as a volunteer in some projects or programs in the nonprofit, public, and/or civil sectors. Depending on your professional background, you might be a qualified candidate for the board of a nonprofit, which is a great way to give back in regards to an issue about which you care, and test the waters for a career switch.
Speak with alumni of the program.
If you don’t have access to anyone in your LinkedIn or other networks, contact the admissions office directly. They’re usually happy to connect you to alumni of the program because they recognize that the best candidates are those who have done their homework. Researching the school via chats with alumni is a great step towards understanding what you can expect from the program and how it can advance your career. Find out what the alumni are doing now and how the program helped them get there. If you speak with an alum who isn’t quite in your field of interest, ask if he or she can connect you to a peer who better matches your trajectory—your background entering the program or your future career goals or both. Ask questions about what they found most useful about the program, what they liked most and least, and advice on courses to take and connections to build. Ask the person what you should know that might not be obvious.
Get clear on how best to use the program to meet your goals.
This is another place where speaking to alumni will be helpful, but you also need to do your own thinking and research. In the HKS MC/MPA and Mason Fellows program, you design your own course of study and have only course distribution requirement: one course each from Economics and Quantitative Analysis, Management and Leadership, and Political Thought and Institutions. Freedom and flexibility in graduate school is exciting, but it can also backfire if you haven’t put in the time connecting courses and the program overall to your career goals. You’ll get out of it what you put in. Consider what skills you currently lack that are needed to move into your next and future positions. What intellectual grounding do you need to know in depth to do become the expert in your field? And how will you tie it all together into a cohesive program?
Trust your gut.
Finally, after considering everything else, ask yourself “When I picture myself in this program, am I excited?” Passion and enthusiasm count for something. Keep it in mind as you make up your mind!