School Spotlight: Harvard Kennedy School

Harvard Kennedy School Admissions Highlights:

Overview of Degree Programs

Master in Public Policy (MPP): The two-year MPP program provides future public leaders with the conceptual framework and practical skills necessary to succeed in public service. The MPP core requirements are built upon strong foundations in three methodological areas: analysis, management, and leadership.

Master in Public Administration/International Development (MPA/ID): The two-year MPA/ID program, Harvard Kennedy School’s newest program, is designed to prepare the next generation of leaders in international development. It is an economics-centered, multi-disciplinary program, combining rigorous training in analytical and quantitative methods with an emphasis on policy and practice.

Two-Year Master in Public Administration (MPA2): The two-year MPA2 is a flexible program designed to enhance the knowledge and skills of established professionals and dual-degree students seeking further leadership responsibilities in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors.

Mid-Career Master in Public Administration (MC/MPA): The one-year MC/MPA is an intensive eight credit program, preceded by a one-month summer program exclusively for mid-career professionals. The MC/MPA is designed to increase the knowledge and skills of well established, high-performing professionals, who seek to enhance their public service careers or to move from the private sector to a leadership position in either the public or nonprofit sectors. Prospective students for the MC/MPA program from developing, newly industrialized, and transitional economy countries must apply through the Mid-Career Master in Public Administration Edward S. Mason Program.

Joint and Concurrent: HKS students have the option to earn a second professional graduate degree—an MBA, MD, or JD, for example—in a shorter amount of time through reduced coursework and residency requirements. Typically, students complete their degrees in one year less than if they earned them consecutively. They can pursue combined degrees at 22 professional schools either at Harvard or at institutions that have been approved by HKS faculty members.

Doctoral Programs: Learn more about the PhD in Public Policy or the PhD in Political Economy and Government programs.

Executive Education: Harvard Kennedy School offers a wide range of Executive Education programs, focusing on those topics that help better prepare leaders in public affairs. Learn more about HKS Executive Education and the application process for these non-degree programs.


Click Here to See A Flow Chart of the HKS Admissions Process


Harvard Kennedy School 2017-2018 Essay Questions for All Programs:

Note: These are the questions from the 2016-2017 application season. We will post the new ones once they are available.

All Programs – Optional Statement

If you have any concerns about your prior academic, professional or personal background you would like to share with the Admissions Committee, please provide an explanation. (250 word limit)

MPP and Non-Degree Essay Prompts

Essay 1: The Harvard Kennedy School motto, echoing the President for whom the School is named, is “Ask what you can do.” Please share with the Admissions Committee your plans to create positive change through your leadership and service. (600 word limit)

Essay 2: Describe a professional or academic episode that gave you a chance to use personal strengths, and/or revealed personal weaknesses.  Then explain specifically how the MPP curriculum (or overall curriculum for Non-Degree applicants) at HKS would leverage your distinctive abilities and/or fill gaps in your skill set as you equip yourself for your career goals. (600 word limit)

MPA2 Essay Prompts

Essay 1: The Harvard Kennedy School motto, echoing the President for whom the School is named, is “Ask what you can do.” Please share with the Admissions Committee your plans to create positive change through your leadership and service. (600 word limit)

Essay 2: There are many pathways one can pursue in order to make a difference in the world. Why is the MPA Program at HKS an appropriate pathway to achieving your goals? (600 word limit)

MPA/ID Essay Prompts

Essay 1: Discuss your decision to choose international development as your professional career. Also, explain how developing your analytic skills relates to your career in development. (750 word limit)

Essay 2: Describe an event or experience in which you exercised a significant decision-making, management, or leadership role. (750 word limit)

Essay 3: Describe a public policy or public management problem related to international development and analyze a range of solutions. (750 word limit)

Essay 4: At least one college level course in microeconomics, macroeconomics and multivariable calculus must be completed before enrollment. Statistics and linear algebra are desirable, but not required. Explain how you have met these requirements, or how you propose to meet them before enrolling in September. Please include descriptions of mathematics courses you have taken that covered calculus and multivariable calculus, as well as descriptions of any courses whose titles do not clearly indicate the content (e.g. Mathematics II or Advanced Mathematics). Official descriptions copied from your college’s course catalog or on-line course catalog are preferred.

MC/MPA and MC/MPA Mason Essay Prompts

Essay 1: Submit a statement that discusses your career goals, as well as the factors that led you to select the Mid-Career MPA program as a means of furthering your personal and professional goals. Be as specific as possible in describing how your expected course of study will enable you to build on your prior professional experience and achieve these goals. (750 word limit)

Essay 2: Describe your most substantial professional and/or public service contribution in which you exercised a significant leadership role in furthering the public good. (750 word limit)

Joint Degree with HBS or HLS Essay Prompt (for MPP and MPA/ID applicants only)

How do you expect the joint degree experience to benefit you on both a professional and a personal level? (400 word limit)

Concurrent Degree Essay Prompt – for applicants applying to an approved partner institution which allows the pursuit of a concurrent degree. For a full list of partner institutions, click here. No matter how many partner programs an applicant will be applying to, there is only one opportunity to respond to this prompt.

How do you expect the concurrent pursuit of another professional Master’s degree to benefit you on both a professional and a personal level? (250 word limit)


Helpful Links:

Our Consultant Karina’s Experience at Harvard Kennedy School

When and where did you attend grad school?

I attended Harvard Kennedy School from 2006 to 2008. I received a Master in Public Policy with a focus on Political and Economic Development.

What inspired you to choose your degree and the particular school you attended?

After having worked in direct service non-profit organizations, I wanted to understand the systemic causes of poverty. I knew that direct service had limitations and I wanted to influence policy, addressing root causes of pressing social issues. After much struggle to choose between three different degree programs, I chose to pursue a degree in public policy. I felt like this degree would provide me with a broad set of tools to accomplish my objective of creating lasting social change. I chose the Harvard Kennedy School because of it’s innovative curriculum, renowned faculty and alumni network. I researched the academic and extracurricular offerings at the Kennedy School and was impressed by the diversity of students and incredibly rich outside of classroom activities such as expert speakers. I mainly wanted to be in an environment that was focused on practice rather than theory. I know I made the right choice!

Karina and classmates at HKS graduation.

What were your 2-4 favorite classes in grad school and why?

My favorite courses at Kennedy School include an economics course on the global informal economy,  community organizing ( Organizing: People, Power, Change) and leadership.  The course on the informal economy exposed me to the economics behind the informal economy in developing countries, especially the social consequences for people who lack social protection and benefits. When I lived in Mexico after graduation, I reflected on this course as I tried to propel change in a country with a high rate of participation in the informal economy, The “Organizing: People, Power, Change” course taught me how to use my story to mobilize others for social change. I had an opportunity to work on a project in a community center with Central American immigrants. I enjoyed leaving Kennedy School and engaging with the real world and was able to put the theory learned in class into practice. I took a course on adaptive leadership with Dean Williams. The way the course was taught exemplified the difficulty of facing adaptive challenges and challenged me to fully understand my environment and context to mobilize others around a shared vision. Now, nine years later after graduation, I am convinced that most of the challenges I face in the workforce are not technical challenges, rather adaptive challenges.  

What were your most important extracurricular activities while in grad school? Why?

My most important extracurricular activity was serving as the co-chair of the International Bridgebuilders Conference which brought grassroots leaders from developing countries to Harvard to share their experiences and learn new skills. In the co-chair role, I had an opportunity to manage a team of students, develop relationships with diverse faculty and departments, and invite high level speakers such as the President of African Development Bank to serve as conference’s keynote speaker. Most importantly, I learned about the challenges facing grassroots leaders in developing countries which fueled my passion for international development.

It often sounds like domestic and international travel is an important part of the grad school experience. Did you travel with your grad school classmates, and if so, where did you go and why?

I traveled to New Orleans with a group of Harvard Business School students. We collaborated with a non-profit organization that helps entrepreneurs start businesses in New Orleans. We helped a few of their entrepreneurs develop sound business plans. I enjoyed the experience of traveling and working with peers from a different school at Harvard.

As part of my research for my Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE), I traveled to Mexico City to conduct interviews with stakeholders and meet with my client to further refine my PAE.

In the summer between my first and second year, I interned at an NGO in Mumbai, India that works with slum children. I had a very intense experience in India and it definitely marked my graduate school experience.

Karina and HKS classmates in Ladakh, India.

If you could go back and tell yourself something at the beginning of your grad school experience, what would you tell yourself and why?

I would tell myself to have been more confident. I would tell myself to have spent more time getting to know my classmates since those are the people I would turn to after graduation for support, collaboration, and in search for professional opportunities. I wish I had known that I would learn just as much from my classmates as I would from classes. The academic component is important but it is the network and the relationships that are the most valuable in the workforce.

It can be difficult to know what a degree or school is like before you’re actually there. What is one misconception people have about your degree(s) and/or schools that you’d like to dispel?

Many people think that the Harvard Kennedy School is only for people who are interested in working for the public sector. Everyone always asked me whether a degree in public policy was for work in the government. I was surprised to find classmates with very diverse professional backgrounds and interests, ranging from finance to journalism. A degree in public policy provided me with a framework and tools that can be applied in diverse sectors and fields, beyond just the public sector.

Anything else you want to add?

My graduate school experience was transformative on a personal and professional level. I feel so enriched not only by my courses but also by the relationships formed. Graduate school is such a unique time to learn, to take risks and to get outside of the comfort zone.

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