<![CDATA[This is a question that many applicants with nonprofit and public sector work experience contemplate while applying to school. In fact, it's a question that even current MPP students wrestle with. My first year of graduate school, I was shocked at how many of my HKS classmates began looking into the MBA program once the job recruiting season began and management consulting firms descended on the campus, promising hefty salaries with prestigious firms. Some of those people ended up going on to MBA programs, most commonly HBS, Tuck, and Sloan. As a joint degree and admissions consultant, I feel strongly about this topic and want to give some advice to those of you who are wondering if you should start with an MPP and then get an MBA. It’s very hard to apply to graduate school while you are currently IN graduate school. If your plan includes applying to business school during your first year of policy school, know that doing this is very challenging. During your first year of policy school, you will be balancing your social life, your extracurricular activities, keeping up in your classes, and adjusting to the harsh Boston winter (at least for those of you who end up at Harvard). To add the grueling task of applying to business school on top of that is just asking to be completely overwhelmed. You may find yourself missing out on some of the best parts of graduate school because you are so busy trying to apply to a different graduate program. If you plan to do a joint degree, I highly recommend applying to both programs at the same time. Understand what you learn with an MPP vs. an MBA. The reason companies pay MBAs so much money is that MBAs are trained to make companies more money. While business school does emphasize ethical decision-making, the goal of one’s efforts is to maximize shareholder value whereas the goal in the public sector is to maximize public value. Both MBA and MPP programs emphasize leadership, management, and analytical skills. However, there is much more emphasis on running and leading companies in business school whereas in policy school, the emphasis is on running and leading organizations, communities, and causes. Lots of MPPs go into the public sector and some MBAs choose to go into the nonprofit and public sector. The clearer your professional goals, the more able you will be able to see whether you need or want both degrees. One important thing to remember about both an MBA and an MPP is that you will be competing for jobs with people who have neither degree. Why? Because some people simply have years and years of relevant work experience and decided not to go to school. No degree–even one from Harvard–is going to make you an automatic “in” at a firm. Know why you want a joint or second degree. Two degrees is not always better than one. Sometimes, a joint degree can be confusing to employers–especially if your work experience is just as varied as your education. When I was recruiting for summer internships in graduate school, I had to convince the private sector companies that I could be happy in a corporate environment and I had to convince the nonprofits that I cared enough about the cause to help enact real change. My loyalty was always in question and people seemed confused about what I was trying to do with my career. If you don’t know why you want a joint degree or second degree, you are going to have one heck of a time explaining it to recruiters–which is an essential skill, especially in the early years after school. In conclusion, my answer to the question “Should you get an MPP and then get an MBA?” is No–not if you are using an MPP as a springboard to an MBA. Either get an MPP or get an MBA, but don’t use your MPP as a stepping stone. When I applied to Harvard Business School, it was not to supplement my Harvard Kennedy School education; it was to complement it. I had an outstanding educational experience at Harvard Kennedy School and don’t want anyone considering applying there for a degree to feel pressured to apply to another degree because they see others doing it. The Harvard MPP is a degree that can stand all on its own, but you have to be willing to bring your best recruiting game to the table to make the most of it. Being confident in your reasons for the decision to pursue the degree is the first step in that process.
Kaneisha, Great way of describing the difference missions of MPP vs MBA schools. The shareholder value vs. public value is a very intuitive way of thinking about it. And an easy 10-second way to describe the main difference to anyone who’s confused.
Thanks, Shadiah! I’m glad you approve! It means a lot to get the thumbs up from a real live Harvard MPP. 🙂
Great post! I’m currently in a MPP program and am considering coupling my policy skills and finance background with an MBA. Thank you for your thoughts.
Hi Marcus! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Please let your MPP classmates who might be interested know about my site! Good luck on your second year!
Kobi Essel says
Why do you perceive MPP to be easier to obtain compared to MBA? From my experience, as a holder of an MPP, there is a 2-3 day exhaustive/comprehensive exit exam from MPP, but not for an MBA. Please comment.