The prompt: Write a short paragraph (not more than half a page) describing some numerical data that illuminates a policy issue. Explain how analyzing or interpreting the data provides insight into that issue.
Why does HKS ask this question?The admissions committee is trying to figure out if you have strong numeracy skills. Numeracy is like literacy but in relation to numbers and data. They want to know if you are comfortable using numbers to draw conclusions and make decisions. This is your opportunity to show them that you understand that data—not just warm feelings and good intentions—is important in the world of public service. Which it is.
If I’m not required to write it, should I write it?Yes, yes, yes! It’s another chance to differentiate yourself and show your skills and preparedness for a competitive graduate program. Just make sure you follow the directions and clearly answer the question.
How long should it be?The instructions of a “short paragraph (not more than half a page)” is pretty vague. I will provide the guideline that you should aim to have your final submission for this response be 275 words or less. Feel free to write more than 275 words (required that you write half a page or less) but you risk annoying the admissions committee. I’ve already helped a client get a final draft of this response, and his response is less than 275 words, fully responds to the prompt, and is less than half a page. So you can do it too.
How do I choose what to write about?I promise you that no matter what your job is, you use numbers to make decisions and draw conclusions and that your role / job / organization is connected to a policy issue. For example, I used to be a teacher, and I taught kids from poor families in Texas. (That previous sentence is true, but this next part is made up). Let’s say that my supervisor had to put together a report for her superiors and she asked me to conduct an analysis that analyzed student’s family income in relation to their academic performance. Perhaps my analysis revealed that students from lower income families was correlated in a statistically significant way with lower academic performance. This finding is connected to the policy issue of the academic achievement gap in the U.S. I could then write a little about my numerical findings and how they relate to that policy issue. I could write a sentence or two about some existing or emerging public policies that are aligned with my findings or existing policies that are at odds with my findings.
Here are some questions to make sure you have answered in your response:
- What kind of data are you working with? Data can be broadly defined. Data simply means organized information that can be used for calculations and analysis.
- How are you analyzing the data? Are you looking for correlations? Totals? Percentages? Averages? Growth? Shrinkage? No need to get super-fancy here. Just tell us what you are doing with the information.
- What story does the data suggest? What are the numbers telling us?
- What lessons might you, an organizational decisionmaker, and/or a policymaker be able to learn from that data?
- What decisions could possibly be informed by that data?