Harvard Kennedy School – Where the Bottom Line is Making a Difference to Society [Podcast]

This post originally appeared on the Accepted blog.


Today’s guest is Matt Clemons, Director of Admissions at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He’s joining us to discuss the programs HKS offers and what it takes to get accepted. Welcome, Matt!


Can you give us an overview of the MPP program? [1:25]

The MPP is the largest master’s program at HKS. It’s a 2-year, full-time, early career program. There’s a strong focus on giving people a set of skills to address real world problems. Students complete a professional project (rather than an academic thesis).

Students have an average of 3 years of work experience before starting the program. Work experience is important – it helps students make informed decisions and also prepares them to contribute to the program (there’s a lot of group work).

How do the MPA and the MPA/ID differ? [2:50]

The programs are similar in structure: core curriculum in the first year, professional development in the summer, and a professional project in the second year. For the MPA/ID program, the professional development is in a developing country or with a development organization. The coursework for the MPA/ID is very quantitative: similar to what a first year PhD student in economics would do – with an emphasis on practical applications to challenges that are faced in the developing world. They touch on theories, but the focus is on solutions in a developing world context.

What’s the difference between the MPP and MPA? [4:18]

The acronyms shouldn’t confuse people. The programs provide similar skillsets.

Broadly, a public administration program focuses on a macro-level overview, and MPP programs are more technical. But students can structure and tailor their programs to address the problems that they see.

What is the mid-career program? [5:45]

The mid-career program is a 1-year MPA. It draws some people who’ve been public servants, and some who are making the move from the private sector to the public sector. We require 7 years of work experience, and the average is 13.

You have joint programs with HBS and HLS. Is HKS also a case-based school? [6:35]

It’s a mix. The faculty teach to their strengths. You’ll encounter cases in the classroom, but it’s not the predominant teaching method.

What distinguishes the MPP from an MBA? [7:52]

Policy degrees teach candidates tools to manage strategies and policies that impact people and populations. Similar to what one would learn in b-school, MPA students learn economics, policy analysis, and quantitative analysis.

In b-school, students learn similar analytical skills, but they’re focused on the bottom line. In policy programs, your bottom line is society’s bottom line.

HKS offers lots of joint degree opportunities (law, med, business). Why might an MBA want both degrees? [11:50]

The intersection of business and government is increasingly important. Also, people are interested in being social entrepreneurs – outside the traditional channels of non-profits – they want to create their own opportunities to make a difference in society.

We have a new social innovation fellowship to help students start their own companies.

In general, policy professionals should be able to speak with people across fields.

HKS offers joint degree programs within Harvard (HBS, HLS) and concurrent degree programs with few schools at Harvard and with several outside of Harvard (MIT Sloan, Stanford, etc). How do concurrent programs work? [13:30]

All concurrent programs require two separate applications – there are no shared committees or shared evaluations (even for programs within Harvard). We don’t look at applications together with the other programs.

If an applicant is accepted to both programs, they let us know they want to pursue both programs, and we give them a contract.

If you’re not admitted to the second program, you can reapply during your first year at HKS (except for HBS).

Where do HKS grads get jobs? [17:25]

There’s no such thing as a typical grad. But about a third of our grads work in the public sector, a third in the non-profit sector, and a third in the private sector.

One recent grad of the MIT Sloan-HKS program is working for Deloitte – technically in the private sector – but she’s working on a public sector project. So many of our grads cross sectors like that.

Do a lot of grads spend some time in various sectors? [18:45]

One example: A mid-career grad who had a career in government (White House, Pentagon, etc.) is now the CEO of the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he has a reputation for building strong ties between the franchise and the local community.

Is there a recent grad whose experience typifies the opportunities HKS opened up? [20:35]

We had a student who worked in marketing and consulting before coming to HKS, and was interested in government. She got a job in the Boston mayor’s office, working on a task force related to citizens’ relationship to government. She helped create “City Hall To Go”—a mobile government office. (Now there are two mobile units.) She’s still working in the mayor’s office – now working on pay equity initiatives.

What is HKS looking for in its applicants? [23:15]

Four things:

1. Public service: A track record of service and contribution.
2. Leadership: People who are established as leaders. (Not measured by your title, but by your impact.)
3. Quantitative aptitude: We want to know you can do the work.
4. Work experience we want people to be making decisions based on experience in the real world.

What about grades and test scores? [25:20]

The real issue is: can you learn what we teach? And do you fit what the Kennedy School is about?

We don’t have cut-offs, and we don’t publish average GPAs or test scores.

It doesn’t mean a lot if you have great test scores and a 4.0 without a track record of public service and leadership.

We do look at ranges: approximately the top third on the GRE or GMAT. But it’s not the critical component in admissions.

What are the top “pause points” when you review an application? [29:40]

Since 50% of our applicants are international students, for those candidates, we pay particular attention to their English abilities to make sure they can keep up the pace.

For all applicants, we want to make sure they have the quantitative skills to succeed. HKS is a very extracurricular-oriented experience, and you won’t be able to take advantage if you fall behind. Each program asks for a quantitative resume or quantitative statement (we provide examples on our blog).

Finally, we’re looking for a real commitment to public service. If somebody’s compass isn’t pointed in that direction, that makes us pause.

When is the application available, and when is it due? [31:50]

It will be live in early September, and the deadline is December 1. The decision date will be in March. We provide regular updates and information on the blog.

Is there an advantage to applying early? [33:00]

We don’t start reviewing applications until after the deadline. But don’t submit at the last minute.

What are some common mistakes applicants make? [34:35]

The biggest mistake is not following instructions.

My pet peeve is people asking questions that are already clearly answered on the application or the website. We provide a lot of advice on the blog.

Another pet peeve: quoting Gandhi in your essay! I’m not trying to admit Gandhi to the Kennedy School – I’m trying to admit you.

What else should we know? [37:25]

My first job was as a fry cook at a Dairy Queen. I went to a public high school and saved money for college by working at a fast food restaurant. I borrowed money to go to a liberal arts college. I never had it in my mind that I would be working for an institution like Harvard.

I also share the story of being rejected from the Peace Corps – ultimately, the best thing that ever happened to me, because I ended up teaching English in Korea, where I met my wife.

Don’t let the name of the institution intimidate you. If you’re worried about cost, we offer nearly $25 million in financial aid. You miss 100% of the chances you don’t take. And if we say no, it doesn’t mean that other wonderful doors won’t open.


About Linda Abraham:

Catherine Blogger PhotoAccepted.com has guided thousands of applicants to acceptances at top universities since 1994 – they know what works and what doesn’t, so follow Linda Abraham on Google+ and contact Accepted to get started or visit Accepted.com for all your admissions consulting needs today!


Photo at top courtesy of Shutterstock.com / Marcio Jose Bastos Silva



  • Linda Abraham

    Linda Abraham is the founder and CEO of Accepted, the top-tier admissions consultancy that helps you unlock your competitive advantage. Linda has written or co-authored 13 ebooks on the college admissions process. In 2007, she co-founded the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) and became its first president. For the last 20 years Linda and her highly credentialed, experienced team have helped thousands of applicants get accepted to top colleges and graduate schools worldwide, including but not limited to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, Kellogg, and MIT. She has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, The New York Times, US News, The Sunday Times of London, Businessweek, Poets & Quants and MBA Podcaster.

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