To: Students interested in graduate school
From: Dean Hammer
About: Harvard (Kennedy School of Government)
The following is information about the John F. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard University). Much of it is based on a conversation with Joseph McCarthy, Associate Dean of Degree Programs. I will be placing this information and supporting information in an advising file.
The Program: The Kennedy School is a highly prestigious program that offers a Masters of Public Policy (MPP). The MPP is a two-year program. Students take a core of courses in their first year that train them in particular methodologies, or approaches one will likely need to draw on in a career in public policy. These methodologies are: strategic and public management courses (e.g., public finance); quantitative analysis courses (e.g., economics); and political advocacy courses. Students also choose one policy area, from 15 possible areas, in which to concentrate (e.g,, criminal justice, health, social policy, education). These policy courses are generally taken in the second year, though there are two electives a student may take in the first year.
As well as coursework, there are two other activities in the MPP program. There is what is known as the "Spring Exercise" in which the students take on some public policy problem as a team (e.g., social security). The exercise involves briefing policy experts, including former cabinet heads, directors of agencies, and other political leaders.
The culminating experience for students is the Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) in which students identify a client in the public or nonprofit sector and do some consulting for that client. The sector would be in the area of concentration.
The goal of the program is to train "qualified generalists."
There is also a mid-career program for a Masters in Public Administration (MPA). This is a 1 year program that is designed for individuals to refine particular skills.
1) Quantitative skills. A student should be advised to take at least 1 semester of Calculus, at least one course in Statistics, at least the Macroeconomics/ Microeconomics sequence at the introductory level, and should have exposure to Political Science courses.
2) Public Service. The Program is looking for indices of leadership and interest in public service. Involvement in community service is important. Students should also discuss any leadership responsibilities they have had.
3) Employment. You should plan on working at least one year before applying to the Program. On average, most students at the Kennedy School have worked 2-3 years. Prior employment tends to be in the public or non-profit sector, though some students have worked in the private sector and are entering the Program as a career change.
The GRE average of accepted students was 700 (quantitative) and 650 (verbal). These scores placed students in the top 20%.
Writing a Statement of Purpose:
This program, like all programs, will ask students to write a statement of purpose. What follows are some tips:
1) The statement should be authentic. Don’t try to "conjure" what the Kennedy School wants to hear. Instead, focus on giving them a sense of what is distinctive about you.
2) Focus on the mission of the Kennedy School, which is a commitment to public service. They are interested in ways in which you have demonstrated a commitment to public service.
3) Talk about any experiences that might have shaped you, including evidence of resilience, leadership, or management in difficult times.
4) You should show focus in your goals and objectives. This is the importance of working for a while.
Letters of Recommendation:
It is important that you do not use outdated letters for references, particularly since you will have gained valuable work experience before applying to graduate school. It is important that you talk with faculty members who may be writing reference letters. Give them a sense of what you have been doing, what experiences you have had, and what sort of goals and objectives you have. This will be important so that the faculty member can emphasize personal aspects in the recommendation.