Harvard Kennedy School Mpp Essays

2018 Application Long-Term Planning Series - Post #17

The Master’s programs application essay prompts for the upcoming application cycle for 2018 admission consideration have been confirmed and the text can be found below. Advice on writing effective essay responses will be offered in the coming months on this blog. For example, in a series of entries I will revisit essays submitted last year and blog my reactions and thoughts. In the next entry in this long-term planning series I will address a few frequently asked questions regarding essays. 

The first two essay prompts are optional for applicants to all programs, as is noted in the description. The rest of the essay prompts are mandatory based upon program selection.

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)

All Programs - Personal History Essay (Optional) 

Diversity of all kinds (geographic, ideological, race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and many others) is important to enriching the educational experience at the Kennedy School.  Please share with us anything in your background or life experiences that has shaped your perspectives and how that would contribute to the classroom and community at HKS. (400 word limit) 

MPP (Mandatory)

Essay 1 (JFK Essay): 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 public leadership and service. (600 word limit)

Essay 2 (MPP Essay): 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 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)

Two-Year MPA Essay Prompts (Mandatory)

Essay 1 (JFK Essay): 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 public leadership and service. (600 word limit)

Essay 2 (Two-Year MPA Essay): 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 (Mandatory)

Essay 1 (International Development Essay): 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 (Leadership Experience Essay): Describe an event or experience in which you exercised a significant decision-making, management, or leadership role. (750 word limit)

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

MC/MPA and MC/MPA Mason Essay Prompts (Mandatory)

Essay 1 (Career Goals Essay): 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 (Professional Contribution Essay): 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)

Final Note on Joint/Concurrent Essay Prompts

Please note the response to the Joint/Concurrent essay prompt is in no way a replacement or substitute for the program essay prompts - the response is in addition to the program essay prompts. If an applicant is applying to both a joint degree program partner school (HBS or HLS) and a concurrent degree partner school, the joint degree program essay prompt will take priority and will be displayed instead of the concurrent degree essay prompt.

In other words, applicants applying for a joint degree with HBS or HLS will only see the joint degree program prompt, even if also applying to a concurrent degree partner school, and should specifically write on the benefit(s) of the joint program(s) only.

If an applicant is applying to varied joint/concurrent professional programs (e.g. law and business) the prompt will only be displayed once and it is up to the applicant to determine how best to respond. For those applying to different programs, for example law and business, it is wise to address both types of programs, but it would not be necessary to address each individual school.

Series Links

Post #1 - Series Introduction
Post #2 - Operational Planning
Post #3 - Application Deadline Set
Post #4 - Email Address Advice
Post #5 - Academic Transcripts
Post #6 - Letters of Recommendation Advice - Planning
Post #7 - Pause Points
Post #8 - Official Test Score Reporting
Post #9 - Resume/CV Advice
Post #10 - Letter of Recommendation Instructions
Post #11 - Fear and Regret
Post #12 - Choosing Letter of Recommendation Writers
Post #13 - The Jigsaw Puzzle
Post #14 - Open House Dates
Post #15 - Quantitative Resume/Statement
Post #16 - Application Flow Chart
Post #17 - Essay Prompts
Post #18 - Advice on Essay Prompts
Post #19 - Developing a Circle
Post #20 - Series Summary and Notes on 2017-2018 Application Cycle

If you are interested in a Master of Public Policy, there is no better school in the world than the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  I’ve been lucky to have advised many students on their quest to attend this program and all have been accepted!  Of course, that has more to do with the quality of the great international students I get to wor with.

HKS goes out of its way to meet prospective students and to be available for information and questions.  I’ve just received an email from Matt Clemons, Director of Admissions at the Kennedy School, outlining their plans for the admissions cycle that begins in 2018.
Reprinted with links below:

The response deadline for 2017 admission recently passed and we are now shifting more of our focus to the next recruitment cycle. A big part of our focus will be on scheduling opportunities for prospective applicants to meet with members of the HKS community around the world. In addition to travels by our staff, HKS students will be completing professional development opportunities in the coming months and many will volunteer to meet with prospective applicants. We worked with students and alumni to schedule over 50 events during June, July, and August last year.

As we schedule events we will make updates to our Admissions Blog, recruitment calendar and Twitter account. We also host virtual information sessions that allow anyone with an internet connection to participate.

Sessions led by students or alumni are usually small, casual gatherings at public places like coffee shops and current students/alumni share about their HKS experience. HKS students and alumni are not experts in the admissions process and the sessions are not formal admission interviews nor do the students or alumni sit on an Admissions Committee or pass along evaluative comments for Committee members to consider. The sessions are simply a time for prospective students to hear from HKS students and/or alumni about their experiences at HKS.

The Admissions Committee has also started to meet to discuss possible changes to the admissions application in the coming year. I just started a long-term application planning series on the blog that will run throughout the summer. You can see the first entry here.  If you wish to subscribe to our Admissions Blog to receive updates each time a new post is published, click on the following link to enter your email address:

Link to Admissions Blog email subscription service – https://goo.gl/ACaFoN 

In person information sessions currently available for registration or being planned are below. If details are pending please make sure to check ourAdmissions Blog and/or our recruitment calendar for updates.

Harare, Zimbabwe – April 26 – click here to register (student-led session)

Managua, Nicaragua – April 28 – click here to register

Vancouver, BC – Late May/Early June

Portland, Oregon – June

Salem, Oregon – June

Eugene, Oregon – June

Budapest, Hungary – June

Vienna, Austria – June

Prague, Czech Republic – June

Washington, DC – June/July

New York, NY – July

I will also be hosting a WeChat conversation (messaging application used predominantly in China) on Wednesday, April 26. For information on how to participate see this Admissions Blog entry or this WeChat promotional link.

Please note that our online application for 2018 admission consideration will be available in September and the deadline to submit the application will be in early December. We are working on final dates and will release details as our plans become final. If you are planning to apply you can get started by reviewing our application requirements page. Thank you for your interest in Harvard Kennedy School—my staff and I look forward to assisting you.


Matt Clemons
Director of Admissions
Harvard Kennedy School


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