Mpa/Id Essays On Leadership

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

Q: What are the criteria for admission to the MPA/ID Program?

A: The MPA/ID Program is a rigorous economics-centered program designed to prepare development practitioners. When evaluating an application, the Admissions Committee looks for:

  • Strong academic record, including good grades in economics and mathematics courses.

  • Required prerequisite courses, including at least one university-level course each in microeconomics and macroeconomics, and three university-level courses in calculus, one of which must include multivariable calculus. Statistics and linear algebra are desirable, but not required.

  • Demonstrated commitment to the field of international development and compelling evidence of professional potential in the field. While work experience is not an absolute requirement, development work often serves to demonstrate this commitment.

  • Strong recommendations from academic and professional recommenders who know you well and can comment on the qualities needed for this program.

  • Competitive GRE or GMAT quantitative section score. In general, candidates who score in the top 80th percentile and above on the GRE or GMAT quantitative section are most competitive for admission.

  • For applicants whose native language is not English, evidence of fluency in English as demonstrated by a minimum TOEFL score.

  • Please note that simply meeting the criteria above does not guarantee admission. The MPA/ID Program receives many more applications from candidates than can be admitted. All aspects of each application are carefully considered, and offers of admission are made to the strongest candidates.

Q: How do I contact MPA/ID Admissions?

A: The Office of Programs in International Development administers the admissions process for the MPA/ID program. Email

Information about other degree programs at the Kennedy School and instructions on how to apply online can be found on the main Admissions website.

Q: What are the essay questions on the application?

A: The MPA/ID application includes several essays.

  1. The Admissions Committee is interested in your academic, professional and personal development. List each significant position held, most recent first. Include in this listing the dates (include month and year, and full-time or part-time), agency or firm, title, starting and ending salary, major responsibilities, and name and title of your supervisor. Please explain any gaps in your employment history. You should also include information on personal hobbies and avocational interests. Your current resume, providing it includes all of the above information, is sufficient.

  2. (Optional) If you have any concerns about your prior academic background or if you believe the Admissions Committee may have concerns, please give a brief explanation of your performance in college and its relation to your past and future career accomplishments.

  3. Discuss your decision to choose international development as your professional career. Also, explain how developing your analytic skills relates to your career in development.

  4. Describe an event or experience in which you exercised a significant decision-making, management, or leadership role.

  5. Analyze a public policy or public management problem related to international development and propose recommendations.

  6. At least one college level course in microeconomics, macroeconomics and multivariable calculus must be completed before enrollment. Statistics and linear algebra are desirable, but not required. Explain how you have met these requirements, or how you propose to meet them before enrolling in September. Please include descriptions of mathematics courses you have taken that covered calculus and multivariable calculus, as well as descriptions of any courses whose titles do not clearly indicate the content (e.g. Mathematics II or Advanced Mathematics). Official descriptions copied from your college's course catalogue or on-line course catalogue are preferred.
    Joint HBS/HKS applicants are asked to complete an additional essay explaining their reasons for pursuing a joint degree.

Q: How much quantitative preparation is required?

A: Applicants must demonstrate competence in economics and quantitative analysis through their academic records and GRE or GMAT scores. A competitive candidate will have a strong academic record, including at least one college course in each of the following: microeconomics, macroeconomics, multivariable calculus, and, ideally, statistics and linear algebra. (Note that multivariable calculus is not the same as multivariate statistics, which does not fulfill the requirement.)

Applicants who are missing one or more of these elements should consider taking courses in the fall or spring semesters (of the year of application) to strengthen their candidacies, as well as their ability to succeed in this intense and rigorous program. If one or more of these elements is missing at the time of applying, the applicant must indicate a plan for completing the missing elements during the year in which the application is completed. All prerequisites must be completed before enrollment.

Q: Don't I need a PhD to have a career in development?

A: Some students have a difficult time deciding between the MPA/ID program and PhD programs. In general, you should bear in mind that a PhD prepares you for an academic career first and foremost. If you want your first job to be an assistant professor, then you should pursue a PhD. If instead you want to work in the field or in policymaking, a PhD is unlikely to be a wise investment. In the latter case, two years of our master's program followed by three years of relevant professional experience should be preferable to five years of study and research in a PhD program. The reason that many development institutions do hire PhDs is that they are looking for people with good analytical and quantitative skills. Those are the skills that we impart, among others, in the MPA/ID Program.

Some people fear that they will encounter a "glass ceiling." In my experience, once you are hired, career advancement depends on the quality of your work, not on the degree you hold. A good example is Michael Walton who had a long and successful career at the World Bank with a master's in Economics from Oxford. From 1980-2004, Michael Walton worked as an economist at the World Bank, including extended periods on Indonesia and Zimbabwe, adviser to two Chief Economists, Chief Economist for East Asia and the Pacific (1995-97), Director for Poverty Reduction (1997-2000), Chief Economist for Human Development (1999-2000), adviser for poverty and human development in Latin America and the Caribbean (2000-2004). He was part of the management group for World Development Report 2000/2001: Attacking Poverty, and played a central role in the design of the poverty reduction strategy process for low income countries.

Other examples include Kennedy School graduates Robert Zoelleck (MPP '81) President of the World Bank, Ban Ki-Moon (MPA '85), Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (MPA '71) President of Liberia, who had worked as an economist for Citibank and the World Bank before she was elected President.

If you are sure you want to earn a PhD, in most cases you would be better off to go directly to a doctoral program. The MPA/ID Program is neither the faster nor the most certain route to a PhD degree. Admission to the Kennedy School doctoral programs is highly competitive, and is a completely separate process from admission to HKS master's programs.

Q: How is an MPA/ID different from an MBA?

A: The MPA/ID Program focuses on the techniques and approaches that are useful and relevant in formulating and implementing development policy. Most MBA programs teach general management skills focused on for-profit organizations.

A joint MPA/ID-MBA degree is likely to be appropriate for students who either need to have an excellent command of the development context while working in the private sector in a managerial capacity, or require a thorough understanding of and experience with how business works while working as a development professional.

Q: I'm still in college. What can I do to prepare for the MPA/ID?

A: Please read through the program information carefully and make sure that you are interested in a rigorous quantitative program and that you are prepared academically. Be sure to take at least one course in microeconomics and one in macroeconomics, which are prerequisites to joining the program. You may wish to take a second course in each discipline at the intermediate level. You should also take at least two calculus courses, including multivariable calculus. Statistics and linear algebra are desirable, although not required. Be sure to perform well in these classes! Exemplary quantitative preparation is crucial to being accepted into the MPA/ID Program. We will look for exceptionally high scores on the quantitative section of the GRE.

Although we accept applications from students in the last year of their bachelor's degree as well as from recent college graduates, you have a better chance at admission if you have at least two or three years of relevant work experience after graduation. You may want to explore internship or research opportunities, either relevant domestic positions or opportunities abroad, through a governmental or international organization. Below, various options are listed.
(Please note: these links will take you to sites outside of the KSG MPA/ID website. The MPA/ID Office is not responsible for the contents of any of these sites, nor do we officially endorse any of these organizations.)

Employment/Internship opportunities for citizens of various countries:

Scholarship/Research Programs for citizens of various countries:

  • The Fulbright Program offers opportunities for international study and research.

  • Rotary International offers Ambassadorial Scholarships for study and research abroad.

  • The American Councils for International Education (ACTR/ACCELS) has many programs and scholarships.

  • The Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Fellowship program is designed to prepare college juniors or rising seniors, who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with diverse backgrounds or multi-cultural experiences, for graduate studies in public and/or international affairs and groom them for professional roles in public service. There is an array of opportunities under the Fellowship which span a period of development from the junior year of college to beyond the completion of a graduate degree.

  • The Institute for International Public Policy (IIPP) Fellowship program for U.S. citizens and permanent residents from underrepresented minorities prepares college sophomores for careers in international affairs through a multi-year sequence of summer institutes, study abroad, language training, internships, and graduate study.

  • Delay the Real World Fellowship for US citizens in their 20s -- $3500 grant to sponsor an adventurous project that is independent of academic and religious institutions.

Volunteer Opportunities for citizens of any country (fee usually required to participate):

Conferences open to citizens of any country:

Other resources:

  • Numerous other websites with listserves and job announcements in development-related fields.

  • Your university's career services office should be able to help you in finding opportunities, both domestic and overseas.

Q: When is the best time to visit the Kennedy School?

A: To learn more about the MPA/ID program, we encourage you to attend our MPA/ID Fall Open House event in Cambridge. We will also hold an information session in Washington, DC in the Fall. Check website for details.

If you cannot attend the open house, you may email us to arrange an individual visit: The best time to visit the school is Monday through Thursday from mid-September through early December and from mid-February through April when classes are in session. Please contact us in advance of your visit, so that we may arrange for you to speak with a member of our staff, visit a class, and meet with a current student.

We ask that you refrain from contacting our faculty; the Kennedy School has thousands of prospective applications each year, and our faculty are unable to respond to individual inquiries.

A map of HKS is located here.


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