How to succeed in the HBS/HKS Joint Degree Program

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Commonly known as “Jointees,” the students in the joint degree programs at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business school are united in their desire to affect change in both business and in government. Their experience moving between two Harvard schools presents a unique set of opportunities and challenges, and each year the third year jointees pass on their wisdom to the classes below them. Some of the piece of advice agree, others conflict, but they are all born out of three years of lived experience.

Work on improving your influence – The “core curriculum” at HKS and the “Required Curriculum” at HBS both help you understand and analyze problems on the firm, industry, and systemic level. However, you be successful, you still need to convince others how to change, the benefits of change, and the imperative to change. Use your time outside of class to grow in this area.

Speak to the unconverted – once you have learned how to solve global challenges and have developed the tools to be convincing, make sure to break out of the echo chamber and speak to those who do not agree with you. That’s the only way to make change.

Take "fierce control" over your education – You only have three years to explore two schools in which someone could spend a lifetime. Don’t count on the distribution requirements to show you everything worth exploring. If you find yourself over committed, talk to HKS professors about not submitting assignments. After all, grades here really don’t matter.

Invest in people – People are what will make your educational experience and people are what you’ll take away from the school after you graduate. Determine who you want to stay friends with in 10 years, and spend time with them!

Don’t be a bleeding heart – The rest of HBS will expect you, as a jointee, to be a bleeding heart, always reflexively advocating for government regulation and against business enterprise. Don’t fall into that trap. As soon as you do, people will anticipate your opinions, see your views as biased, and stop listening to them. By instead trusting that others will fill those roles early in the term, you can save your credibly (and that of all jointees) to advance social arguments later on when the lines are blurrier and the stakes are higher.

(or) Be a bleeding heart! – Someone has to do it.

Be proud of your story – Own it and learn to tell it well.

Make special time for other jointees – they will be your best partners, champions, friends, and resources.

Save your ammo for the last third of class – some of your peers at HKS will villainize the private sector and some at HBS believe that government is unnecessary. Jointees know that the public and private sectors need to work together (and with the non-profit sector) to tackle the “great challenges” in the world. You usually only get to make one comment per class session, so save your airtime for the end so you can correct your peers when they say otherwise.

Pick your PAE client carefully – As a Master in Public Policy (MPP)* candidate you’ll have to complete HKS’s thesis-like Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) in which you will work with a client to deliver a policy deliverable. Pick someone who communicates clearly, understands your limitations, and will value your work. If the work is interesting, the client relates to your post-graduation goals, and the experience broadens your personal network, that’s a plus.

Pick your PAE partner carefully – You can only use this trick to do half the work if your partner is reliable.

*Note: joint degree candidates between HKS and Tuck, Wharton, Stanford GSB, and MIT Sloan can transfer to the MPP to the Master in Public Administration degree, which does not have a PAE requirement

Be open to random talks and new experiences – there are so many of them at Harvard. Say yes to a few of them each week – especially those at other schools you wouldn’t otherwise explore.

Degree Programs at Harvard Kennedy School

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The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University is the premiere professional school in the world for government officials, from senators to ambassadors. Located on the Cambridge shore of the Charles River in Boston, across the bridge from Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School (or HKS) offers a number of degree programs designed to cater to the interests of the students.

  • Master of Public Policy (MPP) - The standard, 2-year, work-horse degree of the school. Year One is spent in the Core Curriculum learning skills from negotiations to econometrics; Year Two is spent on electives and a capstone thesis-like Policy Analysis Exercise. One of two options for the HBS/HKS program.
  • Master of Public Administration (MPA) - A 2-year free-for-all where you skip the core curriculum and feast on all the fascinating electives that HKS has to offer. The vast majority in this program are enrolled in Dual-MBA programs at T-10 Business Schools and the rest have already taken a substantial body of graduate school credits.
  • Master of Public Administration in International Development (MPA-ID) - The most rigorous 2-year master's degree at HKS for hard-core quants who want to work in international development, at a central bank, the IMF or the World Bank.
  • Mid-Career Master of Public Administration (MC-MPA) - 1-year program for those who want to take a pause in their career once they are more advanced in it. They add rich experiences to elective class discussions.
  • Joint & Dual MBA Programs (MPP/MBA or MPA/MBA or MPA-ID/MBA) - The best of both worlds - all the hard skills and prestige of an MBA with the global outlook and idealism of HKS. You can come for the integrated 3-year MPP/MBA or MPA-ID/MBA with Harvard Business School joining a growing network of alumni congressmen and CEOs, or a dual program at a different business school, coming to HKS in order to round out your resume with that golden Harvard Brand.

Harvard Kennedy School only has one application deadline each year. This year the application deadline is December 4, 2017. By that day you'll have to submit:

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  • Online application
  • $100 application fee
  • Essays, which vary by program:
    • 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)
  • Additional analytic resume/statement, which vary by program
  • Three strong letters of recommendation from individuals in academia or other professional sectors who know you well and can tell us about your qualifications for our programs
  • Academic transcripts that include your institution's name, course names, grades you received and proof of your degree (if received)
  • Standardized test scores (GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, and/or IELTS)

HKS is much more interested in discovering "what you can do" than admitting those with sterling credentials so the essays are much more important to building a successful application. Also, when there is no interview, this is your only chance to communicate your unique narrative.