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Home > Degree Programs > Master's Degrees > Master in Public Administration/ International Development > FAQ for Prospective Applicants
In 1998, Harvard Kennedy School faculty working in international development designed this new program to meet the need for well-trained professionals in developing and transitional economy countries as well as in donor countries. The challenges of international development demand professionals with skills in economic, social and political development. Existing programs emphasized either high-level technical training (Master’s or PhD programs in economics) or professional training (Master’s in international affairs or public administration).
The MPA/ID Program is a unique combination of these two different approaches. MPA/ID students graduate with the analytical and technical skills that one expects of economics PhD students, as well as deep immersion in the problems and institutional realities of developing countries that excellence in this field requires. Since the first class enrolled in 1999, the visibility of the MPA/ID Program has grown rapidly. It now enjoys a reputation for outstanding faculty; a challenging, integrated curriculum; bright and committed students; exciting internships; and successful alumni.
The MPA/ID Program has prerequisite courses so that students will be adequately prepared for the rigor of the core curriculum. The prerequisite coursework ensures that the whole class shares a common foundation of quantitative and economic skills so that the class can cover more sophisticated material than would otherwise be possible.
The prerequisite course requirements are one university level course in each of the following:
• Multivariable calculus (usually the third course in a university-level calculus sequence)
Statistics and linear algebra are also desirable, although not required.
One semester introductory courses that cover both microeconomics and macroeconomics do not prepare students adequately for the advanced economics courses in the MPA/ID core, and thus do not fulfill the academic prerequisite. Multivariable calculus is not the same as multivariate statistics, which does not fulfill the requirement. CFA certification and other professional certifications do not meet the economics and multivariable calculus requirements.
Successful applicants 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, especially in math and economics courses.
If one or more of these prerequisite courses is missing at the time of applying, the applicant must indicate a plan for completing the missing coursework before enrollment. Applicants who are missing one or more of the prerequisite courses should consider taking courses in the fall or spring semesters of the year of application to strengthen both their candidacies as well as their ability to succeed in this intense and rigorous program.
Prospective applicants can take the course(s) that they are missing at any accredited institution. They must receive a grade for the course; at most institutions this means that they will have to take the course for credit so that the school can issue a transcript confirming that the course has been completed. While it is possible to complete the prerequisite course requirements at an accredited community college or by distance learning, the MPA/ID Program strongly encourages prospective applicants to take the most rigorous and challenging courses they can to be sure that they are well prepared for the program. Here are links to Harvard College's Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and Multivariable Calculus courses. Please use these course descriptions as a guide when choosing a course to complete the MPA/ID prerequisite courses.
The Admissions Committee strongly prefers applicants who have several years of development work experience, preferably in a developing country. There are several reasons for this.
• First, such work experience gives you a chance to see if you actually enjoy development work.
• Second, it gives you an understanding of the problems and institutional realities of developing countries so that you may make more informed contributions to the discussions at the Kennedy School.
• Third, work experience allows you to gain far more from the classes since you are able to contextualize your learning.
• Finally, experience living and/or working in a developing country demonstrates your commitment to a career in international development.
The field of development is broad, encompassing governments, central and regional banks, international development institutions, non-governmental organizations, and private businesses. The Committee looks broadly for work experience that shows commitment to the economic, political, or social progress of developing countries, knowing that practitioners will most likely shift between sectors during their careers in any case.
Although work experience is not an absolute requirement for admission, applicants are rarely admitted directly from their undergraduate studies. The average age of MPA/ID students is 28, with an average of four years of full-time professional work experience following an undergraduate degree.
The MPA/ID Program is a quantitative, economics-centered multidisciplinary program, combining studies in policy and practice with a rigorous curriculum in analytical and quantitative methods.
Only you can decide if you are looking for a program with a heavy focus on quantitative analysis and economics. If you have never enjoyed math or economics, or if you are interested in a more broadly focused degree in policy or management as opposed to a degree focused on international development, you should consider applying to a different program.
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 next job to be 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 this case, two years of the MPA/ID 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 hire PhDs is because they are looking for people with good analytical and quantitative skills. Those are the skills that are imparted, among others, in the MPA/ID Program.
Some people fear that they will encounter a “glass ceiling.” However, once you are hired, career advancement depends largely on the quality of your work and 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 in 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), and 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 such as:
• Robert Zoellick (MPP ‘81), Former President of the World Bank
• Ban Ki-Moon (MPA ‘85), Secretary-General of the United Nations
• Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (MPA ‘71), President of Liberia, who 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 fastest 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.
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 dual 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.
The Master in Public Administration/International Development (MPA/ID) Program is best suited to individuals seeking demanding economics-centered training for a career as an international development practitioner.
The Master in Public Policy International and Global Affairs concentration (MPP IGA) is best suited to individuals seeking to become policy leaders in an increasingly globalized world.
While both the MPA/ID Program and the MPP IGA concentration take a global perspective on the challenges facing the world, they differ in their approach and focus.
The MPA/ID Program is a rigorous, economics-centered program designed to train the next generation of practitioners and analysts in the field of international development. The MPA/ID Program core is comprised of 13 required courses, including 2 semester sequences in each of the following: advanced microeconomics, advanced macroeconomics, and advanced quantitative methods.
The core also includes courses in economic development, the role of institutions, public sector management, and democratic governance. MPA/ID students take six elective courses in the broad areas of trade, finance, infrastructure, sustainable development, health, education, poverty alleviation, and private sector development in developing countries.
MPA/ID students complete a development internship in the summer between their first and second years, and they also complete a Second Year Policy Analysis, which allows them to integrate their coursework and professional experiences by providing specific policy recommendations in the context of a concrete developmental problem.
The MPA/ID has prerequisite coursework requirements in calculus and economics.
The MPP IGA concentration provides intensive multi-disciplinary training to students preparing for careers addressing international and global challenges and governance, including international security, human rights, energy security, environment and resource systems, public health, and information systems.
The MPA/ID Program recognizes the importance of fluency in languages other than English for those who wish to pursue a career in international development. For many of our current students, English is their second language. Most of our native English speakers have already achieved a level of proficiency in at least one foreign language.
We encourage all prospective applicants who lack proficiency in a second language to pursue language study before applying to the Kennedy School. Language coursework does not count towards the number of credits MPA/ID students need to graduate. The few students who do study a foreign language during their time at the Kennedy School do so in addition to their required core courses and electives.
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 calculus through (and including) multivariable calculus, which is usually the third course in a calculus sequence. 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, your application will be considerably strengthened by at least two or three years of development-related work experience after graduation, preferably in a developing or transitional economy country. There are numerous other websites with listservs 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.