graphic reading "application FAQs"
Looking for helpful tips and guidance on your application essays? Read below for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about essays.

Essays are a critical component of your application. They allow you to tell the Admissions Committee more about your personal history and experiences, professional aspirations, and commitment to public service. We want to know who you are and why you are interested in pursuing a master’s degree at Harvard Kennedy School—and essays are the best way for us to gather this information.

Below, you’ll find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about essays.

What essays are required as part of the application for admission?

graphic of two hands typing on computer keyboardEssay questions vary based on the degree program to which you are applying. You can view the essay prompts for each degree program on the How to Apply section of the website.

If you are applying to a joint or concurrent degree program, you will need to submit essays for the HKS degree program you are applying to, as well as the joint or concurrent degree program essay.

How strict are the word limits?

Our application will not prevent you from submitting essays that surpass the stated word limits, but we strongly recommend that you stay as close to the word limits as possible. Being concise is important in policy writing, and this is an opportunity to demonstrate that ability to the Admissions Committee.  

Is there a particular format I should follow?

Essays should be typed, uploaded, and labeled with the appropriate topic. We advise that you upload all documents as PDFs. We don’t have a font preference, but your essays should be easy to read.

Are there any sample essays I can review as I prepare to write my essays?

We want to ensure that the essays you are submitting are wholly your own and authentic to your experiences. For that reason, we do not have sample essays to provide you. We encourage you to:

  • Be authentic and use your own voice.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to start working on your essays—allow plenty of time for thorough editing and proofreading.
  • Answer the question that is being asked.

Can I use an AI tool to assist in writing my essays?

All essays must be truthful and based on authentic, firsthand experiences, without the use of generative AI.

Can an admissions representative from HKS proofread my essay for me?

No, we are unable to review essays before the formal application review process.

Should I submit an optional essay?

On the Essay section of the application, you will see an opportunity to upload an optional essay. If there is anything you would like the Admissions Committee to know about your academic, professional, or personal background that is not otherwise addressed in your application, you can use the optional essay to provide this context.

The optional essay is helpful to address:

  • Gaps in your résumé or professional background
  • Major changes in your career trajectory
  • Inconsistent academic performance
  • Perceived weaknesses in your application

If you are submitting an optional essay, be careful not to make excuses but instead provide context and focus on growth and learning.

Most applicants do not submit an optional essay, so do not feel obligated to submit an optional essay if there is nothing you feel needs to be addressed.

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