headshot of Zander Cowan with quote advising prospective students to be intentional but flexible when coming to HKS.
Zander Cowan says to be intentional but flexible when coming to HKS. Read more about Zander’s HKS experience and advice for prospective students below.

Zander Cowan is a student in the joint degree program between Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and Harvard Business School (HBS), pursuing an MPA/ID from HKS and MBA from HBS. Before Harvard, he was a senior business analyst at McKinsey & Company in Chicago, where he worked across sectors ranging from healthcare and life sciences to consumer and financial services. Prior to McKinsey, he was a macro cross-asset derivative strategist at Goldman Sachs in New York. He holds a degree in economics from the University of Chicago as well as a finance certificate from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

What inspired you to choose Harvard Kennedy School?

I was inspired to apply to HKS by a deep-rooted belief in the power of public service and economic and business policy to effect tangible, positive change in the world. The multidisciplinary approach of the MPA/ID Program, combining rigorous academic training with practical, real-world application, spoke to my desire to not only understand the complexities of global challenges but also to actively contribute to their solutions. 

What are your favorite things about your experience at HKS?

My favorite aspects of the HKS experience revolve around the incredible community within the MPA/ID Program, the unparalleled access to world-class resources, and the inspirational speakers that grace our campus on a daily basis—from heads of state to CEOs. But perhaps what stands out most are the real-world, impact-driven assignments. The opportunity to work directly with global NGOs and engage with ministry-level policymakers through class projects not only enriches my academic journey but also solidifies my commitment to making a tangible difference in the world. This blend of community, access, and hands-on learning truly epitomizes the unique and transformative nature of the HKS experience.

In what ways do you engage with the Harvard Kennedy School community outside of the classroom?

My classmates and I coordinate family-style, home-cooked dinners where we share our diverse cultural backgrounds and stories. These gatherings provide a warm, inclusive space for building lasting friendships and understanding between cultures.

Additionally, through my involvement with the Center for Public Leadership at HKS, I’ve also found meaningful ways to engage with the community through leadership development opportunities, workshops, and speaker events that not only complement my academic pursuits but also foster a sense of shared purpose among fellow students passionate about public service.

What advice would you offer to prospective students considering Harvard Kennedy School?

My advice is to have a clear understanding of why you’re drawn to HKS and what you hope to achieve during your time here. Reflect deeply on your goals—academic, professional, and personal—and how HKS can help you fulfill them. Think about the tangible outcomes you’re seeking, whether it’s specific skills, networks, or experiences. However, it’s equally important to remain open to the journey itself. The transformative nature of HKS means that your perspectives and goals might evolve once you start school. Embrace this evolution as part of your growth. HKS offers a wealth of resources, expertise, and a diverse community that can pivot your trajectory in unexpected, yet enriching ways—and that is ultimately why you came back to school. Be intentional but flexible, and above all, be ready to engage deeply with the challenges and opportunities that this vibrant academic environment presents.

Quick questions

  • Favorite class: DPI 410: The Politics of Development
  • Favorite study spot: Taubman building tables
  • Favorite restaurant near campus: Tatte
  • One bucket list item you want to accomplish before graduating: Publish a paper with my favorite professors
  • Favorite guest speaker: Patrick Achi, former Minister of Economic Infrastructure of Côte d’Ivoire
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