The PhD in Public Policy (PPOL) program balances theory with practical methods to prepare students for careers in academia, in government, at research organizations, or in the private sector. 

What do we look for in our PPOL students? 

Evidence of your ability to handle the rigor of our curriculum, which is why you’re required to have completed and excelled in the following: 

  • A university-level course in social or behavioral science (e.g., psychology, economics, behavioral economics) or equivalent research experience 
  • A university-level course in quantitative analysis (e.g. statistics, calculus) 
  • One solo-authored paper you have written that is grounded in a social and/or behavioral science discipline (e.g., psychology, economics, political science), and which contains implications for public policy

A demonstrated ability and drive to pursue public policy research is another important qualification. 

Importantly, we look for strong recommendations from individuals in academia or other professional sectors who know you well and can tell us about your qualifications for our program.  

What else you should know 

You are not required to have a Harvard Kennedy School faculty advisor before  submitting your application. You will be assigned to an advisor if you are admitted to the PPOL Program. 

We will also look at your GRE scores for any tests you have taken in the past five years. Just note we do not accept the GMAT or LSAT.  There is no minimum GRE score to apply.  

If you are an international applicant, you will need to submit either your TOEFL iBT or IELTS score. International applicants who hold the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree from an institution where English is the primary language of instruction do not need to submit the TOEFL iBT or IELTS. The minimum TOEFL score to apply is 103 and a minimum IELTS score to apply is 7. If you are an international student whose bachelor’s degree was not in English—but whose master’s degree was conducted in English—you must submit the one of the two tests. 

We often receive the question: "My undergraduate degree is from an institution where English is not the primary language of instruction. However, my master’s degree is from an institution where English is the primary language of instruction. Do I still need to take the TOEFL?" The answer is: Yes. 

If you are currently a Harvard Kennedy School student 

You will need to submit your PPOL application with new supporting documents—we cannot use your academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, or test scores that you submitted with your original HKS application.