fbpx What We Look For | Harvard Kennedy School

The Master in Public Administration in International Development (MPA/ID) Program is a rigorous, economics-centered program designed to prepare the next generation of practitioners and leaders like you in the field of international development.

What do we look for in our MPA/ID students?

First of all, we look for appropriate career focus. Most of our admitted MPA/IDs have at least three years of development-related work experience in government, central or regional banks, international development institutions, nonprofits, research organizations, or private businesses. Usually at least some of the work has been in developing or transitional economy countries. 

Secondly, we look for applicants who are interested in quantitative analysis and economics. You should consider applying to a different program if you have never enjoyed math or economics. We encourage citizens of both industrialized and developing countries to apply to the MPA/ID Program.

MPAID Students at All School Reception

What else you should know

There are also some key academic criteria you must meet to be considered for the MPA/ID Program.

  • Academic record: a bachelor's degree, with a strong academic record, including good grades in economics and mathematics courses.
  • Prerequisite courses: completion of at least one university-level course each in microeconomics, macroeconomics and three university-level courses in calculus, which must include multivariable calculus. Statistics and linear algebra courses are desirable, but not required. 
  • GRE or GMAT: competitive GRE or GMAT scores, especially in the quantitative section. In general, you are most competitive for admission if you score in the 75th percentile and above on the GRE or GMAT quantitative section. 
  • TOEFL/IELTS: evidence of fluency in English, demonstrated by a TOEFL score of at least 100 on the iBT or an overall band score of 7 on the IELTS (only for applicants whose native language is not English).*
  • Recommendations: we look for strong recommendations from academic and professional recommenders who know you well and can tell us about your qualifications for our program.
  • Essays: you will have the opportunity to tell us about yourself through three essays: one discussing your decision to pursue a career in international development, one describing an experience in which you exercised leadership, and one analyzing a public policy problem and discussing a range of solutions.

Simply meeting the criteria above does not guarantee admission. Our program receives many more applications from well-qualified candidates than can be admitted, and we carefully consider all aspects of each application we receive. Offers of admission are made to the strongest candidates.


Typical MPA/ID class profile

Citizenship Gender Age
75% developing countries 52% men 20% 23-25 years old
15% United States 48% women 50% 26-28 years old
10% other industrialized countries   30% 29+ years old

What can governments and businesses do together to build a more prosperous and equitable world?

"My interest in understanding how to contribute towards addressing the economic development challenges of our generation is what drove me to pursue both degrees. Pursuing the opportunity to expand my worldview through not only HKS, but also HBS, was my way of preparing myself for an increasingly more cross-sectional professional world, and my interest in exploring what governments and businesses can do together to build a more prosperous and equitable world."

Sheila Kyarisiima MPA/ID & MBA 2017 (Uganda)
NISK Capital Limited (Nairobi, Kenya)

From Peace Corps to Harvard’s Growth Lab

"During the MPA/ID Program, I learned a lot of economics in a short period of time, gained a set of powerful analytical skills for understanding complex policy problems, and built up a knowledge base around how countries develop and a wide set of reasons why they often do not. The MPA/ID Program ultimately trained me how to make myself useful when encountering any complex problem, especially when working with governments in developing countries or disadvantaged contexts."

Tim O’Brien MPA/ID 2015 (USA)
Senior Manager of Applied Research
Growth Lab, Center for International Development (Cambridge, MA, USA)

"I realized that what these governments need most are internal sources of revenue that can then finance their public goods and services – which means a strong local private sector that creates jobs and generates tax revenue. This interest in private sector development in Africa is what motivated me to pursue a joint degree."

Nanako Yano MPA/ID & MBA 2018 (Japan)
Associate Investment Officer, Infrastructure
International Finance Corporation (IFC), World Bank Group (Nairobi, Kenya)

A need to do and a need to serve

"'You can know the medicine and you can know the science. You can know those technically correct solutions to the specific health problem,' she says, 'But if you don't understand people, if you don't understand policy, and if you don't understand economics, you're going to fall short of scaling your solution.'"

Michelle Fakler MPA/ID 2020 (USA)
Resident Physician, Department of General Surgery
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston, MA, USA)

"When I considered different graduate programs, MPA/ID was the top choice because of its well-balanced curriculum: core economics courses and public policy disciplines together. I liked that the program intends to balance students’ technical and quantitative skills with an understanding of implementable and politically supportable initiatives. That was the excellent combination I was looking for."

Karlygash Zhunussova MPA/ID 2020 (Kazakhstan)
Projects Officer
International Monetary Fund, Fiscal Affairs Department (Washington, DC, USA)

"From multinational organizations such as the World Bank to truly innovative non-profits and startups throughout Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, MPA/ID students bring many different experiences and perspectives on some of the most pressing challenges of our time. This, coupled with strong faculty, analytical rigorous coursework and the vibrant academic community at the Kennedy School, convinced me that it was the ideal place for me."

Alfonso de la Torre MPA/ID 2017 (Peru)
Vice President, Country and Portfolio Risk
Nomura International (New York, NY, USA)