• How can policymakers increase social well-being?
  • Which policies share improvements with vulnerable and at-risk groups in urban areas most effectively?
  • How does growing urbanization affect the distribution of opportunity among these groups?
  • How do institutions—such as the education and health systems, the labor market or the criminal justice system—increase or reduce inequality?
  • And what are the short- and long-term consequences of inequality for social, economic, and political development?

These are some of the questions you’ll explore as a SUP concentrator, to help build your understanding of the causes and consequences of change in welfare and welfare distribution.


The SUP curriculum highlights political and managerial challenges specific to social policy and urbanization. Building political support for programs involving redistribution or social insurance can be complicated—beneficiaries often have little political influence. Social policy entrepreneurs and advocates need to create coalitions that include stakeholders whose interests may not align with those of intended beneficiaries.

Addressing urban problems can be particularly challenging because they often require cooperative action among cities or local, regional, and national governments. The solutions for social and urban problems are often beyond the skills or resources of any one sector—public, nonprofit, or private—requiring the different capabilities of each.

As a SUP concentrator, you will choose and become a specialist in a particular policy domain such as education, health, labor, poverty, criminal justice, housing, urban land-use planning, or urban economic development. Each domain has unique policy analytic, political, and managerial issues—an understanding of them is critical to being an effective practitioner.

SUP Area Chair

Amitabh Chandra Photo

Amitabh Chandra

Ethel Zimmerman Wiener Professor of Public Policy, HKS; Henry and Allison McCance Professor of Business Administration, HBS


The concentration adds 12 credits to your MPP core requirements, but there are options on how to earn those additional requirements—some are U.S.-oriented, others comparative.

As a SUP concentrator, you must:

  1. Complete the MPP core. We recommend enrolling in API-102—the spring core economics course—that is specific to social and urban policy. This course covers the basics of public finance, including the role of government in the economy, tax incidence and efficiency, and fiscal federalism and the economics of programs to address poverty, inequality, and economic insecurity.
  2. Earn 12 credits in your selected SUP policy area—for example, education, health, poverty, urban planning, inequality, building political support for redistribution, or statistical and qualitative methods. 
  3. Complete SUP-150Y and a Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) on a SUP topic.

Recommended Courses

We strongly recommend—but do not require—that our SUP concentrators take a course in qualitative research methods.

The two quantitative analysis courses in the MPP core curriculum (API-201 and API-202) cover quantitative techniques that are increasingly more important in assessing social policies. But social policy analysis often relies on qualitative assessments as well, such as surveys, participant observation, interviews, and case studies. If you use qualitative techniques for your PAE, we encourage you to take a qualitative analysis course before or concurrently. 

You're welcome to contact us to learn more about the SUP concentration.