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 two years of development-related work experience in government, nonprofits, central or regional banks, international development institutions, research organizations, or private businesses. Usually at least some of the work has been in developing countries. 

Secondly, we look for applicants who are interested in learning quantitative analysis and economics for development and policy design. We encourage citizens of both industrialized and developing countries to apply to the MPA/ID Program.

Students in class

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 calculus through multivariable calculus (usually part of a three course college sequence). Applicants may satisfy some of these prerequisites after submitting their application, as long as they are complete before the program starts. 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 your quantitative section score is 160 or above on the GRE, or 48 or above on the GMAT.
  • TOEFL/IELTS: evidence of fluency in English, preferably with an overall 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 and experience in development policy.
  • 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 or development problem and discussing a range of solutions.

Typical MPA/ID class profile

Citizenship Gender Age
80% low and middle income  52% men 20% 23-25 years old
10% United States 48% women 50% 26-28 years old
10% other industrialized countries   30% 29+ years old

What to Expect

Quetzali Ramirez Guillen"As a public-school student coming from Mexico, it was hard to imagine I could be in the same room with ex-presidents and Nobel Prize winners. During this past year at HKS I worked with faculty members in my university analyzing innovative tax collection programs in South Africa, teamed up with classmates from all over the world—Japan, Nepal, Peru, Kenya, and China— in understanding how COVID-19 impacted differently democracies and autocracies, and learned from Latin American central bankers how to achieve macroeconomic stability in uncertain times. These experiences are making me a better decision-maker, ready to make a big difference in my country. I am eager to start my second year at HKS!"

-Quetzali Ramirez Guillen,  MPA/ID 2023 (Mexico)

Venti Ventura "The MPA/ID stands out as an internationally oriented program by hosting a diverse set of high-performing students to undertake an integrated economics-focused development curriculum together. Every day is an opportunity to weave together economic theory and development practice using a wealth of insights from my professors and classmates' own professional and personal experiences. Prospective applicants should be very excited to share their accomplishments and challenges with similarly driven individuals from across the developing world."

-Miguel Ventura, MPA/ID 2024  (Philippines)

Marco Brancher "Being at the Kennedy School is an immense privilege and a fantastic opportunity to learn from incredible professors, but especially from your peers from all around the world. In addition, you will have the chance to live in a city in which you will be surrounded by brilliant minds interested in solving the world's most challenging problems."

-Marco Brancher, MPA/ID 2023 (Brazil)

Delving Deeper into Development

In this article, Zainab Raji explains that while working for McKinsey, “I witnessed the debilitating impact of Nigeria’s flailing macroeconomic outlook on once thriving businesses in 2016. Subsequent macro events made it increasingly clear that I needed more grounding in economic theory, development policy, and general management to become a more effective development professional. Fortunately, I discovered the MBA/MPA-ID program.” 

Zainab Raji MPA/ID & MBA 2022 (Nigeria)
Vista Equity Partners (Austin, TX, USA)

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)