fbpx The Public Leadership Credential at Harvard | Harvard Kennedy School

Upcoming Deadlines:

Thurs, Aug. 10: Fall 1 deadline (A courses)

Tues, Oct. 12: for Fall 2 deadline (B courses)

PLC At-A-Glance:

Learn 100% online through modules, case studies, and structured group activities developed by Harvard faculty.

Equip yourself with a toolkit for taking immediate action in your community.

Enroll in one course, take multiple courses, or complete all six courses, plus the capstone to earn your credential in as little as 11 months.

Provides a potential pathway to Harvard Kennedy School’s Mid-Career Master in Public Administration or Harvard Extension School’s Master of Liberal Arts program in Government

Harvard Kennedy School is the global thought leader in public policy and public leadership education. But not all learners have the ability to attend courses on our Cambridge campus. Delivered fully online, the Public Leadership Credential program equips learners around the world with the skills and knowledge they need to tackle some of today's biggest challenges, advance the public good, and make an immediate impact in their communities.


Explore how the PLC could make you a more effective leader.

headshot“The program helped me to apply theory and adaptive leadership to real community projects. Most importantly, it has helped me to better know and manage my emotions during challenging situations.”

-Gil Zafra, PLC Learner

About the Public Leadership Credential

Designed and directed by renowned Harvard Kennedy School faculty, this unique program explores HKS pedagogy in three subject areas, including Evidence for DecisionsPolicy Design and Delivery, and Leadership and Ethics. Each subject area is comprised of two courses and offers stimulating, collaborative educational experiences similar to those in our degree programs. Upon successful completion of all six PLC courses and the capstone assessment, you will earn the credential.

PLC by the Numbers

Countries and territories represented

Take Your Place Among Changemakers

Registration for the Public Leadership Credential is open to learners with a bachelor’s degree and at least five years of professional work experience. Ideal learners are highly motivated individuals who are driven by a desire to serve and are inspired to take action to enact change in countless industries and communities.

Alumni Perspective

“The Public Leadership Credential content was outstanding in its level of comprehensive coverage of the subject and methods of instruction.”

– John Strickland

This unique credential fosters an active and engaging learning environment and will offer learners an in-depth exploration of how to design and evaluate public policy as well as an examination of the role and agency of public leadership. Courses are immersions in Evidence for Decisions, Policy Design and Delivery, and  Leadership and Ethics with one “A” course and one “B” course per subject area. Learners are welcome to take any “A” course they want but must successfully complete an “A” course before taking the corresponding “B” course. See the upcoming course dates.

Learners should expect to spend on average 10 to 12 hours per week on online and offline activities and assignments, including a required weekly virtual meeting with an assigned small group of other enrolled students.


Develop a Toolkit for Improving the Public Good

Whatever your goals for change in your community, job, or industry, the Public Leadership Credential offers a series of courses to help you improve your decision-making, leadership, and policymaking skills. Whether you decide to register for one course or complete the entire credential, you will develop a toolkit of skills to take immediate action while you learn. The fully online program is a reflection of Harvard Kennedy School’s mission of improving public policy and public leadership to create societies that are safer, freer, more just, and more sustainably prosperous.

This unique credential program is comprised of six six-week courses, including Evidence for DecisionsLeadership and Ethics, and Policy Design and Delivery, that foster an active and engaged learning environment. These three areas focus on a set of skills that are needed for every public leader to be effective.

Each course provides educational experiences that are similar to the ones found on campus. Designed to draw on the unique pedagogical strategies from our faculty members, the courses feature learning modules, case studies, and structured group activities to help you develop critical thinking skills to improve the public good and become a more effective public leader.

Evidence for Decisions

The Public Leadership Credential is a graduate-level course in public policy. The Evidence for Decisions course enables you can acquire the skills necessary to demystify data and learn to leverage effective decision-making to change the world.

Leadership and Ethics

One crucial component of Harvard Kennedy School's public leadership certificate is the ethical leadership course, with which individuals can acquire the skills necessary to begin the practice of moral leadership to instill change that has lasting impact on your community.

Policy Design and Delivery

The Public Leadership Credential from Harvard Kennedy School is an online public policy course that seeks learners across the globe who are passionate about creating change in their communities Through their coursework for Policy Design and Delivery, students can acquire the knowledge to create policies to effect change in their communities.

Who Should Enroll?

The ideal learner for the Public Learning Credential is creative, dedicated, and driven by a desire to serve, and has at least five years of work experience and a bachelor’s degree. To learn more, visit our requirements page.

Why Choose Harvard Kennedy School?

Harvard Kennedy School educates public leaders and generates the ideas that this moment in history demands. Our mission is to improve public policy and public leadership across the United States and around the world so that people can achieve safer, freer, and more prosperous lives.

The Harvard Kennedy School experience is defined by academic rigor and excellence, as well as a vibrant exchange of ideas and perspectives. Our renowned faculty and trailblazing research centers create public leaders who champion bold new ideas and policy approaches.

The PLC also provides eligibility to apply for a potential pathway to the Mid-Career Master in Public Administration (MC/MPA). Learners who earn the credential prior to applying to the MC/MPA Program have the opportunity to count PLC courses toward the MC/MPA degree if admitted through the pathway.

Path to a Public Leadership Credential

The Public Leadership Credential is a reflection of Harvard Kennedy School’s commitment to improving public policy and leadership creating a safer, freer, more just, and more prosperous society. This online program, designed by renowned Harvard Kennedy School faculty, gives changemakers the skills and knowledge necessary to advance the public good and make an immediate impact in their communities. The credential gives learners a better understanding of the nexus of policy, ethics, and leadership, equipping them to become effective public changemakers.

Six Courses. Three Focus Areas. 

Our unique credential program consists of six six-week courses in three focus areas: Evidence for DecisionsPolicy Design and Delivery, and Leadership and Ethics. Through learning modules, case studies, and structured group activities, you will develop critical thinking skills to impact communities and become an effective public leader.

Get Started

You will start with an “A” course in the focus area of your choosing, allowing you to prioritize your courses based on your preferences and professional needs. 
Explore A Courses

Continue Your Learning

After completing your first course, you can either deepen your learning with the “B” course in the same focus area or enroll in an “A” course in another focus area.

Our courses build on each other, so you must complete the “A” course in a certain focus area before you can take the corresponding “B” course. 

Explore B Courses

Bring Your Learning Together: Complete the Capstone

Once you have completed all six courses, you will have the opportunity to participate in online activities that demonstrate your learning across all courses, including synthesizing frameworks and tools and reviewing key learning assignments completed in the courses.

Explore the Capstone

Complete Your Credential

After completing all six courses, as well as the capstone, you will earn the Public Leadership Credential and have the skills you need to implement strategic and effective policy decisions in your community.

plc pathway infographic

Path to a Master's Degree

Apply for Your Master's Degree at Harvard Kennedy School  

The Public Leadership Credential (PLC) not only gives you tangible strategies you can implement immediately, but it also provides a potential pathway to the Harvard Kennedy School Mid-Career Master’s Degree in Public Administration (MC/MPA). Should you be accepted into MC/MPA via the PLC pathway, your PLC credential counts for three of eight courses required in the MC/MPA program. This means you would complete the summer program then select either fall or spring term to complete the remaining five courses on campus. This path reduces the amount of time you would spend in person at the HKS campus in Cambridge, MA. The total tuition cost for the MC/MPA Program via the PLC pathway is less than it is in the traditional path. 

In order to be eligible for this path you must:

  • Earn the Public Leadership Credential prior to submitting your admission application.
  • Apply to the MC/MPA program during the admission cycle that immediately follows your capstone experience.

Explore the Harvard Extension School Pathway  

The PLC also provides eligibility to apply for a special pathway to Harvard Extension School’s Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies (Field: Government)

PLC Alumni Stories


Saief Mahmood explains why he 
chose PLC and the impact 
it created on his career.


“Thanks to the PLC program, I now have the knowledge and the tools I need to create change that is for the benefit of all.”


Catherine Neill, a seasoned Urban Planner, talks about how the comprehensive effect of her PLC experience changed the trajectory of her life.

Take your cue from world-class faculty

No matter where you are in the world, the Public Leadership Credential allows you to learn through courses designed by Harvard Kennedy School faculty. Our faculty members are highly active in producing ideas and research that impact the world, influencing public policy, and teaching the next generation of public leaders. Whatever your goals for change in your community, our academic team will help you channel your passions into the practical skills you need to make an immediate positive impact.

Senior Lecturer in Public Policy

Senior Lecturer in Ethics and Public Policy

Lecturer in Public Policy

Senior Lecturer in Public Policy

PLC Learners by Region

learners by region
This map displays the percentage of PLC  learners by regions across the world:
United States & Canada 62%, Latin America & Caribbean 4%, Africa  5%, Middle East  & North Africa 4%, Europe & Central Asia 9%, South  Asia  6%, East Asia & Pacific 10%.

FAQ for Online Public Policy Courses with Harvard

Looking for more information about the Public Leadership Credential model, course structure, registration, payment options, or technical requirements? Start with our frequently asked questions for prospective PLC learners.

General Information

How are PLC courses delivered?

PLC courses are offered each Fall and Spring. Our six-week courses are academically rigorous, featuring peer discussions, case studies, and simulations. PLC courses include short, high-quality videos of HKS faculty and guest lecturers. Learners can expect to spend on average 10-12 hours per week on course work. This time includes both asynchronous individual work (with weekly deadlines) and required live meetings with a group of peers over the weekend.

Do I need to come to campus to participate in the PLC?

No, our courses take place 100% online and are available to participants regardless of their location.

Do I need to log in to my PLC course at certain times?

Most of your weekly work for PLC courses will be self-paced and asynchronous, meaning there are no formal class times. However, each new course week officially begins on Tuesday at 9 AM ET, with weekly assignment deadlines the following Tuesday at 5 PM ET. Because of the nature of the learning experience, learners must fully participate in each of the six weeks of the course and submit work by the weekly deadlines.

What access to faculty or Harvard University resources will be available to learners in the PLC?

Learners in the PLC will have some opportunities to engage with our faculty in live online group sessions. However, faculty are not available for one-on-one support, and should not be sought out for consultation on PLC coursework or programmatic inquiries. A dedicated teaching team and program staff are available as resources to PLC learners throughout their experience.

Will I need to purchase any additional materials?

No, you do not need to purchase any materials beyond the course fee, provided you have the required technology. The course site and its materials are designed to be accessed via a desktop or laptop computer. All course materials will be provided each week, in the form of PDFs, links, and videos.

Will I have access to the course materials after the course ends?

Learners have access to course sites in read-only mode for a limited time after the course concludes. This period lasts up to (but not longer than) one week. If a learner would like to save their work, we encourage them to download assignments with feedback ahead of this deadline. Learners do retain access to their PLC accounts. Final score outcomes for each course taken will remain in our records.

Course Structure and the Credential

How are PLC courses structured?

PLC courses are fully-online learning experiences offered by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. PLC expects those interested in PLC courses to feel comfortable with modern internet technologies because the program is delivered online.

There are no class sessions, as all lectures have been pre-produced by faculty and their guests. However, PLC courses are not MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses). Learners should expect to spend 10-12 hours on PLC course work per week. Each week, learners will engage in both asynchronous individual work (with weekly deadlines) and a required virtual live meeting with a small group of peers over the weekend. Group work is an integral part of the learning experience, and PLC courses rely on active engagement from participants. 

PLC courses are facilitated by a dedicated team of teaching assistants, who provide feedback on assignments and guide learning. Course outcomes are determined on a Pass or No Pass basis.

How long will coursework take each week?

Learners should expect to spend an estimated 10 to 12 hours per week on online and offline activities and assignments. Most of your weekly work will be self-paced and asynchronous, with the exception of a required virtual live meeting with peers over the weekend. Each new course week officially begins on Tuesday morning at 9 AM ET and closes the following Tuesday at 9 AM EST. Given the fast-paced nature of the program and the dedication required by learners every week, learners should weigh the decision to take PLC courses with the existing demands of their personal and professional lives in mind.

I have a prior commitment during part of the course. Can I make up my work the following week or work ahead of the course pace?

For all PLC courses, new modules will be released on a regular, weekly schedule. Because of the nature of the learning experience, learners must fully participate in each of the six weeks of the course and submit work by the weekly deadlines. Exceptions to weekly deadlines cannot be made, and assignment work cannot be made up at the end of a course or after its conclusion.

What happens if I find I cannot commit to completing my work every week?

PLC courses require regular weekly participation by learners. If a learner has been inactive in the course for more than one week, HKS reserves the right to withdraw that learner from the course with no refund of enrollment fees. This is to ensure that all learners are actively engaging with the course content and their small groups during a course run.

What do I receive upon completion of a course?

Upon successful completion of a course, learners will receive email verification informing them of their final outcome in the course. The PLC program does not provide formal transcripts or certificates for completing courses in our program. Upon successful completion of all six courses and the capstone assessment, learners will receive the  Public Leadership Credential, in the form of a digital certificate, that reflects the work they have done.

Can I take more than one course at a time? Is there a required path to completing the credential?

We recommend that learners take one course at a time. While it is possible to take two courses at a time, learners need to be aware of the time commitment and academic rigor that these courses demand. Each course requires an estimated weekly commitment of 10-12 hours. Learners wanting to take two courses simultaneously should weigh these considerations with other professional and personal demands. Learners may not take three courses at a time.

Learners are welcome to take A courses in any order. Learners must successfully complete an A course before they enroll in the corresponding B course. Learners must successfully complete all six PLC courses before enrolling in the capstone.

What is the credential and how can I complete it?

Program participants earn the Public Leadership Credential after the successful completion of all six PLC courses and the capstone assessment. The Public Leadership Credential will be conferred to learners in the form of a digital certificate. It is not a diploma.

Will I have access to alumni benefits upon earning the Public Leadership Credential?

Yes, all Public Leadership Credential recipients will receive Professional and Lifelong Learning alumni benefits. These benefits include alumni status recognition, invitations to HKS events, an impressive alumni network, access to exclusive forums, and more. For additional information, please visit our PLC Alumni Benefits page. 

Recognition of your PLC experience should be listed on your resume or CV or LinkedIn profile as:

Awarded the Public Leadership Credential, [Insert Year], John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Path to a Master's Degree

Does HKS offer academic credit for individual PLC courses?

No. HKS does not offer academic credit for individual PLC courses toward any HKS degree program (including but not limited to the MC/MPA program). However, three courses' worth of credit is given to those who successfully complete the full credential, and who then apply to, are admitted into, and enroll in the MC/MPA program.

Can I use the PLC as a pathway to the MC/MPA program at Harvard Kennedy School?

Yes. Learners who have earned the Public Leadership Credential may apply to the Mid-Career Master in Public Administration (MC/MPA). Please note: in order for PLC to count as coursework toward your MC/MPA degree, you must earn the Public Leadership Credential prior to submitting your admission application and apply during the admissions cycle that immediately follows the successful completion of your capstone experience.

Can my PLC courses count toward the distribution requirements in the MC/MPA program?

Learners who apply, are admitted, and enroll in the MC/MPA program via the PLC pathway may use their PLC coursework to satisfy the MPA distribution requirements.

When must I be on campus for the MC/MPA program if admitted via the PLC pathway?

Students who enroll in the MC/MPA program through the PLC pathway must participate in the MC/MPA summer program then can complete their remaining five courses in either the fall or spring term. 

Does the PLC pathway to the MC/MPA program cost less than the traditional MC/MPA pathway?

Yes. The combination of PLC + remaining courses in the MC/MPA program costs less than the cost of the traditional MC/MPA program. (See the Tuition & Fees page for more information regarding the cost of the traditional MC/MPA program.)

What are the admissions requirements for learners who have completed the PLC and are applying to the MC/MPA degree program? 

Admissions requirements for those who apply via the PLC pathway are the same as for those who apply to any HKS degree program with the one distinction being an applicant who wants to apply via the PLC pathway must apply in the next application cycle after they receive the credential. For more information regarding the HKS application process in general, please see How to Apply.  

What information will the PLC program provide to HKS Admissions? 

On the MC/MPA application, PLC learners must denote their choice to be considered for the PLC pathway. If a learner chooses to use the PLC pathway, PLC will provide HKS Admissions the applicant’s course and capstone outcomes as well as the faculty evaluation of their capstone assignment. 

How can I use the PLC as a pathway to an ALM degree in extension studies (focus: government) at Harvard Extension School?

After completing the PLC, learners can enroll in the proseminar for the ALM in Government (SSCI 100b – Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies and Scholarly Writing in the Social Sciences – Government and History) at Harvard Extension School (HES). If they receive a grade of B or better in the proseminar course, they will be eligible to apply for ALM admissions. If accepted, the completed PLC counts as 12 credits toward the 48 credit ALM degree. Credit is only awarded for a complete PLC credential; individual PLC courses are not available for credit at HES. The PLC program will email a letter of completion confirmation upon request – to admissions@extension.harvard.edu. For additional information please visit the Harvard Extension School's website.

Can I complete the MC/MPA or ALM degree programs online? 

While the PLC is a fully online program, both the HKS MC/MPA and HES ALM degree programs require time on campus. Specifically:

  • The HKS MC/MPA program requires that students enrolling in the MC/MPA program through the PLC pathway participate in the in-person, MC/MPA summer program and either the fall or spring term in-person. 
  • HES requires that admitted students complete at least three courses (12 credits) in person. (For additional information, please visit the Harvard Extension School's website.
Registration and Payment

Do I need to have a specific degree or a certain amount of work experience to register for the Public Leadership Credential?

As part of the registration process, learners will need to complete our online registration form and confirm that they meet the following course requirements:

  • They have completed a bachelor’s degree.
  • They have at least five years of work experience.
  • They are proficient in English.
  • They are available to commit an estimated 10 to 12 hours per week to coursework, including a required weekly live video conference with other enrolled students around the world.

These requirements cannot be waived.

Are GRE, TOEFL, or other standardized test scores required to register?

Learners do not need to submit any standardized test scores in order to register for PLC courses.

Once I have qualified for a PLC course, where can I complete my enrollment?

If you have previously submitted our online registration form and qualified for a PLC course, you can log into the PLC Community site to enroll. An account was created for you at the time of registration. Your username for this site is your email address. You can reset your password at any time by following the “Forgot Your Password?” link on the login page.

Can I enroll in more than one PLC course at a time? 

Learners in the PLC may enroll in more than one course at a time via our online registration system. However, learners may not enroll in three concurrent courses. Learners also may not enroll in all PLC courses and the capstone at once. PLC learners must enroll in an A course prior to enrolling in the corresponding B course. PLC learners must enroll in all six courses before enrolling in the capstone.   

How long do I have to complete the PLC?

 PLC learners have three years from the start date of their first course to successfully complete all six courses and the capstone assessment.  

How much does the overall PLC cost? 

The current tuition for the Public Leadership Credential courses is $995 per course. The capstone fee is $500. Prices are subject to change.

What forms of payment are accepted?

We accept all major credit and debit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. At this time, we do not accept alternative forms of payment, such as cash or check. Similarly, we cannot coordinate payments on behalf of registrants with outside entities. All payments must be made through our registration system.

Is financial aid available? Do you offer scholarships or discounts? Do you offer payment plans?

HKS does not provide financial aid, scholarships, discounts, or payment plans for PLC courses at this time.

Can I use federal student aid (e.g. GI Bill benefits) to pay for PLC courses?

HKS does not provide federal student aid or GI Bill benefits for PLC at this time.

Can PLC issue a 1098-T form for tax purposes? 

The Public Leadership Credential does not offer academic credit for its courses, and therefore learners enrolled in the program are not issued 1098-T forms. According to the IRS, "institutions are not required to file Form 1098-T or furnish a statement for:  

  • Courses for which no academic credit is offered, even if the student is otherwise enrolled in a degree program;  
  • Nonresident alien students, unless requested by the student;  
  • Students whose qualified tuition and related expenses are entirely waived or paid entirely with scholarships; and  
  • Students for whom you do not maintain a separate financial account and whose qualified tuition and related  expenses are covered by a formal billing arrangement between an institution and the student’s employer or a  governmental entity, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Department of Defense." 

Can I withdraw from a PLC course once I am enrolled?

Yes, a learner can withdraw from a PLC course at any time, though refunds are only available under the following conditions: 

  • The request for withdrawal is made prior to the course’s orientation start date. Refunds will not be granted after the start of orientation. 
  • The refunded tuition is credited to the original card used for payment. 
  • The original transaction occurred less than one year before the request to withdraw. 
  • The withdrawn enrollment was not purchased through an Open Enrollment offer.
  • Courses purchased through Open Enrollment are not eligible for refund. 
  • Withdrawals must be requested by the learner in writing and submitted via our contact form.

Can I defer my enrollment in a course to a future session? 

Yes, learners may defer their enrollment in a course prior to the orientation start date. Deferrals must be requested in writing and can only be granted one total time per enrollment to the session that immediately follows. Deferral requests made after the orientation start date are subject to review by the PLC team and will only be granted in the case of extreme life circumstances. There will be no deferrals granted after the conclusion of the second week of the course. 

Extreme life circumstances include, but are not limited to: 

  • Unexpected medical situation for you or a dependent 
  • Death of a family member
  • Natural disaster or other large-scale event 

Can I retake a PLC course if I do not successfully complete it the first time? 

Yes. A learner may retake any PLC course once, should they withdraw during the course or not receive a passing grade in the course the first time. Learners may not retake a course more than once. Should a learner choose to retake a course, they will be expected to resubmit payment for that course at the time of re-enrollment.  

Technical Requirements

How do I access my PLC course?

Once a prospective learner has completed our online registration form, they will receive an email verifying whether or not they have qualified for enrollment in the PLC program. This email will provide instructions on how to join our PLC community and complete the final steps to enroll in available courses.

Upon enrolling in a PLC course, the learner will be directed to the Canvas Learning Platform, where they can access course content.

What technologies do I need to participate?

These online courses rely on technology for general course delivery, display of streaming video and other multimedia, and video calls with group members. To participate in these courses, learners will need to have access to computer hardware and a stable internet connection. Learners will also need access to a camera, microphone, and speakers to participate in weekly web conferences.

The primary technologies used to deliver the courses are the Canvas learning management system and Zoom web conferencing technology. Learners’ technology needs to meet or exceed these requirements:

Please note that because of government regulations, users in the following countries are currently not able to access the required technologies for the courses: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine (Crimea region)

Are the courses mobile-friendly?

While some course components are accessible via mobile devices, learners will need to have access to a desktop or laptop computer to submit assignments. PLC staff does not provide support for technical issues encountered while using a mobile device.

Are the technology platforms accessible?

Our technologies are compliant with the following accessibility standards:

Learn more about accessibility features:

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