Harvard Kennedy School 2015 Application Essay Tips

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“Ask what you can do.”

The HKS application serves applicants to the MPP and the various MPA programs (PhD applicants use the Harvard GSAS application). The essays discussed below are for the MPP and the two-year MPA applications (essay questions are different for the MPA/ID and mid-career MPA applications).

HKS seeks well-rounded master’s students – people with proven academic success, strong leadership and career potential, and “commitment to advancing the public interest” (quoting the dean). The school also wants the student body to be diverse. Your application overall will address these factors; the essays provide a valuable opportunity to underscore through specific detail how you meet these criteria and will be a unique contributor. Perhaps more important, use the essays to weave together these elements into a coherent story/presentation.

My tips are in blue below. 

The Harvard Kennedy School motto, echoing the President for whom the School is named, is “Ask what you can do.” Please share with the Admissions Committee your plans to create positive change through your leadership and service. (500 word limit)

This is in essence a goals question. I suggest a professional focus, though it could also include non-work plans. Three keys to making this essay work: (1) In describing your plans/goals, clarify what “positive change” looks like to you – it’s easy to forget that it looks different to different people.   (2) Discuss practical aspects – how you’ll execute those plans, focusing on your anticipated leadership and sense of service. (3) Root the plans in your experience, to lend credibility to what you say you will do in the future (easy to say, after all, but much more believable if you have a relevant track record).

There are many pathways one can pursue in order to make a difference in the world. Why is the MPP/MPA Program at HKS an appropriate pathway to achieving your goals? (500 word limit)

The adcom is clearly looking for applicants who will use this degree productively to make a difference. In a nutshell, in this essay, explain how you’ll do that. Go with the concept inferred by the word “pathway” – a way to get where you want to go. Resist the common (and understandable) impulse to list everything wonderful about the program. Rather, discuss a few or several elements that are most important to you and will, in practical terms, help you to pursue your goals.  

(Optional) If you have any concerns about your prior academic background, or if you believe the Admissions Committee may have concerns, please give a brief explanation of your performance in college, or your standardized test scores. (750 word limit)

This optional essay question specifically instructs you to write the optional essay only if there are potential concerns about your prior academic or test performance. If you do need to use it for that purpose, write a succinct, straightforward explanation – although they give you 750 words, a paragraph will often suffice. Don’t be defensive or evasive, just tell it straight. If you have evidence that the under-performance does not reflect your true ability, add a sentence or two stating that point with the evidence (e.g., maybe you did poorly overall in college, but in your last semester earned straight A’s in advanced courses).

Deadline: December 2, 2014

Grad 5 Fatal Flaws

Cindy Tokumitsu By , author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBA and Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with Accepted.com.

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How to Prove Character Traits in Essays

Analyzing Your Skills Before Applying to Graduate School

Click here to download your copy of Get Your Game On: Prepping for Your Grad School Application!“Analyzing Your Skills” is excerpted from the Accepted.com special report, Get Your Game On: Prepping for Your Grad School Application. To download the entire free special report, click here.

As I’ve been discussing, part of the pre-application thought process involves honest analysis of your achievements and abilities, along with your future interests. Grad school will give you the opportunity for deep, advanced study in your field—including theoretical/methodological approaches undergrads are rarely exposed to. As you prepare to apply, consider how to present your skills/accomplishments effectively, and determine whether you need to shore up any gaps in your record.

First, think about the skills you’ve gained so far, and think about the programs you’re considering.

Do you meet the prerequisites for admission?

Challenges may arise if you don’t have an undergraduate degree in the field you want to pursue. You may have to demonstrate that you have sufficient background if you don’t have the degree to prove it. Does the department require any specific knowledge on entrance (such as statistics or foreign language fluency)? Can gaps be made up during your first semester, or do you need to remedy them before you apply?

Do you have research experience?

If yes, what type of project(s) did you complete? Did you participate in faculty research or conduct your own project? Did your work result in any presentations/publications? What did you learn about your field? What did you learn about the process of doing research/conducting a long-term project? How did this project make you interested in pursuing future research?

Have you done anything special to gain pertinent skills?

Did you take accelerated or grad level courses as an undergrad? Did you participate in an honors program? Are you planning to take any extra coursework before applying? If you’re working, have you gained skills through your job that relate to your proposed program?

In the final post I’ll cover other preparatory topics such as lining up letters of recommendation and searching for fellowships.

Download our free report: GET YOUR GAME ON: Preparing for Your Grad School Application

Rebecca Blustein By , Accepted.com editor and former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center, and author of Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School. Rebecca will be happy to assist you with your grad school applications.

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MIT Master in Finance – Is It the Right Fit for You (and Vice Versa)?

Listen to our Popular Podcast Episode - Masters in Finance: What You Need to KnowPracticality is the essence of MIT’s Master in Finance program. It’s just one year, as opposed to numerous MFin programs that are 1.5 to 2 years, and, as the website notes, it was developed “as a direct response to demand in the financial industry.” In spite of the short duration, the program offers flexibility to tailor it to your needs. Moreover, it’s an “early career” program – students’ pre-program experience averages 0-4 years, according to the website, with about 50% coming directly from undergrad.

Here are some additional distinguishing elements of the program:

• Its location in the business school deepens its opportunities; you’ll take some courses with MBA, PhD, and Sloan Fellows students, giving you direct access to people with deep experience and networks across many industries and functions. You can also participate in certain clubs such as Venture Capital and Private Equity Club.

• The flexibility extends to the option to take some courses at the School of Engineering and/or School of Science.

• The practical nature of the program includes a Finance Research Practicum, which addresses real-world situations and problems.

• The opportunity to build strong, enduring relationships arises from the extensive small-group work, which also prepares you to succeed in an increasingly interconnected and team-focused work environment.

• Career development is an ongoing focus from the first semester, with a “Career Core” curriculum. There are also career treks and opportunities to explore industry segments.

• About 88% of 2013 graduates received employment offers as of October 2013, notes the Employment Report.

• It’s a truly global program, with 84% of students from outside the US.

Now, what does it take to win access to these delectable resources and opportunities? With an acceptance rate of around 10%, a lot.

• Solid academic achievement and test scores, with average GPA of 3.7 (in programs spanning various disciplines, from economics and math to engineering and business to humanities and science), GMAT mid 80% range 700-770, with quant 48-51; GRE quant mid 80% range 161-170.

• Prerequisite quantitative coursework – if you click on the link, scroll down and take the self-assessment!

• Most desired personal qualities are ability to collaborate, willingness to think/look outside of the proverbial box (a classic MIT value), and high motivation (use your essays to demonstrate these qualities).

• While many students have no official professional experience, the adcom wants to see at least a related internship, so that students come with some practical exposure.

• Interviews are selective (about 30%) and by invitation only; every accepted applicant is interviewed (about 30% of those interviewed are admitted).

• Good news for internationals: a TOEFL score is not required!

By the way, on the program’s website there is an extensive and thorough discussion of recruiting, careers, etc. in the FAQ – I recommend perusing it.

Click here for the lowdown on one of the most up and coming specialized masters programs in the business world.

Cindy Tokumitsu By , author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBA and Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with Accepted.com.

Related Resources:

MIT Sloan B-School Zone
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How to Write about Your Research Interests

Click here to download your copy of Get Your Game On: Prepping for Your Grad School Application!

Set out your plans and goals

“How to Write about Your Research Interests” is excerpted from the Accepted.com special report, Get Your Game On: Prepping for Your Grad School Application. To download the entire free special report, click here.

The most common challenge that my clients face when writing a statement of purpose (SOP) for a Master’s or PhD application is how to describe, in concrete terms, what their research interests and goals are. It’s one thing to express interest in a field, or explain where that interest came from—but when it comes to setting out some plans and goals, people get a bit anxious.

This is understandable— some people worry they’ll be held to their still-evolving ideas as if they were chiseled in stone; and others simply haven’t thought those ideas through very much yet. Take a deep breath! No one’s going to produce your SOP when it’s time for you to start writing your thesis and expect it to correspond exactly—everyone knows your knowledge and ideas will develop throughout your grad program. On the other hand, the SOP is the way for the committee to see that you possess depth of interest and comprehension in your field, and that you understand what goes into research. If you talk about ideas that are too vague or nebulous, or that aren’t addressable by your discipline, then you risk sounding naïve.

Here are some questions/pointers to help you focus and narrow your interests:

• What are the broad research questions/issues that interest you? Can you describe your interests in a sentence? In a paragraph? Try to create a summary of your interests that you can work with.

• Within those broad areas of interest, have you begun to focus on more specific questions? If you’re not sure what the current questions/problems are in your field, now is the time to start catching up—look at recent journal publications, go to conferences if you can, etc. Reading the lit in your field will also give you a sense of how to frame your ideas in the language of your field.

• Have you done any research in this field already? If so, do you intend to build on your previous work in grad school or go in a new direction?

• How will your research contribute to the field?

• Some projects described in SOPs are achievable in the short-term, while others are big enough to last a career. If your interests/goals fall into this latter category, acknowledge the fact that you’re being ambitious—and try to identify some aspect of your interests that you can pursue as a first step.

• Use your SOP to demonstrate your skills (and past experience) in your field, as well as to define the next steps you intend to take.

• Focusing your interests will also involve more detailed research about the programs you plan on applying to. Who might be your research supervisor? How do your interests relate to the work this scholar or scholars are doing now? How would you contribute to the department, and to the discipline?

• Your SOP will also address your longer-term goals (post-degree). Do you plan to pursue a career in research/academia? (For many PhD programs, this remains the department’s formal expectation, even though many PhDs find employment outside the academy.) If you’re applying for your MA/MS, be prepared to discuss what your plans are. How will the degree help you?

 In the next post I’ll talk more about how to show you have the skills to succeed in grad school.

Download our free report: GET YOUR GAME ON: Preparing for Your Grad School Application

Rebecca Blustein By , Accepted.com editor and former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center, and author of Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School. Rebecca will be happy to assist you with your grad school applications.

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• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Graduate School SOPs
• Choosing a PhD Program: 3 Tips
• Obtaining Graduate Assistantships

HEC Paris Launches New MBA-MIF Program

Check out our HEC Paris b-school zone!HEC Paris Business School just announced the launch of its new MBA-MIF program in a press release Monday. The 20-month program (16 months for the MBA and 10 months for the Masters in Finance) will provide students with an integrated curriculum, allowing for different tracks for students with different skills and experience levels. Within the MBA component of the program, students will be able specialize in entrepreneurship, strategy, or general management, and combine that with the finance specialization in the MIF component. Students will receive “early intensive training in finance, thereby enhancing preparation for banking and consulting interviews.”

Upon completion of the dual degree program, students will receive an MBA and an MSc in International Finance.

According to Jacques Olivier, HEC Paris Professor of Finance and Program Director, “The financial crisis has challenged business schools to find new ways to equip their graduates with the right set of knowledge, skills and values. HEC Paris has designed the MBA-MIF dual degree for young professionals who wish to acquire not only the general management education and leadership skills from a leading MBA program, but also advanced technical knowledge in finance to differentiate themselves from their peers. This unique combination will allow dual degree students to fast-track onto senior management positions within finance and consulting.”

See the HEC Paris website for more information on the MBA-MIF program.

For advice on how to get accepted to HEC Paris, please see our HEC Paris B-School Zone.

Click here for the lowdown on one of the most up and coming specialized masters programs in the business world.

Accepted.com: Helping You Write Your Best

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