The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Kaneisha Grayson Shares "5 Tips for Applying to Policy School"

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Kaneisha Grayson is the founder of The Art of Applying, a company that provides coaching to students and professionals interested in MBA, MPP, and other fellowship programs. She has an MBA from Harvard Business School and will be hosting a webinar on Sunday, October 20th for Dartmouth students. Interested students can RSVP here. In addition, we will be giving one FREE enrollment in the online "Hacking Harvard Kennedy School" during the webinar, so RSVP soon!


Kaneisha Grayson

5 Tips for Preparing to Apply for Policy School

I didn’t consider applying to policy school until the summer before my senior year of college, so when I decided I wanted to apply to Harvard Kennedy School (Back then, it was called KSG or the John F. Kennedy School of Government, it’s official name), I had a bit of scrambling to do to make sure my application would be competitive. Whether you’re still in college or have several years of work experience, here are some tips to make sure you’ll be able to submit a top-notch application to your dream school.
1. Choose a major that you enjoy.
Feel free to major in whatever interests you most with the understanding that you can make an argument for why any course of study fits with your professional interest in public policy. As a Black Studies undergraduate major from Pomona College, I wrote about how I wanted to supplement the critical thinking and theoretical skills I’d developed with quantitative analysis, leadership, and communication skills I would learn in policy school. If economics genuinely lights your eyes up, go for it. However, if you chose that major just because it sounded “practical” or like a major that would help you get a job in management consulting, you’d be better off choosing a major that arouses your intellectual curiosity. Admissions Committees and employers will be most attracted to a candidate who did well in his or her chosen major (I recommend a 3.6 GPA or higher) rather than a candidate with mediocre grades in a popular major.
2. Take courses that will help you prepare for the policy school classroom.
While you can major in anything you like, there are certain courses you should make sure you take before applying to policy school. Each school’s suggestions slightly vary, but the most often cited ones are (in order of importance): Macroeconomics and/or Microeconomics, Statistics, and Calculus. To make your application even stronger, I would also recommend taking Accounting and Finance.
3. Establish strong relationships with professors.
Depending on how soon after graduating you apply to policy school, one of your professors is likely to write recommendation letters for you. Make sure that you forge a strong relationship with at least two to three of your professors while in college so that you have reliable people who can write you stellar recommendations. Furthermore, they can act as a cheerleading squad, encouraging you throughout the often stressful process of applying to graduate school. A great way to get started with forging a strong relationship with a professor is to visit her in her office hours, share your goals, ask for advice, do well in her class.
4.  Get involved in something meaningful to you.
Getting into graduate school isn’t about collecting as many extracurricular activities as possible. Choose one or two organizations or causes in which to dedicate your time, and commit to those. Student clubs are an excellent way to gain leadership experience, to work on teams, and to have a positive social impact while having fun and making friends. No particular club is better than the other. What is most important to Admissions Committee is what you are able to accomplish with your time, effort, and teamwork and what you learn from the experiences.
5. Get some work experience.
While in college, be sure to spend your summers interning for organizations where you are able to learn by doing, work on teams if possible, and gain consistent mentorship. Most policy schools prefer that applicants have several years of work experience before applying, so a history of internships is going to set you up well for full-time job recruiting.
There are a plethora of other things you can do to position yourself well to get admitted to a top policy school. However, these are the must-have foundations of a strong application. Visit The Art of Applying and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to learn a lot more about what it takes to get into a top policy school.
Kaneisha Grayson is the Founder & President of The Art of Applying, the first admissions consulting firm dedicated to policy school and joint MPP/MBA degree admissions. She has an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School where she was a George Leadership Fellow and an MBA from Harvard Business School where she graduated with second year honors (top 20% of students).

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