HKS Notices ‘Obama Effect’

Administrators at the Harvard Kennedy School say they believe the Obama administration, which has already tapped many of the school’s professors for work in Washington, may also be linked to an unprecedented increase in applicants to the school.

This year the school’s two-year Master in Public Policy (MPP) program received 1,696 applications, up 34 percent from 1,269 applications last year. The two-year Master in Public Administration in International Development, the school’s newest program, saw a 7 percent increase in applications, while applications to the two-year Master in Public Administration program rose only slightly. Applications to the one-year Mid-Career Master in Public Administration program are due Friday, and Joseph J. McCarthy, the director of degree programs, said he expects a good turnout in that program as well.

Several Kennedy School administrators said that the rise in applications is linked both to the economic downturn and the increased interest in public service sparked by the Obama administration.

“I like to attribute it more to the excitement about government now as a solution rather than a problem,” McCarthy said, calling the phenomenon the “Obama effect.”

He noted that, despite the global economic turmoil, other schools saw smaller increases in application volume. Harvard Law School saw a 5-6 percent increase in application volume, according to the school’s admissions blog.

Kennedy School Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management Alexandra Martinez emphasized the role of the economy. “Knowing what’s going on with the economy, we’re not surprised at all that we would be receiving additional applications,” she said.

She added that the increase in applications means that decisions may come out later than usual, although they will certainly be released by April 1 at the latest. Despite the higher number of applicants, the Kennedy School does not plan to increase its class sizes.

The admissions committee selects students by rating each applicant on a scale of one to four in each of four categories: leadership, commitment to public service, academics, and a fourth category that includes special talent, extraordinary background, and diversity.

The application spike will certainly contribute to the selection of a more qualified and heterogeneous class, according to Michael P. Burke, the senior associate director of admissions.

MPP student Benjamin M. Polk said he thought the increase was important for the Kennedy School, “This is an unequivocally positive sign that the Kennedy School has made itself an unbelievably important institution,” he said.

—Staff writer Niha S. Jain can be reached at nsjain@fas.harvard.edu.