Joint Degrees: Increasing Debt in the Name of Public Service

BY REBECCA AGULE

With myriad course programs and extracurricular options offered by the Law School – not to mention the debt incurred chasing a first professional degree – one might wonder what would motivate a student to pursue a second degree in their relatively short time in Cambridge. Call them masochistic or ambitious, some simply cannot seem to get enough of Harvard’s resources.

In the spirit of the Law School’s continuing commitment to public service, joint JD/Masters in Public Policy (MPP) or Masters in Public Administration in International Development (MPA/ID) degrees are available with the Kennedy School of Government.

To take advantage of the KSG/HLS joint degree program, students must apply and gain admission to each school separately. In total, the program lasts four years. Students spend one year fully in residence at HLS and at KSG, and then complete requirements at both in the remaining two years.

As appealing as it might sound to earn two degrees in a condensed period of time, many students wrestle with the decision.

“I was very torn about doing the joint degree program due to the added cost and time,” said 3L and KSG student Brandon Weiss. “I actually had decided against it and allowed the deadline for accepting admission to pass, but then regretted the decision and found out it wasn’t too late to accept.”

Still others intended from the outset to follow the joint degree path. JD/MPP student Alexia De Vincentis said, “There was no question about doing the joint degree. It was just a question of where.”

“Ultimately, I plan to work in international human rights,” said De Vincentis. “I go back and forth about what I want to do within that broad realm. Fortunately the joint degree program gives me more time to explore and decide.”

Students appreciate the convenience of being able to complete two degrees, without leaving Cambridge.

“When you decide on Harvard for law school, you are limited by geography in options for the joint degree,” said De Vincentis. “Fortunately, KSG is a great option! Plus being right down the road, it is easy to stay connected at the Law School.”

De Vincentis views the joint degree as a means of embracing multiple disciplines, without having to sacrifice one over the other, the academic version of having one’s cake and eating it, too.

“Basically, I couldn’t decide between law and development,” said De Vincentis. “Then I realized I could do both!”

Weiss’s interest in affordable housing, homelessness and real estate prompted his decision to accept that offer of admission.

“I see the MPP adding to the JD largely in the trajectory I’ll be headed leaving law school. I also value the faculty and students I met at KSG, and the greater familiarity I’ll have with the policy world,” Weiss said.

This greater familiarity includes an emphasis on the quantitative skills, including economics and statistics, often utilized to analyze policy problems.

“The skill set is extremely different,” Weiss continued. “You learn to analyze a problem from a variety of angles beyond just the legal angle.”

Having recently finished his 1L year and just embarking upon his full year at the KSG, Rei Onishi believes the two degrees offer a unique perspective.

“For someone interested in pursuing public interest law, I think the law and public policy degrees really complement each other and will give me the chance to explore more of my areas of interest in depth,” he said. “I’m also hoping to further develop my quantitative, management, and communication skill sets.”

Students often find the stress level at KSG lower than that at the Law School. Some attribute this to an older average student at the former. Others link it to KSG’s incredibly varied and international student body with diverse backgrounds, which contributes to a general sense of balance. In addition, a heavier workload during the semester, including weekly problem sets and writing assignments, alleviates some of the pressure created by basing an entire grade upon a final exam.

Onishi summed up the sentiments of many joint degree students. “Perhaps best of all, you get to meet and learn from another amazing group of public-service oriented faculty and peers,” he said.

De Vincentis echoed this notion.

“I think the students are the greatest assets of both schools,” she said.

Students can apply to the Kennedy School during their 1L and 2L years. For further information, students can go to http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/special_programs/hlsksg_summ.php.

In addition to the KSG joint degrees, the Law School also currently offers programs in conjunction with Harvard Business School, the School of Public Health, and the Graduate School of Design. Further, a coordinated degree program allows students to obtain a PhD at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, alongside their law degree.

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