Thursday, February 11, 2010

For those of you who don't know me, I am a graduate student at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. As a graduate student in Boston I have access to a consortium that allows me to take classes at Harvard and MIT if I so choose. I know that many people are probably sitting in their cubes as we speak thinking to themselves "I should stop reading blogs and apply to grad school." This blog entry is for you. I have not yet had the opportunity to take any classes at MIT but I currently am attending classes at both Fletcher and Harvard and thus feel that I am in a unique position to offer those thinking about applying to graduate school a first hand account of the differences between these two fine institutions of learning.

If you are a person whose interests are more geared towards international affairs then Fletcher is definitely for you. The majority of students at Fletcher...

...come from either an international background or have spent a considerable amount of time working abroad. There are far more course offerings at Fletcher that are geared towards international development work, environmental policy, and international security. The Kennedy School at Harvard is much more geared toward those with mostly domestic interests. For that reason there are tons of courses offered in urban planning, US political systems, political campaign management, History of US foreign policy, Econometrics etc. While as a student at either of these schools you are allowed to cross register, it is important to note that you are only allowed to take a maximum of four courses outside of your school of choice. So it is quite important that you decide ahead of time if you have a more international or domestic focus.

Harvard has a lot more practical options than Fletcher. By this I mean that at Harvard you can take classes on Defense Budgeting for example, whereas at Fletcher you have a lot more course options that go much more into the history and theory behind war.

As far as core requirements go, I am told that the Kennedy school has more and thus the number of classes you have to choose yourself are more limited than at Fletcher. That being said, Fletcher has a rather strict language requirement that requires you to pass both a written and oral examination. Fletcher also requires you to complete a Master's thesis by February of your second year. While the thesis is a lot of work and is something that is frequently not required in most Masters programs, I find that it is quite helpful in focusing you throughout your other classes as you seek to build a wealth of knowledge in one particular area. A thesis is also a great tool for seeking jobs as well as for applying to PhD programs.

Physically, the Kennedy school is in a much more hip area of Boston (Cambridge) and you have a lot more options as far as nightlife and dinning. Fletcher is located right outside of Boston in Medford. This is both good and bad. It is good in the sense that rent is cheaper and it is a much less distracting environment to do work. The major downside is that if you want to go out anywhere else in Boston and not fork over a ton of money for cabs you have to end your night before the T closes at 12:30pm.

Both Fletcher and the Kennedy school are located in very nice buildings. While Fletcher does get many notable speakers, the Kennedy School tends to get many more as they simply have much more space to accommodate large crowds. The Fletcher library is far superior to that of the Kennedy School. Fletcher's Ginn library features multiple floors and wood paneling while the Kennedy School's library is as small and generic as your hometown public library. The last thing I will say about facilities is that while both schools feature cramped over crowded classrooms, Harvard has a far superior gym. I am sorry to knock Tufts but the Gym looks like it was something that was thrown together while they were renovating the real gym.

Finally, a comment on the type of people you are likely to meet at Harvard and Fletcher. Both schools feature a very international crowd of overachievers, which is fantastic as you will be learning as much from your fellow students as you will from your professors, if not more. Kennedy School students tend to be a good bit older with many people who are Mid-Career. It is not uncommon to be in class with women in pants suits and men who are business casual. At Fletcher the average age is 27 and you meet mostly people who are career changers rather than mid-career. No one at Fletcher is slovenly but the dress is definitely casual, especially in the library. Fletcher is known for its sense of community that exists on campus and far beyond graduation. I can attest that this is very true. There are very few commuters at Fletcher and the majority of us work together and play together. While I definitely get the sense that the students in my class at Harvard know each other I do not get the same feeling of warmth. When I have been out with students from the Kennedy School, they often travel in large packs as well, which is a little reminiscent of Freshman year of Undergrad.

Obviously I am biased as a Fletcher student, however, I hope that those of you looking to go to Grad school in the near future have found something useful in this post. Feel free to email me if you have any specific questions and I will do my best to answer them. (

And that's my fifty cents (inflation...)


David Schoeller-Diaz said...

Sounds right on the mark. Considering more Harvard courses over my second year for the sake of diversity. Which one are you taking?

Jeremy said...

I'm currently taking Defense Resource Allocation and Force Planning with Dr. John White. Its a very in depth class mostly revolving around defense budgeting

Karl MALDen said...

As a recent Fletcher grad who took two classes at KSG, I agree with this characterization of the schools.

It's worth noting that Fletcher arguably has the best international law faculty outside of Georgetown University Law Center, and students at KSG and Fletcher have the same access to classes at Harvard Law. Another draw for Fletcher is that due to the wide range of possible concentrations and now degrees (LLM, Masters in Business, MA for mid-career professionals), the diversity of opinions and experience found in the typical Fletcher classroom far exceeds that found at KSG. This in turn leads to great in-class discussions.

Oftentimes KSG is lumped in with Fletcher, SAIS, SIPA, and the Walsh School of Foreign Service, and yet I have seen and heard that the KSG experience and curriculum is, as Jeremy states, not always oriented towards international affairs. As with all grad programs, prospective students should know what they're getting themselves into.

HKS Student said...

I would argue against the characterization that the Kennedy School is somehow deficient in its offerings of international courses. While it may be true that we do have more practical and domestic courses, we generally have MORE classes in everything. This is the benefit we draw from our scale. Yes, the proportion/composition of courses may be bent more towards domestic (relative to Fletcher), but the size/scale of the Kennedy School does much to render that point moot. In other words, we leverage our size in ways that provide sufficient options to both domestic and international focused students. As an added and often overlooked point: over 40% of students at HKS are international. Out of a school of 900+, you simply can't underestimate its significance.

To the point about HKS students being limited to 4 courses outside of HKS, that's true for courses that count towards your degree. You CAN take more than 4 courses outside our HKS--you just won't get credit for more than 4. If coming to graduate school to learn is your priority (and not course credit), then this limit never be an important consideration. What is important to note is that just because you can register at another school, doesn't mean you will be able to for courses that are popular. Priority for oversubscribed courses at the Kennedy School is first given to HKS students (I imagine the same to be for another other school). That's worth remembering.

GMAPer said...

Hi all, I am considering applying for the 1 year GMAP Program at Fletcher. Does anyone have any views on how well regarded this program is with employers such as the World Bank, regional development banks, UN etc? My focus is on international development (Rule of Law/Governance, Microfinance) and not sure whether GMAP (with its focus on international relations subjects rather than international development) will be worth the time and investment. Any thoughts would be much appreciated!!

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