Harvard Business School vs. Kennedy School

by on February 25th, 2015

Perched on the banks of the Charles, two well-known and highly regarded Harvard graduate schools face each other, Harvard Business School (HBS) and Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). There are some similarities and differences between the two, and applicants are often torn about which school they should apply to, some actually deciding to apply to both. These two schools also jointly offer a “Dual-degree Program,” in which students spend one and a half years at each school, obtaining two Master’s degrees in 3 years.

So, what are the similarities and differences between the two schools?


One of the biggest, and the most important commonality is their concentration on “leadership education.” Although they have differing viewpoints regarding their educational objective—HBS focusing on private sector and HKS focusing on public sector—both schools’ primary goal is to educate global leaders. The two schools’ missions are very well known: HBS “To educate leaders who make a difference in the world,” HKS “To train enlightened public leaders and to generate the ideas that provide the solutions to our most challenging public problems.”

Therefore, as one would expect, leadership classes are the most popular of any at both schools. At HBS, LEAD is one of the required curriculums for first year students, and there are many related classes in second year. HKS also offers a variety of leadership related classes. For instance, classes by Professor Ronald Heifetz are the most popular at HKS, and there are a lot of HBS students cross-registering in these.


Yet, taking several classes at HKS, I see many differences between the two schools.

One is diversity. As I mentioned in a previous post, while HBS upholds “diversity” as one of its core values, the students’ background is very skewed. People with consulting or financial industry experience account for the majority of the class, and the average age is 27, ranging by only +/- 5.

When it comes to HKS, I would say the “diversity” is more authentic. In addition to the fact that more than 40% of HKS students are non-American (many of whom have never actually lived in the U.S. before HKS), their work experience is extremely diverse: company employee, researcher, military, NGO, government staff, city mayor, etc. And the age demographic is wide-ranging (from early 20s to 50s).

HKS’s diversity is especially effective when we discuss universal issues, such as religion, international affairs and politics. I am constantly impressed by the breadth and depth of the class discussion, and at no time have I ever left class without a takeaway. In no other place would I be able to see Israeli and Pakistani students argue heatedly over religion, immediately after sharing an identical perspective on the political issues of China.

Another big difference is the class structure. After spending a year and a half at HBS, I can say with absolute certainty that there is no place in the world offering a more structured and sophisticated class than HBS. The 80 minutes class is like a show, and the time just flies by while a hotshot professor orchestrates the class discussion. After experiencing this, I feel classes at HKS are somewhat slow, and the students are not sufficiently aggressive.

The primary reason for this is that HKS adopts, for the most part, a lecture style compared to HBS’s case method. Additionally, I think the difference in diversity level is also affecting the class dynamics. At HBS, we may be able to get on with such a speedy learning environment due to our classes inherently limited diversity—a kind of homogeneity.

At any rate, I much prefer HBS’s teaching methods but do feel that taking classes at HKS is complementing my learning experience. Personally I don’t think the joint-degree program maximizes cost-benefit for many people, but I definitely recommend students cross-register.

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