Category Archives: Admissions

Déjà Vu

I distinctly remembered being on the other side of that room.

Just one year before, I drove an hour and a half to an event in Raleigh, NC to find out about the Technology, Innovation and Education program. The drive was exhilarating. It was the closest I had ever gotten to anything related to Harvard.

When I arrived, I spent 20 minutes nervously figuring out where to park and how to get to the room where the event was taking place. I arrived a few minutes late, panting from the jog, and was greeted by a friendly smile worn by a friendly gentleman. I was soon to find out that he was from the office of admissions and would be our guide into the inner workings of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

We got to hear about all the different Masters, and Doctoral programs, program requirements, and application tips/deadlines. Then came my favorite part – hearing from the students. After I hearing them speak of their diverse experiences so passionately, I could, honestly, see myself doing nothing else other than being at HGSE that following year. Because of how approachable they seemed, I tried to speak with a few of them after. A conversation with a TIE alum sparked a friendship and mentorship that is largely the reason why I’m even able to write this blog today.

And now, here I was, on the other side of a similar room. I was honored to be one of the students on a panel speaking about my application experience to the HGSE. It was a surreal moment – a strange twist in déjà vu. We spoke about the GRE, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, and our general experiences in course work and extracurricular activities at HGSE. I was glad to see that I hadn’t changed much because, similar to the prior year, my favorite moment was getting a chance to speak with prospective students and hearing what got them excited about HGSE.


Fellow HGSE student panelists at a recruitment event. Left to right: Brandan Fereday, Beth McReynolds, Me, Asuka Ichikawa

There was a strong sense of nostalgia as I recognized the same spark in their eyes that I had felt in mine just a few months ago. I look forward to potentially reading a blog from one of them as an alumnus. And so the cycle of reciprocity within the warm community of HUGSE continues.

Written by Joshua Onyango, photo provided by Joshua Onyango

Josh Onyango headshotBorn in Arusha, Tanzania, Josh has spent most of his life in the mid-west and southern US. He studied Biomedical Science in college and went to medical school in North Carolina. He’s still a medical student there, but decided to take a year to learn more about the role of technology in educating patients and training young physicians through the TIE program at HGSE. Outside of school he enjoys playing video games, basketball, and pondering the meaning of life.



Admissions Advice: What I Wish I Had Known a Year Ago

This is the last week of fall semester classes at HGSE; the libraries are packed, coffee sales are up, and faculty and students are concentrating on the final projects that stand between them and the holiday break. As I attend final classes this week, I am struck by how much has changed in such a short time. A mere 12 months ago, I was knee-deep in the application process, unsure if I would get in and juggling the many pieces of the Ed.M. application.

Here are a few tidbits of advice that I wish I had known last year:

  • Applications are reviewed holistically

This means that all pieces of your application are important and there is no one part that is more important than others. I didn’t know this and wasted a lot of time worrying about my GRE scores. I took the GRE twice last fall and fell short of my target GRE math score both times. The second time I wrote the GRE was in early December so I knew I didn’t have time to take it again. I actually considered holding my application and waiting to apply because I was convinced that I wouldn’t get in with my math score. I wish I had funneled all the energy I wasted worrying into concentrating on other parts of my application like my recommendation letters and Statement of Purpose.

  • Reach out to your recommenders (today!)

I reached out to 3 recommenders in November and heard back from 2 right away. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear back from my 3rd recommender, even after a follow-up email. It turned out that he had a new email address and it took months to hear back from him…long after my grad school applications were due. I wish someone had told me a year ago: if you don’t hear back within a week (especially if time is getting tight), move on!

  • …and don’t forget to give your recommenders background information

I had an application savvy friend who encouraged me to put together background sheets for my recommenders—I’m not sure I would have thought of it without her advice. After recommenders confirmed they would be willing to write a letter for me, I sent them a PDF document that clearly outlined the different programs I was applying for, logistical information like due date and who to address each letter to, a link to the program, and a brief summary of my motivations for applying to each program. I also included an overview of some of the work that I had done for each recommender and some of the strengths I brought to each role. Providing background information is a way of respecting letter writers and getting a better outcome; you are showing them that you value their time and you care enough about your application to make sure it’s tailored for each school and program.

  • Finish a draft of your Statement of Purpose before the holidays

It’s so helpful to have family members and friends read your Statement of Purpose and give you feedback! And the holidays are a perfect time to solicit feedback and make final edits. Just remember to maintain your own authentic voice and perspective; don’t listen to any suggestions that don’t resonate with you. At the end of the day, the Statement of Purpose should be a genuine representation of your motivations and goals. 


As the application date approaches, I hope you will lean into the application process; don’t second-guess yourself or self-sabotage your application by procrastinating. This is an amazing opportunity to reflect on your reasons for applying to HGSE and present them in a heartfelt way.

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Written by Cecelia DeKorne

Cecelia DeKorne is an Ed.M. candidate in the Human Development and Psychology program and is interested in how adult development principles can be used to improve organizational culture. Cecelia is loving her year at HGSE and has tried every type of cookie at The Commons! 

Cecelia is a Graduate Assistant at the HGSE Admissions office and will be posting throughout the 2017-2018 school year. 



We are pleased to announce that our online application is live! You can access the form, requirements, and instructions on our website. The application deadline for the Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) is December 15, 2017, while the Master of Education (Ed.M.) deadline is January 5, 2018. HGSE and the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) additionally offer the interfaculty Ph.D. in Education. Applications for this research-based doctorate must be submitted to GSAS by December 1, 2017.

Also, we have posted many of our fall recruitment events on our website and we encourage you to check our website for details. If you are able to visit the Cambridge area this fall, we will be hosting the following on campus events:

For prospective students with limited financial resources, we are pleased to announce the DRP Travel Fellowship which provides students with transportation and lodging to attend the Diversity Recruitment Program. The application is available now and the deadline is September 12, 2017.

Please do not hesitate to engage with us via email at or on Twitter (@hgse_admissions).


It was on a Friday, March 4th, 2016, when I received an email on my phone regarding an admissions decision from Harvard Graduate School of Education. I was sitting at home, watching Parks and Recreation after a long day of reading applications (I worked in Admissions for Lafayette College). I made a delicious burger and french fries and was mid-bite when I saw my phone light up. I dropped the burger. Grabbed the phone with my less-greasy hand and used my knuckle to open the email while moving towards the kitchen to wash my hands.

Even more tantalizing was the fact that I needed to pop into ANOTHER webpage to actually see my decision–how CRUEL! But I did. And watched the pixels congratulate me. I cried. You may have as well. Or maybe you screamed? Or maybe you didn’t drop the burger and made that email wait until you consumed all of the calories in front of you. But I cried.

I cried not because I was simply admitted to a wonderful institution with human capital and a reverberating signal–I cried because I thought about my statement of purpose. I ask you to think about the same. You are in the midst of making your decision of where to enroll, which can be a heartwarming challenge to have, but I challenge you to take a moment and read your statement of purpose once more. Remember the hours you spent diving into why you want to make this career move? Think about the personal narrative you let bleed into those 1500 words. That story is who you are. And who you are, down to your core, is what HGSE wants.

You are welcomed into a community who plan to serve the scholars across the world. Of course, HGSE is not the only community that plans accordingly. So explore your options, friend! What I can say from personal experience is that your cognitive and emotional intelligence matters here. Education is the intersection of both, and we look forward to sharing validation and growth to promote our collective social change. Join us at HGSE or join the larger movement–regardless, we are happy to have you in the field.

Taaha Mohamedali is a Master’s of Education candidate in Higher Education. Prior to enrolling at Harvard, Taaha was an admissions officer coordinating efforts to improve access for marginalized groups at Lafayette College.  He hopes to improve transitional support structures for these groups in the years to come. His passions include spoken word, comedy, and rock, paper, scissors.

Looking back at a Semester of belonging.

I remember this time last year, being still unsure of the exact route I wanted my career to take and of my shortlisted colleges that somehow seemed to lead up to that. A compulsive curiosity to know everything I can so I can get a “feel” of it, I had just spent 7 hours straight watching videos from HGSE, trying to see if I could picture myself there. I was far from convinced. Until I came across a goofy “Stories from Appian Way” video about a man in search of a Harvard bag. In that video-marathon-induced delirium, I thought that was the most hilarious thing I had seen in a while. More importantly though, something about that told me, I would fit in. From then on, in the admissions process, it was mostly just trying to put into words why as I completed my application essays, knowing in my gut that this was the only place I wanted to really go.

A year later, after having gotten 7 hours of sleep for the first time after 3 weeks of finals, that gut feeling is probably what has still stayed with me. It’s been a semester of moments like that. That warmth in the belly that comes from knowing I belong. I don’t know how else to describe the roller-coaster of a semester it’s been – unlearning and relearning everything I have known about the world, learning about all the possibilities of the people I could be, and finding out that each one of those seems to find comfortable belonging here.

It’s a montage of moments like these that I would send to the me a year ago to ease all that anxiety: Sitting by the mound outside Gutman Library in the first month here, basking in the sun, discussing the belief systems we brought here, and watching them unfold as we added layers from each others’ experiences. Sitting in the massive T-550 class, rediscovering everything I have known about learning, and arranging these aha-moments collectively on post-its. Hearing 140 students stand up in the Public Narratives class, describe their stories and hope in 10 seconds one after the other. Reflecting on my “researcher” identity at the end of “Interviewing for Qualitative research” class, and hearing back from the professor with personalized comments in response. Coming clean to my statistics professor about my fear for stats, and have him respond most reassuringly, putting my learning at the center of the conversation. “I want you to walk away comfortable with stats”, as he always said. Sharing lessons and ideas from a semester with my cohort in a formal event, and having them write back with suggestions, feedback, links and resources, as well as wise words of encouragement; and learning things as varied as race theory to blacksmithing at the event. Coffee dates with classmates as we mutually reflect on the questions we picked up from our classes, and finding their connections for further exploration in the answers we also found there. Specialized Studies Fridays, where we have strung together our thoughts from the week as a cohort over a few beers. Beverages and “everything-you-know”-altering conversations in general. Having a panic attack in the middle of the library the week before finals, only to be hugged until I was calm again (and fed cookies) by a fellow classmate I have barely spoken to before, who turned out to be a secret ninja in the subject I was panicking about, willing to tutor me even in the middle of all her own madness. Finding words to my feelings and getting over my fear of the camera at the same time as I recorded my story for “Double Take”, and then ugly crying after being immensely moved by the stories others shared at the school-wide Double-Take event. Making sense of the elections through origami and art as much as through informed conversations and community meetings. Dancing to Bollywood music in the library the week before finals. The Dean serving us Thanksgiving lunch. Meeting the “bag-guy” from the aforementioned video, telling him how that video changed my decision, which led to a conversation brainstorming ways to take ahead the project I worked on over the summer.


The first thing we were told in our cohort orientation was, “Everything here is for the asking, all you have to do is ask”. A semester later, I see what that means. It’s been a semester of being exposed to just an unbelievable wealth of wisdom. It has been enriching in ways that has expanded my brain in directions I didn’t previously know existed.  Of having access to the people I had been studying for so long (and I am not talking only about “I almost dropped coffee on them on my way to school” kind of access); access that is comfortable enough to go in with my unformed questions and coming out with multiple pathways of discovery opened up before me. Of meeting people, who, along with having the wisest wisdom and a whole range of stories to share, are also people who you can count on to genuinely care. People filled with a certain kind of optimism, the kind which draws them to think of changing the world through education, and have them actively engage with me with that in tow. And of finding my place within it, a place that’s evolving, with a kind of faith that no matter the expansion or shape-shifting, there will still be room for it. Of learning about “asking” as an act of belonging within it.

As one of my professors once said in class, “Be a wedge in the door. And then find the community of such wedges in the doors to help open them for you”. What that girl watching those 7 hours of video didn’t know last year, is that this is what perhaps makes this place what it is, that warmth of belonging from cultivating relationships that are as much about laughter as about learning. That community of wedges in the doors, helping each other grow and evolve as they figure out their place in the world they want to create.

Jayati Doshi is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Specialized Studies Program. She is currently exploring what happens when we look at living as an act of learning, and what educating for that would look like. 

My Diversity Recruitment Program Experience

Two weekends ago, I had the privilege of being part of the festivities surrounding HGSE’s Diversity Recruitment Program (DRP). Over the two days of DRP, prospective applicants from all over and with diverse backgrounds visit Appian Way for the weekend to learn more about their programs of interest, interact with professors and current students, and start to wrap their heads around the many details involved in applying to HGSE.

On Friday, I participated in DRP as a student attendee at the HGSE Community Reception. While there, I and other students got to meet the ones whose shoes we were in last year to talk (informally and over food) about our memories of the admissions process and our experiences at HGSE thus far. It was really fun to share my story and especially meaningful to me to help ease the minds of amazing individuals who may have felt that they didn’t fit the mold of what a “Harvard” student should be.

In addition to the reception, I had been asked to lead a session on Saturday to help applicants brainstorm about their Statements of Purpose and to provide some insight into my own writing process. This would require me to allow a room full of prospective applicants to read copies of the very Statement that I had submitted to the Office of Admissions one year prior (they, for one reason or another, seemed to not think it was horrible). My personal goal for the year is to say “yes” more, so I agreed, but not without a fair amount of anxiety.

You see, I had been extremely secretive about and protective of my application to HGSE. The only people who knew about my decision to apply were the individuals who wrote my letters of recommendation; my own family had no idea I had even been considering Harvard until the day I received my acceptance letter. To say that they were pleasantly surprised when they heard the news is an understatement. I allowed exactly zero people to view my Statement of Purpose before I submitted it way too close to the deadline—about two minutes before 11:59pm—and hoped for the best.

The thought of having prospective students read and potentially critique my Statement, which no other eyes had ever seen, was utterly daunting, but my desire to help out and pay it forward outweighed my fear. When the time came for my session to begin and the copies of my Statement were handed out, I felt strangely calm. Ultimately, everything went well and the session turned out to be a great ending to DRP. Some of the attendees even stayed afterward to thank me for sharing my Statement and said they felt less nervous about writing their own, which was so relieving to hear.

I’m extremely grateful to have been able to contribute to making DRP the wonderful weekend it was and I hope that the many prospective applicants I met will have the opportunity to join the HGSE family. 

Monique Hall is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Technology, Innovation, and Education program. She is passionate about children’s media, ice cream, and educational equity.

Graduate School Application Advice: My Journey to Getting Over the Sticker Shock

Ah, yes. This time last year I was gathering up all of the bits and pieces of my many graduate school applications. I have serious “fear of missing out,” so I had a hard time deciding what schools I wanted to apply to, terrified I’d miss a great opportunity if I narrowed my list. If you’re anything like me, I highly suggest that you first do a self-audit—where are you right now, where do you want to be, and what do you need in order to get from point A to point B. Additionally, keep in mind that when you’re applying to schools you want to show them that you’re a good fit for the program, so if you’re not even sure what you want from a graduate program, that can come through in your materials. This auditing process helped me sort out what I truly needed and wanted in a program rather than getting caught up in all these programs that sounded cool.

After I decided what I wanted my academic experience to look like, I started thinking about other factors that were important to me. For example, as you’re making your own decisions, think about how important geography, financial aid, internships, faculty, etc. are to you. Make sure you do your research on the institutions you’re applying to so that you don’t spend hours and an application fee on a program that doesn’t attend to what’s most important to you outside of the classroom and program title.

For me, I knew I really cared about networks and cost. I wanted to go to an institution that had strong connections with the community, the alumni, and research in the field. I found that network at Harvard, which is one of the reasons I chose this program. Flash forward to half way through my first semester here and I’m already pleasantly overwhelmed with the many opportunities I’ve been able to take advantage of as an HGSE student. The connections, relationships, and multiplicity of outlets for practice and new experiences in the field are beyond what I expected.

Cost, on the other hand, was trickier to work out for me, even in deciding to apply to HGSE. In all honesty, I applied to HGSE on a whim—I loved the programs and the school, but the sticker shock was so real. I remember the day I told my mom I was applying to HGSE (her face could’ve been a meme); I assured her I wouldn’t actually go and that it was just to see if it was even a possibility for me. I’m a first generation college student, and as far as I knew, families like mine didn’t go to Harvard and could never pay for it. Additionally, I was already in student loan debt up to my eyeballs from my state-school undergraduate experience. When I was accepted I had already made up my mind to attend elsewhere, but every time I went to decline my admission, I just couldn’t shake that I would regret not taking the leap.

Not to downplay the cost of living here or the tuition (it definitely costs), but it isn’t as impossible as that initial sticker shock makes you believe. First, there are so many options for funding, including HGSE financial aid, outside scholarships, loans, on and off campus jobs, and paid internships. After exploring my options, I was able to engineer a financial situation that was doable for me, which included a myriad of these resources. Moreover, although cost is critical, examine the return on your investment for each of your options.

What I’ve gotten out of this program already is well worth the cost and the sacrifices I’ve made. While HGSE and the Boston area may look impossibly expensive on paper, it is possible to navigate. I took a financial leap of faith in this decision despite the chagrin of well-meaning family, and although money is tight sometimes, it is so worth it. All in all, stay within your means, but don’t count yourself out of something beautiful before you begin to reach for it.

Kaci McClure is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Language and Literacy program. Her primary passions are increasing literacy skills among high school students; addressing inequity in low-income, largely minority schools; and culturally responsive teaching. A transplant out of Louisiana who originally hails from Texas, Kaci has an affinity for sweet tea, spicy food, and the word “y’all.” She’s also an avid supporter of conscious rap and frybread, neither correlated to the other but both very powerful.  

Choosing a Program: A Guide for the Chronically Indecisive

Confession – I am indecisive to a fault. I hate making decisions, even small ones. I agonize over the pros and cons of every available option. I’m always worried about making the wrong choice.

So unsurprisingly, applying to graduate school was a daunting process for me. When I decided to apply, I was working in the front office of an independent school, and I had been toying with the idea of getting a Master’s in Education for a couple years. I knew applying to school was a natural progression of my academic and career interests, but I was so overwhelmed at where to start! I was pretty sure I wanted to teach in a K-12 school, but I didn’t know in what capacity.

I strongly considered the Language & Literacy program because of my passion for literacy, while the Prevention Science and Practice program appealed to my interest in adolescent development and social-emotional learning. Ultimately, however, I decided that the Teacher Education Program (TEP) was the best fit for my desire to get a strong pedagogical foundation before transitioning into teaching. I also love that TEP is a certification program, meaning that I will be earning my Massachusetts Teaching License while working on my Master’s.

Here are three of the most important questions I asked myself when I was still trying to sort out what program was the best fit for me:

1. Why do I really want to get a Master’s in Education? Why now?

People pursue graduate degrees for all sorts of reasons such as career advancement and personal and intellectual enrichment. Giving myself time to do some soul searching about my own reasons helped me solidify what I cared about and where I envisioned myself in the future. A big bonus was contemplating this question also prepared me to write my personal statement!

2. What are my career goals and what kinds of qualifications do I need to achieve them?

For me, realizing that most of the careers I might eventually be interested in started with a teaching license was one of the biggest factors that made me gravitate toward TEP.

3. What do my family, friends, and colleagues think?

While ultimately applying to school is a personal decision, it’s so helpful to hear from the people who know you best. Your loved ones can give much-needed perspective and help you process your options. Solicit advice from everyone, but ultimately come back to question #1 and trust what’s in your gut.

If you’re like me and struggle at making decisions, I hope these questions will be helpful to you and your process! The good news is: there really are no bad choices. With 13 Master’s programs, HGSE has plenty of options to choose from, and each program is rewarding and enriching in its own way.

Sarah Mintz is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Teacher Education Program, pursuing licensure as a middle school English teacher. She comes to HGSE from Washington, D.C., where she worked at an independent school and a non-profit serving incarcerated youth. Outside of education, she loves to spend her time cooking and exploring the city with friends

HGSE Admission “Don’ts”

With graduate school applications looming and deadlines fast approaching, you’re probably seeking advice on what you can do to better your chances of getting into the master’s or doctoral program of your dreams. That’s all well and good, but knowing what not to do is just as important, so I’ve compiled a very short list of “don’ts” for the application process that should help it go a bit more smoothly and feel at least moderately less stressful:

  • Don’t count yourself out.
    Don’t think for one second that a particular school’s name or reputation will automatically disqualify you from the running. Whether you have twenty years of experience in education or zero, you—yes, you—have a very real shot of being admitted to an institution like HGSE, so apply!
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to contact recommenders or write your Statement of Purpose.
    When it comes to asking for letters of recommendation, there is no such thing as starting too early. If you haven’t already, begin reaching out to individuals (former professors, supervisors, etc.) who you feel can make a strong case on your behalf. As for your Statement of Purpose: write, write, write! Don’t sit around waiting for the perfect anecdotal introductory sentence to magically pop into your head because you may end up waiting for a long, long time. Get some words on the page first, then focus on making those words coherent and beautiful later.
  • Don’t forget why you want to come here!
    Make your reasoning for wanting to pursue graduate study at HGSE crystal clear. Let the passion you have for education spill out of every facet of your application and present your story in a way that only you can.

Monique Hall is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Technology, Innovation, and Education program. She is passionate about children’s media, ice cream, and educational equity.

More than an observer: 5 Points for Class Visitation

So you’ve requested a class observation from HGSE Admissions and received a confirmation that you got that class you wanted. You’ve made it to Cambridge, found Appian Way (welcome to HGSE!!!), and navigated to Larsen, Gutman, or Longfellow for that class you want to sit in on. Here are five points for making the most of visiting a class at HGSE:

Point 1: (This is more like a point 0, because it’s a preparation step, but in any case) If you know ahead of time which class you’ll be sitting in on, look up the professor on the HGSE website. Check out their areas of expertise, some of their published works, and which HGSE programs they are affiliated with (it will help you with figuring out which program to apply to, if you’re interested in more than one). Understand the perspective they’ll take in teaching their class.

Point 2: Introduce yourself as a prospective student to the professor before the session starts. Of course, clarify with them that you can sit in on their lecture that day (99.99999% of the time, the answer is a welcoming “yes!”), and remember to thank them for the opportunity. Now, go and find a place to sit!


Point 3: Realize as soon as you sit down that classes don’t actually start at the time they are said to in the course book. Classes at HGSE are usually on “Harvard time,” which is unnecessarily specific terminology for starting 10 minutes after their scheduled time. It’s quite the blessing for students trekking from main campus to get to class on time, and for the hungry students grabbing bite to eat before their next lecture. Despite this, get to the classroom early! The next point will tell you why.

Point 4: Now that you have newfound time on your hands, look to your left and right, and introduce yourself to the students sitting next to you. Note: chances are, they’ll beat you to it and introduce themselves to you since you’re a new face in the class, but in any case, HGSE students are always happy to speak with you about their experiences. This is a wonderful opportunity to hear more about being a student at HGSE, straight from the sources. Use it!

Point 5: Depending on the class, get ready to do more than just listen. If you’re sitting in on the ever-popular T552 (Innovation by Design) or A608 (Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Learning), for example, prepare yourself to walk around or otherwise engage with the students in the room. Classes here often break off into discussion groups, disband all written and unwritten rules of lecture structures, and call for every form of interaction with the professor and your fellow students. If the weather is nice, this may even result in holding the class outdoors in Radcliffe Yard. If you feel so compelled, (with the instructor’s permission) join in on the action!

Check out the classes that are open to prospective students here. What better way to picture yourself as a student here than to take some classes for a day?


T550: Designing for Learning by Creating, taught by Prof. Karen Brennan, takes over Radcliffe Yard during small group discussion time (photo credits to the T550 teaching team)

Arpi Youssoufian is a masters candidate in the Mind, Brain, and Education program. A biologist by training, she is fascinated by the classic nature-nurture debate in the context of learning development, and wishes she could take every class in the HGSE course book. She hopes to pursue either a neuroscience doctoral program or medical school to bridge research and practice in the future.