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Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies

This is an archived copy of the 2012-13 catalog. To access the most recent version of the catalog, please visit

Program of Study

One of six professional schools, the Harris School of Public Policy Studies is part of a world-class intellectual community and continues the University’s tradition of scholarship intended to address real-world problems. Established in 1988, the Harris School emerged from the interdisciplinary Committee on Public Policy Studies. Influential founding supporters include educational sociologist James Coleman, urban sociologist William Julius Wilson, and the 2000 Nobel laureate economist James Heckman. From its inception, the Harris School has sought to enhance the University’s role in shaping and understanding public life by conducting policy-relevant research and preparing talented individuals to become leaders and agents of social change.

The Harris School offers a Master of Public Policy degree; a one-year Master of Arts degree in public policy studies for students already possessing another professional degree; a Master of Science in Environmental Science and Policy; a combined degree program with the Committee on International Relations; cooperative programs with the University of Chile, Tel Aviv University, and Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies; and joint degrees with the Divinity School, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the Law School, the School of Social Service Administration and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. The Harris School also offers a two-year AM/MA with the Committee on International Relations for student interested in combining public policy training with a focus on international relations. In addition, Harris participates in The Professional Option Program with the College, which is a five-year program with student earning a bachelor's degree from the College and a master's degree from the Harris School in five years. The Harris School also offers a Doctor of Philosophy for students seeking research-related careers in academia or elsewhere. In addition, the Harris School offers non-degree training opportunities for public policy professionals.

An exciting and challenging place to learn, the Harris School’s model of public policy training reflects the University of Chicago’s tradition of research and teaching— meticulous scholarship, open inquiry, and cross-disciplinary, critical thinking. Faculty come from diverse academic backgrounds and lend their individual expertise to a collaborative curriculum. Students come ready and willing to work and prepare for leadership in public policy. Alumni around the world apply their Harris School training to a multitude of public policy issues, making an impact in whatever arena they choose to work.

The rigorous curriculum stresses the development of analytical tools, which form the basis of the program’s approach to understanding the nature of social problems and the impact of public policy. Harris School students become conscientious consumers of social science research and are able to evaluate information and make informed policy choices.

However, classroom training is only part of the equation. The Harris School provides opportunities for students to apply the critical skills that they learn in the classroom to real-world situations. Through a mentor program, internships, and practica, Harris School students are able to enrich their education, network with community leaders, and lend their growing public policy expertise to local, national, and international organizations. The School fosters a spirit of cooperation between students, public policy professionals, faculty, and others to address societal concerns and is constantly seeking new partnership opportunities.

Program Overview

All students are required to fulfill core course requirements to acquire technical and analytical skills for their professional growth and distribution requirements to gain a broad background in policy analysis. However, the flexibility of the program allows students to tailor their course of study to fit their interests through:

  • Concentration areas (optional), which expose students to the content and complexity of at least one policy domain
  • Electives, which offer students an opportunity to acquire training both in the theoretical and applied analysis of public policy issues, and to develop the skills necessary for a professional position in policy analysis

The integration of research and practical training and a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving underlie all aspects of the program.

Research Opportunities

Faculty and student research at the Harris School is guided not only by theoretical interests, but also by a strong commitment to solving enduring public policy problems.

Students are frequently involved in faculty research through research assistantships, coursework, independent studies, and research centers housed at the School and throughout campus. The Harris School is home to the following research centers—the Center for Human Potential and Public Policy, the Cultural Policy Center, the Program on Political Institutions, the Urban Policy Initiatives, Energy Policy Institute of Chicago, Crime Lab—as well as the Pritzker Consortium on Early Childhood Development. The Center for Human Potential and Public Policy supports innovative social science research and encourages transdisciplinary research approaches on a broad range of issues, including health and well-being; science, technology, and inequality; and poverty and education. The Cultural Policy Center provides research and informs policy that affects the arts, humanities, and cultural heritage. It serves as an incubator for new ways of understanding what the arts and culture are, what they do, and how they can be affected by a range of policies in the public and private sectors. The Program on Political Institutions focuses on the domestic and international institutions that create and implement public policy. Through the support of workshops, conferences, student training, and scholarship, it establishes an intellectual hub at the University for faculty and graduate students who are interested in the political economy of institutions. The Harris School is also home to Pritzker Consortium on Early Childhood Development, which brings together the world’s leading experts to identify when and how child intervention programs can be most influential.

The interdisciplinary nature of the centers allows for broad participation by students and faculty. The School works closely with other research centers and programs throughout the University, including:

  • Alfred P. Sloan Center on Parents, Children, and Work
  • Center for Early Childhood Research
  • Center for Health Administration Studies
  • Center for Health and the Social Sciences
  • Center for Human Potential and Public Policy (CHPPP)
  • Center for Social Program Evaluation
  • Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture
  • Center on Aging, Health and Society
  • Center on Demographics and Economics of Aging
  • Chapin Hall Center for Children 
  • Crime Lab
  • Cultural Policy Center
  • Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC)
  • Institute of Politics
  • NORC (formerly the National Opinion Research Center)
  • Ogburn/Stouffer Center for the Study of Social Organizations
  • The Paulson Institute
  • Pritzker Consortium on Early Childhood Development
  • Program on International Politics, Economics and Security (PIPES)
  • Program on International Security Policy (PISP)
  • Program on Political Institutions (PPI)
  • Population Research Center
  • Urban Policy Initiatives (UPI)

Student Body

The Harris School is strongly committed to supporting a student body that includes diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, educational and work experiences, and professional training. The current student body is comprised of students who received undergraduate degrees in such fields as American studies, economics, education, engineering, English, environmental studies, international relations, philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, and sociology. The incoming class is 56 percent female and 47 percent international students, representing 25 countries. For the entire student body, students ages range from 21 to 52 with approximately 295 master’s students and 40 Ph.D. students enrolled.

Academic life is enriched by a variety of extracurricular activities and organizations. The Public Policy Student Association (PPSA), the Harris School student government, provides a voice for students and works with administrators at the Harris School on many issues and opportunities. Students may also participate in the Chicago Policy Review, the School’s student-run academic journal; Chicago Environmental Policy Group (CEPA); the Minorities in Public Policy Studies (MIPPS); Community and Economic Development Organization (CEDO); Women in Public Policy (WIPP); Out in Public Policy (OIPP); the Committee on International Affairs and Public Policy (CIAPP); Harris Energy Association (HEA), International Security and Veterans Initiatives Group (ISAVI), Latin America(n) Matters (LAM); Education Policy Student Association (EPSA); Leaders in Child and Family Policy (LCFP),  IBH Consulting; and other groups organized by Harris School students. In addition, Harris School students are able to take part in many University-sponsored activities, including intramural sports, University Theater, Chicago Maroon (the student-run newspaper), Chicago Debate Society, Minority Graduate Student Association, and Student Government.

Application and Admission

We seek candidates with the academic preparation, intellectual ability, experience, and motivation to undertake a rigorous program in public policy studies, and who have the potential for academic and professional success. While no specific background or major is required or recommended, students with a strong liberal arts background and sound quantitative and analytical skills will be best prepared for the program. The Committee on Admission and Aid evaluates all official transcripts of academic work, personal essays, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities and community service, performance on standardized tests, and special factors brought to its attention. The Committee considers each application on the basis of all materials submitted and does not eliminate applications based solely on grade point averages or test scores.

To be considered for admission, applicants must submit the following materials:

  • Application for admission
  • Transcripts of all prior academic work at institutions of higher education
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • $50 non-refundable application fee
  • TOEFL scores (international applicants only use institution code 1849) or IETLS scores

Official GRE or GMAT scores, or LSAT scores (if a joint M.P.P./J.D. applicant). If submitting GRE or GMAT scores, use code 1849.

The Committee on Admission and Aid will not review your application until all required materials are received. We highly recommend that you apply online and submit any supplement materials in one package to avoid delays in processing your application.

The Harris School currently accepts only electronic applications. Contact the Office of Admission at 773-702-8401 or for more information.