Source: College Confidential, 2007
What distinguishes TPP is that most students have professional experience. It used to be part of Civil Engineering but is now part of ESD. For all practical purposes it is independent from all other departments as it is the most interdisciplinary engineering program at MIT. In addition to a concentration in an engineering specialty it involves law and economics classes and a lengthy research thesis.
It is very international by design and attracts top students from Europe and Asia where it has developed a “cult-like” following in some engineering schools.
there is no such thing as a typical TPP student except for the fact that most have engineering degrees. It is a very eclectic bunch with a near 50% international representation. A substantial number end up working for the government (one became an astronaut), many go into consulting, 5 became Rhodes Scholars (pretty amazing considering the small size of the program). Graduates are very sought after in the US and the international connections are incredible.
Your daughter should definitely try to meet the founder of the program, Dr. Richard de Neufville, who is still very active even though officially retired. He singlehandledly put together the program thirty years ago. While in the program I was able to take classes at the Sloan School as well as the Kennedy School of Governement at Harvard. Everybody is involved in research. I personally chose the program over HBS and never looked back on my decision.