Admissions FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions


Q: Where can I find more information on your department, your graduate program, the application process, and eligibility criteria for admissions?

A: Most relevant information about applying to our doctoral program can be found on the Political Science Department’s admissions page. You may also wish to review the information provided for prospective students by the School of Arts and Sciences on its website, of which the Political Science department is a part. For more general information on the Political Science Department, its graduate program and the faculty, we invite you to explore the Department’s general webpage.

Q: Do you require Ph.D. applicants to have a master's degree? Would having a M.A. in Political Science improve my chances of acceptance?

A: No, we do not require Ph.D. applicants to have a master's degree, and we regularly accept applicants who hold bachelor’s degrees but have no graduate training.

Q: When I apply, should I contact the professor(s) I wish to work with given my research interests? Is it the professor(s) who work in my field who will decide whether I am admitted?

A:  While there is nothing to keep you from contacting a faculty member to express your interest in working with them, this does not increase your chances of admission. Individual faculty do not decide who they wish to work with. Admissions decisions at Penn are done by a single committee, chaired by the Director of Graduate Studies and consisting of at least one faculty member representing each of the main subfields. At later stages of the evaluation process, members of the committee often consult with their colleagues in their respective fields who can then weigh in if they choose. Typically, faculty themselves will reach out to contact applicants who are admitted, but this is at the recruitment stage rather than the application stage.

Q: The application fee poses a financial hardship for me. Is a fee waiver available?

A: Our fee waivers are managed entirely by the Grad Division of the School of Arts and Sciences. To request a waiver, you should email Patricia Rea (, Associate Director for Admissions, with a brief letter stating the reason for your request. Please be advised that applicants must demonstrate a clear and compelling case of financial hardship.

Please submit your waiver request at least 2 weeks before the deadline, by Dec 1st. Though requests made after Dec 1st may be considered, there's a strong possibility that they won't be answered in time due to the volume of requests coming in.

If you are granted a waiver, you will receive a code to enter into the application at time of submission. Please do not submit your application while your request is pending unless you have chosen to forego the waiver.

Q:  How many applications do you get, and how many do you admit?

A: The exact numbers vary from year to year. In recent years, the number of applicants has been consistently over 300, reaching as high as 365 in one year. The number who receive offers of admission in a given year will vary depending on the number of matriculants in prior years and the number of students in the program in a given field. In most years, 20 to 30 admission offers may be made, with the typical first-year cohort consisting of around 10-14 students.

Q: Do you require GRE scores?

A: Yes, we still require applicants to submit GRE scores. If you have applied before, your GRE scores may still be in our system and will automatically be attached to your application. All GRE scores must be less than three years old.

Q: Is there a minimum GPA and/or GRE score that an applicant must have to be admitted? What is the average GPA or GRE score of past admitted students?

A: No, we do not have a minimum GPA requirement or GRE threshold, nor are undergraduate GPAs or test scores included in the graduate academic record of our admitted students. Grades and test scores provide important information, but we recognize that they are not the whole picture of you as an applicant and future scholar.

Q: So what factors are most important in determining who gets admitted?

A: Our admissions committee reviews all elements of your application to evaluate your potential for success in the program. Undergraduate GPAs and GREs are not irrelevant, but nor are they weighed heavily.  More significant are letters of reference from faculty who can speak to your preparation and potential for doctoral work.  Also, writing matters in our discipline, so be advised that a well-written statement of purpose and writing sample can be helpful in setting you apart from the applicant pool.

Q: It says that I only need to submit an unofficial transcript. What is considered an unofficial transcript?

A: Yes, you only need to submit an unofficial transcript with your application. This can be either a downloaded transcript from your college's student portal or a scanned copy of an official transcript. Accepted students will be required to submit official transcripts for all attended undergraduate and graduate institutions before beginning the program. 

Q: My undergraduate institution does not use the 4.0 GPA scale. How should I enter my GPA into the application form?

A: Do not convert your GPA into a 4.0 scale. You should select "Other GPA Scale," which allows you to enter a number out of a total ( ____ out of  _____). If your GPA was an 8.5 on a scale of 10, you would enter "8.5 out of 10." If your GPA was a 143 out of 200, then you would enter "143 out of 200."

If you graduated from a British university that classifies final grades by first-, second-, or third-class  , you may enter 1 out of 1, 1 out of 2, 2 out of 2, or 1 out of 3. Your reviewers will see that your graduated from a British institution and your transcripts will reflect your honours status. You should also send a brief email to Nathalie Lacarrière ( to let her know that you've entered this designation.

Q: My transcript is in another language. Do I need to have it translated or evaluated?

A: No, since you only need to submit an unofficial transcript for this application, you do not need to get an evaluation or professional translation. We would appreciate it if you provided an English translation of the transcript (which does not need to be certified or professionally-done) and you may apend this translation to your unofficial transcript as a single PDF file.

Admitted students will need to submit official transcripts before beginning the program. At that time, we will determine whether we need an official translation or evaluation.

Q: Should I submit transcripts for community college courses or a study abroad semester if those courses appear on my other transcripts?

A: It is generally better to include all transcripts with your application. If you are unable to access your community college or study abroad transcripts, their appearance on your main transcripts will be fine.

Q: Does the Political Science department accept recommendation letters from Interfolio for the Ph.D. in Political Science application?

A: No, the University of Pennsylvania uses CollegeNet software and our version of CollegeNet is not compatible with Interfolio. Letters should be uploaded directly into your application by your recommenders. If this is a problem, the recommender may email their letter directly to our Graduate Coordinator, Nathalie Lacarrière (

NOTE: Letters of recommendation must come directly from the recommender's email address to preserve confidentiality. Letters submitted by the student will not be accepted. 

Q: Is the deadline for receiving letters of recommendation different from the December 15th application deadline?

A: The deadlines are the same, but we will accept letters of recommendation that come in after the December 15th deadline so long as your application was submitted on time. This ensures that you are not penalized if your recommenders are late with their letters.

You are able to track who has and has not submitted their letter via the application portal. We recommend that applicants take steps to remind their recommenders of upcoming deadlines.

Q: What are the English language requirements of your program? Do I need to submit TOEFL scores?

A: Graduate students in the Political Science Department must have a strong command of English to be successful in coursework, dissertation writing, and teaching undergraduates. Applicants with citizenship or permanent resident status in the United States, Canada, England, Australia, or New Zealand do not have to prove their English proficiency.

Citizens of other countries may satisfy this requirement by either 1) submitting TOEFL or IELTS scores, or 2) submitting proof of having graduated from an institution where English was the primary language of instruction (in most cases, your transcripts will suffice).

Any questions about individual cases should be directed to Nathalie Lacarrière (

The TOEFL code for the University is 2926. Our department’s code is 89. For the IELTS, the University of Pennsylvania only accepts hard copies of scores, which can be sent by mail to: University of Pennsylvania | Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics, Department of Political Science | Attn Nathalie Lacarrière | 133 S. 36th Street | Room 131 | Philadelphia, PA 19104.

Q: Is there a foreign language requirement for admission?

A: No, you do not need to demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English to be eligible for admission. There is no second language requirement to complete during your Ph.D. program either. 

Q: My statement of purpose is slightly longer than 2 pages. How fixed is that limit?

A: For all writing that you submit, do try to observe the word and/or page limits. One goal of the word limit is to force applicants to express themselves as succinctly as possible. This may take you several rounds of revisions, but it is excellent preparation for the demands of a graduate program and of the profession, where the ability to say a lot in a small amount of space is important for fellowship and job applications, project proposals, etc.

Q:  Can I submit two papers of 10-12 pages each instead of one 20-page writing sample?

A: You should submit a single writing sample in the form of a PDF file; there is no point in the application process to upload a second sample. Although the online application may make mention of a “10 page writing sample” for international students, all applicants should submit a SINGLE writing sample, whatever the length. Typically, writing samples will be 20-40 pages. The main purpose of the sample is to demonstrate your ability to write coherently, think analytically or critically, and/or construct an evidence-based argument.

Q: Should my writing sample be a self-contained essay or can it be an excerpt of a longer work, such as a master's thesis?

A: While we do accept excerpts of longer works, you should specify what the excerpt represents, and it should be something that is coherent enough that it can be evaluated on its own. Samples that contain multiple short passages or condensed summaries can lack the coherence required to assess the writing (see also the previous Q&A).

Q: When can I expect to hear the results of my application? How are applicants notified?

A: Each application is reviewed by multiple faculty members, starting in early January. Admitted students can expect to hear around the end of February (there is no exact target date), although some who are not admitted may receive notifications before then. We appreciate your patience while we give each application the consideration it deserves.

When decisions are released, you will receive an email notifying you that your decision letter is ready. Please note that the email itself will not contain your decision. To access your decision letter at any time after its release, simply go back to your application in the ApplyWeb portal.

 Q: Does the admissions committee interview applicants?

A: The admission committee does not formally interview all applicants, but some members of the committee may occasionally seek to meet over Zoom with certain students who are on the short list of those being considered for admissions. The likelihood of this varies year to year depending on circumstances in a given field and on the preferences of those on the committee.

Q: I already submitted my application but realized that I attached the wrong writing sample file (or transcript, statement of purpose, etc.). Is there a way for me to submit the correct file?

A: Yes, you may submit corrected materials by email attachment to Nathalie Lacarrière (, who can forward this to the committee. But, this should be done before the review of applications is well underway, and certainly no later than mid-January.

Q:  What funding is available for Ph.D.?

A: All accepted Ph.D. students, regardless of citizenship, are provided with 5 years of guaranteed funding, which covers tuition, fees, and health insurance, and provides students with a generous stipend paid out over 12 months. For 2 of the 5 years, typically the second and third year in the program, students are expected to serve as Teaching Assistants (TA’s).  There are no other obligations during the five-year period.

Students who stay on beyond a fifth year, which is not uncommon in our discipline, compete for external fellowships or pre-docs, university fellowships, research awards, and teaching opportunities to support themselves as they complete their remaining work.

Q:  Are there opportunities to earn additional income through RA’ships or additional teaching?

A:  Yes there are, particularly in later stages of one’s doctoral study, when students are working on their dissertation.  Professors may offer part-time RA’ships to students they are working with. And, advanced students may find opportunities to teach their own courses as they are finishing their dissertations. However, supplemental work is strongly discouraged during the academic year (but not necessarily the Summer months) during the first three years of the program (at least until the prospectus is defended). There are instances where a student’s research interests and professional goals may be aligned with the requirements of an RA’ship offered by a professor; but students should take on such obligations only after consulting with their advisor and the Graduate Chair.

All additional work must be approved by the graduate chair and may not exceed 20 hours/week (10 hours/week while TAing).

Q: Is the Ph.D. program available to take online? Will I need to live in Philadelphia while attending the program?

A: No, we do not offer an online version of the program. Admitted students are expected to be "in residence" (living in Philadelphia or within commuting distance) for at least the coursework years and while taking the Dissertation Workshop and teaching. While some students do elect in later years to move elsewhere, they must make satisfactory arrangements with their committee as to how and when they will meet to discuss their progress. Students living at large should continue to contribute to department culture through attendance of major in-person events, virtual attendance in working groups, etc.

Q: Am I eligible to apply if I earned a three-year bachelor’s degree offered by Indian universities?

A:  Yes, the three-year Indian B.A. is accepted.

Q: Can one obtain the Ph.D. through part-time enrollment?

A: No, we only accept full-time graduate students.

Q: I was not admitted this year. Can the department give me feedback on my application so that I can improve?

A: Unfortunately, it is not feasible for us to provide feedback on individual applications.