Ph.D. Requirements

The Graduate Program Handbook contains more detailed information on the Ph.D. program at Penn, including the main subfields for specialization, the typical requirements at various stages of the program, and some frequently offered graduate courses. The Graduate Division of the School of Arts and Sciences also has a set of general policies and procedures on a range of relevant topics (e.g. on registration, incompletes, leaves of absence, etc.). Below is a brief snapshot of the main requirements.


To earn the Ph.D. in Political Science each student must:

1. Accumulate 15 course units in credits.

This will normally entail:

  • 8 regular courses during a student's first year

  • 5 regular courses during the student's second year, in addition to his or her TA responsibilities

  • Two remaining courses in the third year, generally in the fall, with an eye toward writing a rough draft of the dissertation prospectus, which is to be delivered to the members of the student's prospective dissertation committee by the end of the fall semester

  • Dissertation research credits as needed


2. Achieve at least a B+ grade point average.

3. Satisfy the research skills requirements.

4. Write a research paper in the primary field. The paper will reflect a significant, original research project, typically during the fall of the student's third year.

5. Pass the preliminary examinations in two of the four general subfields in the discipline (American politics, comparative politics, international relations & political theory).


5.a If desired, demonstrate competence in a third field (either a general or specialized field, as described in the Handbook). 

6. Satisfy the teaching requirements, typically by serving as a teaching assistant in the student's second and third years in the program.

7. Prepare and defend a dissertation prospectus, typically by the end of the student's third year in the program.

8. Write and successfully defend a dissertation, under the guidance of a dissertation committee that consists of at least three faculty, with half or more of the committee drawn from the political science graduate group (faculty with primary or secondary appointments in political science).