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.
  • 2 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 a student’s prospective dissertation committee by the end of the fall semester.
  • Independent studies count towards course credit. An independent study is particularly appropriate where a student is pursuing knowledge on a specialized topic on which a faculty member is an authority but is not offering a graduate-level course. Although independent studies vary in terms of their structure and requirements, their workload is expected to be on par with that of a regular graduate seminar. Note that faculty members are not obligated to offer independent studies, and that it is uncommon for a student to take more than one or two independent studies during their coursework.
  • Dissertation research credits (PSCI 9995) and dummy courses (e.g. for comps preparation) do not count towards the 15 courses but may be used to satisfy the SAS Graduate Division's requirement of 17 courses.


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


3.         Satisfy the research skills requirements, or with the approval of the graduate chair, another course on comparable topics.


4.         Write a research paper in the primary field. The paper will reflect a significant, original research project.


5.         Pass the preliminary (or comprehensive) examinations in two of the four general fields (American politics, comparative politics, international relations or political theory), with the option of displaying competence in a third field (either general or specialized) through coursework. NB: A student may have no more than one Incomplete on their record at the time of their exam (usually administered at the end of the second year)


6.         Satisfy the teaching requirement by TAing for four semesters.


7.         Prepare and successfully defend a dissertation prospectus.


8.         Write and successfully defend a dissertation.