How do I Earn a Public Policy PhD?

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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2019
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To earn a public policy PhD, students must be accepted into a graduate degree program for public policy at a college or university. Upon acceptance, candidates for the public policy PhD must complete various core courses, pass qualifying examinations, take policy field courses and pass a comprehensive examination on topics related to the specific field of study. Students typically must execute and defend a dissertation as well. Most universities give candidates five to ten years to complete their doctorate or PhD in public policy.

As with most graduate degree programs, it takes some foresight to earn a public policy PhD. For example, there are guidelines that should be followed before a candidate will be admitted in the PhD program. Most programs require candidates to have a master’s degree in a subject associated with public policy. In addition, candidates are usually expected to have a high grade point average and good Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. Letters of recommendation are required for admission at most schools, as well.

Although every university has its own set of criteria for receiving a doctorate in public policy, there are some commonalities among many universities, also. For example, most universities have a set of core courses which must be successfully completed first. The core courses cover a broad range of topics from economics to methods of analysis. After the core courses are completed, candidates must pass a series of examinations covering the topics covered by the core courses.


Next, most universities have a series of policy field courses that candidates must complete to get a step closer to earning the public policy PhD. The policy field courses are usually divided into tracks or sections based on specific areas of public policy. For example, candidates can focus on urban development policy, social policy, environmental policy, or health policy. In some cases, candidates can create their own unique track with the help of members of the faculty. After the field courses are completed, candidates are typically required to pass an examination that focuses specifically on topics covered in their particular field of study.

The last step toward earning a public policy PhD, in most cases, is the dissertation. Each candidate will typically write a dissertation proposal that she will present to a dissertation committee. If the committee approves of the topic for dissertation, the candidate will then write her own dissertation using original research. After the dissertation is executed, the candidate will then defend her dissertation before the committee and others at the university. Upon a successful defense of the dissertation, a public policy PhD will be earned.


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