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School of International Service, PhD

Program Coursework

Each student must complete 39 credit hours of approved graduate coursework, including six core courses and six research methodology courses. Students must also maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.00 to remain in good academic standing.

Click here to see the list of course requirements in chronological order.

During their first year, students take six required courses. Usually offered in the fall semester are SIS-801 Schools of Thought in International Relations, SIS-802 Comparative and Regional Studies, and SIS-806 Quantitative Methods in International Relations. During the spring semester, students take SIS-803 Advanced Seminar in International Relations, SIS-804 Social Theory in Comparative and International Perspective, and SIS-807 Qualitative Methods in International Relations.

During their first year, students must also attend SIS-096 Pro-seminar in Theory, Research, and Policy. This is a non-credit course that meets every other week for two semesters and is designed to expose students to scholars and practitioners of international relations from across the social sciences.

At the end of their first year, students take a written and oral qualifying comprehensive exam that requires them to demonstrate competency in theoretical, epistemological and methodological literature and issues in international relations, comparative politics, and social theory.

During their second year, students will identify a major field of concentration from among those offered by SIS, or in consultation with the Director of Doctoral Studies, construct one of their own (see rules for self-constructed concentrations). Each field concentration has a recommended list of courses, as well as a reading list and suggested preparation for the comprehensive exam. Students will take three courses (9 credits) as required by their chosen concentration and will take the field’s comprehensive exam at the end of their second year. Each field comp has both a written and oral component.

Also required during the second year, normally during the fall semester, is SIS-808 Policy Analysis for International Affairs, plus two electives. The electives, which are selected in consultation with the Director of Doctoral Studies, can be used to develop an additional area of concentration, help develop a dissertation topic, or for advanced methods training. These electives can be chosen from any graduate course at the School of International Service, as well as graduate courses relevant to doctoral study in other programs at American University (including the law and business schools), and at other universities in the National Capital area that are members of the Washington Metropolitan Consortium of Universities.

In the fall semester of the third year, students take SIS-809 Seminar on Advanced Research Design, plus an addition six credits of independent study, ideally with the person who will supervise their dissertation. The combination of coursework and independent study is designed to help students complete and successfully defend a dissertation prospectus by the end of their third year.

Students who enter the program with previous graduate coursework at accredited institutions may transfer up to six credit hours into the SIS PhD program, with the permission of the Director of Doctoral Studies. Credits must be transferred during the student’s first semester at SIS. To be eligible, the student must have received at least a grade of B in the course, the course’s subject matter must cover some aspect of international relations broadly defined, and the course must have been completed no later than five years prior to admission to the SIS PhD program.


Picture of Kia Hall







Kia Hall, SIS PhD candidate, has been awarded the 19th Annual Sylvia Forman Graduate Student Paper Prize by the Association for Feminist Anthropology. You can read more about the prize by visiting the Association for Feminist Anthropology's website.


Contact Kasey Neil Petri, the PhD Program Coordinator, at 202-885-6582 or kneil@american.edu

We encourage prospective candidates to visit the University to meet faculty members and current PhD students. To arrange a visit, contact Graduate Admissions at 202-885-1646 or sisgrad@american.edu