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Department of Government


  • SPA: Government
    Ward, Room

    Graduate programs: spagrad@american.edu

Mailing Address
Government PhD Classroom

PhD in
Political Science

In recent years, our students have received National Science Foundation, Fulbright, and National Security Education Program fellowships, among others.

Political Science (PhD)

Offered by the Department of Government, School of Public Affairs.

Admission to the Program

Applicants are considered and admitted for the fall semester only. January 1 is the deadline for application for admission. All applicants must submit scores from the verbal and quantitative sections of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The normal minimum for consideration is a grade point average of 3.20 (on a 4.00 scale) in all previous academic work. Applicants are admitted for full-time study only.

Degree Requirements

  • 36-54 credit hours of approved graduate coursework, exclusive of GOVT-898/GOVT-899.
    • Students entering with an approved master's degree must complete 36 credit hours of approved coursework, exclusive of GOVT-898/GOVT-899.
    • Students entering with a bachelor's degree only must complete 54 credit hours of approved coursework, exclusive of GOVT-898/GOVT-899.
    • Minimum grade point average of 3.20 in all coursework is required to remain in good standing and to earn the degree.
  • Major Fields: American Politics or Comparative Politics
  • Advancement to candidacy is accomplished by successfully defending a qualifier paper after the first year, passing written comprehensive examinations in primary and secondary fields, and by successfully defending a dissertation prospectus.
  • Students take a primary field comprehensive examination in American politics or comparative politics. They take a secondary field comprehensive examination in the other field, or, with written approval from the faculty advisor and department chair, they may take a second field elsewhere in the School of Public Affairs (SPA), the School of International Service (SIS), or in another doctoral degree-granting teaching unit. Under special circumstances, students may take a second field outside American University, subject to the approval of the SPA graduate director, in consultation with the department's faculty advisor for the PhD program.
  • The PhD is fundamentally a degree in preparation for an academic career of research and teaching. Understanding scientific inquiry and correctly using research techniques require extensive preparation. All students in the program take four courses in research methods designed to help doctoral students comprehend the nature of science and master tools of research.
  • Each student selects a specialization in which to complete an original research project under the direction of program faculty and write a dissertation. Students may choose research projects within one of the major fields.
    • It is the responsibility of the student to secure the agreement of a Department of Government full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty member to serve as the chair of the dissertation committee. One of the other two members of the committee may be from outside SPA. As part of this process, each student must publicly defend the research proposal before the dissertation committee and other interested faculty.
    • The committee and the chair of the department, in consultation with the SPA director of doctoral programs, must approve the research proposal in order for the candidate to advance to candidacy.
    • As work on the dissertation project progresses, students register for dissertation credit. Substantive coursework may be used as part of this requirement where it contributes directly to the research specialization and is specifically recommended by the dissertation committee chair.
    • Upon writing the dissertation, the candidate submits the manuscript to the dissertation committee for review. If the committee members approve the dissertation, the candidate must complete an oral defense of it, including demonstrable mastery of related literature on the general field in which it lies before the committee and other interested faculty. After hearing the candidate's defense, the committee decides whether the dissertation is acceptable as the culminating work of the student's doctoral career.
    • The dissertation must consist of high quality original research directly relevant to the student's doctoral program. A dissertation proposal may be rejected if the topic does not address a major research issue in political science, the research design is inadequate, the methodology is inappropriate, or because no full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty member in the Department of Government is academically competent or available to supervise the project. If the candidate fails to maintain satisfactory progress toward completion of the dissertation, his or her candidacy may be terminated.

Course Requirements

Proseminars (6 credit hours)

Major Field (12 credit hours)

Complete one of the following major fields, including additional coursework in the other, secondary field:

American Politics

Comparative Politics

Methodology (12 credit hours)


Additional Methodology

Complete 6 credit hours from the following:

Electives (6-24 credit hours)

  • 6-24 credit hours chosen in consultation with the department. The total number of credit hours depends on the student's approved Program of Study.

Dissertation (12 credit hours)

Apply to SPA Graduate Programs

Click below to start or continue your School of Public Affairs application.


Take the next step

Meet our PhD students

Read about the research and work of our current PhD students.

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PhD Program Experience

Regardless of the subfield, we provide our students with rigorous training, both substantively and methodologically. In addition to their coursework, doctoral students are socialized into the discipline and profession through a variety of research workshops.

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