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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.

PhD in Political Science

Graduates of our PhD program have achieved distinction in academic positions, as well as in government, think tanks, the media, and the private sector. Academic placements over the last decade include tenure track positions at Rutgers University, the University of Massachusetts-Boston, Kent State University, the University of Cincinnati, Ithaca College and Isik University in Turkey. Our recent PhDs also work at companies like Deloitte, Bloomberg, RAND, and Sentinel Homeland Security. And several of our graduates have high-level public sector positions at agencies including the Library of Congress, the US Department of Agriculture, the World Bank, and the Indian Government’s National Council of Education Research and Training.

Admission to the program

Applicants are considered and admitted for the fall semester only. The deadline for application for admission is January 1st. All applicants must submit scores from the verbal and quantitative sections of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The normal minimum GPA for all previous academic work should be no lower than 3.30 (on a 4.00 scale).

SPA only accepts applicants who will enroll as full-time students in the doctoral program. Admitted students are funded by SPA or by an external sponsoring organization; self-funding is not allowed for newly admitted doctoral students.

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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Meet our PhD students

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

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Degree Requirements

Major Fields

  • American Politics
  • Comparative Politics


Degree Requirements

  • 36 course credit hours for students entering with an approved master’s degree and approved dissertation hours. Up to 18 additional credit hours will be required for students who enter directly with a BA degree. Only full time study is permitted. Fellowships are awarded to admitted students. For those who enter with an MA and maintain satisfactory progress in the program, fellowships cover 3 years for courses and an additional year for the dissertation. Students who enter the program without a master’s degree are eligible for a 5 year fellowship, assuming that they make satisfactory progress.
  • A minimum grade point average of 3.2 in all course work, and satisfactory progress, is required to remain in good standing.
  • In addition to maintaining an acceptable GPA and satisfactory progress, successfully defending a qualifier paper after the first year, passing written comprehensive examinations in primary and secondary fields, and successfully defending a dissertation prospectus are required for advancement to candidacy.
  • 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, a second field outside of the Department of Government, but within the School of Public Affairs (SPA), the School of International Service (SIS), or another doctoral degree-granting teaching unit at American University. Under special circumstances, students may take a second field outside American University, but this is rare and 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 at least four courses in research methods designed to help doctoral students comprehend the nature of science and master tools of research (see Course Requirements, below).
  • Dissertation


Dissertation Details

Under the direction of program faculty, each student must complete an original research project (or set of projects) to complete the dissertation. It is the student’s responsibility to secure the agreement of a Department of Government full-time tenured faculty member to serve as the chair of the dissertation committee, which will usually be comprised of four faculty, who are preferably tenured or tenure-track. One of the members of the committee may be from outside SPA, but this outside member cannot chair the committee. The committee must be approved by the SPA Director of doctoral programs and by the university-wide Graduate Council. Each student must also publicly defend the dissertation proposal before the dissertation committee. 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.

A dissertation proposal must address a major research issue in political science, involve an appropriate research design and methodology, and attract a full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty member in the Department of Government as a competent and available supervisor. The dissertation must consist of high-quality, original research directly relevant to the student's doctoral program.

As work on the dissertation project progresses, students register for a dissertation course number, usually requiring from 1-12 hours of credit.

Upon writing the dissertation, the candidate submits the manuscript to the dissertation committee for review. If the committee members approve the dissertation in written form, then the candidate must complete an oral defense before the committee, interested faculty, and graduate students. Requirements for the defense include demonstrating mastery of related literature, as well as an ability to respond to broad and specific theoretical, methodological, and analytical questions regarding the dissertation. After hearing the candidate's defense, the committee decides whether the dissertation is acceptable as the culminating work of the student's doctoral career.

If the candidate fails to maintain satisfactory progress toward completion of the dissertation, then his or her candidacy may be terminated.


Course Requirements

Primary Field (12 credit hours)

American Politics

  • GOVT-710 Seminar in American Politics (3)
  • 9 additional credit hours in doctoral-level courses in American politics

Comparative Politics

  • GOVT-730 Seminar in Comparative Politics (3)
  • 9 additional credit hours in doctoral-level courses in comparative politics

Secondary Field (6 credit hours)

American Politics

  • GOVT-710 Seminar in American Politics (3)
  • One other doctoral-level course in American politics (3)

Comparative Politics

  • GOVT-730 Seminar in Comparative Politics (3)
  • One other doctoral-level course in comparative politics (3)

Methodology (12 credit hours)

  • GOVT-612 Conduct of Inquiry I (3)
  • GOVT-613 Conduct of Inquiry II (3)
  • 6 credit hours in methodology courses from the following:

    GOVT-614 Quantitative Research Designs (3)

    GOVT-615 Qualitative Research Methods (3)

    GOVT-704 Approaches to Political Understanding (3)

    GOVT-720 Seminar in Policy Analysis: Advanced Quantitative Methods (3)

    Other approved methodology courses, including two graduate-level foreign language courses, as long as they are part of the student’s program of study.

Electives (6 credit hours)

  • 6 credit hours chosen in consultation with the department

Up to 18 hours of additional graduate courses (selected in consultation with the advisor) for students entering with BA.

Dissertation (Up to 12 credit hours)

  • GOVT-899 Doctoral Dissertation Seminar (1-12)