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PhD Political Science (On-Campus)

Dive deeply into US and global politics. Learn empirical methods that allow you to produce meaningful research with profound impact. Prepare yourself for university-level teaching.

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Kerwin Hall, Room 306 on a map

SPA: Graduate Admissions 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20016 United States

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Fax: 202-885-2967

Kerwin Hall, Room 230 on a map

SPA: Government 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20016-8130 United States

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At the Heart of Policy and Politics

The PhD in Political Science at the School of Public Affairs draws from the breadth and depth of intellectual resources within the Department of Government and across American University, providing our students with rigorous substantive and methodological training. Students work closely with prominent scholars who have made major contributions to academic research and national and global policy via cutting-edge research and professional activities.


Our students organize their programs around a choice of three fields of study. For their primary and secondary fields, students specialize in American politics, comparative politics, or political methodology. Students may also take courses in other departments and schools within the university and even at other Washington, DC-area universities.

Learn and Make Professional Connections

In addition to their coursework, doctoral students are introduced into the discipline and make professional connections through a variety of research workshops in the Department of Government and the School of Public Affairs. They also benefit from exposure to activities, conferences, and research opportunities offered by the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, the Women & Politics Institute, the Center for Data Science, and the Center for Environmental Policy, all of which are directed by Department of Government faculty.

Publish and Present

We encourage graduate students to present research papers at major academic conferences, co-author papers with faculty members, publish in top journals, and seek prestigious awards to fund their research. All students receive a yearly stipend to attend research conferences.

Become an Expert

Our students wield multiple skills at graduation. They have already produced original research and taught classes, and are prepared for careers in academia and beyond.

Degree Requirements
Financial Info

The PhD degree in Political Science requires 36 credit hours of approved graduate work. Most students complete 12 credits in their primary field of study, 12 credits in research design and methodology, 6 credits in their secondary field of study, and 6 credits of electives, which they choose in consultation with their advisor.

As work on the dissertation project progresses, students register for dissertation credit to maintain active status. They take Doctoral Continuing Enrollment (GOVT-898) during the third year of study and Doctoral Dissertation (GOVT-899) after their dissertation proposal is approved.

A minimum grade point average of 3.20 in all coursework is required to remain in good standing and to earn the degree. Full-time status is considered to be nine credit hours per semester. Students are expected to complete the degree in four to five years.

Students advance to PhD candidacy by successfully completing all required courses, passing a qualifier paper and two written comprehensive exams (one in each of their fields of study), and defending their dissertation proposal. To earn the degree, students must complete the dissertation and pass a final oral defense of the dissertation.

More information about course requirements can be found here.

For more information, please contact the SPA Graduate Admissions Office at 202-885-6230 or

Applicants are considered and students admitted for the fall semester only. Please refer to the application deadlines page for the deadline to apply. 

While previous academic or professional work in politics or political science is not required, applicants need to demonstrate a serious commitment to a career in this field. The personal statement on reasons for pursuing graduate study in the program is essential, along with the other required application materials.

We accept PhD applicants for full-time study only. Students must be funded either by the School of Public Affairs or by an external sponsoring organization (self-funding is not permitted for newly admitted doctoral students).

For more information, please contact the SPA Graduate Admissions Office at 202-885-6230 or

The PhD in Political Science is a 36-credit-hour program. To estimate the cost of tuition, please see the current cost per credit hour for graduate students.

Unless applicants expect to be funded through a reliable external source, they must request consideration for funding on their application. Upon acceptance into the program, students selected for AU funding are granted a fellowship with full funding for four years of study, contingent on maintaining satisfactory progress each year. Some limited funding is available on a competitive basis for a fifth year of study.

As a requirement for the fellowship, students work 20 hours a week with a faculty member. If possible, our graduate office will assign students to faculty members with expertise in their areas of research interest. 

Students must advance to candidacy by the end of their third year of study to continue receiving funding.