PhD Program

About the PhD Program in Policy Studies

The PhD program trains policy analysts who will make their marks in the practice and teaching of public policy. To this end, a limited number of applicants are admitted annually. In their first year, students develop and demonstrate proficiency in economic, normative, political, and quantitative analysis. They then pursue advanced study within their chosen specialization. Finally, they complete and defend a doctoral dissertation. Those awarded the degree move on to public policy careers in government, research, academia, and the private sector.

Who Should Apply?

An applicant to the MSPP doctoral program in Policy Studies should have a strong academic record, including a master's degree in public policy or related field. (In the past, successful doctoral students have entered the program with graduate degrees in international relations, economics, mathematics, education, and philosophy, among other disciplines.) In rare instances, an applicant with an outstanding undergraduate record in a relevant subject but without additional graduate training may be considered. Admission is highly competitive. Full-time enrollment is strongly recommended; however, professionals working in fields related to public policy may apply to enroll as part-time students.

Applying for Admission and Financial Aid

In addition to a completed application form, applicants for admission should present undergraduate and graduate transcripts, three letters of recommendation, scores from the Graduate Record Exam taken within the last five years, a writing sample, a resume, and a statement of research interests before January 15.

Financial aid--in the form of fellowships, teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and other stipends--is available for some qualified students pursuing their PhD studies on a full-time basis.

Selecting a Faculty Advisor and Specialization

The PhD Committee only admits students for whom an appropriate adviser can be found based on the statement of research interests included in each accepted student's application. The student is expected to have selected an advisor by her second year. The advisor acts as mentor and guide throughout the student's tenure at the School and typically chairs the dissertation committee during later stages of independent research. In the first year, the PhD Director can offer advice to students who have not yet selected an advisor.

Currently, students may enroll in one of five specializations: environmental policy; social policy; international security and economic policy; management, finance and leadership; or international development. In addition, the School participates in an interdepartmental PhD program under the University's Committee on Politics, Philosophy and Public Policy (CP4). This specialization may be of particular interest to students with strong concern for ethical aspects of policy analysis.

If it becomes necessary for a student to change faculty advisor or specialization, such changes will be made in consultation with the director of the PhD program. The School of Public Policy may also from time to time revise or reconstitute the specializations, ensuring that students in good standing are not adversely affected by these changes.

Program Course Requirements

Each student must take at least 24 credit hours of course work as part of the Ph.D. program. The only required courses are the research methods sequence, PUAF 798R and 798Z. Each student is also required to take 12 credit hours of dissertation research (PUAF 899) in addition to the 24 credits of course work. A student may enroll in pre-candidacy research PUAF 898 at any time after completion of the core exams but may take no more than 8 credit hours in any one semester. 

Core Comprehensive Exams

Once each year, after the end of Spring semester and/or the beginning of Fall semester, designated faculty members will offer a set of written exams testing students in three core disciplines: economic, normative, and political analysis of policy issues. These exams will reflect material covered in courses offered at the School of Public Policy, supplemented by additional readings. Examiners will provide supplemental reading lists several months in advance of the exam date. Full-time students will generally take these exams at the end of the first year; part-time students at the end of the second year.

In addition, an examination in quantitative methods of public policy analysis is offered in the form of an analytic paper, which the student writes and then revises in response to faculty critiques. This work is generally done in conjunction with taking PUAF 611, Quantitative Analysis of Policy Issues. (First-year students without strong quantitative background should also take PUAF 610, Quantitative Methods in Policy Analysis.)

A student must pass all four components of the comprehensive examinations. A student who fails one or more of the four exams may retake these exams when they are next offered. But a student may take each component of the comprehensive exams only twice; a second failure in any area will lead to removal from the program.

Specialization Exams

Students are also required to pass exams in their chosen specialization. Faculty members associated with each specialization determine requirements, schedules, and procedures. Students should inform the specialization faculty of their intention to take the exams several months in advance. Faculty in turn will inform students of exam requirements and procedures and additional reading lists as appropriate. Full-time students often take these exams around the end of the second year; part-time students in their third or fourth year.

Dissertation Prospectus Defense

Following successful completion of the comprehensive and specialization exams, the student--under the guidance of the faculty advisor--develops a prospectus outlining plans for original research leading to a dissertation.

The student defends the prospectus in front of a committee. Such committees should have at least three members, preferably regular members of the University of Maryland graduate faculty. At least one of these three must be from a department other than the School of Public Policy.  The three committee members should also be in the student’s final dissertation defense committee. Students do not need to have chosen all five members of the dissertation committee at this stage. The prospectus defense is open to the university community.

Full-time students often defend a prospectus during the third year; part-time students during the fourth or fifth year. After successful defense of the prospectus, a student advances to "candidacy." Doctoral candidates are automatically registered for six (6) credits of Doctoral Dissertation Research (899), for which they pay the flat candidacy tuition.

Dissertation Defense

The candidate must undertake original research and submit a draft dissertation describing that research for examination by the committee she or he has constituted. Prior to doing so, the candidate will typically submit successive drafts to his/her principal adviser (committee chair) and often to other committee members. To receive a PhD in Policy Studies, the candidate must pass an oral public defense of the dissertation and the candidate's dissertation committee must approve the final document.

Other Deadlines and Administrative Requirements for Completion of the Degree

The Graduate School of the University has established various deadlines and requirements for successful completion of the doctoral degree. These include procedures for formally advancing to candidacy (required within five years), establishing the dissertation committee, submitting the dissertation, notifying the Graduate School of the intention to graduate, and so on. These requirements can be found in the Graduate School Catalog. Though faculty advice is available, each student is responsible for mastering and following these procedures.