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PhD Political Science (On-Campus)

Dive deeply into the policy and politics of official Washington and produce meaningful research with profound impact. Prepare yourself for university-level teaching.

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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 School of Public Affairs (SPA) has made the difficult decision to suspend admissions to the Ph.D. in Political Science program for Fall 2021. The application for Fall 2022 will open in Summer 2021. Questions may be directed to

The PhD in Political Science at the AU School of Public Affairs draws from the breadth and depth of intellectual resources across American University, providing our students with rigorous substantive and methodological training, across disciplines. We work closely with prominent scholars whose cutting-edge research and professional activities help develop national and global policy.

Cross Disciplinary

Our students organize their programs around a choice of two fields of study. In their primary field, they specialize in either American or comparative politics. Their secondary field can be chosen either from within the School of Public Affairs—public policy or public administration, for example—or from a department within another school at AU that grants doctoral degrees. Regardless of their selected fields, students may enroll in courses from any department within the School of Public Affairs.

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 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, and the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, all of which are directed by SPA faculty.

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

Become an Authority and Leader

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

The PhD degree in Political Science requires 54 credit hours of approved graduate work for students entering the program with a bachelor's degree alone, or 36 credit hours if entering with a related master's degree.

All students must complete 12 credits of research design and methodology courses, 6 credits of seminars in American and comparative politics, 12 credits in their primary field of study, and 6 to 24 credits in electives, which they choose in consultation with their advisor. The total number of credit hours depends on their approved program of study.

As work on the dissertation project progresses, students register for dissertation credit in order to maintain active status. They take Doctoral Continuing Enrollment (GOVT-898) (during the third year of study if they have a master's degree or the fourth year of study if they have a bachelor's degree) 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 within four years for those entering with a master's degree and within five years for those entering with a bachelor's degree alone.

Students advance to PhD candidacy by successfully completing all required courses, passing the oral qualifier and two written comprehensive exams(one in each of their fields of study), and defending their dissertation proposals. To earn the degree, students must 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 54-credit-hour program for students entering with a bachelor’s degree alone, or a 36-credit-hour program for students who already have a related master’s degree. 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 if they are entering with a master’s degree (five years if entering with a bachelor’s degree alone), contingent on maintaining satisfactory progress each year. 

As a requirement for the fellowship, students work 20 hours a week with a faculty member. If at all 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 (fourth year for those entering with only a bachelor’s degree) to continue receiving funding. If they have not achieved candidacy by then, they are required to find external funding or self-fund the remaining part of their program.

92 percent of SPA graduates are employed or in graduate school, or both