Degree Programs

Public Policy

Offered by the Committee on Higher Degrees in Public Policy

The PhD in Public Policy provides advanced graduate training to exceptional scholars preparing for responsible positions in government, academic institutions, and research organizations. Participants in the program explore the questions of what government should do and how better governance can be achieved. The program furthers the primary mission of training capable leaders for the public sector by facilitating the scholarly research that enables public policy practitioners to make ever more informed policy choices. Recipients of this degree are also qualified to be future teachers in public policy and related academic fields.

Admissions and Residence

Admissions decisions are based on the excellence of the candidate’s academic record, test scores, recommendations, and a demonstrated ability and motivation to pursue research. Solid quantitative skills are an important part of successful applications. All students spend the first three years in residence.

Note to internal applicants from the Kennedy School only: Applicants for doctoral study may apply as early as the first term in residence. In some cases a student may choose to wait until the midpoint of the second year to apply.

At the end of the second year of study, doctoral students who must passed all PhD qualifying. The entire academic focus at this point is generally on the dissertation and any remaining elective coursework.

All applicants are required to take the GRE no later than November 15, 2013. Students whose native language is not English must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) unless they have already completed the equivalent of a US bachelor degree from an institution in which the language of instruction is English.

Applications for admission are available online at the GSAS Admissions website.

Applications must be submitted to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences no to the Harvard Kennedy School.

For more detailed program information, consult the website maintained at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Full tuition is charged during the first two years of study, and reduced tuition is charged in the second two years of study. The facilities fee is charged for any additional years in residence. Doctoral candidates are automatically considered for merit fellowships, ranging from partial tuition alone to full tuition plus stipend. These fellowships are offered over a period of four years.

Applicants who are US citizens or permanent residents of the US should determine if they are eligible for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the National Science Foundation Minority Graduate Research Fellowship (, the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship for Minorities (202-334-2872), or the US Department of Education’s Jacob K. Javits Graduate Fellowship (202-502-7542).

Most students are also eligible for teaching fellowships, research assistantships, and loans. Research assistantships are available through affiliations with the Kennedy School’s research centers in science and international affairs; human rights policy; social policy; business and government; state, local and intergovernmental studies; international development; public leadership; the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations; the Joint Center for Housing Studies; and the Center for Press, Politics, and Public Policy. While most of these centers support students after the first year, the Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy offers research support to eligible first-year students as well.

Program of Study

Mathematical preparation should include multivariable calculus. Accordingly, all PhD candidates must demonstrate proficiency in the areas of theory, methods, and a substantive special field. The theory area includes economics and politics/political philosophy/public management. The methods area includes advanced methodology, quantitative methods and analytical methods. The special field includes, among other areas, environmental policy, international economic policy, science and technology policy, international security relations, risk assessment, economic regulatory policy, and international development. Appropriate courses in the student’s special field must be approved by the PhD Committee. All others should be drawn from the published list of HKS courses and other offerings at the University. In the field of Analytical Methods, students may demonstrate proficiency by a combination of course work and a written qualifying examination. Proficiency in quantitative methods and advanced methodology may be demonstrated by satisfactory completion of one doctoral course in each area. Students have the option of making quantitative methods the field of specialization, to be fulfilled by two doctoral courses in the area. All students must also attend the PhD research seminar, API 901, in their first year.

Students advance to the oral general examination after passing their doctoral coursework and written qualifying examinations. A primary field of substantive interest and a secondary field that may be a disciplinary or methodological area are examined at the end of the second year in residence.

Prospectus and Dissertation

In the third year, doctoral students cross-register for the Kennedy School’s PhD Proseminar (API 902). This portion of the seminar is designed for the presentation and discussion of student research papers in general, and specifically for the development of a dissertation topic. By the end of this course, students must present a completed prospectus to the Committee on Higher Degrees in Public Policy. Approval of the prospectus is contingent upon a successful oral presentation to two of the three dissertation committee members at the end of the third year in residence.

The dissertation is expected to represent a significant contribution to knowledge in a policy area, or to yield insight aimed more broadly at improving the functioning of government. Most dissertations involve the application of analytic techniques to the solution of a substantive problem. A few methodological theses concentrate on developing new analytic techniques, their usefulness to be demonstrated through explicit application to a policy issue.

Dissertation Defense

After completing all other requirements for the degree, the candidate must pass an oral defense of the dissertation. There are three faculty members on a dissertation committee. Dissertation Committees must have at least one HKS appointment and one person on the PhD Standing Committee (this may be the same individual). Non-Harvard faculty and emeritus faculty may serve on a committee. There must be a minimum of three faculty on each dissertation committee. Note: Adjunct Lecturers may not serve on PhD Committees. The Program Chair approves all Dissertation Committees.


One chapter of the dissertation must be completed each year after the fifth year in residence at GSAS. Except by special vote of the committee, all work for the PhD degree must be completed within seven years of recommendation for entry to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Recent Dissertation Titles

  • "Labor Markets in Transition: Science and Migration After the Collapse of the Soviet Union"
  • "Online Labor Markets"
  • "Beyond the Passage of Time: Local Government Response in New Immigrant Destinations"
  • "Essays on Export Dynamics"
  • "Choices and Consequences: Decisions on Health, Wealth, and Employment"
  • "Embedding Neoliberalism: Global Health and the Evolution of the Global Intellectual Property Regimes (1995–2009)"
  • "Essays on Child Mortality and Growth Faltering in Bangladesh and Kenya"
  • "The Role of Beliefs in Financial Markets: Three Essays on Violence, Trust, and Religion"
  • "Long-Term Impacts of Educational Intervention"
  • "Privacy, Security, and the Dynamics of Networked Information Sharing"
  • "Essays on Developing Country Markets in Environment and Health"
  • "Loyal Friends and Fickle Lenders: The Behavior of Financial Institutions During Financial Crises"
  • "Essays on the Economics of Education"
  • "Consumer Behavior and Firm Strategy in Energy Markets"
  • "Integrated Systems Analysis and Technological Findings for Carbon Capture and Storage Deployment"
  • "Beyond Compliance: Three Essays on Voluntary Corporate Environmentalism"
  • "Digital Development: Technology, Governance, and the Quest for Modernity in East Africa"
  • "Perspectives on Power: Chinese Strategies to Measure and Manage China’s Rise"
  • "Essays in Political Economy of Conflict and Development"
  • "Responding to Risk: Information and Decision Making in the Floodplains of St. Louis County, Missouri"
  • "Green Chemistry: A Study of Innovation for Sustainable Development"
  • "Growing up in the Urban Shadow: Realities and Dreams of Migrant Workers’ Children in Beijing and Shanghai"
  • "IQ and Immigration Policy"

Members of the Committee on Higher Degrees in Public Policy