Degree Programs

Social Policy

This program awards a PhD degree in either Government and Social Policy or Sociology and Social Policy. Both of these programs are joint degrees that provide students a thorough grounding in one of these two traditional disciplines and then move them into a series of inter-disciplinary seminars on social policy based at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG). Students submit applications for admission to the Committee on Higher Degrees in Social Policy, which must be accepted as well by the admissions committee of either the Department of Government or the Department of Sociology. From the very beginning of their graduate careers, then, students are taught and supervised by faculty from government, sociology and the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy in the Kennedy School.

This degree is intended for students who have central interests in problems of economic inequality, segregation, poverty, changing family structure, immigration, race and labor market segmentation, educational inequality, and historical and comparative studies of inequality in the United States and abroad (especially Western Europe). It will be of particular interest for students who wish to combine solid training in the fundamental theoretical perspectives and methodological traditions of either government or sociology with advanced study of policy responses to these social problems. Students who would like the flexibility to pursue research careers in departments of political science or sociology and schools of public policy or other research fields may find these joint degrees especially suitable.

Course of Study

Students are expected to complete all of the required courses and examinations in government or sociology (outlined below in "Degree Requirements in Each Social Policy PhD Program"), which ensures that joint degree candidates will be thoroughly grounded in the theory, methods, and a key substantive area of the traditional discipline. Applicants are urged to consult the government or sociology department listings for more information regarding the degree requirements in those departments. The government department requires that the general, oral examination be taken at the end of the second year. The sociology department requires that a written examination be taken in September preceding the second year.

Students then embark on a complementary program of study in social policy. Starting in their second year, students move into a three-term Proseminar based at the Kennedy School which focuses on the study of social policy, with an emphasis on the manifestations of inequality (residential racial segregation, educational attainment, differential political participation, immigration, race and gender segregation in the labor market, etc.). In the course of this seminar, students prepare original research papers that serve as qualifying papers (in sociology) or research papers (in government). Students in Government and Social Policy must elect social policy as their “focus field” in satisfying their government requirements.

Participants in both degree programs are expected to select a field specialization within social policy. Six topical areas are available:
(1) work, wages, and the marketplace;
(2) neighborhoods and spatial segregation;
(3) family structures and parental roles;
(4) immigration, race, and labor market segregation;
(5) education and inequality; and
(6) historical and comparative social policy.
Students must take one course in the field they select. A list of suitable courses is available from the program office. This requirement can also be satisfied as a tutorial or independent study from a member of the social policy faculty in the Kennedy School.

All students in the joint programs are required to enroll in the advanced seminar in social policy that will assist them in designing their dissertation prospectus. Students must complete a prospectus for the doctoral dissertation for a three-person committee composed of faculty from Government or Sociology and Social Policy. Ordinarily the prospectus is completed by the end of the third year in residence.

The final draft of a student’s dissertation is evaluated during a public oral defense before the dissertation committee. The outcomes of this hearing are pass, pass conditional on minor revisions, or fail. The final manuscript must conform to the requirements described in The Form of the PhD Dissertation.

Degree Requirements in each Social Policy PhD Program:

Sociology and Social Policy PhD

• Two-term sequence in classical and contemporary theory.
• Two-term sequence in quantitative and qualitative methods, and one advanced course in quantitative methods.

Sociology General Examination

Qualifying examination taken in September following Year 1, to cover theory, methods, organizations, and political sociology, plus an elective area.

Post-General Examination Program

Beginning in the first year and continuing on thereafter, all students must complete 14 term courses at the 200 level with an average of B or better. Five of these courses must be the the theory and methods courses listed above.
• Research apprenticeship, one term
• Completion of Sociology 305, the Teaching Practicum
• Service as teaching fellow in one sociology course
• Completion of three terms of Social Policy Proseminar
• Completion of research paper in topical area with major literatures in sociology and social policy. This paper should emanate from the Social Policy Proseminar and may be used as the basis for the qualifying paper.
• Completion of an oral examination in the student’s area of special interest, which is expected to be the area in which the dissertation will fall.

Government and Social Policy PhD

• Twelve half-courses, of which eight must be in government. At least ten of these 12 half-courses and seven of the eight half-courses in government must be 1000- or 2000-level courses. Students must complete six half-courses by the end of their second term in residence and nine by the end of their third. One of the government department half-courses, ordinarily at the 2000 level, must be taken in the student’s minor field, which is either of the remaining two fields not assessed in the General Examination.
• Completion of two of the three terms of the Proseminar in Social Policy.
• Students must complete three seminar style research papers, one of which should fulfill the social policy program’s requirement to complete a research paper in a topical area with major literatures in government and social policy. This latter paper should emanate from the Social Policy Proseminar and may serve as the basis for the qualifying paper in social policy discussed below.
• Competency in one language other than English. Must be demonstrated via language examinations.
• Completion of one course in quantitative methods (with a grade of B or better), or, with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, an equivalent course.

Government General Examination

General examination taken at the end of year two, to cover political theory, a major field (American government, comparative politics, international relations, political theory), and a focus field in social policy.

Post-General Examination Program

Completion of third term in Social Policy Proseminar.

Advanced Studies in Social Policy: Required for all students
• Field Specialization:
• One course for field specialization within social policy. Students will choose a field specialization from among the following six topical areas: (1) work, wages, and the marketplace; (2) neighborhoods and spatial segregation; (3) family structures and parental roles; (4) immigration, race, and labor market segregation; (5) education; and (6) historical and comparative social policy. Students may also satisfy this requirement by taking tutorials/independent study under the guidance of a member of the social policy faculty in KSG.
• Qualifying paper in the specialized field. Supervised by committee drawn from participants in the joint degree program (normally including member of the student’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) department). May be based upon paper completed for the Social Policy Proseminar.

• Advanced Seminar in Social Policy. Required of all students in the program; designed to assist them in preparation of the dissertation prospectus.
• Completion of dissertation prospectus (including oral defense).
• Teaching fellowship. Students are encouraged to serve as teaching fellows in government, sociology, or Kennedy School social policy courses.
• Completion of dissertation.

Financial Aid

Harvard intends that all graduate students should have support adequate to enable them to complete their studies while enrolled full-time. The University’s financial aid continues for the five-year period of study, though the amount varies as the individual’s needs change and the form of aid changes from year to year. In general, students are provided tuition and stipends during their first two years and the final dissertation year, and receive tuition support and teaching or research assistantships during their third and fourth years. Students are admitted only when the University has arranged to offer them the needed financial assistance, or if they have demonstrated the capacity to finance their studies without University help.

All students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences must continue to make satisfactory progress in order to be eligible for any type of financial aid. The joint doctoral programs in Government and Social Policy and Sociology and Social Policy observe the general guidelines outlined in The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Handbook.


For the degree of doctor of philosophy, a minimum of two years (four terms) of full-time graduate study in residence in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is required. It is expected that students generally complete all the requirements for the PhD degree within six years after admission.

Academic Review

The Committee on Higher Degrees in Social Policy is charged with monitoring the progress of students in both joint programs. Together with academic advisors and the director of graduate studies in the respective departments, the committee is responsible for ensuring that students are progressing through the degree requirements in government or sociology and in social policy.


Applications for admission and financial aid are available from the Admissions Office, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center 350, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138. We require online submission of the application. See the website.

Further information about the joint degree programs may be obtained from the program website. Questions or requests for additional printed materials should be directed to the office of the director, Pamela Metz, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or correspondence addressed to her attention at the Kennedy School of Government, 79 John F. Kennedy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.

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