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Questions about these requirements? See the contact info at the bottom of the page. 

The PhD in education is awarded by the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Students will work with faculty in the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Candidates for the PhD in education will be affiliated with one of three concentrations: culture, institutions, and society (CIS); education policy and program evaluation (EPPE); or human development, learning, and teaching (HDLT).


All entering PhD students (“G1s”) are assigned an academic advisor based on interests and goals discussed in the admissions application. The advisor must be a current HGSE faculty member who is a member of the Faculty of the Whole. The relationship between the faculty advisor and student is integral for scholarly progress and professional development. Like any professional relationship, the advisor-student relationship takes time to develop and is unique in nature, matching the styles and needs of both individuals.

Academic Residence

Completion of a minimum of two years of full-time study in residence is required to receive the PhD from Harvard Griffin GSAS. The academic residence requirement can be reduced by as much as one term (four four-credit courses) if the candidate's department grants academic credit for prior work done at HGSE within three years of starting the PhD (see Credit for Completed Graduate Work).

Satisfactory Progress

The PhD in Education Steering Committee monitors each student’s progress year by year. The PhD in education degree is governed by a series of benchmarks that define what is considered evidence that the student is making “satisfactory, adequate and timely progress.” During the period between admission and submission of the dissertation, the PhD Steering Committee conducts annual reviews to ensure each candidate is meeting relevant benchmarks and academic milestones.

Program of Study

The First Two Years

PhD in education students must complete a minimum of 64 credits/16 courses toward the degree, along with other academic and research-related requirements including:

  • PhD Proseminar in Education (Year 1 fall; 1 course)
  • Concentration Core Seminar (Year 1 spring; 1 course)
  • Foundational Quantitative Methods Courses (2 courses)
  • Foundational Qualitative Methods Course (1 course)
  • Additional Qualitative Methods Course (1 course)
  • Concentration Electives (3 courses)
  • General Electives (5 courses)
  • Research apprenticeship (each year)
  • Reading Time (written comprehensive exam preparation; Year 2 spring, 1 course)
  • Written Comprehensive Examination (Year 2 spring)
  • Research Colloquia (Years 1 and 2; 1 course per year)

Year Three

  • Any outstanding coursework
  • Oral Comprehensive Examination
  • Research apprenticeship
  • Teaching Fellow appointment(s) (four “slots” required at HGSE, typically fulfilled in Years 3 and 4)
  • Research Colloquium presentation (Year 3, 4, 5, or 6)

Years Four-Six

  • Dissertation Proposal (to be completed by the end of Year 4)
  • Research apprenticeship
  • Teaching Fellow appointment(s) (four “slots” required at HGSE, typically fulfilled in Years 3 and 4)
  • Dissertation Committee Meeting (Year 4 or 5)
  • Dissertation and Dissertation Defense (Year 4, 5, or 6)

Master of Arts (AM)

Candidates for the PhD in education degree may apply eight courses/32 credits of their doctoral program toward an AM in passing from Harvard Griffin GSAS. PhD in education students may apply for a master’s only after they have completed at least 16 courses (64 credits) since enrolling in the PhD program.

Students who wish to receive the AM in passing must file with the Harvard Griffin GSAS Registrar’s Office. While the department does not admit candidates for a terminal AM degree, students who have met all the course requirements may petition to be awarded the AM in education. Students must have a B+ average to receive a master’s-in-passing.


To enhance students’ teaching skills and to promote consolidation of their own learning, all PhD in education students are required to complete four Teaching Fellowship (TF) “slots” at HGSE over the course of their time in the program. Most students will fulfill this requirement in Year 3 or Year 4, though students must fulfill the requirement before receiving Harvard Griffin GSAS dissertation completion funding.  

Please note that this requirement is applicable to all PhD in education students—regardless of amount/level of teaching experience—and MUST be met with HGSE courses. TF slots from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), Harvard Griffin GSAS, and/or other Harvard schools do not count toward this requirement, though are certainly encouraged in terms of professional development.

TF “slots” at HGSE represent one and a half days per week (on average) of salaried academic work over the course of a term, or the equivalent amount of time when spread over a longer period (e.g., yearlong) or condensed into a shorter more intensive period (e.g., January Term). A TF “slot” can be fulfilled in the following ways:

  • A single course “slot” for a traditional term-long class (equates to one “slot”)
  • A single course “slot” spread across a year-long class (equates to one “slot”)
  • A double “slot” for a course with a particularly heavy TF workload (equates to two “slots”)
  • A January term “slot” (equates to one “slot”)

Other Requirements

Research Colloquia

The HGSE Research Colloquia Series brings together faculty and doctoral students in a community of learning to foster disciplinary, as well as interdisciplinary, dialogue. These meetings include presentations by Harvard faculty, faculty and researchers from outside of Harvard, and other Harvard doctoral students.

They meet weekly, at the same day and time. Each colloquium addresses topics salient to its participants and includes presentations of work-in-progress in addition to completed work in topic areas in education, such as leadership in education, global contexts in education, early childhood education, education access and equity, civic learning and engagement, or teaching and instructional effectiveness. 

First- and second-year PhD in education students are required to register (and earn two credits per year) for the colloquium related to their academic concentration. Participation is strongly encouraged in later years as well. PhD in education students are required to present their work in the colloquium once during their program, typically between Year 3 and graduation.

Research Apprenticeship

All PhD in education students are expected to engage in research starting in their first year and continuing throughout their doctoral studies. The research apprenticeship provides students an opportunity to develop their research skills, and may take several forms, including:

  • independent research work under the guidance of a faculty member, either as a paid research assistant (RA) or for independent study credit
  • research work with a faculty member (and often other doctoral students) as part of a research project
  • active participation in a research group or lab, often led by the primary academic advisor or by a small group of collaborating faculty.

Students are strongly encouraged, as part of their research apprenticeship work, to collaborate with faculty and other doctoral students in order to jointly author scholarly papers.

Grade Requirements

Students must maintain a cumulative grade average of B+ or better in each year of graduate work. At no time may a student register for a term if they have more than one Incomplete. Where the primary field requires either that all courses be passed at or above a certain grade or that the student’s average grade be higher than B+, the student will be required to meet that requirement for courses in the field.

No more than one Incomplete may be carried forward at any time by a PhD student in education. The work of the incomplete course must be made up before the end of the term following that in which the course was taken. In applying for an Incomplete, students must have signed permission from the instructor and, in some cases, the director of graduate studies, or the course in question may not count toward the program requirements. If students do not complete work by the deadline, the course will not count toward the program requirements, unless there are documented extenuating circumstances.

Comprehensive Examinations

All PhD in education students take the Written Comprehensive Exam at the end of Year 2. In Year 3, students take the Oral Comprehensive Exam with their faculty advisor and committee members. Once the student has passed the oral exam, they are approved to move forward to the dissertation proposal stage.

Dissertation Proposal

The Dissertation Proposal (DP) is a document generated prior to the dissertation to introduce and summarize a student’s research goals and proposed methods of investigation. It is a blueprint for the research to follow. The purpose of the dissertation proposal is to articulate for committee readers that there is a research question worth pursuing and that the study is well designed to address it. Every DP includes a literature review leading to an explicit research question and a detailed plan for investigating the question through original research. The DP should convince readers that the study is both likely to enrich the field in general and feasible in nature. As noted above, all PhD students are required to obtain DP approval by the end of their fourth year.

Dissertation Committee Meeting

The Dissertation Committee must hold at least one meeting (the Dissertation Committee Meeting, or DCM) to discuss and support the student’s progression toward completing the dissertation proposal as well as the dissertation. Each student should determine, in consultation with their advisor, when holding the DCM would be the most useful for advancing the dissertation work. For some students, the DCM will occur early in the dissertation process and involve discussion and/or approval of the DP. For other students, the DP can be approved by committee members without holding a committee meeting, allowing the DCM to be held after data collection has commenced (e.g., in order to talk about progress and potential challenges in the dissertation study). Regardless of timing, all DCMs should include the following elements:

  • provide faculty readers the opportunity to question and offer suggestions about the dissertation proposal, data collection, analysis, and writing plans
  • anticipate and/or discuss emergent issues in the early progress of the proposed work
  • establish a framework and timetable for reading and submitting dissertation drafts to faculty readers.

At the DCM, members of the Dissertation Committee should come to an understanding about the future progress of the dissertation, resolve any emergent issues, and agree upon what will be included in the final dissertation in order for it to be considered complete.


The dissertation is the cornerstone of a PhD, presenting the student’s independent research and supporting their candidacy for earning the doctoral degree. For purposes of this program, a dissertation is a scholarly inquiry into some aspect of education based on original empirical research; it addresses a particular question and contributes significantly to knowledge and/or concepts in the field of education.

Dissertation Defense

The Dissertation Defense is, in many ways, a doctoral student’s crowning academic achievement––the presentation and defense of one’s own ideas and scholarship in a public forum. The Dissertation Defense promotes intellectual discourse and emphasizes the importance of disseminating educational research with the goal of having an impact on practice and/or policy. The Dissertation Defense is 75 to 90 minutes—beginning with a 20- to 30‐minute presentation by the student, followed by a 45‐minute question and answer session led by the dissertation committee. At the conclusion of these public aspects of the Dissertation Defense, the student’s Dissertation Committee will deliberate and vote in private before having the student return and learn the rating, along with suggestions for steps to finalize the dissertation. The dissertation committee must submit original signatures on the PhD in Education Dissertation cover sheet and the Dissertation and Defense rating sheet. In the event a committee member is participating remotely, please consult with the Doctoral Programs Office on how best to obtain all original signatures.

Contact Info

Education Website

Meg Anderson, Associate Director of Admissions
Stanislav Rivkin, Associate Director of Admissions
Harvard Graduate School of Education
13 Appian Way
Cambridge, MA 02138


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