General Information

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.

All applicants are required to take the GRE no later than November 1, 2015. 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 not 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.

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, politics and management, and normative theory. 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. 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

  • "Essays on the Transmission and Diffusion of Productive Knowledge in International Economics"
  • "Essays in the Economics of Health Care and the Regulations of Medical Technology"
  • "Essays in Experimental Economics and the Improvement of Judgment and Decision Making"
  • "Hierarchical Game-theoretic Models of Transparency in the Administrative State"
  • "Essays in Labor Economics"
  • "Cumulative Dynamics and Strategic Assessment: U.S. Military Decision Making in Iraq, Vietnam, and the American Indian Wars"
  • "Essays in Economic History and Development"
  • "Structure to Fail? Explaining Regulatory Performance under Competing Mandates"
  • "Essays on the Economics of Household Water Access in Developing Countries"
  • "Essays on Optimal Management of Portfolios"
  • "Essays on the Economics of Climate Change"
  • "Wealth, Welfare, and Well-being: Essays in Indebtedness and Normative Analysis"
  • "Essays in Behavioral Household Finance"
  • "Essays in the Political Economy of Conflict and Development"
    "Essays on Energy Technology Innovation Policy"
    "Navigating by Judgment: Organizational Structure, Autonomy, and COuntry Contect in Delivering Foreign Aid"
    "Essays on Industry Response to Energy and Environmental Policy"


Members of the Committee on Higher Degrees in Public Policy