There are a few things you will need to know ahead of applying to the Public Policy (PPOL) PhD Program.


You are eligible to apply to the PPOL PhD Program if you have earned a bachelor’s degree; a master's degree is not required. You apply to and are admitted to one of four tracks (Economics; Judgment and Decision Making; Politics and Institutions; and Science, Technology and Policy Studies). You may not change tracks prior to matriculation.

Requests to Change Tracks

If you are admitted to the PPOL PhD Program, you will matriculate into one of the four tracks. Ordinarily, you cannot change to a different track from the one to which you were admitted. In rare and exceptional circumstances, you can apply to change tracks by submitting a request to the PhD Program Chair, stating the reason for the proposed change, your background and qualifications for the proposed track, and how changing tracks may affect the time to completion of the PhD degree. The PhD Program Chair may request additional information, if necessary.

The PhD Program Chair will send the application and supporting documents (including your original application) to the Admissions subcommittee for the proposed track. The subcommittee will review the file and proposal, comparing the application for the proposed track with those of candidates who were admitted to the track. The subcommittee will then make a recommendation to the PhD Program Chair, who will make the final decision on the proposal.

Test Scores

Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)

Official GRE scores are required and test scores must be issued within the past five years, no earlier than September 1, 2017. There is no minimum GRE score requirement. We do not accept the GMAT or LSAT. Plan to take the GRE by mid-November at the latest if you are submitting your application in December, and send your GRE scores to the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (Harvard Griffin GSAS) Office of Admissions, using ETS code 3451. A department code is not required.


You must submit your TOEFL Internet-based test (iBT) or IELTS scores with your application if you are an international applicant and:

  • Have an equivalent of a bachelor’s degree from an institution where the primary language of instruction is not English
  • Have a master’s degree from an institution where English is the primary language of instruction

A minimum TOEFL score of 103 OR a minimum IELTS score of 7 is required. Official test scores must be issued within the past two years, no earlier than September 1, 2020. Plan to take the English proficiency tests by mid-November at the latest if you are submitting your application in December. Send your scores to the Harvard Griffin GSAS Office of Admissions and use ETS code 3451. A department code is not required.

Prerequisites and In-Residence Requirements

We want you to be prepared for the PPOL PhD Program. Each of the four tracks have specific admission prerequisites; familiarize yourself with them:

As a PPOL student, you must be in residence at Harvard for at least three years. Deferrals are made on a case-by-case basis.


To be considered for the program, you must submit to the Harvard Griffin GSAS Office of Admissions by the indicated deadline:

  • The Harvard Griffin GSAS online application and application fee
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts for all colleges or universities attended
  • Valid GRE general test scores
  • Internet-based TOEFL or IELTS scores (for those for whom English is not their first language)
  • Statement of purpose
  • Writing sample of no more than 20 pages, which must be single-authored and written in English

Complete applications must be submitted online by December 1. Decisions are announced in late February. Admission is for the fall term only. The program does not have a terminal master’s degree.

HKS Master's Graduates

Graduates of HKS master’s degree programs who apply and are accepted to the PPOL PhD Program within three years of graduation may petition for credit for doctoral-level courses they took as a master’s degree candidate. If three or more years have passed, applicants will need to meet all track requirements.