You will need to demonstrate PhD-level proficiency in theory and methods and in a primary and secondary field of interest. Your curriculum must include core requirements covering theory and methods courses, including:


  • Economics
  • Normative theory
  • Politics and management


  • Advanced methodology
  • Analytic methods
  • Quantitative empirical methods

Primary field of interest

You enroll in the required PhD-level courses that are related to your primary field of interest. These may include but are not limited to:

  • Economic regulatory policy
  • Environmental policy
  • International development
  • International economic policy
  • International security relations
  • Judgment and decision-making
  • Social policy (i.e., health policy, education policy)

Field Requirements

As a PhD in Public Policy (PPOL) student, you discuss your field study plans with your faculty advisor during your first and second years. You select two fields as your primary and secondary fields of interest. The primary field is your area of specialization; the secondary may be a disciplinary or methodological area in which you have completed two or more PhD-level courses.

Oral General Examination

The oral general examination tests whether you have mastered your primary and secondary fields of interest. It also determines whether you have achieved sufficient understanding of your field to be considered an expert and have grounding in the literature that will help you write a successful dissertation.


Students present their research prospectus by the end of their third year, after which they typically finish researching and writing their dissertation within two years.

You can prepare your dissertation either as a single work with multiple chapters, or as a collection of three essays that are linked substantively but can be published independently.

Once you defend your dissertation successfully, you will be awarded your doctoral degree by the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

See a complete list of dissertations written by PPOL candidates from 1973 to the present in the Public Policy Dissertations Archive.

Special Fields of Interest

To develop a strong foundation for future research, you choose a special field of interest and enroll in PhD-level courses that broaden and deepen that knowledge.